Saturday, December 13, 2014

Compassion Is For Sissies

I made it through Thanksgiving, and as a long time vegetarian recently turned vegan, it has become increasingly harder with each passing year. I cannot stand to see the freezer filled with Butterballs. But I shied away from writing about the mass of feelings surrounding the deaths of millions of birds and the resulting pictures that filled my Facebook newsfeed. Why? Because sometimes I feel as if compassion is mocked in our society. Men are called sissies for crying, women hysterical. We don't let our sensitivity show lest we are called weak. I do not see mobs of people sobbing in front of the lobster tank at Price Chopper. We kill. We kill people, we kill animals, we value killing. People cheered when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Many of us support the death penalty. And most of us eat dead cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys. Vegetarian Times Magazine released a study in 2008 that stated: "...3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans, who consume no animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of U.S., adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet" (Vegetarian Times). Not a large percentage of the population. It is 2014 and if that study were repeated it might show an increase of vegetarians out there, but it is still just a drop in the bucket. I admit, I am a sensitive person, and sensitivity seems to be undervalued in our culture. If I were to say that every time I saw meat in a supermarket I felt upset, or that when I thought of baby cows taken away from their mothers to make dairy products, I teared up, you might call me insane. Who cries over milk, spilled or in a glass tumbler? Is there such a thing as too sensitive? I hope not. Dr. Nalini Chilkov explored the process of creating a compassionate society in her article on the Huffington Post. Although the article is based on the practice of Buddhism, she wrote: "The path to a compassionate society arises from the intentions and actions of individuals within that society. One small act of kindness and generosity ... one act of tenderness ... one act of selflessness ... each of these moments makes a difference. No act is too small." Maybe what is important for me today is to value my own compassion, and my own sensitivity. It is a big part of who I am. The trick is to suspend judgement of others, because that is not compassion at all. I choose to eat plants rather than animals. Maybe you are a carnivore. I value compassion today, but that doesn't mean that you do not, although in my mind I am screaming at you. And if you see someone crying in the meat department, please don't judge.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Spiritual Adventuring

I cannot remember where I heard the term, "spiritual adventuring," but it struck me, enough to stop what I was doing and write it down. This blog post has been sitting here, blank, for at least a month, with only the title. As I write these words, I do not even know what the end result will be, but that is ok. By the time I hit the "publish" button, there will hopefully be a fully formed idea. For me, that is part of the fun of writing. I begin and see where it leads. To me, my spiritual life is similar to my spiritual life. I begin with a thought and see where it leads me. Over the years I have tread innumerable paths: from the religion of my upbringing (Christianity), to a place within the Unitarian Universalist community as a young adult, to experimentation in New Age concepts (yes I took a Tarot Reading course and explored Shamanism). I have participated in a past life regression, (don't even ask) and studied meditation and yoga. I have become a Reiki practitioner and have worked through twelve step programs. And I am still exploring.

Lately, there have been controversies surrounding the practice of other religions within a so-called
"Christian" nation. I have read the comments of outrage, how dare we accept people of other faiths, people who do not recognize the "one true God." This outrage lately seems to be pointed at Muslims. For the past 2000 years Christians themselves have been persecuted in this way. At first I was angered, why can't we all just get along, why can't Christians accept others of different religions? But then the anger faded. I sit here as a person who has led a spiritually adventurous life, and you know what? It is pretty cool. I try out different practices, I pray in a myriad of ways, I take what I can use and leave the rest. I chant "Om" after yoga, I meditate, I give and receive Reiki treatments and I partake in sessions with a spiritual counselor. Today the image of my Higher Power is that of a Great Blue Heron and an ancient oak tree. I find peace next to a stream and I talk with my ancestors as I watch the water rushing by. Sometimes I call God a She, and am amused when people get all flustered and self- righteous (yes, that is not so spiritual of me but kind of fun). Tomorrow, my spiritual practice may change, and I may discover a way up the mountain of which I was previously unaware. I look forward to it, a new spiritual adventure. Can I get an "Om?"

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Returning to Center: What To Do When My Practice Derails

I have not been writing. I can feel the deep loss of this important part of my daily spiritual practice. Three weeks ago I started a temporary job in my chosen field, which will last until Christmas. I have been underemployed for a few years now, so the position was welcomed and it has proven to be an amazing opportunity. I work with people I respect and have support in learning my craft. The only caveat? A long (hour and half each direction) commute. Before this job, I would wake up early, go for a five mile run, and head to work. I would then come home, maybe another short run or yoga class. Now I am waking at 3:45am to run a quick two miles and leave my house by 5:30. The days are shortening and daylight savings time has begun. My schedule has been disrupted and I am experiencing intense exhaustion. Three hours a day in the car has begun to wear on me, and the resulting illness derailed the daily spiritual and physical practices which have kept me centered and, for the most part, serene. My job now is to get back on track, which includes taking a few moments a day to write. My problem is, that if I cannot do something completely, I do not even begin. So today I am here, with a cup of tea and the blank page. I do not have to write a novel, I just have to write a paragraph. Disruptions are part of life; we change jobs, go back to school, experience loss or fall sick. Getting back into the rhythm of routine is nearly impossible for me, but must be done before I succumb to the negativity that plagued my life years ago, before embarking on a spiritual journey.

As I write this post I am reminded of the opening lines of the Divine Comedy: Midway in the journey of our life / I came to myself in a dark wood / because the straight way was lost (Inferno 1, lines 1-3). Dante writes that it is the "journey of our life," not my life. First, I am not alone, we all get lost, off track, or derailed. But just because the straight path is lost to us, we are still someplace, even if it appears to be dark. It might just be that the straight way is not the path I should be walking, and I need to get lost for a bit, in order to focus on my surroundings. What has the past three weeks taught me? First: I adore teaching and I adore teaching teenagers. Second: I am wrapped so tight in my habits and routines that any time I stray from the path, I lose serenity. I am not well practiced in the art of navigating through change. In the Comedy, Dante, after finding himself in the dark wood, continues on, even though he did not know how he had gotten to that place. He takes a rest, and continues on the path, although he is ultimately thwarted by three vicious creatures. It is only when he accepts the help and guidance of Virgil, that he is able to continue. Albeit he continues on a different journey, one that will result in the writing of one of the most important pieces of literature.

What can I learn from my favorite writer? Certain daily practices may have been derailed, and it may seem a wee bit bleak, but if I reach out and accept the help and guidance of others, I might be able to find a different way. I know that in the past when I was trying to figure out how to juggle my undergraduate work with commuting and raising a child, I only had to ask for help and my schedule smoothed out. The first step in resolving this unrest, is to ask for Divine guidance. Breathe in, breathe out, pray, take a nap, and begin again. My one paragraph has become three, and I already feel as if I am returning back to my Self.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Revising My Life

I just completed a workshop in which the first five pages of my young adult novel, were constructively critiqued by other writers (First Five Pages Blog). It was a valuable experience. I have never enjoyed revision; once I am done with a piece, and the novelty has worn off, it is time to move on to the next creative project. New projects induce fresh energy that accompanies the creative process.  But this process forced me to revise my writing, and by the end of the month long workshop and feedback from writers each week, I feel that my pages are stronger. I still have a slight revision to make and I look forward to it. In the process, my characters became real and well-rounded, and I am planning on a rewrite of the entire novel using the advice I received from my fellow attendees.

As with the creative process, asking for help with revising my personal life is difficult. Although I do know from experience that every time I ask for help and actually accept that help, my life changes in some small beautiful way. I am able to see certain things differently when they are explained by a trusted friend or advisor. I tend to have my own uniques view of the world, and it takes another person to help me to see other solutions, and to change my perceptions. Because it really does come down to perception. I have a perception of life that is unique to me. When I am reading the first pages of my novel, I see my character as I have imagine her, with all of her quirks and idiosyncrasies. Those quirks might not come clear on the page however, and it takes someone to read and give feedback in order for me to see what is missing. Same is true for many other issues including my recent job search. I had blinders on; the only jobs I could apply for were teaching jobs with a 20 mile radius of my house. Which, if you know where I live, doesn't really give me much to work with. So I asked for help, and I received valuable advice yet again from Hearn College and Career. I was given tools to work with that helped me to broaden my search to jobs with an education slant, as well as brush up on my networking skills. I was exposed to possibilities I would not have come up with on my own. I feel a greater sense of hope that I will eventually land where I am supposed to be.

As with my novel, my personal life needs constant revision. I need to be aware of problems that may arise and make the necessary changes in perception in order to stay in the flow of life. I am no longer that starry-eyed high school graduate with dreams of becoming a veterinarian. I am an English Teacher who writes, or possibly even a Writer who teaches English. Who knows what revisions the future may bring. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Engaging in Controversy

I know I shouldn't do it, but sometimes the appeal is there: the act of defending one's honor, the adrenaline, the irritation and self righteousness that surge through the body. Sometimes I just want a fight. The entire interaction is covered in my other blog: Grateful Girl Goes Vegan. I will not get into it here, other than saying that I engaged in controversy, and it felt good - until it didn't.

Self righteous anger, sometimes it can be delicious. I believe that it is a human trait to need to be right. After all, so much violence is perpetrated because of disagreement; wars are fought and millions of people have died because some people think that they are right; that their way is the only way. Self righteous is defined as "confidence of one's own rightness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behaviors of others." The word originated in 1670-80, Good thing, as the Salem witch trials were right around the corner.

Why the need to be right? Mel Schwartz wrote an article entitled "Why Is It So Important To Be Right," in Psychology Today. He said:
Our educational system is rooted in the construct of right and wrong. We are rewarded for what are deemed to be correct answers and the ensuing higher grades, which generally lead to more successful lives. Being right affirms and inflates our sense of self-worth. As students we learn to avoid as best we can the embarrassment of being wrong. Getting the right answer becomes the primary purpose of our education. Isn't it regrettable that this may be inconsistent with actually learning?
We go through life being either right or wrong. Education reformers spout the standardized test movement, reinforcing this black / white mentality. Is it any wonder that we grow into either Democrats or Republicans, Pro Choice or Pro Life, for gun control or against it, and on and on. If we are not right, then we must be wrong.

I wanted to, I needed to be right. After all, I had compassion in mind when I began the argument. He was being mean to other people. What ended up happening, was that I engaged in the same behavior, I needed to be right, and he needed to be right. In the end, no opinions were changed. I am still a vegan and he still eats bacon and hates Muslims. There, I have continued the controversy by judging another human being. What happens when the ego steps aside, and I listen to another person? Maybe I can see that we are really the same, we are both afraid, afraid to be wrong, afraid to go against our own ethical code, afraid of being judged or excluded. My opponent is really just a mirror image of myself. And he is taking up too much space in my head without paying rent. So for today, I will let go of this controversy. I cannot make anyone abstain from eating meat, nor can anyone change my mind about the vegan lifestyle I follow. For this moment I will accept the world as it is, flaws and all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Looking For Balance on the Equinox

The autumnal equinox was yesterday, a day where light and dark are balanced. It also signals the beginning of autumn, a season here in the northeast of great change and beauty, foretelling the months of harsh weather and darkness. I asked myself, as I was on my daily run: Am I living a balanced life today? Am I balancing the active doing part with rest and inner searching?

I have written about balance before, on numerous occasions. It is a concept that has always eluded me. Right now I am traversing through the world of underemployment, so I have more time available to meditate, run, practice yoga and eat home cooked healthy meals. But what happens when that forty hour a week position becomes a reality? What will I have to let go of in order to take care of my body's basic needs, such as actually sleeping. It would be nice if I could survive on five hours a night, but alas, I am an eight hour gal. 

If I create a blue print for a perfect day, maybe I can adjust it when I do start working longer days, using a mathematical formula perhaps? If today I spend one hour running and one hour in yoga, if my time reduces by 50%, would a half hour of running and half hour of yoga still meet my needs? Here I begin to overthink and stop paying attention to what my body needs. Part of what the Autumn equinox teaches, is to first come to a place of balance, and slowly, minute by minute, begin to slow down as winter approaches. In this world of doing doing doing, we tend to ignore our bodies and the signals we receive from them. Winter is a time to sleep longer, go within, and find the peace and quiet in the dark. Our cave person ancestors weren't hunting and gathering at 7pm in the middle of winter. They were huddled around a fire, perhaps quietly making spears. 


Perhaps the secret to a balanced life begins with paying attention to the rhythms of my body. To sleep when I need sleep, to run when I am restless, and to sit and meditate when my mind needs calming. But how does one do that in the "real" world? First, when time begins to become scarce, I must look for time drains. Honestly, how many hours a day are spent watching Netflix? These precious hours can be used more efficiently. One hour of yoga versus one hour of "Ally McBeal?" No contest there, the yoga, will benefit exponentially more than mindless television. Just for today I will practice some balance, I will pay attention to what my body needs and maybe I will actually listen. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decorating the Hallway

When one door closes, another door opens, so they say. That in between time, the transition period is often alluded to as the hallway. I have been in the hallway for a few years now, picking up temporary jobs here and there and obtaining my Bachelor's and Master's degrees, I have come to think of the hallway as a permanent space, a long narrow room that is in desperate need of some decoration. Maybe what I keep calling a transition (it does seem as if I have been saying I am in transition for a long time now) is not really a transition at all, it is the resting place for the moment. I keep waiting for the full time job, the marriage, the (insert huge life event here) and completely ignore the fact that there is merit in a so-called transition. There is movement, I don't seem to stand still, I am actively searching, seeking, changing. When I am in the hallway, I am moving from once place to another, I do not get complacent, I don't take a seat on the couch, kick my feet up and fall asleep. In the hallway I am searching for that small beam of light signifying an open door. What is behind that door a mystery and  when I am in the hallway I am in the mystery. Why not make that mystery a bit more comfortable, maybe some pictures on the wall, a vase filled with Spring flowers, my favorites, daisies and sunflowers, maybe with a few sprigs of baby's breath and eucalyptus? I could paint the walls a sunny yellow, and enjoy my time here. Today is a beautiful day: the sun is shining; I am working a few hours; I have enough food in the refrigerator; I have a man who loves me and will take me to dinner later today; and I have a beautiful space in which to live. I need to steep myself in the mystery. Will I be teaching full time some day, or does God have something different in store for me? Just for today, this moment, I will enjoy the mystery of it.