Friday, April 3, 2015

Watching, Waiting, Learning: Reflections on end of life.

A new time in my life has arrived. My father in law is ill, at home with hospice. He is the first of the four parents (my two and my husband’s two) to become ill. Pancreatic cancer.

Our humanity is rooted in our ability to die. We are manifestations that have arisen and that will pass away. Being human we know this deep down inside, which is why we have so many skills, preferences, and biological systems to support our staying alive. One of my meditation groups is studying the chakras right now and the first chakra (at the root of the spine) deals specifically with our basic needs to stay alive:  food, water, safety etc.  I also learned recently that we remember the “bad things” much more easily than the good because the memories of bad things or situations (poisonous food, unsafe areas etc.) help keep us alive. For example, if we forgot that a big hungry bear lived in a particular cave, we would be putting ourselves in danger each time we walked past or looked inside. Our memories of the negative are strong and emotionally powerful because they help keep us alive. All of this is to say that we, by our own human nature, know our vulnerability.  We know what will threaten our lives, and we do whatever we can to avoid it. 

So, when the time comes for us to pass, all of our life experience and biological hard wiring is put into action and into question. Of course this is essential for the person who is passing, but it is also something we experience as by-standers.  As we watch someone become weak, become confused, or debilitated by pain, we are confronted with our own fragility and our desire to keep those we love safe and with us. 

My father in law’s confusion is one of the hardest aspects we are experiencing.  The spreading cancer (to the brain) in combination with the strong pain medication is a recipe for disorientation. But, why is disorientation scary, to experience and to watch? Perhaps because our survival depends on our ability to orient ourselves in time and space.  As a healthy independent person, being lost threatens our survival. Being lost or the feeling of being lost triggers all of our fight or flight systems as we try to orient ourselves and find our way back home to safety.  In this way, the sensation of being lost or confused is as scary as actually being lost. And, seeing someone lose this skill is hard to process.  Of course, when we see a baby experience confusion, we have compassion, because we understand that it is our role to take care of the infant or child until they are capable of doing it themselves.  But, to see an adult we love and admire lose this ability after decades of being capable somehow seems a tragedy. 

But, this is the tragedy of life. This is why the Buddhists say life is suffering.  Our being human is the condition on which suffering rests.  And, that is also beautiful. That is the Buddha nature. 

Some people are torn from this life before we can see what is happening. Accidents, sudden heart failure or stroke do not give us the chance to witness and learn from the process of illness. Such a situation has other lessons to be learned. But, we cannot choose our fate nor the fate of those around us.  So, we respond with compassion. Compassion as we would for a baby. Compassion toward our loved ones, and toward ourselves.  Our systems for survival will kick in at every turn. That is their job and they will do what they do. We get to watch, wait, learn. This is our chance to notice our deep desire to survive and then to release that hold so we can be free of the chains of fear and accept what comes, as it comes. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tell me you love me!

We all need to feel loved.  It is essential to our health and well being. Not to mention our quality of life!

Feeling loved comes from feeling supported, connected and accepted by others. We exist in this world together. We live together, work together, play together, and dance together. Our sense of self is undoubtedly tied (in some way) to how we relate to others, as individuals and as groups. Others' reactions offer us feedback on who we are and how our actions have influence or not. But, for some of us, external feedback becomes more than just feedback. It becomes the test of whether we are worthy of being loved.

When we base our self worth on others' opinions, we enter the role of victim. We are subject to the highs and lows of that feedback.  We lose our sense of personal power when we give it away to the whims and preferences of others. On the flip side, we can't disregard all opinions of those around us.  That would be completely narcissistic and sociopathic.

It is not an all or nothing situation.  And, that is exactly what makes it so tricky and so emotionally confusing. 

I recently had a friend who posted a sort of "challenge" on Facebook, requesting those who actually care about her and the relationship/friendship to post one word in the comments about how they met.  On first glance it is a fun a playful game.  

But, when we look deeper, we can recognize the challenge as a powerful strategy for getting positive feedback which can momentarily bolster our sense of worth and importance.  Of course, the people who see it will respond!  They will want to pass the test and are now obligated if they want to affirm the relationship.  But, the strategy comes at a severe cost.  Those who don't post (for whatever reason including the fact that might not see it) have now "failed" the friendship. Is it an accurate portrayal of your friends? Or is is just a coincidence as to who was on a phone or computer at that given moment?  The test is imperfect, hugely imperfect. While it might seem benign at first, it can foster unhealthy ways of thinking about ourselves and who we are in relationship to others. What do we actually gain from asking people to post proof of their commitment or love? What happens if people don't post? And, ultimately, how does all of this affect our sense of self worth?

What does this painfully faulty, certainly imperfect, and potentially power sucking experience teach us?

Social media is entertainment (and marketing).  It is not about meaningful connection.  It can include meaningful moments, but that is the exception to the rule. In short, social media is a faulty feedback system.  As a choreographer and event director, I have learned just how easy it is for people to "like" an event or even join an event, but to actually show up at the event is another story. Social media is just plain inaccurate at times.

We know all this deep inside. Yet, we continue to play the game, and the neurons that fire together wire together. The more we engage, the more we think it is a good idea to engage.  But, it is certainly not a good idea to disengage, right? The feedback back system may be faulty, but it can still be useful, right? 

For me the key lies in the questions:
What do I hope to gain out of my time on social media?
With whom am I connecting and for what reasons?
How am I connecting and is it reflective of my real values or sense of self?

If we start to look to social media as our strategy for earning love, we will fall into a deep hole of powerlessness. This includes the moments when we feel "victory" for having 30 likes on a post, or 50 or 200! The moment of joy we feel when we get recognition is the moment we should question because it is in those moments that we have given away our power of self worth to someone else. Inevitably, the next post that only gets 2 likes will feel like a failure. Our self worth plummets again.

How do we protect ourselves from this vicious cycle?  We don't have to close our accounts, but we do have to practice awareness at every turn.  To check the highs as much as we check the lows.  We notice again and again when we are using the tool as a strategy for a deeper need like love, appreciation, connection, or acceptance.

Then we forgive ourselves. And. . . try again. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

When life has become a job. Even the fun stuff.

So, I made a huge revelation today.

I hate advertising, marketing, promoting, recruiting, and selling.  Those of you who know me personally, know that I don't use a word like hate freely. Dislike is about as strong as I go in most situations. So, for me to hate something is pretty big. Actually, its darn right colossal.

I am a creator. I love to generate ideas, make dances, write documents, design newsletter, etc.  What I hate is trying to convince someone that what I have done is worth their time, money or attention.  This commodification of the creative process eats at me; it burns up my life force and makes me really really sad.

Now, I know enough about marketing to reverse the perspective and say things like-- It is just sharing my "gift" with the world. It is letting people know of the great things I have planned or organized.  It is not about me or the event; it is about the person who is looking for something like this and wants to know about this event. . . needs to know about this event.

This things is, I don't know if I believe that.  From where I am sitting, I see throngs of people with overfull lives and no wiggle room for adding anything onto their agenda. They are too busy, too stressed, too strapped and even if they want to participate, their sleep deprivation is telling them otherwise. The supply out weighs the demand. There is more to do than anyone wants to do.

Life has become a job. Even the fun stuff. 

I will not guilt people into doing something.  I will not scare someone into doing something. I will not alienate them or devalue them as individuals if they choose not to do something. I believe in personal choice and personal freedom. I don't like manipulating someone into thinking they need something they don't want.  I can't do it. I won't do it.  Just the thought of it creeps me out!

I can't force anyone to do anything. I wouldn't want to. 

Here is the reality. I get sad when people don't come to my shows or to my events. It makes me sad that others do not see the value I see in the things to which I dedicate my time and energy. It triggers a deep sense of unworthiness in me. In my most downtrodden moments I wonder: Is it because I am just not good enough?  Maybe.  Or maybe I am fantastic-- but just a terrible promoter. 

What I know is that I believe in the things I do. I love doing them. I just don't have it in me to promote; I don't want to market; I don't want to convince; and, I certainly don't want to sell anything.  I have to detach from the outcome. I have to love the work so much that I would do it alone in a room with the lights out. A teacher of mine asked: what does a person do when they have made something no one wants? Like a hostess who has prepared a fabulous desert for a group of guests who just aren't that hungry.

The guests are not to blame because they are not hungry.

The hostess is not to blame for being generous and caring.

But, what happens to all that extra cake?

I don't know. I just don't know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Each Moment is a Choice

We when engage with life, we usually have a strong reason why we choose what we choose.  I'm not saying that the strong reason is always a good reason nor is it always a healthy reason, but we are propelled to do things all day long by strong reasons. Why did you get out of bed today? Was it out of a love of the quiet morning hours? or perhaps it was the fear of being late to work and losing your job? Was it to care for your children whom you love so much?

Each moment is a choice.

That is the reality. For most of us the choices are small-- or rather seem small.  Do I agree to this project? Should I do my laundry today or tomorrow? We are fortunate that we have this much freedom of choice. Some people in the world face the choice to continue with the status quo or die as a consequence? THAT is a strong reason behind one's choices.

For those of us with depressive tendencies reasons can feel a little murky.  Sometimes I feel I don't know what I want at all. I can't tell what would bring me joy or what would perpetuate my state of discomfort and fogginess. This is one of the ways I experience the apathy of depression.  It is not that I don't care, but I can't tell what I care about. 

We are emotionally fragile beings. I think that we are all thin skinned when it boils down to it.  We are sensitive to our situation, and we can choose to notice that or to shut it down, stifle it, move on.  When we feel what we feel more fully, we can learn that is truly motivating us.  Joy or Fear, Love or Hate, Generosity or Greed. 

Engaging with life means more than going through the motions. Each day, each moment, we have a choice to drop into the full experience of the present. The more frequently we drop in, the more honest we can be with ourselves about our motives. And, if we really want it, then we should enjoy it.  We can love it and ourselves in the process.  We can't be perfect, but we can be more aware. 

Awareness is the choice. 

How do you really feel right now?

What do you really want to do in this moment? Why?

What would it take to make you excited to wake up tomorrow? Why?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Expectations are the worst!

Time and time again I get caught in emotional gridlock due to expectations and assumptions made either by me of others or by others of me.  Expectations are the worst! They are a sure fire way to suck enjoyment out of most situations and ruin otherwise perfectly pleasant interactions and relationships. 

Too bad. 

The biggest problem is that we are human. There is no perfect way to communicate; there are no perfect words. We don't come with directions and neither does any one else in the world.  We stumble along our paths, bumping recklessly into each other hoping we don't bruise each other or ourselves too badly in the process. We can't help our messiness.

There is a verse from the Tao Te Ching that states "The skillful traveler leaves no tracks." What a beautiful image to remind us how we all can aim to be more skillful in our lives!  It is a reminder that it is possible to skillfully navigate our way through the world-- not just toward the environment but toward each other. When we interact with each other we often leave behind a residue that they carry with them and that we carry with us from that point on.  The messier our interactions the thicker and more toxic the residue becomes. If only we could act with such clarity, respect, patience and non-attachment, that we didn't leave behind our nasty residue on each other.

But, unfortunately, it takes practice, and, in the best of cases, we will only ever be one half of a relationship. When we have unvoiced expectations of each other, we are brewing a our toxic soup of emotions. We are setting ourselves up for crisis, and, when we are unclear about what others can expect from us, then we are giving them an opportunity to brew their special blend of resentment, hurt, disappointment, fear, anger, jealousy or embarrassment.

We can't avoid all misunderstandings, but the clearer we communicate our needs to others and the more clearly we establish our boundaries in what they can expect from us, we increase our chances of avoiding total disaster.

And, when the occasional disaster strikes, we do what we can to mediate with compassion so we can move forward and try again.

Read more of the Dancing Poetess here:
I want to write gooder
Did you make your bed today?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I want to write gooder.

I haven't been blogging that much this month, in part because I have been writing so many other documents that I am "computered out" by the time the work day is done. In fact, I have discovered that most of the projects I have on my list of "things to do while on sabbatical" are sedentary, and, of those, the majority involve being on a computer. In other words, I am writing a lot just not blogging.

Here's what I have in the works: two first drafts for articles regarding dance literacy, half-completed legal and procedural documents for CDEA, and, last but not least, my actual sabbatical project on dance notation and literacy lesson plans. I have probably written about 10,000 words this month (a modest guess).

I believe I am a decent writer. I feel I am usually clear in my thoughts and have a generally easy time getting my point across. But, I acknowledge that I am not a strong copy editor. I know that my syntax is rather unvaried and that I often err on the side of sentences being short and to the point rather than complex and scholarly. Being a decent writer brought me this far and has served me well as a student and as a teacher, but these days I am asking more of my writing. I need my writing to be better than mediocre. I need it to be seamless, and I want it to be excellent.

I figure if my first drafts look more like second or even third drafts, I will be able to get more of my ideas out there in the world and be able to write and move on. My current writing practice looks something like this:
1. I get a jaw dropping, amazing idea (or at least an interesting one)
2. I jot it down in a flurry of passionate excitement
3. I leave it alone
- or-
4. I try to find a way to share it, which requires me to edit, edit, edit.
5. I reconsider leaving it alone.

Editing is both difficult and boring! It can be fun to edit someone else's work, but it is terrible to sit down and edit my own. So, rather than force myself into the throes of editing, I decided to take on the much more ridiculous task of becoming a better writer to begin with. Is this crazy?  Perhaps. But, I love learning, and, if I turn the task of improving my prose into a game of learning, I improve my chance at succeeding. Force-feeding myself the drudgery of the editing process is likely to kill my process outright.

Writing is a lot like choreographing. It is a creative practice that requires the creator to invest fully into the process. This requisite vulnerability is what makes editing one's own work so emotionally challenging and so seemingly impossible. It can feel like we are editing ourselves when we edit our writing. It's personal. The more passionately we feel about the topic, the more susceptible we are to a painful editing process.

We all need a safe space to practice. Cue trumpet fanfare. Welcome to blogging!

Those of you who read my blog know that I'm not a perfectionist when it comes to grammar (I have probably made a dozen mistakes so far in this very post! Learning is a process). I care more about the lesson, the content, the issue at hand. But, I have a lot to say, and I don't always have a lot of time to get it out. In this case, the issue is how I can become a better writer. So, I will try my hand now and again with various lessons I learn and maybe they will help you too. We can all use a brush up on our grammar, right?

Today's Lesson:
Taken from "How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar" by William Safire.
"When a dependent clause precedes an independent clause put a comma after the dependent clause."

Let's try that again.

When a dependent clause precedes an independent clause, put a comma after the dependent clause.

Now that's better. My goal is to practice using the various subordinators to start my sentences and see if that yields a little more variety in my writing.  Wish me luck!

List of Common Subordinators:
as if
as long as
as soon as
even if
in case
so that