Gifts from the Frontlines...
For those who show up...however they can for love
I admit that I may have a problem...I love my life and what I do but... sometimes my need for distraction gets a little alarming. Police procedurals work well. I like the ones, which are not too bloody, and generally where they get the bad guy (or girl) within the 45 minute format. I am not above "Cozy Mysteries" in the English genre traditions, too. Science fiction is also a good fit for me as I like science and new, interesting ways of thinking about humanity and our collective learning edges. All these shows reinforce my idea of a hopeful but, indeed, changing world; they also relax my mind, a bit, and take me out of other people's stories, of which I hear quite a lot.
They are also a form of rest. Restorative activities, ones that we can take in, are very important to find and employ. Right? Maybe digital detox can work in reverse. It eases the stories out of our heads and programs us with new stories...this can be good, as long as we are discerning in our choices, right?
But what is too much? Two shows? Four shows? Six in a row?
Let's set aside the addictive way each new show on Netflix (and other streaming services) rarely end on a satisfying note. They create a skillful climactic up tick that hooks and funnels you into the next episode (STARTING IN 3 SECONDS...). HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
More Qualitative than Quantitative: meditation as discernment
The real question that is up for me is: What is underneath my need for distraction? The answer could be very different on different bingeing...days. Maybe it is boredom? Or fatigue? My own lack of imagination? Maybe it is fear?
This is why I must meditate each day....to be awake to what I am doing and how I am using my time...because none of us have all the time in the world.
Here is another question that came to me from my spiritual director because she knows my need to strive. (I can't help it; efforting is part of my inbred prairie constitution.) Here it is. See if it changes your life, like it is changing mine.
What is the highest return on my soul's mission... &
(wait for it...) EASIEST for me to do? - Rev. Dr. Megan Wagner
Maybe the distraction is generative? Or perhaps, it is bridging me to some insight.
Maybe it is play.
Play Daily is a rule of mine. Play is part of the journey...actually maybe it IS the journey. What if, (and this is another question from that same wise woman...) it was of the UPMOST importance to the Universe, (to the Holy, to the Almighty, to the Holy One of Many Names,) that we are in play and joy?
What if that was the ultimate use? It is an important question, right up there with how much MORE can I do? More. More. More, which leads to the idea that we don't have enough ...or are not enough just as we are.
It is good marketing, of course, for product sales but not fodder for the good life. Gratitude is fodder for a good life. It is a superpower.
My Playtime: Did I mention that I am recording an audible book?
(I am also binge watching a Canadian Sci Fi series called The Travelers, which is a kinder and gentler bodysnatchers who are trying to save the world in 3 seasons. It is thoughtful...and a lot of fun.)
Have fun today... that is our job, too.
I learn my own critical lessons at my patient's bedside each day (which I already knew...but apparently keep forgetting).
Life reminds me as watch over them. I find this curious. Frankly, it both sucks and is lovely in equal measure. And it's, for sure, humbling.
As a hospice and bereavement chaplain, I support people who are near the end of their term here...and those who are reconciling their lives after the loss of a dear one. The edge of life and death, reminds me about how to keep my own life, well-lived by those very small and powerful habitual methods...each day.
Practicing the small powers...
I am seeing the power of dailiness in beneficial habits and rituals. Those little daily tasks that are almost automatic for us can be grand boosts to our lives taken on the whole. What do I practice daily?
In my life, I have more commonly used grand efforts, all-in ventures, and dramatic grabs at the success ring du jour. For example, my body's illusionary capacity for long hours and hard work is one, and my wilfulness in forcing and pushing things and people (ahem...usually politely) along on my prescribed path to the promised land of Secretariat-like wins.
What I practice accumulates and compounds rewards. My personality is quite a bit more artistic than methodical, so this revelation does not come naturally to me. By 'methods', I mean that I/we/you do NOT have to be original in everything, but the benefits of PRACTICING the proven and even ancient paths reap for us exponentially. I can, effectively, renew me, and not get depleted in the first place.
Focusing on my own sustainability, and modeling self-care-as-a-circle for others, I need to be wiser...and more methodical in the dailiness of my own life.
The even better news is these small ancient methods are at hand. They are both always available and simple.
Breath and death is mother to us all. Right?
Your breath is your first task, which it was the moment you were born. It was, literally, the first thing you ever did. It will also be all our last tasks on this Earth - pretty much by definition. But do we think about the quality and power of it, daily? A Good life in our /this middle passage depends on it.
Breathe like a Diva is our first method of power. This is, of course, not new information... The other usual suspects are here:
But I propose a re-framing here...
I suggest some more inspired 'habit' categories, which might help us/me think about them more creatively... yet still in methodical ways. How about these?
The good news is this innate wisdom is at hand. It may seem to drift away but it only settles in deeper. It is waiting for me/you/us, patiently in our dark, as we drop down to our heart centers or (in a more Judeo-Christian framework... to our kingdom of god within). How we fill up these categories will light up our lives - daily. Do that. (Paraphrased from Howard Thurman...). Make it your method, your new small habit. No time? Do it for 5 minutes. See where it takes you. This spark will light you up. It will breathe life back into all the days we have...
Heart, tell them what you came for
Heart, tell them what you came for
Heart, tell them what you've been daydreamin' about
- James Blake, Tell Them
Care to share your categories, methods or daily habits that inspire and renew you? We need your spark and voice because sparks begat sparks...
There is a power in leveraging what is. There is an ease there—a flow like the water garden of the ancient Venetians. They worked with the tides. The ancient Venetians came up with a crazy new idea that succeeded for them. They innovated with what was within reach and made water streets. The sea now protected them from their enemies.
It’s not easy being a gardener— of water or our lives.
You are not in control of the growing. We are facilitating, keeping watch, and adapting...At some point, we get to be our own gardeners (...or mothers). We learn better—more regenerative, wiser wisdoms or we continue to loop, unaware, with the old ones until our crops die or we do.
What’s the difference between a weed and a flower?
Location, location, location. They could be the same plant—but a weed in one landscape and a prized flower in another. It’s about a right fit. Pampas grass is great in its native Africa, but in Northern California it commonly hurts animals that are not adapted to eating. We don’t see a ‘weed’ as useful because it does not serve us or belong. Perhaps it has harmed us in the past (poison ivy or oak…) or it triggers something in uslike a remembered resentment. (My weed of ‘not enough’ has an unfortunately robust taproot.) These are weeds in my good life—so are fear and anxiety.
My life today is not the ‘garden’ that I had planned to tend.
My soil was rototilled by death. It wasn’t until the protective overstory of my grandmother and father fell that I felt the full exposure of the world. The thing about gardening with ‘What Is,’ is that it is not clear until you try a few times, growing a crop, or a relationship, or a business, if it will bear fruit—or if it even belongs to me. Perhaps it’s an imposter’s Cuckoo-egg of a story in my nest.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a ladder,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”--Albert Einstein
While you are there (on your butt, in the muck of grief), you might as well check out the flanking resources—it might be the good manure for the of your dreams. Perhaps plant something different while I’m here? Or should I try again to do over but better this time...My life stopped working. I got stuck. Grief made me see differently.
I need to Wait Here and feel what needs to be felt—for me right now: the hurt, sadness, disappointment, and the satisfaction and joy. Then I will know what to weed or feed.
Make a garden from what you already have—it’s enough.
Watch for the seedlings that will grow a better life for you. Water the happy and delightful; weed the rest. Like those seeds, we are waiting for the conditions to spark life again. –From A Hospice Chaplain's Field Guide to Caregiving- Finding Resilience on the Frontlines of Love - EMHager.com
Last night I gathered some friends and went to San Francisco's stunning Grace Cathedral for a choral concert. We were women friends watching a women's chorus as a rare birthday celebration for me. Mostly I ignore birthdays and their quickening accumulation. But I am making an effort and "acting as if" this aging thing is something I am capable of accepting. (Let me just say, I am making progress...on the attitude I am likely to need for a lovely decrepitude. ;-))
The concert was packed with well-bundled people, who appeared prepared for the chilly space of a lofty, stone Gothic cathedral (and perhaps celebrate the eve of the women's march) The early sacred music was mostly acappella from all over the world: Bulgaria, England, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Russia, Japan, and Estonia. The astounding craft and collaboration of Kitka Women's Vocal Ensemble and Vajra Voices was magnified by the resonant space of Grace Cathedral. ( Here is an NPR link about Kitka...at Grace Cathedral.)
Captivated and mesmerized as we were, the crowd cooperated to become a small, ephemeral community without our consciously noting it...
With no intermission, and no applause until the end, we held the silence for an hour and a half with no breaks. One poor soul sounded out behind me with a miserably stifled cough...absorbing the violence of their respiratory distress inwardly. (It sounded like it hurt.)
Being prepared, I had several Ricolas with me–that Swiss herbal cough drop loved the world over. I dug quietly in my purse and handed several to the closest person behind me. Then it happened. There was a moment when I made eye contact with an older woman, who I had noted earlier as particularly moved by the music. She shook her head and said with a gesture "Not me...", and pointed backward to the row behind her. Before I could respond in any way that our silent communion allowed, the man next to her took my Ricola and immediately passed it back to the next row behind him. Being closer to the muffled misery, he knew the direction from which it came. Then a person in the next row silently took it, and passed it yet again. The mint candy silently and swiftly reached its destination–i.e. the person in distress.
It was a small but powerful wave of intentional kindness, which executed efficiently, and without a leader...
I felt like I had witnessed and participated in some ancient happening. In the early music's complex harmonies, we linked up, immediately and momentarily, to soothe a suffering.
It was a small thing, for sure, but so automatic and directed. It seemed more like a knowing akin to bees in a hive than humans. Did the music's intelligence, or harmonies work this magic? Did we just relax into the music's beauty and momentarily forget our separateness?
Being a caregiver, it reminds me of how in my own many moments of small desperation, the right person showed up to help, or piece of knowledge was given, or dinner was made or left. It seemed a greater good working for and through us...and the miraculous happened. The key, here, is to stop struggling...and Wait Here. But relaxed and with that 'acting as if" thing around acceptance of those things which are givens and cannot be changed.
Accepting 'What is" is easier if it sneaks up on us hidden in the beauty of what we can see and hear... How can we trick ourselves into relaxing into the tender trenches of our humanity? I recommend a celebration–even if small.
“If you didn’t have Eve, you couldn’t have Mary,” says Karen R. Clark, the founder and director of Vajra Voices. “You can’t have one without the other. As the Buddhists say, no mud, no lotus.” - San Jose Mercury News - January 15, 2019
Have you seen "On the Basis of Sex..."? The thing is...it all started with a caregiver.
It's a well done movie–relevant recent history about gender equality. But the thing is...the revolution started with a caregiver. A good son was caregiving his mother and he got slammed by the IRS saying THAT deduction was only for men.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the ACLU found it to be a perfect test case to start challenging all the laws that we now take for granted. All of you caregivers out there will relate to this poor guy's daily grind. Mom in a chair, dementia eating away at her, him stuck in the chaos and he's got another battle with the IRS.
Go see the movie. It is an important and healthy distraction...while you do it...remember what you are doing matters.
I have started a daily practice of gathering serendipitous wisdom from the day. I have a plan to create something more public–perhaps a video or audio daily live chat called "The Good Enough Daily". It is on a long list of possibles: TBD.
But until then, let me tell you about them on the hopes that it may inspire you to do the same. Here are some I use...there are so many card decks out there...
I draw cards as part of my waking up process...usually with coffee. They are part of my own spiritual practices each day to help me taking care of myself...and keep my inner balance as I take care of many each day as a hospice chaplain.
This is also for the fifteen MILLION unpaid caregivers who are doing the daily, chaotic work of caring for their infirm loved ones.
Much like my weekly sound meditations in San Francisco, I listen for what is 'in the room'. There I ask people to <quickly> check in:
It's a form of meditative improv in service of love. So is drawing cards every morning.
Improv 'What is" is one of the rules in the Fieldguide. Any of its many forms of implementation is a good practice for me. You see my (prairie, bootstrapped) inclination is to want to get 'it' perfect and over prepare for whatever...
Life is not that way. All I (and you) have to do is show up knowing we are enough...and worthy to be participating in what is in front of us. Then we do the best we are able. Both (preaching) ministers at my Unity Church in San Francisco are stellar at improv on the stage...but for me it is a learning edge.
Because we all have our edges. At last Sunday's meditation, several people spoke about the edge between what shows up in the world and what shows up inside us...and then there is the pause. This is the place of choice...do we choose to react, respond? Are we triggered? Are we needing to be right? This is the same edge for us all.
Reading the Day
It is in same way that I draw several cards from my various (and lovely) spiritual card decks each morning and take a moment (but not too many moments...) to see if there a pattern to the cards drawn. I then read this wisdom and speak about it for eight minutes, because who has a lot of time in the mornings?
...and I have theme music, too. "Good Enough" by Karen Drucker. She is awesome, if you are not familiar with her as both a songwriter and a performer. Check out her song if you want a lift to your day.
An eclipsing moon in the East greeted me when opening my door to the still dark day. Before early morning chores (before I fed my two cats—Smith and Wesson, before even coffee…), I saw, but did not know, if the show was almost done or just beginning. However, I knew with a different part of me that it was to be spectacular.
This is the oh-so-human way of discerning: head and heart. These days, as a hospice chaplain, and caregiver to caregivers, I listen more carefully now.
The eclipsing heart is unbalanced... (read more...click below)
Like a clueless Dorothy in the land of Oz, I found myself caregiving...
I was stuck there, having misplaced any wizard who might have gotten me back to my old life in San Francisco. I didn't like it; it was not part of my plans.
In that stuckness, I also chose to show up for my infirm loved one.
I argued with gravity for several years. I didn't win...
I tried to do them both—caregiving and the job. Like 44 million of us out there (in the USA alone), multi-tasking two lives. I didn't do either particularly well.