Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane

After a couple days of unusually hot and humid weather, now it is raining -- the remnants of Hurricane Katrina, they say. For us, nothing but a rainstorm. But I feel awed to realize that this really is the same storm system. The maps trace the path -- it arrives here right on schedule.

I've been very busy, and I don't have a TV, and so the reality of this hurricane has not been "in my face," like for others, until now, in this deceptively gentle way. I am very fortunate.

I pause to listen on the radio and look at articles and pictures on line, and I do so in prayer. What devastation! So many people's lives turned completely upside-down! And so many lives lost, as well: people who undoubtedly heard it was coming, but for whatever reasons, could not do what others did to protect themselves.

There is almost a chastising tone in some of the reports about those in the path of the storm who did not leave, but I cannot help but think: maybe they couldn't. Only those of us who are really fortunate in this world have the means and the wherewithal to up and leave when danger is coming. You need money; you need a place to go; you need a reliable means of transportation. Those with these privileges and advantages may sometimes take them for granted. But what if you are poor, and largely walk to where you need to go, or are disabled and dependent on others for transportation, and what if you and your family have lived there all your life? How do you even begin to decide where to go, much less how to get there? The decision to stay home in the face of danger is not really as irrational as it gets made out to be. It can be heroic, especially when those able to leave choose to remain close to those they care about who are unable to leave, as in the case of a woman I read about who chose to stay put with her elderly parents who could not leave.

Those of us who are lucky continue our lives as usual. But so many now have lost so much, and it will take a long time for them to piece their lives back together. My heart goes out to them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Getting Off the Ground

I feel like I'm on one of those huge jets that takes a long time to get off the ground. Initially, you worry a little ("is this thing too heavy to fly?!"); then you feel like you're just an inch off the ground for a rather long time ("is the runway long enough?!"); and then you lift up so smoothly and quickly that you can hardly believe it.

(The contrast is those smaller planes that feel like they bolt straight up, leaving your stomach far below. Often they toss about a bit on their way up, and it seems to take forever to get to a smooth crusing altitude. About then, the pilot comes on and announces that you are about to begin your descent, while the flight attendants are hurridly trying to finish giving everyone their little pretzel packets.)

I'm at the "inch off the ground" stage. The semester is taking off, but my plane is big and full and heavy. I'm trying hard to have faith that soon we'll be fully airborne. There's a lot to attend to during this early stage, but if I attend well, we will be well-set-up to have a beautiful flight!

I'm a little astonished to find myself using an airplane metaphor, since I do get anxious about flying. But, well, that's why the metaphor is so apt.

At the same time that I get a bit anxious about flying, I also am just amazed that it is possible, and I am struck with a kind of spiritual beauty about flying. The views can be stunning. And flying offers a perspective on the world that is humbling.

I find that much of my anxiety is rooted in a question that always haunts me: "Are we supposed to be doing this? Are we allowed?" It's a strange question. Of course we are allowed. The laws of physics do permit it. Why not marvel at human creativity and human ingenuity? Am I afraid just because it's dangerous? But there is much that we do that is dangerous. Life is dangerous. We all must die. I know all this, and so it's not that... It's something else that tugs at me, and the way I've phrased the question begins to get at it.

When I ask that question, I don't just mean, "are we supposed to fly all around like this?" but I look at our impact on the planet far below, and the patterns of fields and roads and cities are so visible, and I cannot decide if I regard it all as beautiful, like creative artwork, or ugly, like scars. We have an impact -- a very visible one. We have changed the face of the planet. Is this okay? Is it good, or is it harmful?

I am immersed in deep ambivalence about being human.

So, no wonder this is the metaphor that comes to me as I face the start of a new semester. I feel a similar ambivalence about the whole academic world. Is it basically great, or terrible? I have this vision for what I hope it can be, but it seems so far from being that. So it is like when I am in the airplane. I see what our planet looks like from a great distance, and I have a vision for how I'd like it to be, and they don't fully match up. But who am I anyway to decide what it should be like?

Some spiritual traditions address the basic angst of human existence by encouraging the cultivation of a radical acceptance of what is.

But I cannot help but think that there is spiritual significance to our restless uneasiness and the continual arising of new longings. I'm not saying that every anxiety and desire is in itself good, necessarily. But we live forever caught between acceptance of what is, and longing for what we think should be -- this is the fundamental problem of human existence. How do we negotiate this constant tension? Out of that tension comes creative energy. Much of that creative energy can be transformative in good ways.

This is the essence of human freedom, and many (all?) spiritual traditions regard human freedom as a gift from the divine. A difficult gift, maybe, but a gift nonetheless.

So, I do know the answer: yes, we are allowed to fly. Yes, we are allowed to start universities, and continue to keep universities running, even if they are not perfect. Yes, I am allowed to get tenure and stay here, even if I continue to feel a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of this kind of work. Yes, all of this is okay, even if we muddle up, sometimes catastrophically.

There is something else going on, just behind a curtain. In airplanes, and during major transitions, like the start of a new semester and a new mode of being, I almost feel I can catch a glimpse, and it is that that is what is so soul-shaking. There is more to reality than meets the eye.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Kind of Complexity I'd Rather Not Embrace

A new complexity enters my life -- and the lives of many Bloggers now -- comment spamming. I watched it happen to others. Then it started happening to me.

At first there is that innocent delighted thrill: "6 comments already?! Wow!" Then you see that 5 "anonymous" commenters each say things like "nice blog!" followed by a link to their site -- but the names of the links are rather dubious...

Then you go through the "delete" process for each one, and it gets tedious. For sensitive souls like me, there is the added psychological anxiety of wondering whether you might accidentally delete a friendly comment.

So, this is a complexity I'd rather not embrace. But I like Blogger. So I optimistically said, "this is such a sudden and intense problem, surely they know about it, and maybe they have suggestions." To my delight, there was a link on my "dashboard," directing me to how to address unwanted comments by using "word verification." I am very impressed that they have addressed the problem so quickly!

So, this is why I now have "word verification" set for commenting. I apologize for the extra step friendly folk must take to leave their comments now. I myself am willing to do that when I leave comments on others' blogs, to help them manage the comment spamming problem.

We live in such a strange world. (Sigh.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

From a Student's Point of View?

I read some articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education today about an anthropology professor who spent her sabbatical doing research on today's college students. Her methodology was to enroll in her university as a freshman and live in the dorm for a year. After her research, she wrote a book: My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, by Rebekah Nathan (not her real name).

What a fascinating project! I haven't read the book yet, but some of the articles I read about it described some of her findings in some detail.

It feels like it hasn't really been that long since I was a college student, and then a graduate student, but the humbling truth is that the year I started college was, well, before my current students were even born! (And I'm not really that old -- honest!) And times have changed.

Even though I've been trying all along to try to understand my students (because good teaching demands that), I feel that I start this new academic year with a new and deeper interest. When I first started teaching, I quickly found that students were not at all like I had thought. So I tried to understand them better in order to reach them more effectively through my teaching, and I had some success. Over time, I found my way to a style of teaching that worked for me and for most of them, and even resulted in scattered spectacular successes. If I wished, I could now rest content with my current style of teaching.

But something stirs me to move to a deeper level. Not only am I concerned about that small percentage I think I fail to reach very well, but I have become dissatisfied with ... what? I detect a slight hint of jadedness creeping into my soul. Formerly infinitely patient, now I find that certain things set me off, though I handle these situations well outwardly, and some people even think I handle them better. From one perspective, it may seem that I used to be too trusting, and several painful experiences of students taking advantage of me about this have given me a healthy skepticism -- that's what some people think. But I am troubled by this shift in my soul.

We have a big ceremony welcoming the new students to campus. At the end of the ceremony, there is a moment when all of the new students and their parents part from each other. This year, I was in a position where I had a clear view of this moment, and I was stunned to see how many parents, especially mothers, were crying. My heart went out to them. College is an exciting time, but it can also be traumatic. The path ahead can be rocky and uncertain.

So I don't want to be jaded. Nor do I want to be naive and gullible. I seek compassionate insight.

But I worry. Do our colleges perhaps do too good a job at preparing students to accept and adapt to our problem-ridden world?

Do we, in our colleges, so overwhelm students with bewildering demands and relentless pressures that they become adept at cutting corners and "playing the game"? Does the harsh critical edge of the academic world make them so skilled at protecting themselves from feeling and changing that they even become unable to embrace true passion, and unable to grow in healthy ways? Do they then carry forth these well-honed habits into their lives after college?

If our college are having this effect, this is not the effect we intend. We hope that we help our students to become well-educated, in the best sense of the term. We hope that they will become responsible, compassionate, engaged citizens, in the best senses of those terms. We hope that they will do more than just "make a living" -- we hope that they become able to create for themselves meaningful and good lives.

How can we reach out effectively to our students, and draw forth their best?

Monday, August 22, 2005

From a Professor's Point of View

The academic year begins today. Classes do not yet begin, but the new students arrive for Orientation, and since I work with new students, I will meet them and their parents today in several scheduled events.

So, life feels different again. The day starts off deceptively like any other. Unlike the students, I don't move to campus to start a new school year, marking the transition with a dramatic change of location. I wake up in the same house, making the same small commute to campus for work that I make most days of the summer as well. The first real sign of a change for me is that I get dressed up.

I also no longer do a big back-to-school shopping trip. The students have to do this, at least to get their books for their courses. There's something fun about that pile of New Books. Probably before they left for college, their parents took them shopping for new clothes and some basic school supplies, and maybe even some nice things for their dorm rooms. I don't need to shop for supplies, because my department office provides them for me. But I usually symbolically get something new just to help mark the start of a new year. This year I got a new padfolio, because my old one (with the name of my graduate school on it) was starting to fray at the edges. This one is nicer quality, and so I hope it will last longer. I upgraded and let go of my graduate school one because I have tenure now. I need to be forward-looking.

Meanwhile, last night or today the new students make the trip and arrive all tired and confused and dazed. They'll figure out where their rooms are. They'll unload. (At least it's not very hot today.) They'll meet their roommates. It will all seem strange and unreal. Some pieces of campus will be recognizable from previous visits (if they visited) or from pictures, but it will mostly be unfamiliar and strange, and the feel of things will be not at all what they had imagined. There will be some happy surprises (lots of outlets!), and some disappointments ("I have to take my morning showers here?!"). There will be some anxious checking-each-other-out glances. ("Does what I'm wearing fit in? Should I change once I get unpacked?")

Meanwhile, for us professors, it is the calm before the storm. We look over our course syllabi, and polish them a bit. We don't quite want to print them out yet, because there might be last-minute changes we decide to make. But then if we delay too long, the copy room will be clogged, and the copy machines will probably give out at some crucial moment.

There's lots of paperwork to be done, but I hesitate before going in to campus, because it's when I go in that it will really hit me that the summer is over. The air will be abuzz. All of the other professors will have come out from hiding. The office and halls will be lively. Professors back from breaks are a sight to behold. Even though they may grumble and complain about how quickly the summer fled, you can tell that they are happy and excited, in spite of themselves. They are actually giddy and bouncing off the walls with their excitement, in ways they ineffectively try to hide.

The truth is, designing and teaching courses is an art form. There is a visceral pleasure in leafing through a crisp new syllabus. You cannot help being hopeful all over again, that this time the course will really work well! Or this new course will be tremendously exciting and inspiring! You mentally rehearse your First Day of Class speeches. You try to get your paperwork all organized and ready to go. You print out class rosters, and try at least to become familiar with the names. You (gasp!) actually find yourself impatient to get going with the teaching!

Ok, I'm psyched now. Time to head in to campus! It begins...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rhetorical Sensitivity

I would like to follow-up on two earlier postings, Peacemaking and Effectiveness, and Language and "Translation", by now discussing the role of "rhetorical sensitivity" in effective peacemaking.

In the first posting, I discussed hearing a talk by someone who was concerned that so many people who are interested in peacemaking and social change do not pay enough attention to how to actually be effective. They care more about being faithful than actually succeeding. The implication was that many people want to make themselves feel better by "doing something," but (for whatever reason) don't follow this up with actual analysis of whether what they did actually accomplished what they hoped to accomplish.

The reasons for this may be obvious. It is hard work to follow up with careful analysis of effectiveness. Not only does it take time and attention, it requires humility. What if you weren't very effective? We don't like facing our lack of effectiveness. It is easier to say, "I tried my best!" and blame others for why it didn't work.

But what if we really really care about succeeding? Then we cannot rest with this! All of the really successful peacemakers knew how to assess effectiveness, and learned from it, and improved their strategies. I agree with Joey Rodger -- it is imperative to learn how to do this!

And learning this requires not only education in nonviolent strategies, but also psychological strengthening -- to face one's lack of success, be willing to change, and try again, and again, and again.

A first step in gaining effectiveness is learning rhetorical sensitivity. Since most of us do most of our peacemaking through words, such as through persuading, negotiating, and inspiring to action, an excellent place to start improving our effectiveness is through improving our communication.

"Rhetorical sensitivity" means clarifying our purposes for communication and being aware of our intended audience and carefully crafting our language in order to reach our intended audience effectively.

Different communications have different purposes and different audiences. Sometimes we are really speaking to ourselves, seeking insight about something, or perhaps seeking the cathartic value of venting. Other times, we have other audiences in mind, and different purposes. We wish perhaps to convey information to others who may seek that information. Or we may want to persuade others to help us with something we care about. Or we may wish to persuade those in power to use their power differently.

When we engage others in communication, it is very important to think about who they are and consider the likely ways they will interpret our attempts to communicate. Are they likely to become defensive? If so, are there ways we can disarm them and build up trust before giving full voice to our request? Or, are they already likely to be sympathetic to our cause? How can we effectively inspire them to help? For example, do we offer specific suggestions, and respectfully offer them choices? Or do we yell at them and order them around? If we are yelled at and ordered around, are we more or less likely to want to cooperate?

It's always good to read back our words (or rehearse important spoken communications), trying to perceive them from the point of view of our intended audience to test whether our communication is likely to be received well.

Blogs are an especially interesting mode of communication, because they can feel a lot like private diaries (especially if you have few readers!), yet they dwell in very public spaces. The audience can be very unclear. Blogging "voices" thus often shift back and forth between diary-like personal/private musings/ventings, and public pleas.

Sometimes I think the intended audience is actually God.

We raise our fists of outrage at all that goes wrong in our lives, in the world, and ask, beg, for Divine Intervention. "Someone! Do something! Fix this!"

So, now I must be reflexive and ask: who is my audience? Why am I writing this, now?

It's not just me (though I am part of my audience -- I do keep saying certain things over and over to myself, to help keep me reminded). I keep hoping I will attract an audience of Concerned Souls who want to do their parts to make the world a better place, and I hope to share helpful thoughts along the way, about how to manage the stresses and strains of this kind of work well, becoming ever more effective.

There are of course many ways to make the world a better place. I appreciate artistic approaches as much as I appreciate direct peacemaking and social action.

Artists are usually already well trained in "rhetorical sensitivity" appropriate to their artistic endeavors. They learn to be critically self-reflective. They constantly hone their artistic skills, trying to express ever more effectively the inspiration they receive.

But using words well is a form of artistry too; and words have great power in changing the world.

I'll probably be developing my thoughts on this more in the coming days, but I'll pause for now.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Strengthening the Infrastructure of My Soul

Ok, I don' t just want to be posting about my inexplicable string of bad luck, so let me catch up on some other things too!

As I take stock on whether I've accomplished anything of major importance this summer, I cannot help but first be aware of the specific goals that are as yet unfulfilled. But, in truth, I think I needed most of all this summer to strengthen the infrastructure of my soul.

That statement implies an interesting metaphysical theory of human nature. But I have to say more before I can fully draw out those interesting metaphysical implications.

In between trips, I've spent more time than I would like to confess immersed in learning technical details of web world. I justified this in part because I manage several web pages and needed to brush up on my skills in web design. My exploration of blog world has been related, because much of what I read indicates that static web pages are being replaced (or supplemented) by dynamic, interactive pages. I also justify this because of my philosophical interest in the power of words, and my wondering whether the web has the power to change the world in positive ways. Sometime soon I hope to sum up my current thoughts on this.

But what does all of this have to do with the "infrastructure of my soul"? I get absorbed in this kind of work, and kind of lose myself in it, and there's something both very refreshing about this, and disconcerting. I think it has helped soothe my sense of emotional burnout. It's given me a kind of emotional peace, maybe even healing. And so maybe as long as I don't make this my permanent way of being, it's okay that I've immersed myself in a far less emotionally-charged life than I usually live. But I find it disconcerting too, because the wholeness I seek requires the positive integration of my emotional self into all of the rest of what I do. I can tell that my approach this summer will not work long-term because I have definitely been avoiding certain emotionally-charged issues as much as possible, including (as I wrote about last time) the more anxiety-producing dimensions of my work, that I simply must face soon, as other people very much depend on me for that.

But there have been other ways that I have definitely been strengthening the infrastructure of my soul. For example, my music practice has been going very well, and I feel like I am at last lifting out of a very long plateau and getting somewhere better in my playing -- I'm starting to feel a lot more solid and consistent on my most difficult instrument (the 19th century flute). It's a real joy to play. As I've discussed before, music is deeply tied into spirituality.

Also, I'm finally succeeding in getting exercise integrated into my life. There was a time in my life when I bicycled regularly. There was another time when I was running regularly, and even doing some 5K races. But in the complex busyness of my work, it all gradually fell away. I felt that adding music back in, when I started this job, made the exercise fall out. I could only sustain one form of demanding physical discipline. And now that I was in a group, the music had a kind of urgency -- I had to make time for it, but then reached a certain limit concerning how much more I could force myself to do, since I was already working just about every waking moment of my life. I became convinced that it is imperative for us to have some truly unstructured time, in which we are not forcing ourselves to do something particular. Such time was hard for me to find at all. Establishing an exercise program seemed destined to erase any hope for this at all.

But of course I still rationally knew that regular exercise can so energize you that you are more efficient in other respects, and so, in a certain kind of way, it maybe doesn't really need to take time, because it can give back energy and therefore time in other ways.

This is why the metaphysics of human nature is so interesting! We are not machines. And so the usual laws of space, time, and energy, do not apply in the ways we may initially think they should.

This is why then I held out hope that I could re-integrate exercise into my busy, complex life.

My plan was to try this during the summer, when my daily schedule is not so intense. After one false start, I had the absolutely brilliant idea of trying first a very simple program, that I called the "30 minutes, 30 days" program, for the month of July. (Ok, July has 31 days.) All I had to do was go for a walk for 30 minutes, every day. It didn't matter what time. If it could be integrated with running errands, that was fine. If it was raining, I'd take an umbrella. The main goal was just to begin integrating it into my life in as low-stress a way as possible. The brilliance of this plan was that I didn't have to feel daunted by my summer travels. A person can walk for 30 minutes no matter where one is!

I succeeded in this, for the full 31 days -- 33 in fact. Then, a little daunted by the prospect of upping the intensity, I did nothing for a few days. Then I said, "No! Don't give up! Now all I have to do is at least the same, but run a little during the 30 minutes -- just as much as I feel like -- no more!" Still, this was something new, because I had to plan a little more -- I had to wear running clothes. I couldn't just drop work for a bit to take a walk in the middle of the day. I decided to just do this as soon as I got up in the morning, no matter what time. This would simply become the new way I'd start my day.

I'm on day 4 of that. The rule is still "every day," to guard against erosion, but again, if I walk, that's good enough. I don't have to push myself too hard. But what I am re-learning about my athletic self is that I do push hard. No wonder it's been hard to be serious about bringing this back into my life. Not only am I dismayed about how far I am from where I was before, but I see that I cannot help but push myself very hard.

So, I ask myself, "why not just accept this about myself? Observe it, accept it." How did I get where I am in life without this quality? Maybe it's not an entirely fun way to live, but it is richly rewarding. It's risky (you can push yourself to injury), but I know that, and I know that what you need to do to guard against this danger is to pay attention. So, why don't I go ahead and just accept that this is how I approach things, and trust myself?

I cannot help but think that when a person is serious about making some changes in life, and sets upon a path that goes somewhere new, the person encounters "resistance" from the universe (breaking new trails is all about encountering resistance). This may explain the recent bad luck I've experienced.

Now it should be even more clear that I'm operating with a pretty strange metaphysical theory here. Bypassing the most strange aspect (why my tire would go flat just because I've started running again!) and focusing simply on the metaphysics of human nature -- how can I call "exercise" part of the "infrastructure" of my soul? Would it not be a kind of external support instead of internal? In Western thought, we tend to associate the body with the "exterior" and the mind and soul as "interior."

But when I regard my life phenomenologically (that means, when I pay attention with honesty to my actual lived experience, instead of being quick to interpret it through the theories handed down to me from Western thought patterns), what is front and center of who I am is not my body, but my consciousness, and what is front and center in my knowledge of other people is not their bodies, but the quality of their being as conveyed to me through our relationships. (In fact, I am one of those people who usually cannot remember what others were wearing unless I make a conscious effort to pay attention to things like that). So instead of thinking of people as bodies with souls dwelling somewhat mysteriously inside, I think of people as souls supported by bodies. Bodies thus are part of the infrastructures of our souls. The "happening" part of human nature is the energy our souls project into the world, and the ways in which that energy then affects and changes the world.

There is of course much more that I can say, but I'll pause for now. This is only a rough sketch. The most important technical philosophical point I would need to develop from here would be why this view of human nature is non-dualistic, but I'll save that for another time.

One More for the "Bad Luck" Series

Yesterday, I had a flat tire. I'm not kidding.

So, I just laughed. What else can you do?

I hope this is the last. Again, I want to emphasize: although I've had this string of bad luck, none of it is catastrophic, so I count my blessings!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Waning Summer

There are signs that the summer is drawing to a close. I always regard these signs with mixed feelings. In the academic life, the summer can offer precious contemplative time.

I realize too, that for myself, I appreciate the emotional break. What do I mean? Well, I am one of those people who gets profoundly emotionally caught up in the lives of the people around me. During the academic year, I am surrounded by large numbers of stressed-out people -- both my students and my colleagues! Even if I am getting better at cultivating my own inner calm (or maybe because I am getting better at this!), I cannot help but be affected by the emotional turmoil of everyone I care about. While I have not been entirely free of this during the summer, the amount and intensity of it is much reduced. And I have appreciated that relief. My soul has, most of all, needed time to rest and breathe.

Yet, I also always get excited and charged up by the start of a new school year! This has been true all my life, and yet it astonishes me anew every year. At the beginning of the summer, I know it will fly by quickly (and it always does), and I am usually so exhausted that I can not imagine ever wanting the school year to start up again. So, when August settles in and I find myself happy and excited by the e-mails announcing the start of school year events, I am just amazed.

It reminds me of my bicycle tour days. Sometimes I would get really exhausted, but I wouldn't let myself stop, sure that once I did stop, I would never be able to get going again. But finally I would just have to stop. Wearily I'd sit there and sip some water and munch on a roll and treasure every whisper of a breeze. After eating, I would just sit there and gaze around, trying not to think about anything, but just be. And then, after a rest of about a half-an-hour, I'd pack up again and get back on, and would be just astounded at how refreshed I did feel.

This is how I am feeling now. On the one hand, I am a little dismayed not to have accomplished all that I had hoped to accomplish this summer, but my happiness at the approach of the new school year tells me that the summer was not at all wasted.

The trips I took were each valuable and important. And I have accomplished some of what I hoped to accomplish.

And there is still time to accomplish a little more.

So, here are my current burning questions:

  • How do I more effectively face the aspects of my job that frighten me? When you have a really complex job with lots of demands, it is all too easy to keep veering away from the aspects that are comparatively anxiety-producing. You turn your attention instead to other dimensions of your work, and say you are "too busy" to attend to those scary tasks, until they loom with more urgency (making them more frightening). So, what are good ways to face the more stressful dimensions of one's work?
  • How can I be supportive of those around me without getting as emotionally burnt out as I became by the end of this past academic year?
  • How do I cultivate nurturing and supportive friendships and relationships for myself as well?

Monday, August 08, 2005

More Bad Luck: Now My Dryer Has Died

After a busy weekend, I got a late start on my laundry tonight. After the second load was in the wash, I found that my dryer would not turn on. Now I have wet laundry draped about the house, since it is too late tonight to do anything more decisive.

Why this stream of bad luck? (See Bad Luck Blues and Lost Luggage.)

Is the Universe trying to tell me something?

A good friend of mine told me quite firmly that such events are not "signs." They don't have hidden messages for us. They just happen.

So, I was going to launch into a huge existential crisis about all of this, but now I can't. I think my friend is right. When I think of the most spiritually centered people I know, and think about how they would respond, I imagine them just shaking their heads and laughing at the draped-about laundry and then just going to bed. So that's what I'll do.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Facing the Fullness of My Life Again

I knew it would likely be overwhelming to face everything again upon my return, and now I must say that it is exactly as I expected -- no more, no less. It's strange how one can be ambivalent about leaving, and then equally ambivalent about returning! Or maybe it is not strange at all, because that is what ambivalence is: seeing both sides. Home is good; going away is good. Might this mean that I have become somewhat successful in feeling "at home" wherever I am?

Vaguely while I was away, and more intensely now that I am back, I've been mulling over the meaning of integrity and wholeness. Specifically, I am wondering whether it is possible to bring one's whole self into every experience and every relationship. And I am also wondering whether this is desirable.

The reason I ask is because I took "work" along on this last trip, thinking I would need to spend some time attending to it in order to maintain my sense of who I am. To my surprise, I didn't want to touch it. I mostly wanted to wander about, looking at things and taking pictures. When chatting with others, I wanted to hear about their lives, and didn't really want to share about how intense this past year has been for me. So, I did not bring the fullness of my being into this experience or these relationships. I left a huge part of myself behind.

Maybe that's why my luggage didn't come. The cosmos participated with me in this experiment of mine. Even the clothing symbolic of previous adventures lingered back in the strange netherworld where lost luggage dwells, only emerging to greet me again when I am fully back here, in this life, in this self.

Maybe I needed this experiment in Being -- to just be exactly where I was, in the present, not bringing past or future along, just focused on the here and now. There is a way that this was refreshing. Maybe that is exactly what "vacation" is supposed to be about.

And yet, at the same time, it wasn't completely satisfactory. There were moments of a kind of loneliness, when I realized I wouldn't mind some high-quality attention from others concerning some of what I struggle with in life. And there were moments when I may have been holding back too much, which had the effect of not giving others a chance to participate in finding new points of connection that might have been mutually enriching.

Now I come back cautiously. I have not plunged fully into everything. I look at it all from a huge distance, and think very carefully about which set of tasks to take on first. I feel like I am easing back, one layer at a time, into the complexity of my life. My shower and refrigerator adventures of yesterday forced me to refrain from plunging forth too quickly, brought my attention firmly to the basic needs that structure our lives, and reminded me to be grateful. This morning, I was able to go through my restored morning routine with keen, appreciative awareness. It all starts from here, the basics that support life itself: water that cleans and fresh food that nourishes.

Thus cleansed and nourished, now what do I do with this gift of life? How exactly should I project myself into this complex, paradoxical world? What can I do that will truly make a positive difference?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bad Luck Blues

I'm trying to return to my "normal" life ... but after another quick weekend away, I returned to find that my refrigerator had died. It could have died anytime over the past week.

And, my shower wouldn't turn off. I had to go down to the dusty basement to turn the main water off before finally I could get the shower turned off. Then I had to go back down the dusty basement to turn the main water back on.

So, why this sudden string of bad luck? Of course it could be worse, so I shouldn't complain. The really important things (like the airplanes and the cars bringing me safely home) have gone well.