Finding patience in a Monet painting.

I came across a Monet painting recently and noticed the date. I was surprised to find out that it was completed over the course of four years. I’d always thought that I was a slacker if I didn’t finish an art project in a few days.

The painting is this –

It is called “San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk”, or in the original French, “Saint-Georges Majeur au Crepuscule”. The dates are 1908-1912.

This looks like a pretty simple piece to me. This looks like something that could be knocked out in an afternoon. But then again, I’m not a famous artist. Maybe the trick is that he just makes it look simple.

I’ve decided to take this to heart. I’ve decided to be more patient with my art and with myself. This is a dangerous place to be for me. If I don’t push myself enough I won’t do anything. I’ll let projects sit half completed. I’ll start things and not finish them.

But then again, if I do things too fast, I’ll not have time to do them well. I’ll not take the time to let them digest, or ferment, or mellow. Some things are better if they are done slowly. Some things have to be done slowly if they are going to be done right.

I’m not in a race. I don’t have any assignments. Creating isn’t my job. There aren’t any deadlines. The only rules I have are ones I’ve created.

I’m reminded of Luke Skywalker about to enter the cave on Dagobah. The only thing he took in there was himself. Sometimes that is the scariest thing of all.

When I create, I take with me all the rules that I’ve been given of how things have to be and all the rules I’ve made up. I put limits on myself before I’ve even begun. I have expectations that prevent me from finding innovations.

Part of my practice this year is to not limit anything, anymore. It is to be open and trusting to what God is leading me to be and to become. Part of that practice is to encourage you to do the same.

Poem – the green tree in our hearts

There is a
green tree in my heart
and in finding it
I have found another way.

Remember what you are?
Your body is the source of a
stream wider than memory,
deeper than tears.

Even if you forget
that you were once
a frog swimming
in your mother’s dreams
you’ll remember this.

Look for the source
and you’ll find the tree

taller than daydreams
deeper than bones
it grows
inside your heart.

From it issues the
the skeleton,
the framework
of who you are.

It is your
the way forward.

It provides your base
from which to grow.

Water it well,
little frog.
It will sing to you
when nobody else will.

Scale message

If you have a membership at a gym, please print this message out and tape it to the scale. I’d seen this message somewhere else (online), and I’ve taken it and added a little to it. We all need a little encouragement. Feel free to tweak the font and play with the underlining and bold options. You can also tape it to your own scale.

(Post just this part below)

This scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity.

That’s it.

It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, possibility, strength, character, or love.

You are an awesome person, and that has nothing to do with what you weigh.

Poem – Be bread.

How is bread made?

How much are we like bread?

We have yeast in us.

We are made from elements from the earth.

All that our mothers ate,
all that we eat, makes up our bodies.

Yet there is more.

Bread has to rise. Once all the ingredients are there it has to wait.
It has to sit still and grow.

Then it gets punched down, kneaded,

And then it rests again.

And punched down, kneaded.

And then it gets baked,
put into the furnace, the cauldron,
to transform it
into its true nature, it’s purpose.

Be bread.

Bread that doesn’t sit and wait,
isn’t pushed down, isn’t challenged,

isn’t heated up in the stove of conflict

Isn’t bread,
isn’t of any use to anybody.

Especially itself.

Be bread.

Friends – to be, or not to be

What constitutes a friend? When is someone just an acquaintance? Can you really say that someone is your “BFF” if you’ve only known them for a year? When is it time to admit that they just are not that into you?

I have very few friends from high school. In fact, I have very few friends I’ve known for more than ten years. I’m a little exacting about what makes up a friend. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to be present. And they do have to be kind and considerate.

About five years after I graduated high school a person I knew showed up at my workplace, asking if we were still friends. I would think that she already knew the answer by that point, but we were young and nobody had told us what the rules were about how to have a friend or how to know when a friendship is over.

We’d not talked in years. I was surprised she even knew where I worked. We’d just drifted apart, because we had nothing to hold us together. Leaving the artificial environment of high school does that. Life does that.

The fact that she just showed up where I work rather than calling me first and asking to talk to me was a clue that things were over. Regular friends are considerate of your time.

She wasn’t a regular friend. I was assigned to her when we were in fourth grade. A teacher came up to me and asked me to be her friend because she was a loner. Her life was a bit sad. Her father has died, but before that he had been abusive. Her mom was doing the best she could raising her alone, but they were poor. The already bad start was just compounded. The teacher was trying to help her out by pairing her with someone she thought would be sensitive and kind.

I don’t think the teacher thought about what this would do to me.

It taught me that friendship is about sacrificing your own needs for others. It taught me that friendship is about taking care of others. It taught me that my own needs don’t matter. It taught me that I had to be there for the friend, but the friend didn’t have to be there for me.

I read recently “I’d rather have four quarters than 100 pennies.” The person was writing about friendship and about quality over quantity. When I first read it I didn’t get it. They both add up to 100. Surely it is the same.

But it isn’t the same at all.

Time is precious and life is short. I’d rather have a few real friends than a bunch of acquaintances.

I had a gathering for my birthday recently at a local vegetarian restaurant. I invited about a dozen people. Most were able to come. It was a very good evening. Nobody was needy. Nobody had to be entertained. Everybody there was the kind of person who is comfortable being in her or his own skin, and it showed. Everybody there was the kind of person who knew how to get along well with others, especially ones that they didn’t know.

And I felt better. I’m glad that I’m making healthy choices for myself. I’m glad that the food that I’m putting in me and the people I’m putting in my life are healthy ones.

It has been a long time to get to this point.

Victim beads

The last time I went to my spiritual director, we talked a lot about the people who have harmed me in my past. This wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about. I’d rather just jump right ahead into forgiving them. She wants me to pick open that wound and study it for a bit. She wants me to dig down to what I’m feeling. Then dig down below that.

Anger, sure. But beneath anger is sadness, and grief. It is a sense of loss, of not-having, of never-will. It is a sense of something that I think should be mine, isn’t.

This is a foreign feeling, and even more foreign that an expert is telling me to stay with this feeling. Surely I should “turn the other cheek,” right? Surely I should “forgive and forget,” right?

But she says to stick with it. Every month I come back and I’m ready to forgive and she thinks I’m not ready yet.

So, par the course for me I made a bracelet to help me remember. I put a bead to remind me of each person who has harmed me. I did this fairly fast, so there are some I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but fast work means that I don’t overanalyze it.

prayer victim

I’ve also been writing about how I was harmed by my parents, and also my brother. Writing about it is hard. I don’t want to dig up these old bones. She had me look at that feeling – why do I not want to talk about it? In part it is because I feel like I am betraying them. I feel like I’m being disloyal to them. We aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead. Nothing is stronger than blood, right?

I say that they meant well, that they didn’t know any better, that they themselves were raised badly. She says those are covers. That there is something I’m not looking at. That I need to focus on how I was harmed. I need to focus on that I was harmed.

There is certainly a bit of shame that comes in the mix when using the word “victim.” Am I to blame for what happened to me? Is it my fault? Could I have stood up for myself? Was I too passive? By not speaking up for myself, I allowed it to happen. They couldn’t have known they were harming me unless I said something. To not speak up is to give acceptance.

I hate going to the spiritual director’s. Every month, about a week before, I start to dread it. I don’t want to talk about what she wants to talk about because it is going to be hard. I want to make a list and tell her what we are going to talk about and use up all the time so that I don’t have anything hard to talk about.

But then that wastes the whole point of going. It is like going to a personal trainer at the gym and saying all I want to do is jumping jacks for an hour. I’m not going to work on anything meaningful that way. I’ll have wasted my time and my money. She’s like a personal trainer for my soul. We dig down to uncover broken pieces and blockages.

I read once that the goal in life isn’t to learn how to love. It is to remove all the barriers we have put up against love. I think the person quoted Rumi. I’m sure he said it better.

But look, here I go, walking away from the topic again. I’m a wiggly one, always trying to get away from what bothers me. I guess that is normal human nature. We often try to anesthetize ourselves or run away.

Let’s try again.

It is important to acknowledge loss. It is important to admit that it happened. To heal it, you have to know it is there. And that means a lot of digging.

So while I’m constructing the victim bracelet, I’m realizing that these are all people who have sinned against me. And then I think – what about all the people I have sinned against?

Am I justifying? Am I putting the blame back on me? Am I letting them off the hook? Am I avoiding the problem? Sounds like it.

So I’m staying with this. I’m not through it. I certainly want to be. I want this to be over and done and healed and let’s go on to the next thing and make it a happy one, please.

And I’m running away again.

I’ve heard that grief takes a long time. I’ve heard that you grieve for half the amount of time that you’ve known the person. This is grief. This is going to take a long time. It has grown down deep. And just like digging out privet in the back yard, this is going to take a lot of work and some special tools to get all of it out. Leave just a little bit of privet root and it will come back next year. Cut it down at the top and it will get even stronger and root down further. The only way to get it out is to dig it up, all of it. And the only way to do that is to work on it patiently and thoroughly.

Disagree – words and food

I’m OK with people disagreeing with me, just not all the time. I certainly don’t want people around who only agree with me. That isn’t healthy. It is important to have friends who can help keep you from doing something stupid.

But it also isn’t healthy to have people around who constantly disagree, even if they try to soften the disagreement by saying they “respectfully” disagree. This is like saying I’m going to hit you, so brace for it. It is for your own good.

People who constantly disagree are like food that disagrees with you. If you know that eating pepperoni always gives you heartburn, you will (hopefully) stop eating pepperoni. The pain and discomfort just isn’t worth it. If you go over to your aunt’s house and she always serves you pepperoni, then do you eat it, out of respect to her? What if eating pepperoni was part of her childhood and serving it is how she shows love?

Yet eating it makes you sick. Do you tell her, and break her heart, or do you eat it, and get heartburn? Somebody is going to get hurt either way.

Does it matter who serves you? Are you more likely to take something disagreeable from a relative, or from a long-term friend?

The same is true with words. If you have someone who constantly disagrees with you, you don’t have to take it. Balance is good. If all that person does is disagree with you, you are not obliged to “eat” it, no matter who they are.

Ideally, it would be great if people were thoughtful enough and considerate enough to not “feed” you anything that makes you sick. Ideally, people would be mindful and look out for each other. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to tell people to stop hurting us.

Sometimes they don’t know they are being harmful. Then it is on us to tell them. Then it is up to them.

Sadly, there are people in this world who know what our triggers are and they ignore them. There are people who just don’t care what our needs are and they do their own thing anyway. There are people who feel that our boundaries are suggestions rather than rules. They are the same kind of people who if you tell them you are allergic to a particular food, they will serve it to you anyway.

Whether they do it intentionally or accidentally makes no difference. They are harming you. They are either being malicious or mindless. The result is the same. You are harmed.

Then it is up to you to decide – continue the relationship, or terminate it? Is it worth getting sick to be around this person? You may love them, but by their actions they are proving that they don’t love you. Is it worth that sick feeling you have in your stomach every time you are around them?

The bear and the monkey.

There is a part of the Hindu epic Ramayana that I like very much. Rama, the blue-skinned human incarnation of the god Vishnu is searching for Sita, his wife. She has been kidnapped by the demon Ravana. On his quest he comes across a white monkey named Hanuman and a black bear named Jambavan.

The two animals join in the quest and they enlist the aid of the entire monkey and bear clans. After a month of searching they still haven’t found Ravana’s lair or Sita, and they are at the end of the Indian continent.

Jambavan knows a secret about Hanuman that he himself does not know. Hanuman is the son of the wind god and has immense powers. This information was hidden from him to keep him from annoying the meditating sages. Jambavan breaks his promise to the gods and Hanuman wakes up to his true self, grows immense and is able to see the island where Ravana’s fortress is, thus leading the group of searchers in Sita’s rescue.

How many years did Hanuman go before he was told of his birthright and his power?

How many of us are similarly asleep?

I am that bear.

I am here to tell you a secret.

You are more powerful than you know.
You have within you the light of God.
You are made from stardust.
You were put here because you are needed and necessary.

You are beautiful.
You are powerful.
You are eternal.

Act accordingly.
Use your powers for good.

(If you are interested in an especially readable and enjoyable version of this tale, please go to your library and get “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” by Sanjay Patel. It is illustrated in “Samurai Jack” style.)

Parenting license.

I wear baggy clothes for the same reason some people gain weight. I do it to hide. Somehow in wearing something too large, shapeless and styleless, I’m hiding who I really am. I know, deep down, that even if I were naked, I’d still not be showing my true self. The soul is deeper than skin.

Perhaps my need to wear dull colors is also a self defense technique. It says don’t notice me. It is the same as camouflage for birds. The male cardinal is red. But the female is brown. She is the one who protects the young. Perhaps the child I am protecting is myself.

I know that lots of things were taken from me as a child. I know that I was not loved or cherished. I know that my room was gone into without my permission. I know that my money was stolen by my dad and my brother. My brother stole it from my room. My dad just took it out of my savings account. He saw it as a spare account for him. Much of my money as a child came from my grandmother. She was his mother. I know that he expected my Mom to give him the Christmas money that she got from his Mom. He saw any money from her as money for him. Money is a symbol. Perhaps he felt that she never gave him enough of anything. Perhaps he was jealous if she gave anything to anyone else.

He was greedy. He was selfish. He was a glutton. He did not care about other people’s feelings. If I told him that I had a headache, he would tell me about how he had a bigger headache once. Maybe he thought that by pointing out how it could be worse, I should get over it. Maybe he was just self centered and didn’t know how anything could be about anyone who wasn’t him.

If I told him about something emotional, something that made me sad or angry, he offered a pill. They were all prescription. But prescribed doesn’t mean healthy. Medicating your feelings is escaping them. I’m grateful I never took him up on it. I’m sad that I wasn’t taught how to deal with my feelings.

It is just like with alcohol. Just because it is legal doesn’t mean it is healthy. If you drink to deal with your feelings, you are abusing yourself and your children. You aren’t teaching them how to be human. You are teaching them how to escape. You are stunting their emotional growth.

You are supposed to trust your parents. They are supposed to look out for you. They aren’t supposed to get zonked out on substances, legal or otherwise. They aren’t supposed to just take up space on your childhood. They aren’t supposed to chain smoke themselves to death. They aren’t supposed to leave you high and dry.

My parents abandoned me before they died. They just weren’t there. Perhaps they did me a favor by dying. It meant that I got to learn that their normal wasn’t normal at all. I had to start looking out for myself and learning from others.

I find I get really angry when I see a family where the parents reek of cigarette smoke. They are poisoning their children every day. Even if they smoke outside of the house, they are shortening their lives day by day, and they are reducing their energy level bit by bit. Even before they die they have stopped being alive. Smoking is theft. It steals your health and your life from your children.

I find I get really angry when I see parents treating their children how I was treated. I want to yell at the Mom for treating her son like he is an embarrassment or an interruption. I get really angry when I see this same mom who growls at her child for doing things that are normal for children decides to have even more children.

I get really sad when I see these children look so sad. If eyes are the windows of the soul, his soul is screaming “Rescue me, someone, anyone. I am in hell.”

I asked three people what I could do. A minister. A teacher. A therapist. They said I can’t do anything. I just have to watch this happen.

Is it possible that there were people who saw me as a child and wondered the same thing?

Some people are simply not capable of being selfless enough to have children.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t right.

You have to pass a driver’s test to get a driver’s license. The theory is so you prove that you are safe. But amateurs get to have children. Sadly, the driver doesn’t get caught in the flaming wreckage. The passenger does.

Healing negative self-talk.

I have come to see a connection between self-hate and addiction. I have come to understand that negative self-talk is the same as eating junk food.

People know it is bad for them, but they keep doing it. Why? There has to be a payoff for any behavior we do, otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it.

Children who misbehave do so because it gets them attention. Any attention is better than no attention. If the parents don’t make a fuss over them when they do something right, but yell when they do something wrong, the child will persist in the misbehavior. This seems paradoxical. You’d think the child would want to not get yelled at, but really the goal is attention. Getting negative attention is still getting attention.

There are plenty of people whose parents yelled at them all the time when they were growing up. They were constantly taught that they was bad, wrong, stupid. Their parents drilled into them how imperfect they were.

The bad part is that they often learn this lesson well. Even with their parents not around, they will often tell themselves the same things. They may hit themselves or curse at themselves the same way their parents did when they made a mistake.

Sometimes they will seems to set themselves up for failure. They will not plan enough time to do a project. They will leave things for the last minute. They are then constantly late and overwhelmed and making mistakes. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

The scary part – they are living up to their parent’s image of them. There is some odd negative validation going on. There is a strange payoff.

This self-abuse is the same as a person who constantly binges on junk food. Our bodies crave fats and salt and sugar, even though it is bad for us. We will overeat at a buffet and feel miserable, yet we will do it again and again. Why? We know we should eat less and eat better food, but we don’t? Why?

It is the same thing. We get a payoff. We like the feeling we get from overeating and from eating unhealthy food. We like feeling like we are bad, like we are rebels. We are rebelling against good by being bad. The “bad boy” is a hero.

We have to retrain ourselves to get pleasure from good things. Nobody gets excited about broccoli and lima beans. Nobody gets excited about going to the gym. The payoff is quieter. The payoff is slower. It is harder to notice.

Your brain works better. Your clothes fit better. Your knees don’t hurt. Your heart works better. Your health improves. These are pretty good payoffs, but you don’t see them right away.

The same is true with negative thinking.

Negative self talk is an addiction the same way that overeating and drugs are. And it is healed the same way.

We humans need habits. Instead of going on autopilot and living with bad habits running your life, fill up your time with good habits. Seek positive choices and do them. Leave yourself reminders. You’ll forget. That is a normal trick of the bad-habit brain. That isn’t you.

Sometimes our minds are like small children that just want attention. Just like with children, ignore the bad and praise the good.

Make an intentional choice to say good things to yourself. Know that it takes a long time to retrain your mind. Nothing is automatic or easy. It takes a long time to get well. Have patience with the process. Understand that you won’t have patience at the beginning. That too is part of the process.

When you do something good, notice it. Don’t dismiss it. Write up a certificate. Draw up an award. Write down a list of all the good things you did that day.

Don’t make a negative list (“didn’t wreck the car”, “didn’t get into a fight”). While those are good things, work on noticing the little things that you did right. They have a way of hiding at first. It will get easier the more you do this. Make it a daily practice to write down at least three good things that happened that day. When that gets easy, increase the number.

Give yourself easy goals to start with. You are taking baby steps, not running a marathon.

You have to choose to love yourself in a way you were not shown how to by your parents or the people who you were raised with.

Sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves.

Sometimes they broke us, because they themselves were broken. They didn’t know any better. That doesn’t excuse the damage they did. But it does explain it, a little. People tend to repeat bad habits. People who were hurt tend to become people who hurt other people.

You don’t have to repeat the same bad habits. You can heal that wound.

I’m not going to lie here – it hurts to heal that wound. Just like with a broken leg, sometimes it has to be broken to finally heal right. It is painful whether the wound is physical or emotional or mental. It takes a long time to heal.

But it is so worth it. Who wants to walk with an emotional limp all the time? Sometimes it is “the devil you know” so you stick with it, because change is scary. But trust me, press on.

That pain you feel from trying to make a good change is a sign of healing. Don’t run from it. Lean into it, breathe, and walk forward. It will get easier.

And know that you aren’t alone on this journey.

A lot of us hide our brokenness, because we were taught that our brokenness is shameful. It isn’t. It is part of being human, and being human is a messy thing.