Monday, May 25, 2009

A Conversation With My Father

Memorial Day 2009

Today I had a conversation with my father. I have visited him several times in the last two years because I needed to talk with him about things that I felt only he could understand.

My father died in July 1981 and because he was a Marine who served in World War I, he was buried at Willamette National Cemetery along with numerous other veterans. I know that he is not in that hallowed ground. His spirit is free. Because he is free I feel him with me at any time I turn my attention to him. But, somehow it seemed important to visit that special place on this day. I also watched part of the annual service there honoring all veterans and men and women currently serving.

Last night I watched on Public Television the National Memorial Service held in Washington, DC. Needless to say, it was a moving tribute to the untold numbers of men and women who have stood in the defense of our country from its earliest times, through the horrible Civil War and all engagements since then up to and including the current wars we face in Iraq and Afghanistan. With each tribute I felt more deeply the need to make the trip to visit with my father.

My parents were divorced when I was eleven years of age. After the divorce I made every effort to have time with my father, taking the bus from rural Washington County into Portland. When he was a mail carrier I often walked his route with him when I visited. It was important to me to maintain as close a relationship with him as I could. Through the years as I lived in other parts of the country I would visit him whenever my business trips brought me back to Oregon. I remember so many of the simple things he used to tell me and show me to make some point about behavior or positive attitudes. Still, because of the geographical separation, I also felt I never quite had enough opportunities to enjoy a deeper relationship with him.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons I have made several trips to visit with him in the last two years. How easily we take for granted that important people in our lives will always be there when we need them. The fact is we all move on at some point so it is best that we make the most of our time together.

I have heard often, “When you grow up, you’ll understand.” Or, “When you get to my age you will know why this is important to me.” Well, I have grown up and I am past “that age” when I am suppose to understand those things it was assumed I did not know when younger. And, yes, I do understand many things much more clearly now. One thing I know is that young folks seldom have the capacity to put themselves in the shoes of their elders, and thus really understand them or their needs. I didn’t. I thought I did. I thought, immaturely, that I had most of the answers. Again, I didn’t.

As I sat by my father’s resting place the conversation was not so much words as it was feelings. I felt understood. I felt loved. I felt encouraged to keep on keeping on in my effort to live life with enthusiasm, to embrace it fully in every way I can. My father cannot do those things for me. No one can. It is up to me to refocus on the Presence within me that is my strength. I am the one who must rebuild trust, the trust that knows indeed all things work together for good.

I have been surprised by the sense of satisfaction and solace I have felt when visiting with my father. I have never been one to give undue importance to death and the burial of my loved ones. As I said earlier, I know they are not in whatever physical place their remains reside. Another thing I realize is that no matter how comforting my visit was, I would rather have five minutes with my father alive than forever sitting by his grave.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Unconditional Forgiveness

Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past. ~ Jack Kornfield

I have tried unsuccessfully to begin the story of just what has been going on in my mind and heart for quite a while now. I have started, diverged, evaded and given up thinking I could actually tell my story and leave in anonymity the characters so much a part of that story. Some of my readers have known much of the story. Others who frequent my blog have probably guessed some parts of it as periodic articles hinted at issues upon which my attention focused. It is the larger story of the love, hurt, hypocrisy, deceit and lies that finally led to the disintegration of a family. Finally, it is a story about forgiveness.

This is not an article about forgiveness accomplished. It is about the effort, the desire, and the absolute requirement to achieve full atonement so life can go on. The only person to have never made a mistake does not live on this planet. I have made so many mistakes that I am sometimes surprised I am still able to believe I can find yet another opportunity to see and set things right in situations yet unresolved.

Everyone makes poor choices in words or deeds before they know any better and before they realize what the consequences will be. There is nothing on this planet or in this universe that is outside the bounds of forgiveness . . . I said nothing that a human may have done, is doing, or might do, is outside the bounds of forgiveness. Nothing.1
You may want to read that paragraph again. I have read it numerous times and ask the same questions you probably are: “But what this person did is so heinous, how can you expect me to forgive?” We typically think that there are just some things unworthy of the effort to forgive. We can name names and events and conditions, all justifiably worthy of our contempt and lack of forgiveness, in our mind. We have been hurt, disparaged, humiliated and abused in some way. But the truth of our lives is that we have no choice. Without forgiveness, total and unconditional, we cannot move on in life. Failing to forgive brings the persons, events and conditions ever forward in our lives, harassing us and impeding our growth. Our physical and emotional energy is depleted by our constant attention to the open wound. Ultimately, failing to forgive will literally take our life from us.

Yes, there is real pain when relationships fall apart due to actions that seem purposely designed to stab us in the heart. Forgiveness is mostly concerned with problems in our relationships with others. It is here we make ourselves vulnerable because we trust another and we invite them into our innermost thoughts and feelings. When there is a misunderstanding, anger, frustration and disappointments arise and we are devastated. When trust is broken all we want to do is get far away from the person, event or condition. We try, but it does not work.

We are told to “forgive and forget,” but I think we all know that does not work either. When forgiveness is expressed there is no need to forget. The cycle is complete when forgiveness is offered and we can learn from how that cycle of events developed. To simply forget might include escaping the lesson to be learned from the situation that caused us hurt. When we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat that history with new faces and new places. It might save us a great deal of time and effort if we can begin the healing process right where we are by taking specific actions of forgiveness. It is difficult, but no one ever said life was easy. The difficult lessons impress us more deeply oftentimes so we learn them more completely.

In my family there has been a terrible disintegration between the various members. Unpleasant words and actions resulted in tense and uncomfortable conditions. Love appeared lost and separation occurred. My heart has been broken by the conditions that brought about the destruction of trust and caring for one another. When one member disparages another to yet another member of the family, a betrayal takes place. When that happens a great deal of effort is required to return to the truth. I wish I could tell you that I have been able to forgive without conditions, but I have not. I have told myself that I had done what I needed to do, but if that were the case the healing would have a different look. I would feel comfortable about my family members. Some situations have been resolved and love is again rebuilding. It is wonderful when that occurs! Other situations remain open awaiting my ability to see more clearly the path I must walk to that place where forgiveness is fully functional in all parties, but mainly in me, and resolution is achieved in whatever way that comes forth.

Sometimes resolution does not mean returning to the way things were, in fact, I don’t think it ever works out that way. Breakdowns occur and reconstruction may be started on the basic foundation of a relationship, but the product will be different with new materials/attitudes and new ways of communicating, caring and loving. With that belief in mind, I continue to place myself and my family—son, daughter and grandchildren—in the Presence of All Embracing Love. I trust that healing can and will take place for all.

1 Women Who Run With the Wolves. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, page 377

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Random Notes

Something To Think About

I recently read an article in one of the blogs I follow: The View From My Tiny Window. The article discussed a variety of views of government and ways in which it works (or doesn’t). It prompted this response from me and I decided to share it with you.

Finally, someone has dared to say we are not ready for universal health care! That on the “front end” we do everything to kill ourselves with excesses in food, self-indulgence and laziness, and then expect the government to take care of our illnesses is just another form of “not in my back yard-ism.” By that I mean we want to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it and we want government to stay out of our lives. Then when we get into trouble we want the government to take care of us without our need to make any changes in our behavior.

How to find the balance between individual responsibility and assistance from our “groups” (family, local, regional, national government) will ultimately rely on our development of efficient systems and cooperation among the various entities, rather than fortress building and competitive power bases. Finally, I have to take care of myself and form bonds within my closest group, usually the family, so that we are able to care for each other. This then extends, where necessary to the next level of groups. Were this plan executed responsibly there would be a much smaller government, integrated and focused more specifically. The highest level would only do what those beneath it could not do.

Yes, I am aware that this is a more Libertarian approach, which goes to show you that there is some good in all political ideologies.

And Then There Is Star Trek!

I am a sci-fi fan so it was important for me to get out and go see the latest version of going where no man has gone before! I haven’t been out to a movie for at least two years. I am patient. I wait for the movie to show up on television.

In this prequel to the original series, which I watched faithfully with my family in the sixties and seventies, a whole new experience thrilled me. I saw it at an Imax theater, also a first for me. Fortunately, I am still able to hear, in fact maybe better since the powerfully smashing sounds of space ships coming apart all over the cosmos probably shook loose some of the clutter in my hearing system.

Chris Pine as the rowdy, super egotistical, yet genius James T. Kirk surpassed my expectations. (I think he is more likeable and real than William Shatner.) As Spock I was totally surprised to see the great performance of Zachary Quinto, who is the ominous dark character, Sylar, in Heroes. Of course, we are getting used to what can be done digitally now in the movies and TV, but the graphics were truly out of this world for me! What a contrast to the original black and white TV series.

Well, I just had to share this personal note with you all. I hope you get out to see the new Star Trek, especially if you are a sci-fi fan. Incidentally, at this showing there were more people of my generation than from the younger generations.

Give me warp speed, Scotty!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Still Working On It!

Writing is an interesting process for me, as I imagine it is for other writers as well. I seldom simply sit down and write. What often happens these days is that I will take time for meditation, lie down for a nap or go to bed and immediately my mind flows with ideas developed in full form, words and phrases eloquently arranged to produce true gems of enlightenment. “So,” you might say, “where are these gems you supposedly are capturing?” Well, the truth is that as profound as they seem when I first experience them, they are mostly gone by the time I get to the computer.

Even what I am writing right now is nothing like it was fifteen minutes ago when I lay down for a nap. It is frustrating! There are things I really do need to be clear about, things I want to say. There are insights I have gained during my “sabbatical” that I think would be of interest to others. Part of that frustration comes from why I write in the first place.

First, I write for myself. I have found, for the most part, that the process of putting words together helps me clarify what I am feeling, thinking and experiencing. Getting ideas out of the fuzzy corners of the mind and onto paper seems to give them a kind of solidity, something tangible that can be handled, played with and molded into something with a degree of specificity that may address an issue I am attempting to resolve.

Second, I write because it is very satisfying to feel the sense of productivity that comes from actually starting and completing a project. There are so many things in my life that I have started with good intentions but never really brought to completion. Therefore, that sense of satisfaction that comes from something well done, often was never fully experienced.

Finally, I write because I do not think I am the only person in the world that deals with certain issues, relationships, success/failure or any of the other things that come up in our lives. Maybe what I discover and write about will be said in just the right way to help someone else deal with his/her own struggles. If that happens, it is frosting on the cake for me, something extra that I could not experience otherwise.

So, here I am, posting another effort at communicating which is not exactly what I wanted to say. I promise that I am working on writing about my March “sabbatical” as I assured you I would. One thing I have come to realize, at least in the beginning phases, is that without a task there is no transformation. I began the task of my journey asking, “Why am I on this quest? Do I really care about my physical existence? How can I find out? How can I solidify my feeling for life?”

Coming up later: Another look at forgiveness and how completely we must embrace it. This is a real toughie for many of us.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Asking the Right Questions

When I wrote that I was going to take a sabbatical in order to consider some “new” questions about my life and my purpose I didn’t know at the time just what the “new” questions were going to be. I think I expected them to simply be a rehash of questions I have asked myself most of my life. That is the way the journey began, but it is not how it turned out.

It seems there are points in the lives of each of us where we feel a greater need for introspection, meditation, or contemplation because we feel a bit like a boat without a rudder. A boat without a rudder may sail along just fine, unless you want to go somewhere specific. Then you discover that without the rudder you aimlessly drift along with little satisfaction or sense of accomplishment.

I have come to points like this several times in my life. These plateaus where we find it necessary to take a break for a while are not necessarily negative events nor do they indicate a lack of life value. They are simply places where we have the opportunity to review our priorities and consider altering our direction.

This time around, my questions seem to center on getting a better understanding of my feminine nature. I wanted to better understand my feelings, my empathetic nature and why deep emotions seem to surface so dramatically for me at times.
Asking the proper question is the central action of transformation—in fairy tales, in analysis, and in individuation. The key question causes germination of consciousness. The properly shaped question always emanates from an essential curiosity about what stands behind. Questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to swing open. 1
Somewhere within me there is an aching, a longing that has been expressing itself more and more often as deep feelings of connection with some of my fellow human beings, not necessarily anyone I know personally. The feelings surge up when I see others hurting or feeling alone without the company of others who might be supportive in their time of need. I may see this in a television drama, the evening news, and the newspaper or just about anywhere one hears about others and their difficulties. It also wells up in me when I become aware of significant help someone extends to another, a random act of kindness. Both negative and positive stories attract my sense of empathy.

The curiosity that stands behind the questions I ask myself about why I have these feelings and what I am supposed to do with them hopefully will open more widely the secret doors of my own psyche.
Often the creative life is slowed or stopped because something in the psyche has a very low opinion of us, and we are down there groveling at its feet instead of bopping it over the head and running free. In many cases what is required to aright the situation is that we take ourselves, our ideas, our art, far more seriously than we have done before. 2
I find this notion particularly interesting. Realizing that the blocks I might feel in my creative life could be an inner low self-image certainly is not a new notion, but seeing it in print gave me the opportunity to look at that issue again, perhaps opening the “secret doors” of my psyche. For the most part I feel I am aware of the self-image limitations I have placed upon myself, so my questions were to get at how to handle the empathetic emotions that overwhelm me at times. What is their productive use? (My pragmatism and logic at work, which takes me away from the feelings and into my masculine mind.)

The larger questions to be considered are: What/who am I really? What is my work in this life? What do I hunger for? What do I long for? Additionally, I think I must come to terms with whether I believe in my ability to do what my life experiences require of me in order to enter into transformation. Am I simply sitting on the sidelines because it is comfortable there and there is less to challenge my status quo? Or, is my apparent sideline sitting really just an opportunity to consider new ventures and to find ways to utilize the skills and belief systems I have developed through the years?

As you can see, I have not finished my quest (and I don’t think we are designed to “finish” our quest anyway!). However, I have gained some new insights that I plan to share in later postings, so stay tuned.

1 Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, page 52
2 Ibid, Page 70