Your Every Day Miracles

April 24th, 2015

I went on Facebook the other day because I hadn’t been on in a while. My friend, Mudd, had posted an oracle reading from her friend at Cauldrons and Cupcakes. Once you choose your oracle you scroll down for its meaning.

I picked #1 based on this image by Jason D Page:

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I chose the light spirals because it reminded me of life’s spiral path. Lately, I keep having these “I need this thing I don’t have” moments and then the appearance of this not too much later. Today, walking home from Jazz Fest, a torrent darkened the sky and I just stood face to light with the most dazzling lightning show. Wow. It scared me!

The lightning dance stayed etched across my sight for a while afterwards. What scares me is how the material world is becoming more ephemeral for me while the spiritual side is blowing up. I get why people believe and have faith and move through the spirit world the way they do – it’s where creativity is at – you let go of all the typical things that anchor people to this earth and suddenly, you’re like ping I’m floating here.

The other day I saw that I was low on pu ehr, and then found a brand new box camouflaged among other teas. I needed to put brake fluid in my truck and my neighbor took care of it. The school had a planting and playground build day last Saturday, where I DJ’d, and there was mulch galore left on the sidewalk that was going to be hauled away. There is nothing like scoring mulch.

Okay, so these are coincidences, yes, but if you are grateful for these times as if they were gifts or miracles, then you start looking at all of the things that could possibly happen and the fact that you are swinging from good rod to good rod. Reason enough to be thankful.

I met with someone about work yesterday morning, and she urged me to complete my book and right then a man from my writer’s workshop (Loyola’s Walker Percy Center class at the Healing Center) comes in the door. She said it’s an omen. You have to finish the book and I will do everything I can to lift it up. I laid out a promise that I’d complete it by end of June. A promise to her and to me.

And I came back to Oracle #1, which said a beautiful fresh energy is blowing in, and I feel it, but I’ve been wearing myself out and I’m running on empty. However, I’m happy as a tick on a pregnant dog because I get a week of repose with Jazz Fest as my backdrop, my birthday, some time alone scheduled in, and a massage (a gift from my friend who came to visit from San Francisco).

Rest then write.
The vision is getting closer.
What you seek is seeking you.
It’s all good.

Beginning again

April 12th, 2015

I met with a study group for a while that looked at the idea of education as a force for social change. Every time we met, we started by lighting a candle in the middle of the table and reciting this verse. It always set the appropriate mood.

Verse for America

May our feeling penetrate
to the center of our hearts,
and seek in love to unite with those
who share our goals;
and with spirit beings who, full of grace,
look down upon on our earnest,
heartfelt striving,
strengthening us from realms of light
and illuminating our love.

~Rudolf Steiner

The Shut Out Weekend

April 12th, 2015

You’ve heard of shut ins – those people who don’t leave the house because they can’t bear the world. Well, this weekend I’v been a shut out as in I’ve not let the world in here. It’s been an amazing respite from the usual go go go. My cold has almost subsided. I’ve kept myself from snacking by reading and reading and reading. I finished one good book and started another. Jim Grimsley’s How I Shed My Skin and Irritable Hearts by Mac McClelland.

I might have spent this reading time on my hammock near the bayou, but it has been raining all weekend, so most of my time has been spent indoors, on my couch, watching the grey skies from my windows.

The only people I’ve spent any time with this weekend was a couple I had dinner with on Friday night. I am getting to know them, they work in an area that I volunteer in. We ate dinner at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater and then ended at Morning Call in City Park for a nightcap of coffee and beignets. Ducks waddled across the patio as a saxophonist played and sang while we gazed at Pop’s Pavilion and got to know each other more. I left with an overwhelming feeling of love having watched these two look at each other across the table. It has been rare these days to see people with a history in love with each other. I regained some lost treasure by being in their company. You can see love in a person’s eyes – there is no mistaking it.

It helped me reframe my mood, which had been soured last week due to a cold, lack of progress in my work, and close encounters of the aggravating kind.

Sometimes you have to accentuate the positive like Dr. John sings about, and eliminate all the negative. Latch on to the affirmative, and don’t mess with Mr. In Between.

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Rachel’s Search for Meaning

April 11th, 2015

During Passover, we missed the rabbi’s seder because Tin got sick that day. At our seder the next night, Tin ended up being the only kid present even though I have been making the seder for him – for children. Some times life just doesn’t go the way you plan.

Our theme this year was to answer the question, What does it mean to be a slave? My piece was from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning:

We now come to the third stage of a prisoner’s mental reactions: the psychology of the prisoner after his liberation. But prior to that we shall consider a question which the psychologist is asked frequently, especially when he has personal knowledge of these matters. What can you tell us about the psychological make-up of the camp guards? How is it possible that man of flesh and blood could treat others as so many prisoners say they have been treated? Having once heard these accounts and having come to believe that these things did happen, one is bound to ask how, psychologically, they could happen. To answer this question without going into great detail, a few things must be pointed out:

First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense.
Second, these sadists were always selected when a really severe detachment of guards was needed.

There was great joy at our work site when we had permission to warm ourselves for a few minutes (after two hours of work in the bitter frost) in front of a little stove which was fed with twigs and scraps of wood. But there were always some foremen who found a great pleasure in taking this comfort from us. How clearly their faces reflected this pleasure when they not only forbade us to stand there but turned over the stove and dumped its lovely fire into the snow! When the SS took a dislike to a person, there was always some special man in their ranks known to have a passion for, and to be highly specialized in, sadistic torture, to whom the unfortunate prisoner was sent.

Third, the feelings of the majority of the guards had been dulled by the number of years in which, in ever increasing doses, they had witnessed the brutal methods of the camp. These morally and mentally hardened men at least refused to take active part in sadistic measures. But they did not prevent others from carrying them out.

Fourth, it must be stated that even among the guards there were some who took pity on us. I shall only mention the commander of the camp from which I was liberated. It was found after the liberation – only the camp doctor, a prisoner himself, had known of it previously – that this man had paid no small sum of money from his own pocket in order to purchase medicines for his prisoners from the nearest market town. But the senior camp warden, a prisoner himself, was harder than any of the SS guards. He beat the other prisoners at every slightest opportunity, while the camp commander, to my knowledge, never once lifted his hand against any of us.

It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp’s influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards. I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift.

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in the world, but only these two – the “race” of the decent man, and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race” – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.

This week, it is I who am sick – missing several events that were on the calendar and planned a while ago. During this period of feeling crummy and agitation with work piling up, I’ve found myself pushed to the point of rage twice. The second incident happened when a friend recommended a guy to fix my brakes, the guy came, said he needed $50 to look at the brakes and it would be put towards the repair, then he left and later text and said he wasn’t going to do the work. He left with my lawn mowing money (times two) – meaningful to me because now I can’t have my lawn mowed this whole month. This entire event escalated into a Battle Royale waged within the narrow confines of cell phones = mine, his, my friend who recommended him, my friends who berated him. When I was done, it was done. The rage turned into a waste of my and everyone’s time because I can’t exact revenge on someone who cheats me – I can only make peace with my loss.

The first incident happened a week ago and then again the following week, where someone began barking orders at me and to the group I was in and it put me into my “seeing red, I’m a bull in a china closet” mode. I don’t like to be talked down to, I don’t like to be ordered around, and I don’t like someone inflicting their rules on me. I was becoming more infuriated by this even today, when I realized that the damage was occurring within me, to me and it wasn’t about me. Why am I being disrupted by someone else’s issues?

Today, I am recovering from all of it. I’m nursing the rest of the cold. I’ve cleaned Tin’s bookshelves and replaced all of his books, and vacuumed under his bed. The seders went by in a blur – first missing the rabbi’s seder, the second in my frenzy to get everything just so for our house. My friends came and went and I barely had time to acknowledge. I ate my way into a three-day sugar rush of Passover treats that made me fall down to earth with a crash and bang and then I caught Tin’s cold.

The flash points of anger have been out of the ordinary – coming from a place inside of me that I want to witness but not hold onto. Of course, I don’t want to be cheated nor allow a person be patronizing to me, but my reaction to each was to join in rather than hold my center.

Today in my stillness, I told myself this isn’t where I want to be.

My friend, Michelle, who owns Swan River – the yoga studio two blocks away from my house – posted something on fleek today. She is teaching a study group on Bhagavad Gita and writes:

Here is one of my favorite sutras on Dharma that we discussed… BG 3:35…
“It is better to strive in ones own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s one dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity. Imitation of another dharma may be dangerous or mean death. Not living one’s dharma may mean death also.”

Yet another invitation to be honest, transparent, keep our eyes on our own paper, access our inner teacher, inspire others to do the same & live our truth. How wonderful!

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The Faith Walk in the Woods

March 30th, 2015

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Thoreau lived in the turbulent times of the mid nineteenth century.
Rachel lives in the turmoil of today.

Thoreau sought nature. “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
Rachel seeks nature to bring her solace from her overwhelming life.

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Forgive the use of third person, I’m feeling detached, disassociated.
Rachel is exhausted by a life well lived and needs to replenish, and the only place that holds sanctuary is in nature herself.
The Mother.

Rachel lay in the hammock by Bayou St. John, where many a times she has watched fishermen with a deep seated respect tinged with envy.
Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

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Rachel is overwhelmed by work that barely pays the bills or replenishes the soul, and she knows the work that needs to be done to heal the world, but it’s a balancing act.

Thoreau wrote: If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Rachel acknowledges Thoreau for setting an example, and she continues to walk the faith walk despite it sometimes feels akin to swimming through jello.

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When Rachel looks up, she likes what she sees.

For the Birds

March 29th, 2015

My writing workshop instructor says to let go of all the lists you are making in your head at the bus stop and instead write in your head. This was always my thing – I often write in my head – but my head is crowded with so many competing voices these days – whether it is the board minutes for SISTAWorks, the dojo newsletter for NOLA Aikido, the race and parenting blog, this blog, my manuscript, emails to friends, social media (three Twitter accounts, two Facebook pages, three Google+ pages, Ello, Pinterest, Instagram, Linked In), a journal I keep on relationships, notes I take for the Welcome Table, research I do on big media and the fraccing industry or corporate intelligence work – I’m writing in and out of my head at break neck speed to the point that meditation is the only S.T.O.P.

That is why this morning I walked and thought about Stella, who is still being leash trained, who is still want to pull off in an errant direction when there is a dog across the bayou. Walking is a meditation. Stella has brought me back to my morning walks around the bayou and to City Park, in this one act, she has reconnected me with birds. This morning, a Great Blue Heron sat patiently by the banks of the bayou until the jingle of Stella’s collar made him extend his far reaching wings and glide across the sunlit water. A nearby Great Egret stood like a statue, with a barely perceptible nod of his head, aware of the source of sound, but unwilling to depart just yet.

It’s the birds that have tugged my mind to greater things than me many a time. For them, I am grateful to hail from New Orleans, Sportman’s Paradise, where we are home to birds of many feathers.

From the bayou, I see two mallards perched on a concrete wall spying on the new pool a friend put in her side yard a few years back. Seagulls criss cross the sky blue sky calling to one another. The shadows of different birds glide in formation across grass and water. The trill of a hidden songbird echoes from the massive oak tree.

I am always writing in my head – working out the next chapter that I have written four times already – four being my lucky number – and this morning I was also writing another manuscript in my head; the one that takes a bird’s eye view of the worst version of myself – another book gestating. My writing chops were again stimulated at the Tennessee Williams Festival where I heard Jim Grimsley talk about his realization that he was a bigot and is now a recovering bigot, or Mac McClelland’s PSTD after reporting from Haiti, and about how readers push Laila Lalami to represent all Islam, all Muslims, all Morocco, as if it were possible for the one to stand in for the cacophony of the many.

I sit at the writer’s table every day; while I walk, a piece of my mind is constantly writing and rewriting, but the rest of the time my mind searches for the birds – it’s their song that beckons me out of myself.

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Letting go of our former selves

March 29th, 2015

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
~ Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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 fashion, 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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?