The Violence of Over Work

March 28th, 2015

When I was in therapy after my divorce, the therapist said that we each come to a relationship with a bucket of love chits and that we keep exchanging them, keeping our buckets full (read: best case scenario). In the case of my relationship, my bucket was feeling lighter with each passing year. I felt I was the one always bending to the beloved. Concessions, compromises, love, acts of service, and all of those love languages that we all need to buoy our marriage was strained in mine.

In a similar fashions, we have our daily life bucket, with the acts of giving, volunteering, working, showing up, being present, supporting, nourishing, and loving others as how we spend our chits. However, this bucket needs refilling as well. Last night, was another opportunity to volunteer and I sat it out. Not without guilt, no I felt guilt, but I refused to give one more of my hours in the service of others, I needed another activity, a receiving one, not a giving one, so I spent my time with friends – it was very simple, I went to a friend’s house and she made me dinner and we watched an episode of Nashville that she loves. And when I came home, another friend stopped by with a dinner to go and we spent time together. This was what my bucket needed.

The first friend says she is turning 12 this year because it’s been 12 years since her cancer diagnosis and she started her birthday clock over again when she was cancer-free. In 2011, we were walking around the Big Lake at City Park and she described how that singular event in her life had turned her life around. It was the impetus that got me thinking about selling the LaLa and moving on into a life that was more meaningful to me and less about what my dreams had been then what were my dreams now.

We keep moving along the spiral towards knowing what we need and what the world needs from us with each year that we are here.

Today, through the generosity of a friend, I have a panel pass to the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. I am going to go to as many sessions as I can, because I can, and will let these literary hours fill my bucket. This week has been a measure of give and take – taking in Stevie Wonder and John Waters, giving to Tin’s school and the Welcome Table. A push me, pull me life, but it keeps my bucket full.

The trick is to be aware of that bucket’s measure – too little and you are depleted, too much is an act of violence.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, poet, social activist, and a mystic wrote these words years ago, and yet they resonate today:

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.


Weeding my Garden

March 27th, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about renewal and beginning again these days. It’s the topic of much of my conversation and thoughts and musings.

Then suddenly I was sucked into a whirlwind of activities.

In only a week, I was at a train birthday party for one of Tin’s friends:


Then it was a Stevie Wonder concert. A while ago, a friend had said that he had an extra ticket for Stevie Wonder that I couldn’t afford to buy when it was first announced, but found the money when he told me and so there I was with him and his friend at the concert. Now, most musicians are performers – their lives on stage have nothing to do with who they are in person – but Stevie Wonder grew more real to me as he revealed other dimensions of his heart on stage. He said that he had been in the shower asking God to help him be all that he is supposed to be, to help people and to heal the world. What came to him is that if you have hate in your heart, you are blocking your blessing, so his message is open your heart to love and don’t block your blessing. Beautiful man – so worth the price of admission.


Meanwhile, on the home front, a friend gave Tin a science experiment kit for his birthday and so we have had a few opportunities to watch things grow or explode in test tubes over the course of the week.


And then last night, after a Welcome Table meeting, I went to see John Waters at the Joy Theater, who was incredibly funny and raunchy and disgusting in only the way that Waters can be, but after looking around at the audience that felt more counter culture than any John Waters audience could ever hope to be, I felt truly grateful that I had gotten that ticket too.


Which leads me to weeding my garden – the winter kale and lettuce and herbs are bolting to seed in my backyard vegetable garden. It’s past time to start my sunflowers and tomatoes and cucumbers and basil from seedlings. The weather is slip sliding from cool to warm on a minute by minute basis. And the other night, driving home from Zumba, I looked up in the blue inky sky and saw one bright star standing out in the darkness. Out of habit, I started to make a wish, and then paused … and paused … and paused … I had nothing to wish for.


Renewal is an every day thing

March 22nd, 2015

Anybody who went through the 2005 Federal Flood became comfortable with “re” glommed onto whatever word you can think of – it was reNew Orleans, refresh, rebuild, relive around here for quite some time. This year will be ten years that we are commemorating what happened down here.

In ten years, though the Flood was epic, it pales in comparison to other events in my life that have caused upheaval and the need to pull from my own faith in order to get up off my knees and keep walking. From divorce, heart ache, death, loss, adoption, being fired, starting a business, building then leaving my dream home, and learning to be alone – the flood was a cake walk by all accounts.

Last year, during the Jewish High Holidays, I was sitting in the synagogue that I had joined to bring up my son in the Jewish faith, when I saw a quote by Elie Wiesel that said, “The secret that God gave Adam in the garden was not how to begin, but how to begin again.” This struck me because it was the lesson that I would have to learn over and over and over again.

Yesterday, I attended a Jewish renewal gathering at a friend’s house. Jewish renewal is a topic that first came to my attention while reading Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus. I came to this book after attending the Zen center to learn meditation more deeply after trying to reconcile my Judaism with my new found love of Buddhism.

Jewish Re-newal – the “re” word again – rewind, redo, rework, renew. The first part of our sabbath service was the introduction to morning prayer in its most meaningful form – waking up to aliveness, honoring creation, the prayer for starting over (always), the acknowledgement of living in a universe of Love, and (this was new to me) the realization that we should never, ever be ashamed. We have the grace to renew each day.

This gathering was to go over the 24-hour cycle of what Jewish spiritual life looks like – not just a Sabbath worship, but a way to begin and end a day, any day. It’s a lifestyle, not a religion, not a culture, but a way of being – or re-being.

The cycle of renewal, forgiveness, acceptance, love is the offer of grace I have been seeking. To begin again, is what my adult mind and heart have had to grasp so many times, so many times that sometimes I’m weary, exhausted, and depleted. Like everyone else, I have sought to replenish my soul in ways that have only strained it more. Where to lay my head? I wonder so often to myself.

I’ve been following this crumb trail of soul food for a few years now, and I’m now in the third year of finding most of what I want already deep inside me. In essence, it is re-me. Re-Rachel. And what’s in there is a renewable resource. Who knew?

Somedays the struggle just gets tired

March 18th, 2015

Somedays the struggle just gets tired
and I want to give it a rest
I want to braid my little one’s hair
and watch her jump rope
to play with her.
Sometimes the rhetoric gets tiresome
no matter how true
and I want to listen to my son sing at
the drum
to sing with him.
Somedays the cause get tedious
no matter how pressing
and I want to watch my sisters
jingle dress, traditional,
to dance with them.
Somedays the struggle just gets tired
and I just want to hear the rich
laughter of my man
to enjoy his company
and to laugh with him
Somedays the struggle just gets tired.

~Renee Senolges
from Life Prayers from Around the World: 365 Prayers, Blessings
and Affirmations to Celebrate the Human Journey

The Invitation

March 18th, 2015

The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Are the Dead Grateful?

March 18th, 2015

My therapist said to me yesterday when I saw her out walking, “Adulthood sucks.” Her best friend had died.

I ran into a friend of mine at the dog park this morning, she told me a mutual friend of ours had died. Chris, who started Bacchanal, a place where we would gather after the 2005 Federal Flood – 10 years later, he’s dead in his sleep. How can this happen?

My friend writes to tell me her cousin went into a coma last night. He was at the park enjoying the day with his wife, and then he was making tacos for her, and then he was in a coma.

I rode home from the retreat with someone who told me two stories about women in his life who had died of cancer – both stories brought tears to my eyes.

Another man at the retreat told me of his near death experience – his out of body – his clear realization of being a spiritual being having a human experience.

The messaging – the portents – the clear cut this is what you are supposed to be focusing on is this – what will you do with your one and precious life?

Or at least this one and precious life that you are in now.

And while you are figuring that out – be grateful.

Birago Diop: “Sighs”

Hear more often things than beings,
The voice of the fire listening,
Hear the voice of the water.
Hear in the wind
The bushes sobbing,
It is the sigh of our forebears.

Those who are dead are never gone:
They are there in the thickening shadow.
The dead are not under the earth:
They are in the tree that rustles,
They are in the wood that groans,
They are in the water that runs,
They are in the water that sleeps,
They are in the hut, they are in the crowd,
The dead are not dead.

Those who are dead are never gone,
They are in the breast of the woman,
They are in the child who is wailing
And in the firebrand that flames.
The dead are not under the earth:
They are in the fire that is dying,
They are in the grasses that weep,
They are in the whimpering rocks,
They are in the forest, they are in the house,
The dead are not dead.

Kind of Blue

March 17th, 2015

My friend, Kim Frohsin, posted this image she photographed recently at some construction site in San Francisco. I had it as my screen saver because it’s beautiful and blue. But my blues kicked in this week, and I can’t look at the blue without feeling my blues skim the top of my ocean. So I’m changing my screen saver to something that fills me with hope, not more blues. Because as Emmy Lou Harris sang the thing about the blues is you keep on fallin cuz there ain’t no bottom …

I have the kind of blues that is transient – I know this about myself – my depression is fleeting – my joy is overwhelming – and in between there is a great deal to be grateful for – I am going to focus on the attitude of gratitude and try to ride this tide till it washes ashore.


Alive not Alone

March 17th, 2015

I posted this on Instagram with “my loneliness ain’t killing me no more” – that’s how I felt when I was walking along this path – totally alive, not alone. I need to see this image so that I can go back there over and over again.


Big Picture

March 17th, 2015

I’m forcing myself to stick my head way up off my shoulders and look at the big picture because it’s getting a tad cloudy down here in Rachel Land. This week started off on a melancholic note. There was the low after the high of being on retreat with people working on racial justice in New Orleans. There were connections with people that were intimate and natural and fun, and now those relationships don’t have a natural extension into my world.

I’ve been trying to shake that off – that little cloud of grey that followed me home. Then this morning I learned that one of my work contracts needed me to reduce the rate. I also learned that another contract is caught in a web of white lies and tedious bureaucracy. I had to dredge up my maxim – one door closes so another can open. But seriously it’s been a lot of slamming doors around here the past few days.

While walking Stella this morning, I ran into a good friend, who had just lost a good friend to cancer. My friend is two years in remission from her own cancer. Today I am healthy. My son is healthy. My loved ones are healthy.

Gears are grinding. Gears are turning. Gears get stuck. Gears get unstuck.

My facilitator’s training is supposed to pick back up with this group. My book is about to be on a regimen of being workshopped.

What care I that doors are closing if the doors I want have yet to open, or are cracking open, or are maybe waiting for me to pry them open. What care I?

My elephant necklace is securely around my neck. Focus on the big picture, Rachel. The minutia is where you get lost too easily at sea – adrift in the spewing foaming backwash that floats to the top. Dive deeper. Who are you and who did you want to be?

A writer, an author, and a change agent. Books that change how people think. Speaking to groups about change. All of these work doors that are narrowing are not a window into my actualization. They are simply about money. And the lack of money has been a sticking issue for the last three years and it makes me weary, but it has also kept me scrappy and flexible.

A lover, a partner, a friend. A relationship that builds on what I’ve learned about myself and others. An open heart received by an open heart. Truth without fear. With a person who is available and who wants only me. All of me – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Deep breath in, deep breath out. Gratitude for a day with health. A day with friends who pick up the phone and listen. A day with a kiss from my son and big hug.

The rest will come. Just keep your eyes on the big picture.


A verb called CHANGE

March 15th, 2015

I went away to the Welcome Table retreat this weekend and since it was a working weekend filled with laughter and tears and resolutions and revolutions, it’s going to take me a little time to unwind and figure out what condition my condition is in.

This week I start my writer’s workshop at the Walker Percy Center at Loyola and will look at the investment I have made into writing this book that has been my chimera. I am trying to slay, tame, make nice, peace, love with this beast, but right now I have put it behind a trap door that I tip toe around. Please let us be friends.

When I surface this week after this weekend of highs and lows, please know that I have come from a journey, come home changed, but some of the feeling that was packed into the crevices of this weekend will never be able to see the light of day. These tags will remind me and only me of triggers into these depths:

1) a klutzy nurse was in the hospital room, I felt weak and told her I needed to pray
2) debt, that is nothing; whatever I need to make happen I will use, if that means debt, it means debt
3) I loved that woman [she died of cancer]
4) She beckoned me over as she lay dying; I told her I loved her; I did
5) my most difficult relationships have been with my partners
6) I see clearly you hold the power; I wish I could have seen it in my younger self, because I gave my power away
7) I planted that tree [lie]
8) We’ve known each other about 15 years now [lie]

Woman goes on journey, comes home changed.

CHANGE verb (used with object), changed, changing.
1. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.