mental / emotional / spiritual health

We talk about having a “go-bag” for natural disasters. How about having a plan in place for mental / emotional / spiritual problems? Do you have a daily practice that keeps you grounded and stable? What can you share of that to help others? Many of you know that I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for nearly 20 years. I have committed myself twice, and am in recovery. That being said – I have also been married for 14 years, held the same job for 17 years, and have excellent credit and health. All of that happened after my diagnosis. There is a LOT that I do to keep myself sober – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Mental/emotional/spiritual health is an inside job and requires as much work as physical health – if not more so, because our society doesn’t value it. Perhaps it is time to. We have lost too many people to suicide, to substance abuse, to mass murder. We have a mental-health epidemic going on. Sanity starts with each person, making tiny daily steps on a consistent basis, towards getting stronger. It isn’t easy, but it is essential.

Things I do –
No substance abuse – this includes the usual suspects but also I severely limit caffeine and sugar of all sorts.
Daily exercise.
Reading the Bible.
Making art.
Doing worksheets for my emotional health.
Doing family of origin work.

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The Library Closed

And then it was the day the library closed. Not just for the evening, or the day, or even for a holiday or staff training, but forever, but nobody noticed. Nobody noticed for the same reason it closed. They simply stopped coming.

It hadn’t happened all at once. It had taken a decade or so for the people to forget how to read, why to read. Of course they knew, they weren’t illiterate they’d say, but choosing not to read was the same as not being able to read when push came to shove, so there you go.

The library had adapted itself over the years, rolling with the changes. Librarians are smart cookies. They notice change. They notice when people check out less and less books. They notice because librarians like data. They like statistics. So they saw the train coming and tried to get out of the way before they were squashed, before they were swept away like so much debris after a car wreck.

The libraries first got the post office to let them handle the tax forms. Libraries are open into the night, unlike post office. Libraries have computers too, so people can file right then. Libraries have librarians too, and while not being IRS agents were nonetheless usually able to make a pretty good guess when it came to unusual questions about tax forms.

Then they got the voter registration forms. Then they had early voting. Then driver’s license renewal kiosks.

They started teaching classes, for free, open to the community about anything and everything, desperate to show they were still relevant, still needed. Anything to get their numbers up. They started offering free tax help, ESL classes, help signing up for healthcare, section 8 housing, and naturalization. None of these things had to do with what libraries had always been about.

But still the people didn’t come in to read. Maybe they read on their tablets. Maybe they read only magazines. Maybe they only listened to talk radio. Whatever they did, they didn’t check out books. Some said “Oh I don’t use the library anymore now that my children are grown”, as if reading is something only toddlers do, instead of being something people do.

Somehow they forgot (or never knew) that reading is what makes us human, makes us civilized. Somehow they forgot that reading is how humans get new information into their heads. Somehow they forgot that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

If an invading force had closed the Libraries the community would be up in arms. But we closed them, through lack of use. We are to blame for our closed libraries and closed minds.

So the library relaxed its rules. People could be loud. People could eat food. Some libraries even had cafés, like coffee shops. They became rebranded as “third spaces”, where people were encouraged to visit between work and home. The library had to do this. But in letting loud people in, they chased away the people who needed quiet. So while gaining new patrons, they lost other ones.

And the books. The book started going away. Those that didn’t check out in two years got sent downtown in a cardboard box. The workers hoped they would be sent to another library, but in reality they were sold for a few dollars. A $26 book sold for nearly nothing to some online wholesaler. And every year they scrambled for a budget but the books went away.

So there were fewer and fewer books, so there were fewer and fewer checkouts, so there were fewer statistics. And so it goes, on and on, until the library painted itself into a corner and there was nothing left.

So the library closed because of lack of interest. There was no need for them anymore. America has proven through its actions that it no longer needed quiet or information.

Sunday meditation 4-22-18

Once a week isn’t enough to show that I love God, to remind me that I am a servant of God. But it isn’t just at a church service that you do that – but life. The church service should give you fuel and marching orders – and the rest of the time you are out in the field – working – planting seeds of hope and love, and reaping joy.

It is where you put into practice what you learned.

I like what monasteries do – you meet at least three times a day to pray. This reminds me of how AA works – you go to as many meetings as often as you would have gotten drunk. So now that you are sober, you pray instead. This keeps you from slipping into sin (of whatever sort) and you stay on the path. It keeps you on the wagon, on the Way.

Sin and addiction are closely related – and are cured the same way. Turn away from your own way of doing things, because those obviously weren’t working. Turn away from the world’s ways of “fixing” problems, which often end up causing more. Turn towards God – the One who is the true Healer. Work out your problems by yoking with God.

The little children shall

It had to happen. The children needed to lead. The time of decision was approaching. The time of no turning back. The final test.

Ragnarok wasn’t a precise term, but it was sufficient enough to make people take notice.  Armageddon, the Second coming – the Rapture. Whatever, as long as they took it seriously. As long as they remembered, passed it down from generation to generation, so the idea was set in them, like DNA. It wouldn’t do for them to forget.

But the children – they were the ones we had been waiting for. Not us. That message that came through the Hopi nation wasn’t for us. It was for our children.

But not all of them.

Conservation of matter works with intelligence and ability too. It turns out there is only so much to be handed out. So instead of it being averaged out like it had in the past, it was sharply skewed now.

They  first noticed all the children with autism, with Asperger’s, those on the spectrum. How could they not?

But the others. They are only now appearing. They were among us all along. The bright-eyed ones. The awake ones. The leaders, the visionaries, the inventors.

They were created out of the same stuff as the loners, the suicides, the school shooters. They had the same chance to pass over into the darkness, the danger. Both had the same level of aspiration and anxiety. Both had the same level of craving and desire that are standard issue with all humans.

But the heroes, the saviors, were the ones who had learned to delay their appetites – not to do without, but to shave up. they learned that the best indeed came to those who chose to wait.

They were not born with this ability. They did not have any more “will power” or “discipline” that the other children, the lost children.  They did not have greater IQs either. But somehow they chose the correct path, the slow but sure one, the one that leads to hope, and more importantly, they stayed on it.

The fast way, the quick way, the instant gratification way was the easy love, but the slow quiet death.

They weren’t especially unloved or ignored, these shadow children, these suicides, these school shooters. Some of the saviors were also from broken homes, homes with just a mother, or even just a grandmother. Some of them were equally bullied at school, equally lost and confused.

In many ways they were the same, made up of all the same ramshackle, tumbledown stuff of any normal childhood, the same despair and grief we all experience in isolation, all feeling uniquely alone, unfairly overlooked.

The bright ones, the awake ones, were different in that they chose to not idolize their lack and loss.  They didn’t identify with it. They didn’t name themselves “divorce” or “ignored” or “poor”. They worked with what they had, no matter what it was. They made a torch out of a spark, and used that flame to light the path.

The others fed on their pain, growing it in secret, nursing their injury (the same thing the others used as a stepping stone) and growing it day by day, into a pearl as large as an ocean, a chasm as vast as a canyon.

They grew their pain (the same pain) into a weapon, a feeling of frustration, of being-owed, of an account balance fallen short. They forgot (or never knew) that their pain wasn’t special, wasn’t personal.  Or rather, it was personal, because it was part of being a person.

But they took it as a special unspecialness, an intentional slight, a deliberate attack, instead of as a challenge, a choice.  They could have chosen to rise above, to fly clear of the debris and dirt of the world. They could have chosen to ignore the noise of all kinds that swirl around, but instead chose to allow it to infect them, chose to see it as an attack instead of an opportunity.

The ones who will lead us now, the little children, they will be our healing, if only we will listen to them.

We too have a choice.

Music for Monkeys

music for monkeys

They gave up trying to teach a monkey to type the next Shakespeare play. But since music supposedly calms the savage, they taught him to play a tiny guitar instead. It made sense after all – he could play tunes to calm himself down, rather than a researcher having to do it. Once he had access to the guitar and finally understood that it was for making music and not for hitting people or other monkeys over the head, he calmed down dramatically. Just being able to express himself had the desired effect.

They’d tried to teach Abe how to sign but he wasn’t having it. It didn’t make sense to him – this gesture meant what? It was too abstract for him. Why make a sign with his hand, when he could grunt or scream at them? They eventually figured out what he wanted. Meanwhile, he enjoyed screaming. It was fun and made his keepers (his jailers) so anxious. It was funny to watch, to see how he could make them so upset and nervous.

But then they brought the guitar to him. The jailer played it at first and the tones were different, weren’t like their voices. The jailer even sang – and his voice was different, was kinder. If only they could always speak to him like that!

Abe thought  that maybe they could learn how to talk with music, so these dimwits could finally get him what he wanted faster. The amusement of their confusion was wearing off. He wanted to deal with them as little as possible. Even fighting was getting old.

Finally, after nearly a year of practice, he was ready for his first public performance. He was no longer in his cage – the audience would be shocked to think of how he been imprisoned. Most thought of it as a zoo, and either forgot or overlooked the fact that he didn’t choose to be there. He wasn’t asked when he was taken from his home. It wasn’t voluntary. He didn’t want to be an example of his kind.

Many thought of the zoo as an educational opportunity, a chance for people to learn about animals in a safe and clean environment. They also thought they were doing the animals a favor. The same “safe and clean environment” was so much better than a wilderness home, the people told themselves. They pointed out how the animals lived so much longer in captivity. They didn’t understand that quantity wasn’t the same as quality. Longer wasn’t necessarily better.

Abe was supposed to play a nursery song, one that was easy and would show off his talents. Nothing too complicated or he’d fumble and the audience would stare or laugh. It was important to get this right.

The audience wasn’t just any old audience. They were benefactors, donors, patrons of the arts. It was their generosity that made the “Music for Monkeys” program possible. If this failed, the whole program would end. It was all riding on Abe, but he had not been told this.

Yet he played better than expected, and more. He played flawlessly, with real feeling, for the first 20 minutes. Perhaps something took over then, some deep down part of him, because that feeling came up and out and over and suddenly he was playing a new song, a sad song. A song sadder than standing on the platform as the last train leaves for the evening. A song sadder than the end of summer break. A song so sad that the audience caught the feeling tied up inside it without words, and they understood the pain of imprisonment in the name of “education” or “rescue”. They heard within the notes his longing for a home he would never see again, a family he would never again embrace. It didn’t matter if they might no longer be alive because of disease or poachers. They had lived as monkeys, not as exhibits, as specimens, as one-off examples of their kind, meant to be on display to any and all, young and old, as the epitome of “monkey” to these rubes, these ticket holding members of this permanent circus that is a zoo (sometimes euphemistically termed a “wildlife park” for much the same reason cemeteries are now memorial gardens).

The audience felt through Abe’s new music the joy of waking up with the sunrise, embraced by the arms of a tree, with leaves as a blanket. It felt the joy of wandering every day to see new places and other animals, every night a new bed in a new tree. Every day was the first day for Abe’s kind – a new adventure and excuse to discover. No worries about a car or mortgage or clothes, so no worries about a job or reputation either.

The people thought they were safe because of all they owned but now they understood that it owned them. They had become chained themselves, slowly, but surely. They had put themselves into a zoo of their own making. They had forgotten their own wildness, their own true nature, in their striving to be civilized. Abe, with his monkey music, reminded them of who they really were, and who they could become again.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. When the music finally stopped, when the guitar strings stilled, they all sat in silence for what seemed like forever. Finally a child spoke, and asked Abe what his real name was, the one before his capture. What was the sound his family, blood and otherwise, called him? And he didn’t know. It was lost to him, trained out of him for so many years. So the child gave him a new name, a snippet of that song that awoke them all, as a reminder of who he truly was.

Meditation on head covering.

This is a photo from April, 2015, when I decided to start covering my head every day instead of just on the Sabbath.  I did it in response to an ignorant statement from a woman at a diversity class that I had to attend.  She stated that it was backwards for women from Muslim countries to cover, that they were oppressed.  I find it significant that this class was meant to teach us how to get along with each other, but here was the teacher saying something divisive. I told her after class that some Christian women cover.

She didn’t know that I am included in that because that was during the week and my head was bare.  So she thought it was OK to say something less than inclusive – like how people will look around before they tell a racist joke – assuming that if you are of the same color as them, you will agree.

 

I like that covering my hair makes people have to look at me as a person, and not as a body. It slows people down. They don’t assume that they can be intimate with me (and that word means more than physical). This society assumes a lot and takes a lot of liberties.

 

There is some spirituality in the practice of covering, and some religion. I can cite the Bible verses, but they aren’t the point. Nobody told me to do this. I’m not under anybody’s control – except God’s. I feel called by God to do this. It is a reminder to me that I am a precious child of God. It is a sign that I am focused more on the spiritual than the physical.

 

Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and some denominations of Christian women do this as a sign of modesty. What I find most interesting is that I get more flak for doing this than when I shaved my head.

 

Also, I cover as part of my commitment to being sober. When I was stoned, nobody noticed or cared. Now that I am sober (in as many ways as possible), people get irked. That is very interesting to me.

 

On that day I wore a pin with Nefertiti. Notice her amazing headpiece. It is her crown, and therefore a symbol of her authority. I suspect she wore that around people who needed to be reminded that she was queen. I wear my head covering for a similar reason.  To remind them that I am a child of God.  It also is intended to remind them of their own divine inheritance.

 

One male friend said of this picture “I think it shows compliance to patriarchal will.” But I don’t think he gets a vote.  As if women can’t choose to do what they want.  If men were able to control themselves, women wouldn’t have to cover up. No woman is to blame for a man’s actions.  But it is best not to dangle raw meat in front of dogs, either.

 

Nobody questioned me when I was stoned. That was when I wore baggy clothing and a barely there bra and boobs too big for that. That was when I wore tie-dyes that I made myself and pants hand sewn from batik fabric. Nobody minded that. I wore that when I was smoking pot every morning. They didn’t seem to care that I didn’t shower every day either.

Maybe because that was normal.

Maybe because I fit in with everybody else who was also lost and broken then.

I remember a time when I started wake up, started to take care of myself and started to write books and make art. I had a coworker who saw the smile on my face, the natural smile that results from noticing the tiny joys in this life instead of trying to run away from the pain. There is a joy from doing the hard internal work of growing up. She looked at my smile and said sort of sideways “What’s up?” Questioning me, curious, suspicious even.

There was nothing up.

I wasn’t up to anything but I certainly wasn’t down anymore.

Down was old.

This is a person who made fun of people who did drugs but had her own way of escaping. On her days off she would sleep the entire day away. Escape is escape no matter how you do it. Chemically or naturally not being present is still running away.

So now I have replaced my dependence on drugs with a dependence on God. My personal understanding of religion has come into question. I wear loose modest clothing and I cover my head. I’m not trying to call attention to myself but I am clothing myself with the armor of righteousness to remind myself of the One that I belong to. It is like putting on a name tag saying I work for this company. But the company I work for is God.

But now that I’m doing something religious, people question. They wonder why I cover my head, they wonder why I wear long clothing. They didn’t care when my hair wasn’t washed and my clothing was sloppy. But now that I’m taking care of myself they challenge me. Their questions aren’t out of respect. It isn’t curiosity.

They think perhaps that I am “other”.  Perhaps they think I am judging them. I don’t know what’s up with them. I’ve asked why are you asking, but that only puts them even more on the defensive. But why should I be on the defensive for taking care of myself? And why should I have to justify myself for dressing in a religious manner?

Following immediately

Look at these two different verses, one from the Christian scriptures, and the one it echoes from the Hebrew scriptures.

Luke 9:56-62 (TLV)

56 Then they moved on to another village. 57 As they were traveling on the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 But Yeshua said to him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 He said to another, “Follow Me.” But that one said, “First let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Yeshua said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Then another also said, “I will follow You, Master, but first let me say goodbye to those in my home.” 62 But Yeshua said to him, “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looked back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

While all of this passage is interesting, this post is concerned with verses 61-62.

Now look at the parallel –

 

1 Kings 19:19-21 (HCSB)

19 Elijah left there and found Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. Twelve teams of oxen were in front of him, and he was with the twelfth team. Elijah walked by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 Elisha left the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.” “Go on back,” he replied, “for what have I done to you?” 21 So he turned back from following him, took the team of oxen, and slaughtered them. With the oxen’s wooden yoke and plow, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he left, followed Elijah, and served him.

 

In the Hebrew scriptures (1 Kings 19:19-21) the prophet-to-be Elisha is allowed to go back and finish up his business.  Yet in the Christian scriptures (Luke 9:56-62), the unnamed follower-to-be is denied this.

Is it because he wasn’t chosen?  In the case of Elisha, God told Elijah that he was to be selected as his follower, moreover, as his successor.  He is not just a follower, but is going to be an equal to Elijah in status and power.

Yet the follower of Yeshua (The Hebrew name of Jesus) was not chosen.  He chose to follow, instead of being chosen.  There is a difference, and it is important.  He was at risk of turning away, of being distracted from his healthy choice, if he went to his family – his old way of living.  He had to follow immediately or he would be in danger of being distracted from the path that leads to life.

This feels like an echo of the Parable of the Sower.  Here is the Condensed Gospel version of Jesus’ explanation of it –

The parable of the sower explained

Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”

As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.

Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.

But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”

MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15