We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Oh, really? Hmmm?

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

Slept in till nine yesterday. I was at Beth Evergreen from 3:30 to 10 pm. And, I was anxious/excited for most of it. Tuckered out back home, in bed finally around 11 pm. That’s really late for both Kate and me. Got up at 5:30 to feed the dogs since that’s what they expect, then went right back to bed. Unusual, but effective. Got up rested, though still feeling threads of exhaustion.

We had the mussar vaad practice group after religious school. That’s why the evening went so late. My practice for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?

or, the reverse

or, the reverse

I tried this with a member of the mussar class. When I concluded that they were probably acting with little self-awareness from values instilled as a young child, I was still judgmental, wondering how a person could grow old and not gain insight into themselves. Apparently, in this case, quite easily. So that is who they are now. I pushed my circle of curiosity out a bit to ask the question, does our society need people with these attitudes, do we benefit in some way from them?

Important side note here. It’s not the values this person expresses that bother me, though I do disagree with most of them, but the apparent unwillingness to entertain error. No real dialogue can happen then.

When I consider society’s need, I find a different perspective. Since I disagree with most of the values expressed by this person, they make me give pause to my own unexamined ideas. They challenge me to remember the cliched, but valuable: Don’t believe everything you think. What’s the societal advantage here? No democracy can survive capture by one political perspective. That’s the problem with demagogues, autocrats. They represent a calcified political ideology that brooks no challenge, no matter what the ideology. So, the frisson between competing ideas keeps us from accepting the Putin, Xi Jiping, Kim Jong Un style of strongman leadership.

curiosity5Like Charlie H. in the Woollies, this person threatened to leave the group. It struck me that both used their own intransigence and subsequent reaction to it as a means of manipulating the group into reinforcing their willingness to include them. I feel extorted in those situations, like I have to simply roll over and say, oh, please stay. In Charlie’s case I would not have done it, had I been in the Twin Cities and able to face the daily consequences of defying him. In the mussar group instance I only held my hand up half way when asked if we wanted this person to remain in the group. I felt similarly manipulated, but did not feel my cohesion with the group quite strong enough to withstand outright defiance.

In both instances my reaction is not, I’ll say this again, to the values underlying the reactions of these two people, but to the manipulative and my way or I hit the highway ultimatums.

We should question ourselves if another person’s values disturb us enough to want them gone from our presence, or our society. That’s not to say that there aren’t some values so abhorrent as to justify that. Criminal law is filled with examples. But in the political realm, so long as reasoned discourse can occur, then we owe it to ourselves to consider honestly those with whom we disagree. They might just know something we don’t.

 

 

One Toke Over the Line Sweet Moses

Lughnasa                                                          Waning Summer Moon

The loft is clean. Sandy does such a great job. And, she does it while living with the after effects of two brain surgeries and the yet remaining tumor which necessitated a round of radiation to shrink. A tough way to earn your daily bread.

marijuana2We tried a Colorado cure for Kate’s nausea symptoms. She toked up yesterday morning, lighting one of the pre-rolled Jilly Belly spliffs. She took four hits. Result: nausea subsided, heartburn began. And, she said, I feel spacy. Which she didn’t like. So she went back to bed anyhow. A work in progress. Next time she’ll try two tokes. If it does reduce the nausea, we will get her a bong and use ice in the water to cool down the smoke. I told her she was one toke over the line sweet Jesus; then added, well, maybe better, one toke over the line sweet Moses.

At mussar Ariel, the defense lawyer turned consultant to lawyers on how to navigate court procedures, gave a powerful and well-researched hour and a half on the concept of tzedakah. Tzedakah boxes are an art form in Judaica and usually have a slot for change or bills. The money collected typically goes to charities, in the American diaspora often charities that support the state of Israel, though the money can go to any good cause. In this way tzedakah has come to be associated with charity, but its real translation is justice, equity.

Tzedakah-1080x675In the packet that he offered, Ariel quoted Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a great friend to Martin Luther King: “There is immense silent agony in the world, and the task of man is to be a voice for the plundered poor, to prevent the desecration of the soul and the violation of our dream of honesty.” And, “Morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the sufferings of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty while all are responsible.”

empty-bowlsAfter mussar Kate and I went with many members of the group to a place called Go, Paint in downtown Evergreen. It was the start of an interesting local expression of an international movement called Empty Bowls. (the link is to an Empty Bowls event in Hopkins, Minnesota) Go, Paint has many objects in bisque (the stage for pottery after throwing and before firing when glazes and paints can be applied.). In this case we all had bisque bowls, dull white and maybe 8 inches across. There were various paints and glazes we could apply, even small clay creatures. Kate, for example, put a turtle in the bottom of her bowl.

We paid for the event. The bowls get fired, then distributed to two sites nearby which run Empty Bowl events. One is Mt. Vernon Country Club and the other is a church in Evergreen. At the empty bowl event a meal is served, $65 at Mt. Vernon, $20 at the church. When the meal is over, each participant gets a bowl. The money goes, in this instance, to the Mountain Resource Center. A friend of Kate and mine’s, Marilyn Saltzman, will be the incoming president of the MRC in January. Interesting idea.

A long day for Kate.

Kate. Naikan practice.

Lughnasa                                                              Waning Summer Moon

Kate’s not having a good week. Yesterday was especially bad, enough so that she considered going to the emergency room. Or, to the hospital. That thought, born more I think of frustration than any particular worsening of her symptoms, gives you a sense of how this series of insults effects her.

Jon picked up Gabe from Mussar yesterday. It was his Meet the Teacher evening at Swigert Elementary. When I asked him how these things were, he said, “boring.” I imagine so.

Mussar was interesting. We did a Jodo Shinsu Buddhism practice called naikan. It involves asking yourself three questions, then writing as detailed an answer as you can for each of them. Traditionally, the three questions start off with your mother. What did my mother do for me? What did I do for my mother? What trouble did I cause her? Over time you can add father, siblings, work, nature, whatever can be explored with these questions. After you write down the answers, in a naikan retreat, a person will come and interview you; that is, they will listen to you read your answers out loud with no comment, no interaction. They are there only as a witness. Sort of like the 4th step in AA.

A variation on this theme that Rabbi Rami Shapiro uses is to ask yourself these related questions just before going to sleep: What gifts did I receive today? What gifts did I give today? What trouble did I cause today? I did it last night and found it soothing.

We’ve been exploring, too, the link between suffering, acknowledging the suffering of others or our own, not trying to fix it, just acknowledging it and the apparently strange link between that practice and happiness. Frequent readers know happiness is not much on my menu. I prefer eudaimonia, human flourishing. Still, the point is the same. Our flourishing is not about a life without suffering. It’s about a life that engages and embraces suffering, does not push it away, yet does not become consumed by it.

I struggle with wanting to fix Kate’s nausea or just being with her as she goes through its impact on her life. Like most, I think, I do a bit of both. Chronic illness presents the greatest challenge here. The suffering continues. My ability to be present for her waxes and wanes with my own feelings of vulnerability, frustration. I want, simultaneously, to wave that unavailable magic wand and hold her hand. Tough. At best.

Kate, mussar

Lughnasa                                                                        Monsoon Moon

My flaxen haired Nordic goddess

My flaxen haired Nordic goddess

Forward and backwards for Kate these days, but yesterday was a forward day. Her spirit was as good as it’s been for quite some time. She’s recovering a sense of her self as an agent, a confident person and it’s a delight.

We have a routine on Thursdays. Go to mussar, get a new character trait to practice or continue work on one. Yesterday we discussed the chesed of chesed, or the loving kindness of loving kindness. It’s an odd idea, but Rami Shapiro, author of the book we’re using right now, compared it to a brush stroke and a painting. An act of chesed gives shape to the whole picture of chesed, one only created over time, by brush stroke after brush stroke.

In a typically Jewish and mussar move intent is not key. It is better to perform an act of loving kindness for a base or less charitable reason than not to perform one at all. Why? Because in doing so, the one who performs the act will discover the personal reward that comes from acting on another’s behalf. That opens the way to look for opportunities for choosing chesed.

20180504_160826After mussar, we take the back way through Hiwan Hills and enter the commercial district of Evergreen, the part for tourists, from the east and drive up to the Vienna Beef shop. It’s on a board walk that extends maybe two blocks and has art galleries, coffee shops, clothing stores and Mountain Man fruits and nuts. I buy two Vienna Beef sandwiches, equivalent to the ones you can purchase in Chicago, and we have them for supper. Up till yesterday afternoon it was a bland, but tasty source of protein for Kate. There was something a bit spicier on either the bun or the the beef yesterday and it made her mouth hurt. We’ll try again, just to see.

 

 

Fear and Honor

Lughnasa                                                                 Monsoon Moon

After a swim, from September, 2015

After a swim. September, 2015

Yesterday and today are about reentering mountain world. Tired yesterday, probably today, too, from the journey. The electric panel needed a gentle push to return power to the eastern wall of Kate’s sewing room. E-mails needed to be sent back to the auld home, thank yous and follow ups. Pushed Superior Wolf out the door to an agent, the biggest toe I put back in the world of daily life, save one.

The biggest. Mussar Vaad Practice (MVP) group last night. I have three clusters of commitments in Colorado: family/home, Beth Evergreen and the Sierra Club, my writing. The time last night with the MVP was a return to the world of Beth Evergreen. Both Kate and I had significant matters to share.

The practice this last month focused on bitachon, trust. We placed bitachon on a continuum with trust at one end and fear on the other. I chose to concentrate on fear, specifically the fear that has held me back for almost thirty years, fear of submitting my work for publication. While on the Durango trip, I read an essay about setting a rejection goal and, as I said before, I set 100 rejections as my goal for the year. Pushing that article together with my commitment to practice facing my fear resulted in my first organized and disciplined approach to submitting my work.

Aboard the lucky dragon

Aboard the lucky dragon

In group last night I admitted/confessed/shared the results. Each rejection I’ve received, two so far, hurt, made me ashamed of my Self in such a deep way that I can’t describe it. Like the grief I experienced at the MIA last week the shame in this instance came unexpected. Why shame?

At one point last night I buried my head in my hands to emphasize both that searing feeling from the rejections and the less searing, but still real, shame of not facing this fear before now. After I talked, I didn’t disappear, melt down like the Wicked Witch of the East. No one ran out of the room, too disgusted to still talk to me. In fact, the reception of my experience was careful and kind. As I like to think I would be to someone sharing something similar.

Now, in the way of these things, the angst drained out by exposure, I imagine submitting work will become a routine matter. These dates, this agent, that magazine, following up. Writing more work. Continuing the work of writing.

20180725_171404

At the ICE protest. July, 2018

Kate shared an even more profound realization. While it’s really hers to share more publicly, I can report that after she spoke, her confidence level rose and I could hear, see a lighter Kate. Both of us helped ourselves change our own lives. That’s a powerful result for an hour and a half.

Kate remarked that kavod*, honor, is not only person to person, but can be applied to a community. We both regard Beth Evergreen with great respect. That’s the character virtue, soul trait, for next month.

My practice is seeing the holy soul. At the meeting I said my practice would be seeing the holy soul in others, but on reflection, I want to see it also in myself and in animals and plants. This broadening of the practice came when I realized last night that I have a gift for seeing the holy soul of dogs. I relate to all dogs as if they were presenting their most sacred self. I see cows and horses, mule deer and elk the same way, though with much less experience. And, can I treat my own holy soul, my own most sacred self as respectfully as I treat that of others. This last may be the key challenge for the month. We’ll see.

Rigel, being beautiful, July, 2018

Rigel, being beautiful. July, 2018

The term meaning honor and respect is very important in any society, but even more so in Middle Eastern societies. The English word “respect” means “look back (again), regard”; honor means “regard with great respect, dignity.” The Hebrew kavod is related to kaved, meaning “heavy.”* Indeed, until not long ago, the heavier a person was, the more respectable he or she was, for rich people could afford to eat whatever they wished, whereas poor people were undernourished, eating very little and looking light, unimportant. A related word is kibbud, meaning “honoring (parents, teachers)”; as well as “(serving the guests) refreshment” (thus showing them respect).

*Also related to kaved “liver,” the bodily organ assumed to be the source of dignity, just as the heart is the source of emotions and intellect.Jewish Journal

Moral Minyan

Summer                                                                             Monsoon Moon

justice

Suggested to the woman who organized the immigration talk that perhaps the Beth Evergreen Social Action committee should be doing this kind of work. She passed my e-mail on to the Rabbi and to the chair of the Social Action committee. Lengthy response from the Social Chair chair amounts to, we do small things because they’re not political. Sigh. Same ol, same ol. Heard this all the time as a clergy in the Christian church, less so in the UUA. Say the word politics and you’ve touched the third rail.

Uncharacteristically, however, I intend to stay back from this conversation. I’ve got Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler and 6th grade religious school to prepare for. Perhaps the slight nudge will create a larger conversation. Hope so.

justice2

Kate and I are going to a protest at the Aurora ICE detention center next week. It’s led by the Moral Minyan*, a project of bendthearc. Family separation, though attenuated by the court ruling last week, remains a reality. Immigration is a distinctive American good, mixing our polity with new citizens from all over the world. It’s always been fraught with tension, with nativism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and, our record as a people with regard to persons of color is still miserable, but that French gift, Lady Liberty, with the poem by Emma Lazarus, represents the ideal toward which many of us strive. I believe most of us.

This notion that only a certain kind of person, usually white, can be a good U.S. citizen is racist at its core. The obvious rejoinder is the facebook meme of Indians confronting immigrants on the Mayflower. As Valentina said Tuesday night at Beth Evergreen, “Immigrants work hard. Immigrants pay their taxes, raise families.” Immigrants contribute to our national well-being and always have. In fact, immigrants created our nation.

justice obama

This current politics of meanness, of grudge-settling, of honoring foreign strongmen over our own government BY OUR PRESIDENT, the unleashing of the American id typified by the Charlotte rally and the way too many video clips of various individuals calling out persons they suspect of being “illegals” or “terrorists”, makes us all smaller. He who shall not be named is spending the capital accumulated since World War I which made this country a superpower. Shame on him.

Justice theodore-parker-bend-the-arc-email1

Parker was a Unitarian clergy, an abolitionist, and an activist who kept a loaded gun at his desk in case slave catchers showed up. Be like Theodore.

 

*In Jewish tradition, acts of public prayer require at least 10 people to gather to form a minyan.

In this moment of political crisis, we’re calling on progressive Jews across the country to gather to form Moral Minyans for acts of public protest, solidarity, and organizing as part of a national network of Jewish Resistance.

People who become leaders of Moral Minyans have a variety of skills and experience levels. We provide trainings and support for activists in our network who are organizing their Jewish community in living rooms and in the streets.

 

Life is a cabaret, old friend

Summer                                                                     New (Super) Moon

supermoon = closest new moon to Earth. See the tides go up. Bay of Fundy, watch out.

20180608_181820Skype yesterday with RJ Devick of Bond and Devick, our financial planners. We meet with him once a year to go over our portfolio, look at upcoming needs, see if we need to make any adjustments to the draw from our IRA. This session in particular may have changed our lives a bit. We’ll see. Maybe some more money available for travel or work around the house. That would be nice, put a bit of a skip in both our steps yesterday.

Mussar was a profound conversation about the nature of equanimity, turning into a discussion of the nature of chaos and how we can keep ourselves calm in the face of disorder.

Last night I went to bed about a half an hour before my usual time and got up early, 5 am. Still a little asleep. It’s 49 up here on Shadow Mountain, delightful.

Fear and Bitachon, trust

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

article-new-ehow-images-a07-ti-j3-duties-literary-agent-800x800Spent most of yesterday on submissions. I revised School Spirit, taking 2.0 down to 2,700 words from 4,800, and submitted the revision to Mysterion. I developed a table in Word to track my submissions. It has these columns: submission, work, publisher, response, rejection, acceptance, contract, published. Later on today I’m going to begin revision of Superior Wolf, which I want to get out as soon as I can get it where I want it.

I now have an Evernote file for Novel and Short Story markets which contains 25 new markets and I will build that file. I need another log to track reading periods, periods when a particular market opens to submissions. They are often only a month long, so you have to both have work that fits their interests and know when to send it. Once I get a rhythm going here, I’ll get back to agent submissions, arguably more important than submissions to markets.

tumblr_mh1q88lsfr1s19s9xo1_500So, I’m facing my fear, not only that, I’m leaning into it, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and saying, “Come on, now. Message received. Stop already.” This is partly mussar driven, the practice I wrote about on July 6; but, it’s also driven by self talk that long preceded mussar, though ineffectually, and even a bit by the shame and embarrassment.

What, exactly, has the fear been doing for me? It’s tried to protect me, fence me off from disappointment and failure. It feels the pulse of shame before it rushes through me and says, go another way, that feels bad. Just keep your head down, don’t poke it up, make yourself visible. And, of course, in spite of that self-protective urge, the result has been that for 30 years I’ve felt disappointed and I’ve failed at publishing because I never took the risk.

Fear, like doubt, is good. To not fear the fall from a high cliff is stupid. Getting a flu shot makes sense because fear rightly says the flu is worse. Slowing down around a mountain curve? Sure, fear tells me I’d fly off into the void otherwise. But fear is pluriform, it responds to many things. When on the Savannah, a fear of vulnerability probably sensed a predator nearby, or an enemy. Pay attention. Hide. Be ready to defend yourself against death. Having a red light moment is adaptive, until it isn’t.

2011 05 06_0875Publishers and editors and agents, even critics and readers, are not lions or hyenas on the veldt. The fear I’ve allowed to rule me for the past three decades however has believed them so. The shame then is a complicated emotion which recognizes the self-deception and self-protection. It knows I’ve chosen the critique of intimates, why hasn’t Charlie ever published, to the critique of possible readers. That’s embarrassing, but it’s where I’ve been for a long, long time.

Now, however, a strange, new moment is on the rise. In part I got tired of the narrative I’d been telling myself, been telling others. “I’m just not good at marketing.” I call bullshit on that. In part I read this article about setting a rejections goal and this time it made sense to me, a sort of akido move, use the power of your adversary against them. In part it was this month’s mussar practice of facing fear in order to learn about trust.

Yesterday, for the first time I can ever recall, I felt like I was getting down to the business side of writing. Yes, I’ve made submissions before, but I have never made as organized and concerted an effort as now. It feels good.

But, if I’ve begun to push the fear, tried to educate it that this is not an arena where it’s helpful, which I have, I’ve begun to wonder about it, too, from the mussar perspective. If I face the fear, face it down, then does trust appear? If the student is ready…

CBE (1)I know that fear vitiates trust. If we’re afraid of another person’s motives, we’ll never get to know them well. If we’re afraid of public speaking, no one will hear us. If we’re afraid of our own motives, we’ll take few risks. In these cases, if we face the fear, listen to it, talk it down, choose to act differently, then we may find love, may discover that people want to know what we have to say, may open ourselves to the world’s rich opportunities.

I’m starting from the fear, however, not trust. If I eliminate the fear, if I continue (and I’m pretty sure I will) to organize, revise, submit, and create new work, will trust appear? In what? The question I’m asking is this, does eliminating or modulating fear create trust, always? If so, in what?

20180624_095408

seeing through the fear goggles on

In this instance, for example. If I have pushed back the fear, acknowledged the shame of constant wheedling about submitting my work, and have finally gotten somewhere with both, in what do I now have trust? That eco-system of publishing and readers will therefore embrace my work? Not really up to me beyond getting my work out there. That I’ll be a better person? Maybe. Since the fear has weighed heavily on my psyche for all these years, lifting it might have, probably will have, a positive effect on my sense of self. Perhaps I’ll trust life more, be less reticent. This would be huge, obviously.

Don’t think this is the heart of it though. Somehow the trust that emerges is, more importantly, in acceptance of vulnerability, trusting that when I’m afraid, or even ashamed, that I can still be in this world. We’ll see, of course, if this is true, but it feels right. Fear, then, can be seen as a tool, an important and necessary one, but one to pick up and then set down. It’s not a tool we want to always have to hand and when it is in hand, we need a plan to get it back in the toolbox after it’s done its work.

 

 

 

Sharpening Doubt

Summer                                                                         Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yehuda HaLevi

“Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.”

Yehuda HaLevi

Venn Merging

Beltane                                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yesterday two worlds came into contact, even if only briefly. The first was Kate and mine’s current world, the world of the Rocky Mountains and Reconstructionist Judaism, Evergreen and Shadow Mountain. The other was our old world, the world of the Land of Lakes and the Woolly Mammoths, Andover and the Twin Cities.

First, Ode showed up at mussar. Then, Tom and Paul. The middot of the week is grace and reading Rami Shapiro’s book, The Art of Loving Kindness, carried us into a discussion about shabbat as a “counter-cultural rebellion” which encourages living one day a week as if work and worry are not the point of life. Has always made sense to me, BTW, long before Beth Evergreen, but I’ve never acted on it, never observed a sabbath day.

Anyhow the context of the conversation made me realize what a grace-full moment it was for me when Tom, Paul and Mark showed up here in Colorado. It was, in one sense, perhaps even the best sense, ordinary. I knew they would find the conversation fascinating, because it was a conversation we’d been having for over thirty years. How do you live? What about life is important? How can we move ourselves into a more meaningful, graceful, gratitude filled existence?

So that moment at the synagogue smooshed together two venn diagrams, Minnesota and Colorado. And it felt really good. They met Rabbi Jamie. Debra referred to the four of us as the quadruplets, older white haired white guys of similar size and habitus and life.

Then the party moved over to Shadow Mountain. My slow cooker Irish stew was, well, partly there. The lamb was tender, but the potatoes were not. Neither Kate nor I, though she is much more able at it than me, are big on hosting events at our house. Too busy at one point, now a bit less able. But these were friends who would forgive an underdone potato for the  conversation around the table. And the occasional poking of Rigel’s head under their arms.

Kate went to bed, then got up, came out and said, “You have the best friends.” Indeed, I do.

This morning at 8:30 we’ll take off in the giant SUV that Tom has rented. First stop, the Crow Hill Cafe, then The Happy Camper. Maybe the Sasquatch Outpost? Certainly Kenosha Pass, South Park, Fairplay. On down through South Park. Maybe we’ll look at the Rocky Mountain Land Library, maybe we’ll stop in Pagosa Springs for a soak in the hot springs. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.

We’re headed to Durango in the southwest corner of the state. The 416 fire, north of Durango, as of yesterday:

“While residents in two areas were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, the 416 Fire grew to 32,076 acres with no update on containment.

The fire, burning just 13 miles north of Durango, is still being worked by over 1,000 firefighters who are battling this thing from the air and the ground. Burn out efforts, that is, efforts to burn up the fire’s potential fuel, continued throughout the day.” 9News, Denver.

Here’s a link to a Durango Herald article on fire analysts, very interesting.

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