Monday, December 28, 2020

Anger

The details aren't important to this entry about my emotional state (I write to process my emotions), but to give the reader some context a couple of years ago my only sibling was supposedly lent a large sum of money by our mother. Recently I asked the status of that loan and was told that the loan had been forgiven. I need not worry, I was told because an amount, exactly half the amount of the borrowing, had been put aside in the Will for me.

I worked on the basis that a mistake had been made. I approached my brother about it and he tried to confuse me with twisted accounting. I doubted myself and thought of it from every angle until I asked my older son to confirm what I knew. It was rubbish. My brother had no alternative but to concede. He was confusing two things, he said. As far as I was concerned, I had learned at school that the amount on either side of an equal  sign had to be the same, and so had he. It was deeply disappointing.

Assuming that this error in his mathematical thinking had resulted in an erroneous entry in the Will I approached my mother about it. Bare in mind, I am not young and so I represent my four children on these matters. When my mother wants back up for bad behavior she has her younger sister sit in and it was during this conversation that the thinking that went into this decision was laid out on the table.

Nearly 25 years ago, my husband had seen what he thought was a great business opportunity and my mother thought so too because she invested some of her money in the same stock. The opportunity fizzled and they both lost out on the stock, in the same way that my mother won heavily on some stock that I acquired for her. That's the game. There are winners and losers every day.

For a time, my husband and I were in financial difficulty over the decisions made then and although we paid back to her most of what we borrowed from my mother during that 'opportunity', there was a sum my husband didn't pay back. It was never discussed, not once in nearly 25 years, although it seems that my brother was given an amount equal to that sum, to square things up. It never sat well with me. I knew my mother's mind. But, I think my husband thought it was over. We'd been very generous to her over the many years since. We had her to stay for a month at a time when living in the US and she had stayed with us countless times in our home here. I have accompanied her to endless medical appointments, shopped for and with her. Even I had come to think that the borrowing had been forgiven.

Perhaps it is this borrowing that assisted in me not looking at or caring about the money that went my brother's way. My mother and he shared a business that my father bought shortly before his death (no, no-one thought about a business for me) and when capital expenditure/investment took place from my mother's personal account into their business for which I would not receive a penny, my eyes barely flickered at the talk. 

So, back to the talk about the erroneous mathematics.  The two broads sitting opposite me very quickly explained (well, my aunt spoke on my mother's behalf; a twisted sort of 'It's not my business, but your mother...' dynamic) that there was no mistake. Remember the money that my husband had not paid back nearly 25 years?, they had deducted that off the tab, and the rest, well, who cares about equality? Never mind that my brother was inheriting land that would result in vast wealth, we were still quibbling about a small amount from a quarter of a century ago.

I have had many conversations with myself since this encounter. Is this, in my mind, about money, or love? Is this about loyalty? Am I putting some stock in all this junk because we didn't/don't get hugs; am never told 'I love you'? Has it always been some sick Irish joke about power?

For many years, I told myself to hang on. If I could just get to the end of my mother's life without thinking about it too much; maintain a 'grey rock' non emotional approach to her and her antics, I would be fine. Let the world think she is a sweet little old lady. Where's the harm? I have my own family. I am loved dearly by them, so why not?

The facts seem to be, however, that narcissistic nasty oriented people actually live long lives. They hold grudges forever. Thinking about themselves, they seem to be insured in some way; able to withstand the damage incurred to body and soul of the person who is empathic and forgiving; who turns the other cheek and goes on offering love and kindness.

Back in 2011 when I went to a psychologist one of her first questions was about the relationship with my mother. I was in complete denial and assured her it was fine, except for the fact that she never said a good word about my husband (and we have been together now for 44 years). I assured her I could handle it.

However, nearly a decade later, I realize I was wrong. I can't handle it. Last year, when I saw another psychologist, an older man, I described my surviving birth family. He was very quiet and eventually said, 'There's no value for you there.' He told my husband that my trips to my mother were 'very destructive' for me. Still, I battled on, playing the role of the dutiful daughter that had been assigned to me.

A week on from the scene at a cafe where they laid out their thesis - we don't believe in equality and we don't forget, and by the way, we don't like your husband - I find I don't sleep much. And then it occurred to me early this morning that what I was experiencing was red hot anger; not that I had been dealt this hand, but that I had stayed in the game so long with such a losing hand.

I hadn't thought that I could actually make the decision of going 'no contact' and stick with it. And yet, I had been moving along this trajectory. My mother is in a place where her needs are met. She has her beloved son (who can't stand her) near by, for now. My aunt visits her all the time. I had been taking her home for a few days at a time but she would get ugly when I returned her to the home. I don't actually have to do this. I can get on with my life.

Who knew? I can get on with my own life.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Anxiety and self care

 We were traveling together, my brother and I, on our way to transact some family business when he chose to share with me that he had begun medication for his anxiety. We had never referred to him as being an anxious person and whilst I could see that he was sometimes uptight and stewing over something or other, it hadn't occurred to me that he would feel the need to medicate his angst.

It turns out that his mind was always racing; always troubled by perhaps a small thing such as misplacing something, to the big things like the state of the world, and all things in between. As soon as he described this inner world to a doctor he had scripts in his hand; one to dull down the activity of his mind and the other to get him to have some uninterrupted sleep.

Apparently, the medication has helped him beyond measure. I am seeing the benefits of medication for anxiety, though I have never taken medication for anxiety myself and nor has anybody suggested that I do.

I wouldn't say that my mind stream is always comfortable, not at all. What I have learned to do is not to let it carry me away, with the odd exceptional experience. The thoughts are there but I approach them with curiosity and sort of listen in to the voice in the head. 

Sometimes I consciously choose to alter the thoughts. If it feels like that voice is getting too worked up or going down a path that does not look like the right one for me (much as you might be walking in nature and find yourself having to decide which path to choose), I adjust the thoughts. 

I might choose to simply let go of the thoughts, to adjust them in another direction. Or, I might interrogate them. A question like, 'Is this true?' can help. I might simply note the kind of thought that is trying to grab my attention. I might say, for example, 'Isn't this that old tale of not feeling loved/respected/adored/taken advantage of?' (as appropriate to the thought).

If I feel in immediate danger, not physical danger but the sort of danger where one feels derailed inside, I consciously choose to offer myself some sort of remedy. The remedy I go to most often is to offer myself the gift of consciously being aware of my breathing; noticing each nuance of the breath; the pace, the sense of the breath traveling through the body, the feeling of peace beginning to resonate in the body; a slower breath. This is an act of self-love and this always feels right; calming.

For several months, the personal challenges have been circling me. I have needed to put my mother into an Aged Care facility. I have needed to make use of a Power of Attorney written 22 years ago to establish my mother's finances and how to pay for this facility. I have needed to address the relationship with my brother and my aunt who have had more knowledge of these matters than me over the years. 

Although my mother chose this facility and this course of action, each time I take her home for a few days I go through the same traumatic experience. At some point, usually the day before she goes back, she becomes hostile towards me and my brother. Although there is no other choice (she has Lewy Body dementia) and we can't leave her on her own for even a couple of hours, we walk her through her choices so that she can arrive at the same conclusion as always; there is no other choice. 

We're not the first family to go through this situation. But when we ask something like, 'How are you feeling?' and she answers 'Who would care how I feel?' or she says to someone 'If they only tried harder I could live in my own home', it hurts. The only answer is self-love; offering yourself that moment of grace where you acknowledge that you are doing the best you can; that this is hard and you need a moment for yourself.

When you need medication to settle the mind and body down, then you need it. I think medication is necessary for some people in some situations. But, I can't imagine it for myself. I do think it would be wonderful for anxieties to feel further away; that the body is less reactive to triggers. On the other hand, I also believe we can learn to do this work without the chemical invasion.

For several months, I have had next to no privacy or personal time for myself. COVID led to a full house; more house bound work; more need to converse with others; less yoga and meditation time. Yet, in a few moments, I can maintain care for myself. 

- Follow the breath

- Listen to the thought stream; be curious; investigate the thoughts.

- Offer yourself the love, attention and respect you need. Don't wait for someone else to give this to you.

In Australia, the phrase 'Life wasn't meant to be easy' was made famous by a politician, of all people. People made fun of him for saying it, but he was right. Only a fool would believe that life was meant to be easy. Life on this planet is full of challenges. We are designed for challenge. We are designed for loss. Grief is something we must all go through. Dying is something we all face.

To believe we can engineer perfect solutions is a fool's game. We can, however, choose to act from a place of love and peace. We can aim to do the best for others but we need to remember that we also need to take care of ourselves. I heard someone refer to this as 'Goddess time'. I loved that.

You might like to try crossing your hands over your heart and listening to the beating of your heart. Yes, my dears, you too deserve your attention, love and care.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Thy life's a miracle

 Since I can't vote in the US election, like everybody except American citizens, one is left to watch, hope and pray that American citizens will take their responsibility, and their opportunity, seriously to return the world back to some sort of balance, harmony and unity.

I happened to meet someone out walking yesterday and we were saying how lucky we are to be Australians. We conform to rules. We accept lock downs in an effort to keep the vulnerable safe. We care about others. We do things for the greater good. 

In my city we have been under curfew for months. Right now, the curfew has been eased so that we can be out of our houses for a few specific and vital reasons until 9 pm. 'That wouldn't fly here,' said an American friend.

The friend in the street agreed that the Greeks wouldn't tolerate it either. But, apart from a bit of grumbling here and there, we are tolerant of the restrictions. We see the point, the plan; the reasoning, based on best medical advice.

My friend happened to have a pet emergency last night and as he drove to have the dog operated on, across several suburbs, he met not another car on the street. Honestly, we comply.

I admit I am nostalgic right now for a better America. (American was my home for 11 years and I love the place.) I watched the whole SBS 'Hillary' documentary this week, and interviews with various members of the Bush family. What kind and decent people they are, and Laura and  George produced two really 'beautiful in spirit' young women.

Then, I spent time yesterday afternoon watching Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg in conversation at a few law schools. She was so considerate and gentle with the students, so well aware that behind all her decisions were people. I loved the line, 'You can disagree without being disagreeable.'

Anything that divides masses of people, anything at all, is really such a bad idea. It goes against the law of mankind, people living together on the one planet; that you treat people as you would want them to treat you. It's that simple. Haven't we learned this over the centuries a hundred times over?

Who actually wants a man like Donald Trump as their leader? The lies, the accusations, the false statements; the vendettas; the thirst for love and approval displayed on the world stage. Which other President of the United States in modern time has even come close to creating such acrimony, such division; such disgust?

On a spiritual level, the World Wide Web created the opportunity for the West to learn about the open hearted kindness, gratitude and tranquility practices of the East. It felt hopeful. Imagine if people across the Globe developed awareness! Imagine all the people, living life in peace!

I do feel we are at a crossroads. There are people so fearful for the sake of the planet they believe, based on evidence available, that we may be the last people to walk this Earth. 

For the sake of the world at this time, we need a new direction. Nothing is more important for you to do in your American lives than to get out and vote. What possible plausible reason can you give for not attending to this civic responsibility? Please, vote.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Doing nothing

 There are people who pick up on other people's energy - positive energy and negative energy. I am one of them. The sensitivity to all the energy out there is so profound that there are times when I, and people like me, need to be alone. You don't need to be a meditator but if you are inclined to absorb the energies about you, time to sit quietly with eyes closed and just breathe is important.

As I do that now, my mind comes into the present moment where everything is...absolutely fine. The house and its surrounds are quiet. There is a sort of vague buzzing, maybe in my ears, but it seems more than that; like I am noticing the energy of my environment.

A minute ago I noticed the rumble of a truck on the freeway in the distance and just now a van of some sort passed down the street on which I live.

I have no desire for company whatsoever but I did open the front door a little this morning (not the security door) with a support, so that the postal man knew I was there, since the front door bell is not operating. I look forward to warmer weather when that little symbol of the world outside my door, an open front door, is in place. It hasn't been a cold winter at all but the winter symbolizes COVID and the introduction of Spring suggests that maybe things are improving.

In fact, things are improving. My city is still locked down. We still have a curfew. Practically everything is still closed. Yet, there are fewer cases every day. By the end of October some services can operate; surgery will be largely resumed for the unwell.

I live in a city that is very cafe latte/chardonnay imbibing. We love socializing. There are constantly food markets and fairs, football games, cricket matches; festivals. I am wondering if it will almost be too much. We used to have so much to choose from it was almost overwhelming. It almost felt wrong to be at home for the weekend. 

In fact, I remember that when someone asked what you did over the weekend, it seemed wrong to say you gardened, or wrote, or read. You needed, it seemed to me, to report a gathering of some sort or going somewhere to see something in particular. I wonder if we will be more inclined to be still or if we will go mad; run from one event and activity to another.

The world runs on momentum. We keep moving. That seems right. Plan something. Do something. I know I feel better in a state of momentum; not too much, but enough.

Sometimes, I ask myself, what are we moving towards? Why can't we sit in the one place and just BE? Why the guilt about that? Are we social losers if we enjoy alone time?

I close my eyes, right hand resting on my chin. I hear birds chirping. I notice the breath rising and falling in my chest. I feel my feet connected to the floor below me. Now, I hear the reverberation of the refrigerator; ever so slight. And, an aeroplane flying over me; the clicking of the laptop keyboard. 

I begin to feel connected to you; the anonymous reader that might run an eye over these words. Do you ever feel what I feel? Do you need to connect in with your own body; to live in your senses? Do you notice the moment by moment passing of time that lies behind all the momentum of the world? Do you, like I, feel energized by stopping long enough to take the time to listen?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

My Parts

A long time ago, perhaps 25 or 26 years ago, we were in Pennsylvania staying right on the fringe of the Amish community. I had long held a fascination with their lifestyle and had booked a cabin as close to the community as I could. It turns out that I had rented the cabin from a psychiatrist and among the many books in the cabin was one about family therapy. I was drawn to this book and read as much of it as I could in the time available. I knew that somewhere in the pages of that book was something important for me to know, but I wasn't ready to understand the message.

For about a year, I have been watching clips online of Richard Schwartz talking about this model of therapy wherein he gets in touch with the parts of people. Somewhere on my shelves is the book I bought Internal Family Systems. I read it and no doubt underlined key ideas  but I only took it in in a theoretical sense. I wasn't making the headway I had hoped for.

A few weeks ago I signed up for the Trauma Summit online run by Sounds True. If you don't know Sounds True, I highly recommend it to you. I forgot about this Summit and only in the last few days of the free summit I noticed an email link and began to listen to sessions. You may know that many of these free summits are only free for a short time and can be quite expensive to purchase so I drenched myself in various sessions for a day to try to catch up on what I felt was the best of the sessions offered.

In Day 6 of the summit, Richard Schwartz had given a presentation, going through the process he has for his trauma patients, and I decided to follow along, as if I were the patient. The following is what I discovered.

Just briefly, Schwartz maintains, and has established over a career of 35 years, that we are made up of parts some of which try to protect us. In this process of protecting parts of ourselves become alienated. We can heal ourselves with a little direction if we can respectfully and kindly approach a Manager and get to know it. If we can do this skillfully, openly and honestly, we can release our Self with all the components that allow us to flourish. These components are called the 7 Cs - curiosity, confidence, calm, compassion, courage, connectedness and creativity.

First of all, Schwartz explained that all our parts have talents and resources, but due to trauma and attachment issues, some parts are taken out of operation. There are parts, which are referred to as Managers, who feel the need to protect the alienated parts. You might call such a Manager an inner critic but the voice, or part, that I located was one that was not so much an Inner Critic as a very deep and intense protector; insistently demanding that I stay low; silent; acquiescent; agreeable.

I should explain that this is all happened just now, and the reason I think I was able to locate it and listen to it was that I had an experience a few days ago where I very clearly heard my Protector giving me very specific instructions.

Schwartz is clear that permission must be sought to approach a part and I did ask it if I could get close with a respectful curiosity. I sat with it, trying to understand its motives.

Here's what I learned:

The part of me that is authentic, playful, open and looking to bond was injured very early on in my life. The words that authentic part heard was 'You're not one of us.' 'Run away' 'Don't take chances.' 'I don't have time for you.' 'You need to be independent.' So, by necessity, or so it seemed to the Protector, this playful part with needs, needs to be connected and bonded, childlike, but with opinions, had to be exiled.

A Manager stepped in, a Protector, another part that spoke to me, all the time, I realize now. It said, 'Don't say anything.' 'Keep quiet.' 'You can mange by yourself.' 'It's dangerous to speak up. Whatever you do, don't speak up, it will only be much worse if you do.'

That's the voice I located the other day, a voice so familiar to me that I hadn't even realized how often it spoke to me. The voice had become a part of me.

Schwartz directed us to ask the part, 'What would you like to do, if you didn't have to do this job?' I waited for the answer and it said to me, 'I would like to enjoy watching you being authentic. I would like for that hurt part of you to stop hurting, to feel whole and loved; loveable. I would like to see you have fun; be joyful not just with yourself but with others. I would love it if you could speak your truth so I didn't have to protect you any more and I could just watch you be whole.'

Schwartz asked to see if we could turn this part - an Enemy of sorts - into a friend and thank it for having done this job. He asked us to ask this part how old it thought we were. I couldn't discern an age but the protector had been with me for as long as I could remember, so I guess it thought I was still a child.

Of the 8 Cs that can emerge, perhaps all of them, I definitely detected Courage coming forth. I had approached this material honestly and I felt a courage, a calm coming forth.

I detect the Protector's voice unsure and unwilling to let go of the job as yet. I feel a warm connection to the part. I think it has been with me for so long that it's hard to imagine it not being there. But, at least we are talking.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

My Witness

Perhaps it's my contemplative nature combined with the fact that I keep journals filled with notes and thoughts that come to me and demand some sort of voice, that I often find a sentence here or there completely resonates with the feelings I hold inside me at this moment.

So, this morning I noted on Facebook an advertisement for a woman running some sort of course. She wrote, 'We all need a sacred witness in life...'. I think that too, at the same time as I am notably private. She went on to write about 'the spirit within you' that directs you in decision making. It will vary from person to person but I think we can all get in touch with that spirit at certain moments.

And then, I happened to open a journal of mine on a page where some years ago I must have been listening to Richard Flanagan, one of our best fiction authors. I had made a note of his observation that as people we congregate within the structure of 'family'; that although we nurture, protect and love, it doesn't necessarily satisfy; that what satisfies can be unquantifiable. Maybe, he suggested, it is how something makes you feel...

Yesterday, I listened to a recording of a talk by Rick Hanson, who I admire very much; a lovely guide for meditators and an incredibly intelligent and caring psychologist. He was talking about the fact that perhaps a good question to ask about an interaction with another person is 'Do you feel bigger/open/supported, or pushed down, needing to prove yourself more?' Ultimately, he said 'they will do what they do'. Very true.

Somewhere in the discussion he mentioned feeling that some interactions were 'tender and sweet'. A bell went off in my head. Did I experience the transactions with my mother as 'tender and sweet', now or ever? I think at times she has tried to be that person, in her own way. I think she feels more than she can express.

Sometimes, I visit with her and I come away feeling, not necessarily uplifted, but not unhinged by the visit. That's a very good visit. Mostly, I come away feeling deep internal distress that I simply cannot put into words. I don't experience anything tender or sweet about those exchanges, most particularly when I go towards her body to say goodbye and she puts her arms behind her back. I am left to peck her on the cheek. Lately, that's felt like a dagger going through my heart.

I think every human does need a witness to their lives. It could be a priest, or a parent, or a friend that knows you just as you are, and accepts you just as you are. It could be someone new as well; perhaps a mentor for someone overcoming an addiction. Maybe it is only half the time a 'family' member. We have the ability to create our own family, or become fiction writers, or keep a journal, or write poetry. Whatever allows us to express what lies dormant in our soul is right. Thus, I continue to write here, in  my tiny corner of the Internet. Thank you for being my Witness.

Friday, June 12, 2020

No-one saves us but ourselves

In a guided meditation it might be suggested to you that when resting in a quiet and calm space, whatever thoughts, feelings or sensations might be floating along in your mind, it's okay.

If you think of yourself as like a container, or a vessel - an empty container or perhaps an uninhabited vessel - whatever comes and whatever goes doesn't have the power, or the opportunity to disturb that sanctum.

The vessel may notice the thoughts, sensations and feelings passing through, but it doesn't change or alter the container or vessel. Do the flowers change the vase?

The container sees no reason or purpose in latching onto what is passing through and nor does it feel compelled to repel a thought, a feeling or sensation. Since the container itself is perfectly fine, being the witness of all, any and every occurrence - so called 'wanted' or 'unwanted' events - it experiences  default ok-ness.

For most people, I am going to guess that this sort of idea isn't taken on immediately. (I am already imagining someone suggesting a vase might break...) As I experienced a tumble of thoughts during meditation, at times I had to get up and move away from my meditation. Certain thoughts derailed me; certain experiences had me feel my breath was urgently out of control. These things usually take time.

It is said that if you want to achieve anything good, it takes practice. So it is with a spiritual practice. If you want to be more warm-hearted, for example, it would be helpful to actually sit and generate kind thoughts until it becomes more natural. I don't think this is particularly different from feeling you aren't a natural cook and yet after several attempts you do manage to cook an edible and even delicious cake.

The thought of a quiet and calm space which one inhabits, and the thought of living in an open-hearted way resonates for me even in a political context. One might have feelings of contempt for a political leader at the same time as one can be open-hearted towards all human beings, even at the same time as one votes to oppose a leader, or as one might be dismayed at a political result.

Once you take this idea into the core of yourself it goes well beyond a useful thought in meditation. It becomes a way to live. Hard and fast expectations, judgments, even disappointment in people can pass through your mind as observations without needing to feel that they have in some way derailed you, impaled you or set you off course. You have, you see, removed the opportunity for that to happen. A thought is a thought is a thought is a thought.  In five minutes you will have a different thought; even an opposing thought.

When you sit quietly and still, observing what is there in the mind without judgment or labels, whatever is observed can be seen as the 'what is' of the present moment. The need to disassociate, to ignore, to freak out, is unnecessary. You've established yourself as a strong, indestructible vessel of peace and consequently whatever the mind conjures is withstood. With curiosity about the thoughts, feelings and sensations of the mind and body these observations are observed much as one might observe and examine a rare species in a museum. Isn't that all quite fascinating!

The Buddha had it worked out a long time ago. 'No-one saves us but ourselves.'

To be clear, this individual stance in no way suggests inaction. In a state of clarity of mind and conviction, there comes a time, usually a collective time, when change is sought; demanded. This is a troubling time for this world and yet a time that offers great promise. I choose to believe that we are up to the task.