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Monthly archives for February, 2018

Moody Blues

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

mood ringAs melancholy begins to lift, where does it go? Does it go back into memory, added to a store of melancholic episodes over a life time, each one different, unique, becoming part of the polyvalent stew that is our psyche? What triggers the end or, better, the gradual tailing off of doubt? Of the heaviness? Of the stasis? Where do all those moods and temporary inner states (and, they’re all temporary) go? Do they just float up into some neuronic cloud, then get washed away through the body’s toxic cleansing processes?

Psychic moods are more important than we realize and they’re little understood, little discussed; but, these colorations of our inner world directly influence how we react to others, to events in our lives. A positive mood contributes to resilience, to the ability to take in an insult, large or small, and respond in a constructive manner while a negative mood can take an insult as devastating, catastrophic.

moodsI’m not talking here about depression or anxiety or mania, serious and long lasting mental states; rather, I’m talking about fleeting, sometimes changing moment by moment, atmospherics. Joy. Sadness. Glad. Mad. Eager. Reluctant. Energized. Slow. Crisp or dull. They come and go like the lenticulars over Black Mountain or the high white mare’s tail cirrus. Sometimes they crowd our mind with the darkness of a thunder head or roar through us like a tornado. And then they go, pushed away by a high or low pressure system, perhaps a psychic La Nina.

moodphases

moodphases

Some moods last a bit longer. Melancholy is one for me. I can feel it beginning to leave, pressed out, as it usually is, by a renewed sense of purpose; yet, right now that renewed purpose is not clear. That means the melancholy cannot fully go because its reason for emerging has not been resolved.

Still waiting on the outlines of the new life melancholy seeks. It starts out, I think, with dissatisfaction, usually inchoate, not yet conscious, about some aspect of my life. And, I think, further, that that very inchoate state is what develops into melancholy. A sort of psychic brake gets pressed as the mind tries to grasp both the dis-ease and a route forward. The melancholy lasts as long it takes for the reordering of life’s energy into a new way of being in the world.

 

 

A First Colorado Nocturne

Imbolc                                                                            New Life Moon

Haven’t done a nocturne since I got to Colorado, if I recall correctly. However, driving home tonight with the waxing new life moon shining through the lodgepole pines and Orion high in southwestern sky I wanted to write one.

I’m re-reading an old book, 1974, by a theologian named David Miller, The New Polytheism. It is, in a way, a counterpoint to H. Richard Niebhur’s important essay, “Radical Monotheism and Western Culture.”

The moon and Orion both represent, and are themselves, forces in our culture. Orion, the hunter and warrior. The moon, our light in the darkness, the periodicity most familiar to us after night and day. I could feel them both tonight on the drive up Brook Forest, these old friends, 71 years of nights, 49 since my time in the guard shack in Muncie when Orion and I became friends.

I find polytheism, multiple centers of value in H. Richard Niebhur’s conceptual framework, a much more sensible approach to the diverse and plural world in which we live, and which lives in us.

Night makes this clearer to me, cleans up the distractions of the day. My mind ranges further, makes unusual connections, feels old threads linking now and then, now and tomorrow. Time for bed now. Good night.

The Inner. The Outer.

Imbolc                                                                                  New Life Moon

visual_field_testGlaucoma stable. Did a visual field exam yesterday, space invaders with a clicker and dots of light flashing off and on, testing peripheral vision.

Kate went with me so we could go to the Village Gourmet and buy a carving knife and a better potato masher. Turns out what I thought of as a carving knife was a filleting knife, a boning knife. What I wanted in spite of its different purpose. It’s in the knife rack now awaiting the time I have to cut up more chunks of beef or a chicken or a capon. Remember the capon saga around Thanksgiving? Found a potato masher, too. With a horizontal grip, easier on old hands.

My birthday present is to change out my wardrobe. That is, get rid of the old work related shirts and suits and shoes and pants and replace them. It’s been a long, long time since I had to show up at the office or appear in a tie, so this is not a sudden decision.

No. Not cowboy boots and shirts with triangle shaped pockets, pearl snaps. Not cowboy hats and big belt buckles. Just not me. But. Part of the motivation is to dress as the Coloradan I now feel myself to be. I’m no cowboy, nor are most of the folks who wear Western style clothing either. My Colorado is more mountains than ranches, more forests and streams than ski slopes. And, in that, my Colorado has definite affinities with my other favorite places, northern Minnesota with its clear lakes and thick forests, Lake Superior, especially its western and true northern shore, and northern Anoka County in Minnesota.

flannelSo. More flannels and plaids. Fleece vests. Another pair or two of blue jeans. Some new hat, though I don’t have a particular one in mind right now. There is a tiny part of me that relates to loggers, lumberjacks. Not the whole lumberjack look that spread out from Minnesota a few years back. That’s not still a thing, is it? But related to it. With all the chainsaw work I’ve done over my lifetime I feel I’ve earned some of that.

Mussar puts a significant inflection on changing outward behavior to change inner attitudes. As part of a strategy for self work, this makes sense to me though it conflicts sharply with my understanding of authenticity. In the case of defining a new look it feels appropriate.

What I want is my costuming, my outer look, to reflect my inner attitude, my changing sense of the place to which I belong. It’s definitely no longer oxford cloth shirts and polished wool pants, silk ties and Cole Haan shoes. Finished with that. For good.

A more comfortable, rumpled, casual look. One with a north woods, mountain feel. We went to a thrift shop yesterday after the Village Gourmet and I found two flannel shirts and a brown fleece vest. $16. I’ve gotten started. My plan is that for each new (new to me) shirt or accessory I buy, I’ll put an existing shirt or pair of pants in a box for the Mountain Resource Center.

This feels of a part with the melancholic turn, not a symptom of the melancholy, but of the inner change struggling to express itself. The who am I now question that has me stalled for the moment. And that’s ok. Maybe when I put on that new(er) Clear Creek Outfitter flannel shirt a piece of this journey will come into focus.

 

 

 

A Very Jewish Weekend

Imbolc                                                                            New Life Moon

Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains

Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains

In psyche news. The heaviness seems to be gone, that drug down, want to keep going down feeling. When I’m in it, my soul seems more attracted to weight, willingly binding itself to a fall. The heaviness is a major physical clue to melancholy for me, a way I know to check for other signs. Its absence does not mean the melancholy has lifted, but does usually precede it. May it be so.

A very Jewish weekend. On Saturday we attended bagel table, an informal sabbath worship with conversation and, you guessed it, bagels. The presenter this week though wasn’t Rabbi Jamie, but Rabbi Evet of B’nai Havurah, a reconstructionist synagogue in Denver proper.

A congregant of Beth Evergreen, loved and respected, a mensch, had died suddenly, just that morning. The conversation about his death after operation for a malignant brain tumor was hushed, shocked. When Rabbi Evet started the service, the conversation quieted, but the looks, the feeling of it was still palpable. She stopped the service and had us focus on his death. It was a powerful moment, one in which what was being suppressed got lifted up. People told stories about Jeff, about what he meant to Beth Evergreen.

Evette_Lutman2-350x247Rabbi Evet teased out characteristics from those stories after a bit and suggested that a way to honor his memory was to figure out how to put back into our little community the attributes lost by his death. His smile. His willingness to help. His commitment to education.

Steve turned to Marilyn and said, “Marilyn, I really appreciate everything you do here. We don’t say those things out loud while people are alive. Maybe we could.” And, later, after the service was over, Marilyn came up to Kate and me and said, “I want to tell you both how much you mean to me.”

“And you to us,” I said. “Through having met you and found Beth Evergreen, we feel like we’ve finally moved to Colorado. This is our community now.”

“Makes a difference, doesn’t it?” Marilyn replied.

“It makes all the difference.”

Lev_Poster_LBI meant that and this experience with Rabbi Evet illustrates it. Beth Evergreen is a place where the heart and the mind both get their due. In fact, lev, the Hebrew word for heart, is also the word for mind. There is no other word for mind. Mind and heart are lev.

On Sunday we drove over to North Turkey Creek, up Peaceful Hills to Meadow View Road. The occasion was a new member/prospective member gathering at the home of Dan and Kristin. 40 or so folks, some board members, Rabbi Jamie and Tara, folks I knew and many I didn’t gathered around, yep you guessed it, bagels and lox and fruit and veggies.

The energy was good. There were little kids and older adults, all milling around, getting to know each other. I enjoyed the time. As is now usual for me though, I felt a sense of relief when we left and I got outside, to the quiet. Like the candidate event at the Friedman’s a couple of weeks ago I can hear in these settings, but it’s hard and stressful. I don’t always notice the stress until it’s absent.

 

 

 

Points of Joy and the Point of Joy

Imbolc                                                                     New Life Moon

joyEach month the mussar vaad practice group members choose a way to focus on a middot, the middot, or character trait, we’re practicing for the month. This month’s middot is simcha, Joy.

Here’s my practice: Identify what brings/brought joy in my life. Then, try to experience those things as often as I can and, as much as possible, let them infuse the rest of my life.

First up, what brings joy?

  1. dogs nuzzling.
  2. the mountain night sky full of stars
  3. snow falling among the lodgepole pines
  4. writing ancientrails
  5. making supper for Kate and myself
  6. hugging Kate
  7. seeing friends at Beth Evergreen
  8. hearing from Tom, Bill, Mark. seeing them.
  9. having a new idea
  10. learning something new
  11. reading a new book
  12. finishing a hard workout
  13. driving over Kenosha Pass and seeing South Park laid out ahead
  14. driving over Guanella Pass
  15. seeing Ruth smile and her nose wrinkle up
  16. walking into my loft
  17. looking at art
  18. reading poetry
  19. contemplating the Tao
  20. seeing Orion at night
  21. the golden aspen among the lodgepoles on Black Mountain
  22. having an idea, sharing it, seeing something happen
  23. listening to live jazz
  24. Black Mountain at the golden hour
  25. feeding the dogs
  26. seeing Kepler do his happy dance
  27. eating vegetables Kate and I grew
  28. harvesting honey
  29. slipping into a warm bed on a cold night
  30. seeing mule deer, elk, fox as we drive
  31. the mountains, their streams, the rock
  32. seeing Joe and SeoAh and Murdoch
  33. planting perennials on crisp fall days
  34. planting garlic in September
  35. harvesting raspberries
  36. when my surgeon called, “Clean margins!”
  37. using my new knee pain free
  38. each time my PSA comes back low
  39. working with Marilyn and Tara and Anshel
  40. setting up for adult education events at Beth Evergreen
  41. seeing and spending time with individual trees
  42. using the chain saw (ha. no irony intended here.)
  43. remembering the two-year old me who relearned to walk after polio
  44. that moment of mystical connection with the universe in 1967
  45. the earthen smells when getting off the plane on Maui, Kauai or the Big Island
  46. working out on snowshoes in below zero weather
  47. early morning hikes in Hawai’i
  48. hearing the howler monkeys on the road to the temples of Angkor
  49. performing Joe and SeoAh’s marriage
  50. aging
  51. using my sumi-e brushes, grinding ink
  52. coming home
  53. leaving for a trip
  54. rolling retreats (roadtrip)
  55. mindful cooking
  56. paying close attention to the natural world
  57. meditation

Simcha_It's_Not_Just_HappinessOK. That was a bit surprising. Lots of things bring me joy. And I’m sure there are a lot more, too. Have to spend some time considering how to experience these things more often.

While melancholic, this practice may prove therapeutic. Simply reminding myself of these things that bring me joy has helped me realize the grace in my life. It also triggers gratitude for them, for the contexts that allow them to flourish.

Opening my life to infusions of joy is medicine for the soul. Especially a soul trying to find its way, again. Somewhere in the midst of joy-filled moments is a path forward, clues to the life way that makes my life sing in harmony, not out of key as it is right now.

Black Panther

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

Black-Panther-Cast-Marvel-Featured-Image-1024x639Kate took one for the team yesterday. She went to see Black Panther with me. I had two reasons for wanting to see it. One, it’s a Marvel Studio movie and, god help me, I really like them. Most of them. Two, it’s become a cultural sensation and I wanted to see why, if I could. Kate gave me a third reason. To lift my spirits.

Nothing like vibranium theft and lots of gratuitous violence in a movie filled with elegant looking black folk, a few Koreans and a couple of supporting white actors to counter the gray veil. Black Panther, with closing and opening scenes in Oakland, home of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, was ok. Not great. Might have been better if I could have heard all the dialogue. Where are my closed captions at the theater?

black-panther-0The plot was less important, I think, than the stage settings and the actors. From Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan to Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira the young black actors were both beautiful and powerful. Forest Whittaker and Angela Basset added gravitas.

It’s an interesting commentary on our global culture when a single movie, made with high production values, can garner so much attention and be hailed as a “defining moment.” For this white male, certainly born to white privilege though of a lesser amount than, say, Donald Trump, it was not a defining moment. It was a decent action movie. It was not, however, blaxploitation, like those 60’s and 70’s movies with mostly black casts. And, I suspect, that contrast gave it some of its power, too.

Did it lift my spirits? Well, it got me to ignore them for a couple of hours. And, I don’t feel as heavy this morning. Maybe it helped. Time, good ol’ time, will tell.

Staying Open. Paying Attention.

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

Got up late today, around 8:30 am so I’m writing this after noon. Feels a little weird since it’s usually dark outside when I work on Ancientrails.

South-ParkColorado-Fishing-MapKate and I went to Aspen Roots today. Jackie tints and cuts Kate’s hair, cuts mine and trims my beard. She’s a good lady. Learned today that she taught her son fly fishing. Her father worked for Eagle Claw and started taking her fishing when she was five. Can’t be too many sons who’ve been taught fly fishing by their moms. Right now he’s logging and had a nasty accident when the saw cut through his boot and into his foot. She hopes he’ll become a fishing guide.

Coloradans and the snow. There were flurries last night, some periods of heavier snow. So most folks stayed home from mussar vaad practice. MVP. Geez. I find myself saying this every once in a while up here: “If Minnesotans didn’t go out when it was snowy and cold, they’d never leave the house from November through March.” It’s definitely better to have Minnesota conditioning for Colorado winters though than, say, Florida or Texas. Both state contribute their share of new Coloradans.

Melon choly. Still ripening though not as pervasive. I’ve not felt this, as near as I can recall, since Minnesota. A certain heaviness, a certain I don’t really feel like getting out of bed. A gray veil.

Bee-guyMy best guess as to why now is a little odd. First year we were moving in, orienting ourselves. Prostate cancer, too. Second year Jon’s divorce, my knee replacement and then Kate’s first bout we identified with Sjogren’s. Since September though Jon moved into his new house. He’s calmed down, a lot. Sjogren’s and its effects, while not pleasant, are at least known and we have strategies to cope with them. After a year plus with the knee, after p.t. and now several different workouts, the knee has no pain and functions, for the most part, as it did before the bad arthritis set in.

So we’ve had since September to adjust to a Colorado which is no longer introducing us to new medical or familial dysfunction. We have friends and a small community now at Beth Evergreen. Rigel doesn’t have liver cancer. Joe and SeoAh are doing well. The grandkids ask to come up here. Things have calmed down, life has tilted toward the positive side of the scale.

Now what? That, I think, is the cause of the melancholy. What do I do now that I’m finally here in Colorado without serious distractions? Are elements of the Minnesota life germane here? Some are clearly not. The Sierra Club scene was disappointing. Sheepshead, too. The Denver museum scene is dull normal. Gardening and bee keeping seem too daunting here, at least for my current energy level and financial resources. (I’d garden in a decent greenhouse, but $$$$.)

agencyWhat is mountain life? Colorado life? Life in the arid West? For me. Sure there’s reading and writing and thinking. The Great Wheel. There’s family and Beth Evergreen. Good jazz. But how does it fit together? What’s the coherence? Where is the tao of this moment?

Apparently my psyche decided that the way to answer these questions is to slow me down. Push pause on the recent past. Let stuff bounce around a while, let different parts clang into each other. Such slowmo has often preceded life changes for me, sometimes after a period of guided reflection like the Ira Progoff Journal Workshops. Sometimes just after time passes. Staying open. Paying attention. Waiting.

Happenings on Shadow Mountain

Imbolc                                                                         New Life Moon

Single digits. Passes for really, really cold here. Cold enough that I’d forgotten blue jeans are not comfortable at those temps. When I went to kabbalah on Tuesday night, the cold seeped through that cotton as if it wasn’t there. Oh. Yeah. I remember that.

Sjogrens-Syndrome1Kate’s having a Sjogren’s flare. That means symptoms intensify, particularly fatigue and a general feeling of dis-ease. She gets low grade fevers, an annoying sore throat. The good news here is this time we know what it is and she has strategies for coping. It’s not frightening in the way the first flare was back in March or April when she developed thrush and had an ENT guy look at her throat and say, “That looks a little funky.” Doctor speak for, OMG. Fortunately, the funky spot resolved itself. Not throat cancer after all.

Ted, of Ted of All Trades, came by yesterday. Ta dah! Jerry’s paintings, the two big ones you may recall if you ever visited us in Andover, are now hung. 3 years later. One on the wall perpendicular to the fire place and the other in our bedroom. Those damned cabinet hinges? Repaired. We tried to swap out a ceiling fan for a light fixture but when Ted opened the box it had a broken sconce. Grrr. Back to Home Depot.

full disclosure. this is not me.

full disclosure. this is not me.

In the loft Ted repaired my door, a missing bolt to hold one door firmly shut, hung the big map of Hawai’i, the island not the state. Kate got it for me as a consolation prize one year when she went to Maui for continuing medical education and I stayed home. An antique and beautiful. A mirror went up on the wall so I can investigate my form while I work out. Or, just admire my buff body. If it ever comes in the mail! And, a mount for the TRX, a weight suspension workout tool, is now affixed to the ceiling.

Feels good to have those projects finished. Even better to know that Ted is now part of our resource base. He will help us stay here as long as possible by getting small projects done that add up to big improvements in daily living.

abraham_012413_620pxKate and I decided to drop out of Hebrew for this year. We’d not been studying. Doesn’t really reflect lack of interest so much as an unwillingness to dedicate the necessary time we know learning a language needs. May pick it up again in September. My kabbalah class this session though is on the Hebrew letters, so I’m gaining familiarity if not facility.

Still no lifting of the melancholy though I’ve been busy and as I said below it tends to slip away as life pushes itself on me. Last night, for example, I made Grandma’s beef and noodles,  a recipe from the newspaper. Just what it sounds like. Got a 3 pound slab of chuck shoulder roast out of the freezer, unthawed it, cut out the fat and fascia (which took a while), discovered we have a pressure cooker, used it. My first time. Kept hoping it wouldn’t blow up. It didn’t. Whew. Cooking, mindful cooking as I’m trying to remember to do, requires close attention and close attention shuts off the spigot for negative emotions.

 

Waiting on the Christmas Tree

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

alchemyOne of the odd things about melancholy, any mental illness really, is that life goes on while it visits, just like having a cold. The texture of daily life changes, but the need to pay bills, cook, read, communicate with others does not. And in the doing of those daily chores sometimes melancholy slips away, forgotten for a moment. Yes, one way to dig out from the lesser mental aberrations is to stay in the moment until they pass.

But in this case I’m listening. I’m trying to sit at the table with my friend melancholy and see what he has to say. This is not easy. It’s not self analysis either. It’s listening. To the self, yes, but to the self in another guise, or to another aspect of self. In this case some part of me is dissatisfied with things as they are but is uncertain about how things should be. Thus, a sort of mental stasis, a grinding of the gears. A slooowwwwinnng down.

Pay attention to the writing you’ve been doing, Charlie. Is it the work you want to do right now? See Kate and the grandkids and Jon and SeoAh and Joseph. Are your relationships there what both you and they need? All this immersion in Judaism, where’s that going?

Over the last few days I’ve been wandering my library, looking at the books, remembering why I bought them, wondering if I might pause a while to read more, get back into Ovid, or magic, or emergence or Taoism or the Great Wheel. There’s a project of daily readings focused on the Great Wheel, another on Lake Superior. These require concentrated time. Should I shift some time their way?

christmas treePart of me wants to stop everything, just sit. Ponder. Wonder. Imagine. Reenchant. When this feeling hits, I do stop. What if I did that? Would my work fade away? Does it matter if my work fades away? How long do I have to just sit and read? I mean, 71. What if I spend a year reading and studying, learning, then discover I have a fatal illness? Other than that universal terminal disease-life-that is.

A lot of tire spinning, smoke curling up, but little movement. I’m a dragstrip racer gunning my engine at the starting line waiting for the Christmas Tree to turn green.

Current Work

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

One thing I’ve been up to over the last month. This is a brief article for the Shofar, Beth Evergreen’s congregational newsletter.

prayerSetsThe digital world. A blessing and a curse. We’ll go with blessing in the Adult Education Committee’s work to consolidate access to online learning. This work is still nascent and you can see its first fruits on the Beth Evergreen website soon.

We hope you can help us make this resource as vibrant and useful as possible. When the online learning webpage launches, please take a look and give us feedback. Is the webpage user friendly? Are the categories the ones you would like to have? Do the course offerings and other online sites for Jewish learning stimulate you? Make you want to learn? Should there be other types of sites? We believe this webpage will take a while to become as rich a resource as possible and it won’t get there without your help.

In addition to offering easy access to online educational opportunities, we also will sponsor group learning at the synagogue. We’ll pick a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), or you can suggest one. Using the screens and projector in the sanctuary we’ll show the lectures and leave time for discussion, something not usually available when taking a MOOC at home.

center-for-online-judaic-studiesA course at the Center for Online Judaic Studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls is an example of how we might use these resources communally.  The Adult Education committee is sponsoring a guided tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls on May 20th. Dr. Russel Arnold will lead us through the exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We could use this course as a way to prep ourselves for the tour.

Here are some other current examples of course offerings: History of Modern Israel, pt. I and II. The Holocaust, an introduction: pt. I and II. Judaism Through Its Scriptures. The Talmud: a Methodological Introduction. Israel State and Society. What would you like to learn?

 

 

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