Courage and Compassion: You Don’t Have to Do it All at Once #1000Speak

It was a hell of a Monday.

For context, let me mention that I moved to Seattle to work for a woman who turned out to be the Boss from Hell, she whom I fondly refer to as the Horrendous Homunculus. As far as I’m concerned she is evil, possibly a narcissist and definitely an abuser, who, as abusers pick faults to focus on, picked my lack of knowledge about Microsoft Word to bash me over the head with (among other things). I left that job needing thousands of dollars in counseling and with a deep and abiding hatred for both the Homunculus (I have written about abuse in the workplace here and here with rather less cohesion here) and for Microsoft Word (which is less apt to be a trigger and you can read about here).

Fast forward three years and 100 therapy sessions, give or take. On this particular day the summer college quarter starts, and with it the class I am taking in Word, because “face your demons, ” “knowledge is power, ” “the best defense is a good offense, ” and all that happy stuff. Yes, I know three years is a long time. Did you know that exposure to what we’re scared of before we’re ready doesn’t accomplish anything and may well make things worse?  It’s true. Don’t try force exposure onto people with debilitating fears, please and thank you.

Let’s be clear. It took more courage than you can imagine for me to sign up for this Word class. Stupid as it may sound, I have awakened from nightmares in which Word is doing its evil self-aware Hal thing,  the word processing equivalent of refusing to open the pod bay doors, and I screwed up one indentation by one space and that bitch is shouting at me like I have literally just killed the whole world, and that really happened, by the way, and I never get back to sleep because of the panic attack that has surged from my overprotective amygdala. Hey, I won’t laugh at your unreasonable fears if you won’t laugh at mine, and that’s all we really need to be friends.

Anyway. Monday. Midmorning, I step out of my office and head to the lobby to check the mail. I glance into the parking lot and there she is, my nightmare, walking straight toward the glass doors and me, right on the other side of them. But no, this is not a nightmare. This is a storm freshened. I’m wide awake, at work, about to step down onto the landing of the stairs, walking straight toward someone I’d just as soon never see again. She’s there, for real. Her husband is with her.

Oh, God. This is a big city. Of all the (gin joints in all the towns in all the — no, wait, totally wrong) places to conduct any kind of business in this million-plus-population metropolitan area, what the hell is this bitch doing that requires she has to walk right into my territory?

My therapist told me later that my reaction to seeing the Horrific Homunculus was perfectly valid: “Run away! Run away! ” (It’s entirely possible I’ve been watching too much Monty Python lately.) Yes, I could have coolly said “Hello” as I walked on past like I didn’t even remember her, but I didn’t trust myself. I’d spent the previous weekend moving house, had just barely unearthed my underwear  in time to dress for Monday, and was feeling thrown-together and generally mussed. As these things always go, she was dressed to the nines and had every hair in place. My two-dollar stare would have failed me and deer-in-the-headlights would have taken over. I most likely would have tripped over an air pocket or something – those air pockets always show up when I really need to be graceful – and then probably would have ripped my pants as I fell.

So I went with a perfectly valid alternative – I retreated. I high-tailed it back up the stairs, face turned away so she couldn’t recognize me, back to my office, behind the safety of the door, praying she wasn’t on her way to consult building management about renting space in my building.  (She wasn’t.)

Cityside 189/CC Share-Alike 4.0 License

I was faced with a test, and I bolted. And I’m fine with that.

Courage takes time, sometimes. Sometimes you can plug your nose and jump off the high rock into the cold water and have faith in your ability to swim and in those who are waiting to help you into the boat. (I did that once to face my fear of heights. I’m still terrified of heights, but it was hella fun, jumping off that rock.) Other times you need room for consideration and research and self-care and reassurance and prayer. Lots of time. I’m all about hiding behind the door when it comes to some things, but I’m all about empowerment, in my own good time, when it comes to other things. Whatever timetable is the one that suits you is the one you should use.

Besides, even without lingering fear and resentment, she was simply a disagreeable woman with a character flaw I despise. I have no desire to exchange pleasantries, or unpleasantries, with her. Maybe someday, if our paths cross again. Or not.

I still consider it a victory. A twofold victory. First, with the insults of Microsoft Word and the Horrid Homunculus showing back up in my life on the same day, and who believes that is a coincidence, certainly not I, the fact that I had managed to find my way out of a new neighborhood in a new city to arrive at work, on time, via new Metro routes, took on that much more personal significance. Second, I saw her before she saw me! The gods were smiling on me. Third – I guess it’s a threefold victory – halfway through the Word class, which I’m taking mainly to prove that I wasn’t the problem, even with assignments that get bolluxed up because Word is buggy as hell, which is the main reason I hate it, and Horrifying Homunculus never did explain to me why, if Word is so simple and everybody else in the world is smart enough to use it flawlessly so it’s obvious that I’m just an idiot, the template she gave me to work with was completely fucked up, in spite of that, I have a 4.0 right now. I don’t think I’m the problem.

Sit on that and spin, Homunculus. I’m winning this.

Read other posts on courage and compassion at the #1000Speak link-up here.


#1000Speak: Forgiveness Sucks, So Let’s Try Something Different – Updated

Here I am again, awake. I have what may be the world’s worst insomnia. Tonight I’m not worrying about money or children or husbands, and it’s not noisy people. I was actually asleep, but a bad dream woke me up.

I moved to Seattle to take a job after no luck finding one in my home state of Nevada for a year. It should have been my dream job, stepping up to the big leagues of paralegal-dom after many years working for country, but good, lawyers. It should have been a whole new vista for me, an exciting new professional experience in an exciting new city in beautiful new country.

It was the job from hell. Seriously. In my 40 years in the work force, I could not imagine a more horrific experience. I suspect my boss was a true narcissist, and I’m dead certain she was emotionally and mentally abusive. In current nomenclature, I was bullied mercilessly. The three months I worked at that firm was the longest, most horrific time I can remember aside from one marriage I’ve worked hard to block from recall. It should be noted that the dynamics of an abusive intimate relationship and an abusive employment relationship are extremely similar. That job and that woman damaged me. I needed counseling to get past the worst of it.

I’m still damaged. What woke me up a little while ago was a dream that I was right back there, working for that harridan again. I woke gasping, with the electricity of a panic attack running through my veins.


Don’t get me wrong; I’ve moved on with living my life, and I’ve accomplished a lot since then. I stayed in counseling for a year and unpacked a lot of things. I made the decision to return to school, excelling at that and enjoying it, and I have another job I more or less enjoy too. It doesn’t challenge me and the pay is middlin’, but I don’t bring any work stress home at night either, and that’s worth a lot. I am the only person in my office; I run the whole damn state for my company and for the most part, I like that solitude and independence just fine. If some jerk brings donuts into the office when I’m cutting out sugar, well, I have no one to blame but myself. To further my healing, I considered writing her a letter but opted instead for scathingly honest review on Glassdoor, and if it saves even one person from what I went through, I’m glad.

And yet, here I am dreaming about that horrid woman, and still losing sleep to her, three years down the road. What gives?

I was lying there, having burned one of my precious few anxiety pills and trying to read a bit of War and Peace in the hopes I could return to sleep, when I realized it.


And then: Why should I? That bitch hurt me. She’s hurt lots of people, that I know of; I was far from her first. Why does she deserve anything from me?

And the truth is, she doesn’t.

And I know the platitude, that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for you, and I kinda believe that, but then again, I don’t believe it at all. To forgive is to absolve the person of what they did, and I’m just not going to do that. She’s accountable, past and future, because I know she’s still doing it to others who were looking forward to a terrific position just as I was. When I was there I saw payroll records for three other legal assistants in the eight months before I arrived. Add me, that’s four in a year. She’s accountable. I might not be willing to confront her any more directly than an anonymous online employment review, probably because I loathe conflict with a flaming purple passion, but it’s what I can do.

No, what popped into my head from the depths of I-don’t-know-how-long-ago was another definition of forgiveness I heard once attributed to Oprah, I think it was, and I’m not a fan of Oprah, but I’m a fan of this definition, because it works:

Forgiveness is giving up the wish that things had been different.

And as I lie there still unable to go back to sleep but also unable to unscramble the letters on the pages of War and Peace, I realized that’s what I need to work with.

I am not making the buckets of money I did, briefly, at that firm. I do not have the nice house, and the nice new car and maybe a truck for the Tominator, and long weekend trips up to Vancouver and Whistler and a canoe for all the lakes around here. I do not have a 401(k) and killer health insurance. I do not have the prestige of high-end law firm experience in a posh downtown office tower. And that’s what I should have had. It’s what I’d worked for, for so long. It’s what I was offered when I left my family behind, left my home with my Mother’s Day rosebushes tended lovingly in the yard, and dragged the Tominator and Dream Girl and my stuff up here, and I should have it. I was robbed.

Yeah, I know. Shit happens and who said life was fair, suck it up buttercup. But underneath it, as superficial as it sounds, I am angry about that. Still. I moved up here for professional and financial advancement but here I am, scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, as I have for most of my life.

But on the other hand, as I struggle through many of my days, one of the first things I count when I’m reminding myself of all I have to be thankful for is that I no longer work for that Medusa. I may not have what I should have had, but I have enough, and I’m away from her, and I’m nowhere near anyone remotely like her, and that should be nothing but good.

I don’t have to absolve that woman of anything, but I can give up my wish that it had worked out. I can do something radical, even, and wish for something good tomorrow instead of in the past.

New entry on tomorrow’s to-do list. Make that today’s to-do list; cruising up on one a.m.

I’m going to try to get some sleep now. And even if I don’t, even if tomorrow – no, today – is another day I have to wade through in a sleep-deprived fugue state, I know one thing I can work on toward my own brand of forgiveness: I can wish forward instead of wishing behind.

It’s a start.

Update: Yesterday I was scrolling through job listings, thinking it might be time to go for an upgrade, and I see this Hagatha is advertising for a new victim paralegal. The ad doesn’t list the firm but I know her writing style, and the location is the same. Oh, God, all I can do is pray for the poor sacrificial virgin new hire. Another one. A therapist can make a career out of this woman’s employees.

Paris, Ryder Trucks, and Why You Really Are the Boss of Me #1000Speak

These past several months at work I was plagued by someone with no authority constantly telling me how to do my job. Once or twice a week, I’d get an email from this woman telling me that I hadn’t done such-and-such a thing. She is a private contractor, not an a fellow employee and certainly not my superior, with zero training in what my job duties are. Irritating as hell, oh yes. “Bite me” (or worse) I’d mutter every time I received one of those emails. Delete. Ignore.

This went on for months, and it grew. Her emails to me became more terse and condescending. Tired of it, I was figuring out ways to replace her with another contractor. Until I had a flash of inspiration, and checked something out. Turns out, she wasn’t being paid by my company in a timely manner. Payment for her services is not part of my job duties at all. But she thought the failure was connected to a function I routinely perform, assumed I must not be performing it correctly, and started trying to tell me what to do.

I did a little investigation, confirmed my diagnosis of the problem, and put her in touch with the office that handles private contractor reimbursement. Problems solved. She’s being paid as she should, and I don’t have someone trying to order me around.

Yes, she made incorrect assumptions, that her payment issues were my fault. But she’s not the only one. I incorrectly assumed that she was being an insufferable know-it-all. Both problems were compounded when neither of us communicated what our issues really were: “Gimme my money!” “You’re not the boss of me!” What it came down to was that each of was being threatened, and neither of us was responding appropriately, not solving and even escalating the situation. She could have lost a source of income, and I could have lost the services of a contractor who performs well.

Incorrect assumptions abound. Our only defenses are to think about what the problem really is, communicate what it is, discover the facts as we can, and do our best to find equitable solutions. When we don’t, we lose.

I am reminded of this in the wake of the ISIS attacks on Paris and the flood of pro- and anti-refugee and pro- and anti-Muslim sentiments everywhere.

No, I’m not going to talk (much) about the issues of refugees or Islam, per se. But oh my, the fur is flying, along with insults and xenophobic propaganda on a level with that perpetrated against the Jews by Nazi Germany. Social media have become cesspools. You’re a racist hate-mongerer. Yeah? Well, you’re a bleeding-heart terrorist-lover. It sucker-punched me, though, when I saw ugliness being posted by people I thought I knew, people I hold in high regard, people I love. People that I believed thought like I did. I was surprised at how much it upset me, as if what’s going on in the world wasn’t upsetting enough. I’ve unfollowed a few people, and a few have probably unfollowed me. They’re probably as disappointed in me as I am in them.

And what’s being solved? Nothing.

I took my upset to a group of bloggers I am privileged to know, souls more contemplative and level-headed than I. I listened to their words, and read their words. I stepped back from the shitstorm and allowed things to just percolate in my mind and my heart, and I was able to gain some perspective.

And I remembered the non-boss trying to boss me around. What had I learned?

When we operate in the face of threat, we don’t think clearly. Yes, people reacting from a position of xenophobia and hatred are operating from fear, but so am I. I am also afraid of more violence being perpetuated against my own country, whether from terrorists disguised as refugees, or from terrorists already hiding here, or from someone out there somewhere else who decides to fly another plane into another skyscraper, decides to detonate another explosive-laden Ryder truck by an office building. But I am also afraid of what will happen to us as a race if we don’t do the right thing and help our fellow humans when they need it. I am afraid of how horribly divided this country is becoming on issues that are central to our collective identity. That, I think, is the biggest victory the terror machine can have, when they drive a spike into the collective soul of America, turning us against each other and getting us to do their work for them.

I am reminded not to assume I know what others are thinking, just as they should not make such assumptions about me. I am reminded to avoid labels, especially when tags like “conservative” and “liberal” carry more invective than they ever have.  I am reminded that each of is coming from a different, secret place with dreams and nightmares no one else can truly know. I am reminded that actions do not always reflect motives. I am reminded that we all have feet of clay at times, myself included, perhaps even now. I am reminded that when I despise others for their thoughts as they despise me for mine, I am being as big a bigot as they are.

I am reminded most of all that the world is hurting, and all of this conflict, words and bombs, is symptomatic of massive change and healing that are essential if we are to survive and evolve, as individuals and as a species.

That won’t start until we start having real dialogue, using facts and reason instead of generalization and speculation and outright lies. When I allow you to be the boss, and you allow me to be the boss, we work together. When we work together, we stop yelling at each other and start listening. Listen to the fear, the worry, the pain, and treat them the only way they can be treated – with compassion, love, healing.

The Power of CRAP: You Need This #1000Speak

Honesty in compassion.

Ah, yes.

‘Tis the season. Not the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/Happy-25th-of-December season, but election season. Opinions abound. Unfortunately, so do opinions disguised as fact, usually in spam emails and memes all over Facebook. All the more reason to stay off Facebook.

Even more than usual, with things picking up speed in the political arena, disinformation abounds in the cybersphere. Facts and statistics are twisted, if not made up from whole cloth, and spread around as solid information, all in the hopes of influencing our opinions on everything from abortion to immigration to education to health care to foreign policy to wealth disparity to gun control…you name it. Flaming articles and skewed perceptions and outright lies are floating around about Democrats and Republicans, about conservatives and liberals.

Ah, crap.

We cannot decide where our compassion must fall and where our compassion is best applied if we cannot take the time for honesty, not only in telling the truth but in discerning the truth. With so many hot-button issues that many of us feel strongly about, it is more important than ever that we think before we feel.

CRAP. I’m talking about CRAP, the acronym, used to evaluate information as part of the critical thinking process. You know, critical thinking, where we listen to what’s said and then we listen to the other side, and then we do a little bit of research and make a rational, well-informed decision based on facts and evidence and our own personal ethics and beliefs, rather than on other people’s rabidity and hysteria and fear. Where we use our brains instead of letting others play on our emotions. Critical thinking.

C.R.A.P, for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose.

Szczepan1990, Public Domain

C is for Currency. How fresh is it? A couple of weeks ago I saw a meme circulating about the death of Ernest Borgnine. It’s true, he did die. Three years ago. Sad, yes. Current, no. Make sure the information you’re being given is up-to-date before you react to it.

R is for Reliability. Is it opinion, or fact? What is the source of the purported facts? Is it a religious belief, or is there solid physical evidence? Are references cited? Are there sources for quotes? Fact-check things. Google is your friend. Find out who really said it, and in what context. 

That “Life should not be a journey to the grave…* quote, the one we see attributed to everybody from Ian McKellen to Keith Richards? No. It was Hunter S.Thompson who wrote that, in The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, published 1997. Keith in particular certainly embodies the sentiment, and Ian and Keith both rock, but neither of them originally said it. It took me less than 5 minutes to find that out.

A is for Authority. Who is giving you the information? What are his or her credentials? Are there any affiliated institutions, and how credible are they? Who is publishing the information? A news source already known for a particular slant is not going to give you information that doesn’t already agree with it. An educational journal or a non-profit independent research institution is a good source, but look further. Does the publication or channel have religious or political affiliations, or does it assume a neutral position? Who paid for a study can have a lot to do with the results. An example is Big Tobacco funding studies to “prove” cigarettes aren’t that bad for you. It took me less than 5 minutes to find that, too.

It’s easy to check on political and legislative records. On a national level, the Open Congress website lists all bills and what they propose, as well as how everybody voted on them. Again, less than 5 minutes. Go to your state legislature’s website for similar info for your state. Completely unbiased, unlike somebody’s dumb meme. A hash tag is not an authority.

P is for Purpose. Are you getting straight-up, just-the-facts reporting? Or is someone trying to convince you of something, to sway your opinion, to win your vote? Are they trying to sell you something? These aren’t automatically bad. It’s the nature of political campaigning to try to win votes; it’s the nature of capitalism to try to make sales. But there is always a high potential for conflict when money is in the background. Does the website hosting the article you’re reading have ads? Who are the sponsors? If they persuade you, what’s in it for them? What’s in it for you? Do they get money or power and you get nothing, or do you have compatible goals?

This is particularly important when it comes to political candidates – where is their money coming from? If a politician’s promise to you conflicts with the source of the bankroll, don’t for one minute be naive enough to think they’ll choose you. Cynic that I am, I firmly believe a politician’s influence will go right back to where the money comes from. It’s why candidates are legally required to disclose where their campaign donations come from.  Make use of that information.

The power of CRAP. It all comes down to deciding whether you want to hear the truth that may make you uncomfortable, or if you just want to hear what you want to hear, that fits neatly into the worldview you already have. Honesty requires shaking things up from time to time, including our own viewpoints. That’s how change happens. Nobody ever made the world a better place by being complacent or blindly swallowing what somebody else was holding out on the spoon.

Of course we are all entitled to our opinions (although I will never understand how anyone can support a Presidential candidate like…never mind, this is not the place), but we owe it to ourselves and to the world around us to make informed decisions. Please, for the love of all that is holy and intelligent, don’t decide who you’re voting for based on some stupid meme or spam email or TV talking head or politically- or religiously- inclined news source or God-knows-what idiot, using information from God-knows-where. Listen to what the candidate has to say. Check official voting records. Read press releases. Attend rallies. Fact-check, fact-check, fact-check. Don’t assume anyone else is doing that for you.

And remember,  I am also God-knows-what idiot out there. You got your information  from some blog? Not a scholar? Not a Pew study? Not the New England Journal of Medicine? Some malcontent at 99 Monkeys said it? Puh-leeze.

In other words, you may safely assume everything I’ve written here is bullshit.

You can trust Ned Stark, though. He is absolutely telling the truth right there.
* The entire thing:  “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'” ~ Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo journalist extraordinaire

Poof! You’re a Tree: #1000Speak

Acceptance is so very, very hard. The one thing it absolutely requires is suspension of judgment, true absence of judgment, something few of us are very good at.
One thing I am learning, slowly, as I struggle uphill through my haphazard life, is that if we’re going to be able at all to accept the world around us and the people in it, the first thing we need to be able to accept is ourselves.
This month’s #1000Speak post is not a how-to or a how-I-got-here or a here-is-what-I’ve-learned. It’s random thoughts, mainly, on something I need to get a lot better at. But I didn’t realize that at first. As usual, I was struggling with what to write this month.
And then I saw this on Facebook the other day, and it was perfect:

I can’t credit the author of the meme, but I can tell you that it came from the Facebook page of Tree Sisters, and I love it. Trees and Ram Dass; what’s not to love?
I struggle horribly with acceptance. Like so many, I’m a lot more forgiving and accepting of others than I am of myself. (Well, except for bigots and Kardashian fans. We’ve got nothing to talk about.)
The different body types. Oh Lord, is this a peeve of mine, the notion that an imperfect body denotes a imperfect person, and don’t even get me started on my loathing for the ridiculous standards of beauty rampant in this country. I’m the first to defend anybody else for not being physically “perfect” (whatever that’s supposed to be anyway), but I’m the first to criticize myself. I remember when Dream Girl was little and she asked me why people love other people who are ugly, and I told her that no one who is loved is ugly, because love makes people beautiful. I would do well to remember that I am loved, and therefore I am beautiful.
Personal faults. How silly is it, to be accepting and understanding of the faults of others but not to extend that same grace to myself? This is not an excuse to decide I don’t need to try to become a better person. I believe that’s one of the things we’re living this life for – to evolve. But it is a reminder that as much as I want to be better, I am also exactly where I’m supposed to be. If I was supposed to be somewhere else, that’s where I’d be. As long as I don’t stop striving, it’s okay to cut myself some slack.
The views and opinions of others. Yes, even bigots and Kardashian fans. Each of us here is evolving, in our way and in our own time, with our own unique histories and memories and battle scars and fears and windmills to tilt at. No perception of the world around us is without stain or skew. We’re all learning. Some of us are a little further along than others, and not for one second am I claiming I’m any further than anyone else. Except Kardashian fans. No, wait — them too. And yes, even bigots.
So, back to Ram Dass. How awesome is that quote, how perfectly true? We see a tree, or a flower, or a star, and we don’t criticize it. We may analyze it and classify it and place it in a certain context, as it paints part of our picture of the world for us, but we don’t criticize it. It just is.
And that’s how I’m going to look at this from now on.
I’m a tree.
You’re a tree.
And how much do I love trees?
Some of my favorite trees. Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods
State Park, California.
Time, and judgment, stand still.

#1000Speak: When Less is More

The theme for this month’s #1000Speak is nuturing. Once again, I was having trouble thinking of something to write. There is so much out there about nurturing others. We spend a great deal of time nurturing others, from our children, to our spouses, to our aging parents, to others in our churches, groups of friends, support groups, students, online communities, even co-workers at times. What we often don’t get enough of is self-nurturing, taking the time to care for ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally. For me, this would be an evening out with The Tominator, or a favorite album with some wine and a home pedicure, or tending the little container garden on my apartment deck.

Gardeners have known for a long time that digging in the dirt replenishes the soul, and a recent study has shown that there are antidepressant microbes in soil. The science behind the magic. But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. Where I spend a lot of my time studying or researching and writing papers or blogging, there is a beautifully simple view out of my window. It’s a tree, a maple tree, four stories high and full, with spreading branches and myriad leaves. The tree spreads over the entirety of my window, with the corner rail of the deck visible at the bottom. My view is filled with leaves made shimmering by the breeze, with flashes of azure in between, birds flitting in an out, and a few flowers accenting the lower corner, petunias and pansies and snapdragons looking sleepy in the sun. I don’t need to see anything else. This is what fills my vision right now as I write this, and it is lovely, although the snapdragons need water. It reminds me of sitting inside a full and lush weeping willow as a child, hidden in a verdant cave that whispered to me while it sheltered me from the world. Secret and safe.

We live in a world of bytes, millions and billions of them floating through the aether and the cybersphere most of us are connected to these days. Not too long ago I created my own Twitter account, admittedly with some misgivings. I have enough problems with my Facebook news feed, post after post of other people’s crocheting projects and political memes (some of them quite bigoted, but that’s another post) and game invitations and endless adorable baby animals and teenagers’ vague angst and photos of other people’s dinner and uplifting quote after uplifting quote, which are admittedly better than hateful ones, but one after the other, they stop meaning anything. Studies have shown that when we see endless posts about the wonderfulness of other people’s lives and children, we start to feel depressed, like we can never live up to those standards and we simply aren’t good enough. When I first opened my Twitter account, the few times I looked at my home page I saw an endless stream of cleverness, hyperbole, political ranting, pop culture one-liners, all in 140 characters or less, from people I don’t even know. I felt bombarded and I haven’t looked at it since. I’m particular about who I follow. The Dalai Lama says little, but what he says, matters.
Even the news gets to me. I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper that wasn’t free; like so many other people, I get my news from the Internet. The difference is that I still end up feeling inundated with negativity, the scope has increased from the local newspaper to the entire country, and I don’t even get the crossword puzzle as a consolation prize. A newborn baby found in the trash in New Jersey, four people dead in a car crash in Las Vegas, a house fire in Chicago, another police officer and excessive force in Milwaukee, yet another bombing in Afghanistan, a gas pipeline explosion in Los Angeles, the snatching and murder of a little girl in Poland, not to mention the endless stream of ads for things to help me lose weight, erase my wrinkles, cover my gray, dress like a hot young thing, and not least an advertisement claiming I can “stop worrying about poor self image” by using their product instead of just not trying to live up to these assclown standards in the first place. Yes, I care about what goes on this world and I consider myself an activist for a couple of causes I care very much about, but the truth is, the deluge of bad news I can do nothing about is downright depressing and, in the end, bad for my health.
Stop it already.
Sometimes you have to shut it off. Unplug. Withdraw. Nurturing does not always have to be an activity. Frequently, nurturing is a passivity. It is not being connected, it is not being involved, it is not responding to the world’s constant pressure to do and act and have our awareness raised and achieve and accomplish and above all to be as good as all these things make us think everybody else is. It is finding the weeping willow tree in my mind and crawling inside and doing nothing else but sitting against its strong trunk, fingers pressed into the dirt and bare toes curling into the grass, and not coming out until I can feel that secret cool greenness in my very soul.
I’m not saying that Facebook and Twitter and the Internet are bad. Facebook is a great way to stay connected with the people I love who are far away. Twitter has proven very useful for keeping up with my beloved 49ers. Used correctly and judiciously, the Internet is a world of information at my fingertips for research papers and just random things I want to know about, like what are the little plastic tabs on bread packages called, or the syncronicity of stumbling upon the unfamiliar word sophrosyne and using my phone to learn that, in a way, it’s the whole point of 1000 Voices for Compassion.
Nurture yourself. Turn off the TV and power down your computer and your tablet and your phone. Step back. Disengage.
Breathe in the quiet. Breathe in the you.
(P.S. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @99_Monkees. I promise I won’t pepper you with silly stuff.)
(P.P.S. The little plastic tabs on bread packages are called bread tabs, bread tags, bread clips, or bread climps, and they were invented in 1952 by Fred Paxton of Selah, Washington. They are also color-coded by day of the week, so if you buy by color, you can get the freshest loaf. However, different brands use different colors for different days, so you’re still best off to check the date printed on the plastic thingie. You’re welcome.)

Photo credit:
Willow tree, Geaugagrrl, Public Domain

The Only Way to the Other Side is Through

“…It is the time of burning, hate exposed.
We shall have to live with only Kali near.
She comes in her fury, early or late disposed
To tantrums we have earned and must endure.”
In a previous #1000Speak post I wrote that I hate certain people. That seems a jarring juxtaposition with the concept of compassion.
I was talking about the period of time after I’d left a horrible husband and was just trying to make it through divorce proceedings without my children and I being eaten alive by the machinations and manipulations of a vengeful, angry man whose lawyer rated just this side of shyster. I was talking about the arrival of Kwan Yin and my life, and a beautiful, affirming experience that has stayed with me all these years. And I wrote “I fucking hate those people,” and I didn’t edit that sentence out despite the theme of the post…compassion.
But…compassion doesn’t have room to fucking hate someone…does it?
It does.
I also wrote about being determined to take the high road and to stay positive, to refuse to be drawn down to the level of petty spite and tit-for-tat shenanigans that so many divorces are composed of. It was a lofty goal, and one I kept to, and I was proud of myself for not taking one action or speaking one word I could regret.
But divorces take a long time to be finally over, even after the ink is dry on the papers, when there are property issues and especially when there are children. Long after our particular divorce was final, my ex kept it up. I won’t go into it other than to say if there was a Stupid Pet Trick he could pull, he pulled it. Anyone who has been through an acrimonious divorce knows of what I speak. Every time, I sighed and laughed it off, continuing to take the high road — until that one big one that I just couldn’t laugh off.
Really, after crap like this has been going on for years now, how can it not become a bubbling pit of noxious green in a smoking landscape? What’s surprising is that it took as long as it did. Because what I saw, finally, was that I had not escaped the abuse at all. I’d merely escaped close physical proximity. As long as there was anything binding us together, he was going to keep trying to control and manipulate and inflict injury every chance he got, and it didn’t matter to him if he hurt his own child in the process.
Boiling point reached.
One evening, I blew. I mean, blew. I ranted, I raged, I threw things (sorry, but when I let my temper go, it’s the kind that only the sound of breaking glass can assuage), and before I knew it, I was screaming, “I hate that goddamned son of a bitch!”

Finally the storm blew itself out and I collapsed onto the couch. I was hoarse, shaking, out of breath, and utterly appalled at myself. Who was that horrible woman, screaming her fury and shredding an invisible face with her hands and stomping all over invisible guts on her living room floor? This was not the person I wanted to be. That was not the emotion I wanted to be filled with. This was not the evil I wanted to be reduced to. Feeling disgusted with myself, like a failure, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep. Again.
But then something happened.
Public Domain.

When I woke up the next morning, the sky seemed bluer. The birds sounded sweeter. I know it sounds smarmy, but it’s true. My kids both seemed happier, for some strange reason, and so did I. I felt lighter, almost like I was walking an inch above the kitchen floor as I poured cereal and coffee. I felt freer. As I checked backpacks and kissed  my children out the door to the school bus stop, I knew we would be all right. And we were. As simplistic as it sounds, it’s true: things got better.

And then I knew that I hadn’t lowered myself at all. What I had done was to release something that had been inside me, eating at me this whole time. Anger and hurt are like an infection under the skin. No, not like – that’s what they are. Pretending it’s not there accomplishes nothing; it only makes you sicker without you even knowing it, until all of a sudden it brings you down. If you don’t acknowledge its presence and lance it and get the poison out, the infection will spread. You will not be free of it until you admit that it’s there and get rid of it. The earth stops shaking and rumbling when the volcano blows. No sacrificial virgin required.
I had no need to feel guilty, either. I’d been afraid that my negative feelings would do damage if I let them out, but I had it backward. They do damage when you don’t let them out. (Reminds me of a doctor I used to see, who told me my ulcers would ease up if I’d just learn to be a bitch.) My anger hadn’t hurt my ex at all. But it had set me free to do the work I needed to do, to clear the landscape and build anew.
Kwan Yin’s gift to me was many things. It was a nod from the Universe, that I was handling things and myself correctly. It was falling and skinning my knee and being drawn onto the comfort of a lap, with no minimizing, just “there there” and all the hugs and reassurance I needed. It was a call to serve, to have compassion for those in my life and for those I don’t know at all and will probably never meet again. And perhaps most of all, it was a reminder that I deserve to be taken care of too, and that means shining a light into dark corners and getting the bad things out. Doing what we need to do for us: self-compassion.
I sat down to write this #1000Speak post on building from bullying based on my own recent experience with workplace bullying and the Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell, and that is when I realized that I haven’t built anything from it. Not really. I’d sought counseling when I was in the middle of it, and I’d identified it, and I’ve escaped it. I’ve made enough progress that I am no longer a stew of anxiety, worry and fear thrumming through my veins like electricity and tears always ready to brim and sleeping one or two hours a night, if that. But I haven’t gone much beyond that. I’ve found refuge in school and a job where my talents are utilized and appreciated, but I haven’t built. In spite of getting out alive and moving on, I still feel helpless, I still feel worthless, I still feel sad. I am still afraid.

The poison is still there.

Photo: niecyisms

This is the part that really sucks: Even though I didn’t do this to myself, and I am where I am because someone else behaved in a cruel way toward me, it’s still me who has to do the work to get out of it. And there is work to do. Bullying and abuse hurt. They harm. They cause injury and lasting pain that most of us aren’t capable of just bouncing back from. A band-aid doesn’t cut it. And even though it isn’t fair, we, the injured ones, are the only ones who can do the work to make ourselves right again. They do the damage, but we pay the price if we want to get back straight.

It’s not fair. Who ever said life was fair? It has to be done. Cruel people knock us down, but it’s not until we allow them to keep us down that they win.

“…Kali, be with us.
Violence, destruction, receive our homage.
Help us to bring darkness into the light,
To lift out the pain, the anger,
Where it can be seen for what it is–
The balance-wheel for our vulnerable, aching love.”
      ~ May Sarton, Invocation to Kali, from the collection Grain of Mustard Seed (Norton: New York)       1971

My beloved Kwan Yin is always there for me, always, but now it’s time for Kali, time to tear down some noxious walls and dig up some poisonous weeds. Then I can build.

Walking You Home

“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

I was flattered when I was invited to take part in #1000Speak, and I’m honored to be here. As much as I myself suck at it sometimes, I’m all about compassion, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of something even bigger than the blogosphere, to be a drop in the rolling wave of human kindness, to be a part of being the village.
Then I thought about what I wanted to write about compassion. What did I want to say? What is the point that I want to make?
I can effortlessly write a bonkzillion words about domestic abuse, about bullying, about homelessness, about energy reform and caring for this beautiful blue sphere we call home. I can rant about racism and intolerance, because my loathing for bigotry probably makes me a bigot about bigots. I have a lot of topics that are absolutely deserving. But which one? They were all so tempting.

I had to bark my mental shins on the coffee table about a dozen times before I finally had the sense to see it.

Everything I’d thought of, the ones that came easily and immediately to my mind, none of them counted. Not for this post.
It’s easy to be compassionate when it involves a cause we care about, something we have a personal stake in for whatever reason. I’m an endless well of compassion for targets of bullying or abuse. I’ve been there. Poverty and homelessness are causes that come naturally to me as well. Bigotry, as I said.
But those things aren’t a challenge. And what I can’t help feeling about #1000Speak is that while it should be humane and uplifting and inspiring, it should also be just a little bit hard. It’s like the parable about the rich man and the beggar who both give a silver penny: which one gave more?
The answer, then, is to look in a place where it’s not so easy.
It can be hard to admit that there is a certain someone, a certain class of people, whether it’s the homeless, or battered women, or a particular race, or illegal immigrants, or fat people, or addicts, or people who like peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches, whom we think are not as entitled as we are to…anything, really. It’s the people we consider to be pathetic wastes of oxygen at the least (Kim Kardashian, anyone?) or consider to be evil personified at the worst (such as The Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell). And those hard places that I’m loathe to even admit exist, those are the places I should be looking.

Go ahead. Set aside the justification, and you know it’s there. They’re only homeless because they don’t want to get off their lazy asses. They must like being knocked around or they wouldn’t stay. They can stop if they really want to. They have no right to mooch off of honest hard-working people. Their skin is a different color from mine or they worship the wrong god or they love different people than I do, and that makes them evil and it’s my duty to hate them. You know how the tune goes.

That’s the one. That one, there. The one that really makes you wrinkle up your nose, brings disgust welling up out of your gut, really makes you feel like that doesn’t belong in my face, in my space, on my planet. The one that you just can’t find it in yourself to be kind about, no matter how hard you try.
It’s time to get past that “no matter how hard you try” part. In the words of the great Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
And looking, I see it. Just scroll up a few paragraphs and it’s right there. The ones I ultimately have no patience with, no sympathy for, would like to see jettisoned off into cold blue space, are the abusers and the bullies. If I’m going to be a part of this movement that’s worth anything, if I’m going to walk the walk like I talk the talk, then I have to own it. Bullies and abusers: I fucking hate those people. (And yes, the expletive is necessary. It is a small verbal indicator of my abhorrence, and it means something here. That’s what words are for.)
The Queen of Digression now digresses. Several years ago, I had taken my children and left an abusive husband. I was living paycheck-to-not-even-paycheck, anxiety and depression threatening to overwhelm me amidst the stalking and death threats and his suicide/manipulation attempt in my living room. I was determined in spite of it all not to give in to my natural Scorpio tendency to lash out in a fury of righteous vengefulness and utterly decimate him – legally, in open court. I was determined not to sink to his level and to keep to the high road. I kept reminding myself that he hurt me because he himself was hurting and empty. I took more deep breaths and counted to 10 more times than I can count. I deflected, I cast protection, I cried myself to sleep, I prayed. And as I slogged through day after changeless day, I had never felt so alone.
Until the night, after several months of this, I had one of the most realistic dreams I have ever had.
I was looking down at myself, watching from above as a flower and words that I knew to be poetry, in a language I couldn’t read, were tattooed onto my lower back. I felt the needles, I saw the vibrant colors, I could smell the scent of the living flower being embroidered into my flesh. I didn’t need to understand the poetry to know it was the lyrics of the cosmos. The whole dream was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I felt at peace as I never had in my life. I woke weeping, tears of comfort and release, with the sure knowledge that everything would be all right, that I was loved and Someone Up There was seeing me through all of this. Along with the images, I had a sounds-like in my head. I called in sick to work (sorry, John) and fired up the computer and consulted the Great Google with my sounds-like, and there she was.
Kwan Yin, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in Sanskrit. Kwan Yin is a Buddhist goddess of the sea and of compassion, the Mother of Mercy. A bodhisattva, she is often shown sitting on a lotus blossom, symbolizing the purifying of the soul as it struggles through suffering up to the godhead. One of her epithets is She Who Hears the Cries of the World. She is said to have 10,000 arms, to comfort all who suffer. If you call her in need, she will answer.
I learned some time later that the tattoo on the base of my spine was meaningful too. That is where kundalini energy is coiled inside us like a snake, the spiritual energy that purifies our spirits and helps to unite us with truth and divinity.
That dream is one of the most profound things that has ever happened to me. I’d had virtually no knowledge of Buddhist practices and had never heard of Kwan Yin. I did not doubt at all that she was there, that she had answered a call I hadn’t even consciously sent, and that she was calling me in return. Because one truth I was left with was that I was very right to have compassion for a man who had treated me as though I was merely a possession and not even fully human. As hard as it had been, and would continue to be, that was the only right way to treat him, because in the grand Universal end, it matters. And the other truth I was left with was that it matters because what I give for others, for him, was also there for me. As alone and broken as I felt, I was cared for. We are all children of the Universe, and we are all worthy of kindness.
All. Even Kim Kardashian. Even The Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell. Perhaps especially her. This is where it gets so very hard, for me.
Back to #1000Speak and the point of this whole post. Compassion is impossible alongside judgment and condemnation, and to refrain from judging and condemning can be one of the hardest things ever. As I think back to the cruelty I’ve seen people exhibit, and the satisfaction some of them seem to take in it, I am certainly not inspired to want to be compassionate toward them. It actually makes my stomach roil a little just to think about them. And this is the part where I stub my toe and hop around on one foot, cussing at the Universe. Who am I to call them pots without making myself into a kettle? I’ve been a waste of oxygen many times. I’ve been cruel to others in order to feel better about myself, too. Oh, yes I have. And that makes my stomach roil even more, to admit that I am one of them.
But there is compassion for me. I am getting better at being compassionate toward myself, and I know why I behaved as I did, and if everyone else is just as human as I, then anyone else is entitled to be imperfect as I was. If I am entitled to compassion, so are they. I am reminded that I need to grant all of these people the same grace I extended to my now-ex, the same grace Kwan Yin gifted to me that night. I need to remember that people abuse other people because they are trying to feed their own hunger for love, trying to fill their own voids of emptiness and lift themselves up. Their reasons were my reasons.
This is what it all comes down to. My experience is theirs, and theirs is mine. If I look closely enough at them, I will realize that I am gazing into a mirror, and will see my own self yearning back at me. We are all walking different paths to the top of the same mountain.
Make no mistake, this does not mean I have to invite these people into my life. Just because I recognize the need to save an endangered species doesn’t mean I’m foolish enough to share my house with one, like, say, an alligator. I deserve better than The Boss Who Shall Not Be Named, and I’m not going to stop reading Ronald Takaki so I’ll have time to be a Kardashian groupie. I cannot link to my ex (“Throw Your Darts HERE!”) because he has been excised from my life, and rightfully so. But that doesn’t have to keep me from looking upon them with something more than derision or venom. For some, it is even possible for me to say the few words or perform the one small act that can help them see, help them feel, help them know that they are not alone and that solace and and empathy and a twining upward to the Sun are there for them, too.
It is true that what we put out is what we get back, that we reap what we sow, that like attracts like. When we extend ourselves to others, we create a ripple in a Universal pond of energy, and add mojo to the big circle of connection that runs like the strands of a silvery web, one to the other.

And we are all just walking each other home.

 Daniel Racovitan, used under Creative Commons license