Guest Post: “The One Who Walks Beside.”

On December 11, 2015 my father lost his wife. Below are the words, images, lessons and teachings from his experience…..

There is an American Indian phrase that is used to designate the person who walks beside another, through out their life; it is, “the one who walks beside.”  This simple expression is clearly referring to a spouse, a best friend, a brother, a sister, etc., who, regardless of the kind of conditions or circumstances that surround the beloved person, will walk by his or her’s side.  This kind of relationship exudes characteristics of loyalty, love, support, protection, respect, selflessness: my wife would say, “they are attached at the hip.”

This phrase accurately describes the relationship my wife and I had.  She was the one who walked beside.  I say “was” because my wife passed away, unexpectedly Dec. 11, 2015.  My wife, Mary Lou, was  not feeling well after Thanksgiving.  She complained of stomach pains, thinking she had an urinary infection, which she had had several times previous.  We went to urgent care, and she was diagnosed with a severe urinary infection, and was given three antibiotic pills.  Mary Lou seemed satisfied that the pills would cure her infection, as they had on previous occasions, and she would be fully recovered in three days.  The next day, Mary Lou wasn’t feeling any better and complained of lower back pain and a severe headache.  We went to see an orthopedic doctor who took x-rays of her lower  back with the result that, other than some arthritis her lumbar area was fine.  The next day Mary Lou was getting weaker. and we decided to go to the hospital emergency facility.  She was so weak that she could not put on her socks and shoes, I had to put them on her feet. Continue reading…..

Am I This Far Off….?

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Am I this far off balance that I cannot hear the Voice of my Soul? That I cannot quit what is taking from me? That I cannot smile? That people avoid me? That I am not sure I like anyone or care about anything? Am I so off balance that I cannot give to anyone, especially those who I can feel trying to pull energy from me (this, however is the best thing that has come out of this experience)? Am I so off balance that it is finally showing on my face and my daughter says last night, “Mom, you look like a zombie—you look dead inside.”

I must fight for what’s alive inside.

But, am I so off balance that I don’t have the capacity to fight? Women, mostly, speak of having balance. There’s no such thing as balance when her plate is too full, and overflowing. She must toss some things off her plate. This is what I must do—sooner, rather than later or life will do it for me.

I need a permanent solution because when I create some space I do find my Soul again, and she speaks. But then I return to what takes her away. I know taking off work today is only a small, round band-aid for the gaping, empty wound inside.

The culture I live in appreciates my burn out. It’s all a part of my success, it says. I say, fuck the culture. If I am to get any kind of outer success I don’t want it like this. I need to feel alive and whole again. This, to me, is the only success worth having. There was a time when it was my Soul and my children that received all my attention. Yet, I felt incomplete. I had no career. I wasn’t saving the world. No I try to do this while trying to take care of my children and myself. It has taken its toll.

So, what do I do now….? I do not know. I am so off balance I do not know I care. At least this is how I feel now.

The Soul Reporter

The Denial of White Privilege

The first time I read the essay by Peggy McIntosh on white privilege in college I shook my head in agreement. Then, we discussed the essay in class. There were a few of my fellow white classmates agitated, if not enraged, by the notion that somehow they were privileged. One classmate told her story of the poverty she grew up in and had to fight for everything she had. Since reading this essay, the idea of white privilege has surfaced again. It’s even being used in some of the current political commentary. I notice the same agitation and downright denial from some white people that they are privileged.

Let’s be clear that in accepting or even just considering white privilege does not negate in any way what ever struggles any of us have faced. But let’s also be clear by not even considering the idea we are not listening to another person’s struggles and that’s a problem. Here are just a few of the areas in which Peggy McIntosh noticed where she is privileged just for being white:

  • *I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • If I should move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing, in an area which I can afford and in which I want to live.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I did not have to educate our children to be aware of systematic racism for their own daily protection.*

There are 45 more of these conditions.

In order to accept or consider privilege means we must sacrifice beliefs and ideas we have about ourselves, society and the world. This idea of privilege, for those agitated by it, pushes against something they think is too precious to give up. What that is I cannot say for certain, but I do have a theory. Is it possible that for some people who reject the idea of their privilege— and let me just say that to defend you are not privileged is in fact a symptom of privilege—is it possible those people do not have room for anyone else to matter because they don’t feel they matter? It is possible some people feel so burdened and know how hard they’ve worked without any acknowledgment that they cannot stand to give space to someone else needing acknowledgment of their struggles?

Could they be saying in the face of privilege—why can’t they work hard? I have worked hard. I struggle and have worries why does theirs mean more than mine? Could they be crying and screaming deep down in their soul—I cannot give you space for your oppression because of the oppression I feel.

Deep down, and for some of us not so deep down, we all feel oppressed. We all feel as though we are struggling with no one to acknowledge our pain. Many of us don’t deal with our pain or feel our feelings. When we have all of this going on inside we may feel threatened if anyone dares suggest we are privileged in any way. However, the idea of white privilege at least as it is presented in the original essay has nothing to do with any of this. It has to do with as white people we don’t think about the color or our skin because as Chris Rock says, “If it’s white, it’s alright.” We weren’t brought here on slave ships. Our white ancestors chose to come here to make their lives better. As white people we have a sense of belonging and place that is given to us just because we are white. For me, that’s the point. For me, it takes nothing from the core of my being to accept I have privilege for being white and for me I’m willing to give it up. I would actually rather not have it because it kinda makes me sick. I am able to give space for another person’s experience even though I will never fully understand that experience. I knew when I had two children by a black man that there would be a part of their existence as black girls and women that I could never understand. That has been a difficult experience for me, but it is a truth I cannot deny and therefore accept and try to be as open as possible with what their experience is as black women.

My desire whenever I speak to someone who is resistant to white privilege is not that they accept it fully, but that they just consider it. When we consider anything we are being open to more than our own ideas we cling to because often those ideas we cling to the most are the very ideas that hold us back from our growth. My other desire is for people to make space and open to their own pain—to acknowledge the struggles they have faced and feel whatever feelings come from it, which is most often grief. Many of us need to grieve for the many losses and traumas that have happened to us. When we do not we not only abandon ourselves, but everyone around us. This is a time to come together, not to abandon each other.

Namaste,

The Soul Reporter

 

*The conditions listed come from the essay, White Privilege and Male Privilege by Peggy McIntosh listed in the Catherine Core Reader published by Saint Catherine University in 2014.

 

 

 

Don’t Be Afraid—of Anything.

Don'tBeAfraidDon’t be afraid of anything;

Be at peace about everything.

This is a practice and a promise to adhere to…..

I wrote these words— and then I had a panic attack.

For five days I was in a dark space, consumed by the ailments of my middle-aged body. High blood pressure, irregular menstrual bleeding and apparently a pulled muscle from participating in new activities to combat said, high blood pressure. The pain immobilized me, thus the five dark days. For two of those days I popped muscle relaxers and waited for lab results from my doctor visit. Any thought of doing anything normal like cooking or walking or going out to eat was met with fierce resistance. The light of day and of my life became darker and smaller. I was trapped inside my own worry, fear and pain.

Thankfully most of my test results were normal, but the pain continued. I took myself off of the muscle relaxers because I was dizzy, groggy and sleeping too much. My body needed to move. I did small things at first then, I went for a walk.

The sun’s brightness overwhelmed me. To seek protection, I walked to a forest path near my house. The trees did protect against the sun, but not against my thoughts. Before I left the house I was itchy. It felt like gnats biting. It worried me. The constant attention on my body and not trusting it over the past few months was destroying my peace and taking my joy, which wasn’t much to begin with.

Then, I began disassociating—the experience of feeling I was not where I was—that I was unreal or the world viewed through my eyes was unreal. Then I began to itch more, and my limbs felt weak and tingly. My heart began to race, my breathing became labored, my mouth, dry and I thought: I am going to die right here. I walked faster and faster so if I were to die it would not be in the forest where no one would find me.

I was having a panic attack (I used to have them daily) and called it out of its destructiveness and deceit: Goddam panic attack!

I walked out of the forest and into the sun. My breathing slowed and some saliva returned to wet the inside of my cheeks. I listened to the cars pass. I read a sign: For Sale. $75 with a ladder underneath it. I made eye contact with a man in a car. I needed these signs of life. I needed to know I was still a part of it. I began to think about the past few weeks of summer while not working and going to school. My intent during this break was to focus on my health and my mind.

I began this process by calling my dad who also has high blood pressure. He says anxiety is a major contributor, and so I began to work with my anxiety. I know it well—every morning greeting me before I open the shades. But I usually don’t work with it. Instead I fight it or I am so used to it I think it’s normal and move on with my day. One morning, I sat with it to pinpoint its location inside my body. It helped itself to the inside of the v-shaped area where the abdomen and ribs meet. Working with this, along with my breath I felt something release in this area, as if someone came to take away a chunk of my anxiety.  In that moment I felt no resistance inside my belly. I could breathe full, round breaths.

Also during this time of focusing on body and mind, I signed up for the Oprah and Deepak 21-day meditation challenge. Every day I repeat a mantra and sit in silence. I’m also reading a book by Katherine Tingley, The Voice of the Soul. She speaks of our divine nature and the “path of self-directed evolution.” She writes:

You must be true to the inner quality of your own nature—the divine spark, the ray of Universal Life. Be true to that, and all other good things will come to you…..

The path of self-directed evolution is evolution directed by our own higher nature….

I am absolutely assured of the essential divinity in man, of his power to conquer conditions and make the whole world over again.

I read these words and many just like them every night before bed. I’ve no doubt they, along with the silence of sitting in meditation, stir something within. One morning I woke up knowing I am safe. I am okay. I have something indestructible inside of me—and its everything.

Then, that pain—followed by that panic.  Is the pain a part of adjusting to the space inside of me where anxiety used to hide? Is the panic a part of adjusting to the truth that I am safe?

In this culture we tend to make everything a medical condition and do not consider we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Anxiety is a battle for most, and it is rare to recognize it as a symbol of transformation or at the very least an indicator that a shift is needed to serve us on our “path of self-directed evolution.”   Therefore what we call panic attacks may be a sign of spiritual transformation and what we call pain could be a result of something emotional in our bodies being released or needing to be released. When we ingest something new the old must break down. Surely there is a consequence to this.

In the sun again, after declaring a panic attack, I ask, through tears: why does change have to be so scary? I don’t want to be scared anymore. But, the truth is I feel unsafe. I feel unsafe. This was the truth of the moment and I declared it. Instantly this truth set me free—at least for the time being—and opened me to another truth I felt just days ago: I am safe.

Sometimes we need to call out what is in the shadows and bring it to the light before we can fully embody a new truth. I went into the light of day after days of darkness and feeling unsafe and the light overwhelmed me. I went to the forest so it could protect me, but nothing outside of myself can protect me from my own mind. Only I can free it. There is a promise and a practice to adhere to: Don’t be afraid of anything. Be at peace about everything.

The Soul Reporter

The Act of Contemplation

Am I addicted to contemplation? Have I watched too many movies where the actor stares out into the abyss with a look of longing while music plays in the background? If I give up contemplation then what takes place? This I contemplate while staring at the waters of the Mississippi.

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I think I know the answers—yes, yes and action toward all those things I long for when I contemplate. And, if neither happen—the action or the contemplation—then anxiety and depression settles in.

The lesson: I need to be more active toward what I long for to restore balance and inner harmony.

The Soul Reporter

The 5-Mile Hike

A month ago, with spring break approaching I booked a 3-night stay at a resort on Minnesota’s North Shore. At least once a year I go on retreat, alone. Usually I stay at a small cabin in the woods—rugged, no television or amenities. This year I wanted a bit more luxury. I wanted the option of staying in bed all day on a comfy, king size bed, with the fireplace on, watching satellite television. I also wanted the option of stepping into a whirlpool bath, full of bubbles and lit candles. I brought 4 books, 2 magazines, my laptop and iPad. I also brought my homework just in case and the notes of my memoir that I’ve been working on and thinking about for ten years. The difference with this retreat, I didn’t care if I even opened my backpack with all of those options inside. As I said, staying in bed was also an option.

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However, yesterday I decided it would be nice to hike. I drove to mile marker 43.5 along the Superior Hiking Trail. I parked at a wayside. I wore my knee-length, down North Face jacket; my green, rubber, ankle-high rain boots and my cross-body leather purse. I also had a scarf and hat to match. On the brochure from the resort, the hike was listed as 5 miles. After, crossing the bridge at 2.5 miles, it read I would be led back to the wayside. How difficult can 5 miles be? That’s like walking Lake Nokomis two times around. It turns out 5 miles on a hiking trail is equivalent to about 20 miles on a paved trail around a lake, at least in my estimation.

Hike4

I was met with many obstacles upon the trail. The first being a couple on the path that I kept trying to avoid, which was difficult because they kept stopping. The first stop was to set down their backpacks and strip off their oversized coats, rolling them neatly into their backpacks and putting on a lighter coat. I decided to follow suit. But, I had no backpack so I folded up my bulky winter coat and hung it over my purse. Their second stop was to take a drink of water and eat a snack. I had no water. I had no snack so I sat on a tree stump and watched the waterfall. Their third stop was to tie their hiking shoes. I had rubber rain boots. Fourth stop—kiss on the bridge (that wasn’t the one to cross over to head back as I hoped it was). My husband hates to hike so we will never kiss on a bridge if it’s on a hiking trail. And finally, their last stop at the actual bridge, which was the half-way point, at a camping site, where I watched them unload their gear. This, is where I started to worry. Should I be camping out? Is the hike back not possible without an overnight stay? As much as I tried to avoid the couple I was now afraid to leave them behind.

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I checked my phone. Up until this point I had no signal, but now I had two bars. I sent my husband a text informing him of my location. You know, just in case I don’t make it. Because you see, prior to this I was really struggling. On the trail to the bridge was mud, lots of mud. And ice. My rubber boots are not made for ice. There were steep slopes up and down filled with ice and mud. I had to find other ways around, if possible. Sometimes this wasn’t possible because to my right was a ridge and then the river and to my left trees and brush and prickly branches. At one point, I took a tumble, and cursed loudly.

So I wrote: Ok so if you don’t hear from me I’m on the split rock superior hiking trail. First signal I’ve had and it’s full of mud and ice and I’m not prepared for that. Then another text to say, I am still only half way. I’m the stupidest person I know. He replies: Are you going forward? I say, Have to. It’s too bad to turn around. I’ve already fallen. Then he says, I wish you well with that. Better person than me.

Wish you well with that….? I could break a leg or twist my ankle next time I fall.  I’ve seen animal prints I hope are domestic dogs and not wolves or bears. I have no water or food. I don’t know how long it will take for me to get back. I don’t know if the trail back is full of mud and ice. I don’t even know if I am following the right trail. And, that couple I wished would go away are now behind me, camping for christ sake. And, I’m telling him my location in case any of this happens. And, he says, I wish you well with that.

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At this point, I never thought the trail would end. Four hours had gone by. There was no end in sight. All I wanted was to get back to the resort for my $5 smoothie before they stopped selling them at 4pm. I wanted the hot tub and the cozy bed. I cursed the path and then cursed myself for taking myself out on yet another stupid adventure where I don’t feel prepared. Where I get swindled by my own mind to have an experience, where all I do is realize I just want to be at home, relaxing. Where I understand I really don’t want to work so hard. I don’t want to be challenged by miles of mud and ice and rocks and tree roots and a husband that doesn’t get it. Then, I began to hear traffic from Highway 61. I was up high enough I could see glimpses of Lake Superior. Signs, I knew, I was going in the right direction.

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Did, I even feel relieved or heroic upon retuning to my car….? No. As soon as my tired, aging, aching body got into my car the experience was already becoming a distant memory. I was in the moment of now being in my car, in pain. I’ve gone most my life holding onto experiences and making them mean something. But, do they? I’ve also made sure I learned something. But did I with this experience? If I did, I learned I am not as tolerant or interested in being challenged as I think I should be. Or maybe I am just tired of being challenged and just want to relax and take it easy for a while. Maybe I just went for a damn hike- and as with most things it wasn’t what I thought it might be. End of story. And, I have the boots to prove it.

Hike

The Soul Reporter

I am

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The surface is ice and does not move- much like the way I’ve become. Yet beneath, the water keeps moving. It maintains it’s aliveness- much like I am.

It has been a while since I have posted on this blog. There hasn’t been much time for reflection and for writing much more than school papers. I decided to go back to college in the fall for social work. I also work and maintain the other responsibilities I have had most of my life: kids, home, relationships. But— I had two weeks off for the holidays and I have a month off from school. It took a week or more, but soon the Voice Inside was heard.

This didn’t just happen, however. I had to ask to hear it again. I had to desire the chaos in my head to dissipate a bit and I had to take a walk. I went right to the Mississippi River. Immediately I noticed the ice that formed. The lack of movement- the complete lack of moment frightened me. It seemed like death. But then, beyond the ice, a patch of moving water could be seen. This brought hope and became a metaphor for what I’ve noticed about myself, but could not be fully seen in the busyness of my life—on the surface I seem unchanged—that I am not growing. That a certain kind of death has snuck in and I have become stagnant and at times, icy. But even when this seems true, underneath life still flows. There is an aliveness that exists that is never stagnant or stuck. There is a presence that is fearless in the face of pain and suffering and love and life and doesn’t ice over and become numb.

There is more I could write, but this is a good start to warm the waters I suppose,

The Soul Reporter.

Happy 2015. May we all have many more moments where we see what is beneath the surface.

Old School, New School- Where’s the Balance?

It’s been exactly 3 months since my last post….And what’s on my mind—parenting.

I’m starting to believe I’ve done my children a disservice by being too available. Of course they would say I don’t give them anything they need.

Today I had to make a quick run to the grocery. I was going to go alone, but Lilli, my 14-year old decided to join me. I’m making enchiladas and burnt the chicken in the crock pot last night. The rotisserie  was $7.99. The lunch meat and cheese (for lunches/snacks this week) was almost $15. And the sushi Lilli suddenly wanted to have was $8, stating, “I’m sick of sandwiches” (and apparently can’t wait for enchiladas).

I told her to find a deli salad instead, which she did. “How much is it,” she asked?

“$3.35.”

She made that sound that expresses disgust when you click the tongue away from the roof of your mouth, and said “I hate being poor.”

“Lilli, we aren’t actually poor. I’m just not making any money right now and need to be on a budget.”

“Well make some,” she demands.

“Even if I made some it wouldn’t be to buy you everything you want,” I reply as I start to feel defensive.

“You need to make more money so you don’t have to depend on dad. You can’t even pay the mortgage with out dad.”

From here I just get more defensive….”Listen here, kid….”

 

On the way home, I start to see how the earlier days of letting a child know their place might still make sense.

Besides spending most of my adult life as a homemaker, being available to my children and my home 24/7, I also began working as a teacher assistant a few years ago. This past year I worked at a middle school and the behaviors I observed made me curious about where the hell we are going wrong with our kids. It would appear kids don’t know their place.

I know that doesn’t sound right, does it? Well maybe it does to more old-school, conservative people, but to the liberal and equal minded people it may not. Here’s what I think– we have left behind the “children are best seen and not heard” philosophy where children were filled with shame and not seen as people with their own thoughts and feelings– and this is a good thing–but, now we seem to be in the other extreme where we let the kids run things. We treat them equally. We are afraid to hurt their feelings and to disregard their thoughts. We also tell them our thoughts and feelings as if they  know what to do with those other than hurting us somehow later (how else do you think my 14-year old knows I can’t pay the mortgage with my pay check).

But, here’s the result of creating equal ground for our kids—some of them now tell teachers and parents to “fuck off bitch” ( I saw this frequently where I work and have heard it from my own child). Some use our willingness to listen to their thoughts and feelings to manipulate so they get what they want. And quite honestly between this and the media with images and sounds of violence and sex, kids are frickin’ overwhelmed. They are kids for a reason. They are under our care for a reason, and yet here we are as a culture exposing them to content they can’t truly handle yet. In some ways we are protecting them but in other ways we certainly are not. And I guess they’re pissed.

In my own life as a parent, I have tried to protect my children from the experiences I had as a child- divorce, having an alcoholic mother. Yet, it was from these very experiences that I learned how to be resourceful, independent and responsible. Of course I am not saying I should have been a drug addict so my kids could be stronger in some areas, but I truly believed being available to them emotionally and also making them physically comfortable was what would allow them the space and the security to develop certain qualities that would benefit them. But, now I wonder…

I can’t say I have any definitive answers yet, but here are some things I am realizing as I continue this parenting journey, one I have been on for 22 years.

  • Kids are hard on parents

This realization comes as a relief. For 20+ years I’ve believed that somehow if I just do things right, which really meant doing things better than my own parents my kids will appreciate it. HAHAHAHA. I’m thinking it doesn’t matter. Kids are hard on their parents(large period here).

  • It’s okay if my kids don’t respect my choices or even like me.

My Aunt Flo told me when her kids said they didn’t like her, she said: too bad. I’ve been priding myself for years on being a good mom. And as my kids become more vocal in the ways that I am not or in the ways they do not respect my choices in my own life, I have been terribly hurt and confused by this. Like: don’t they see what a good mom I am….how can they say these things to me?  I think I can finally say it’s okay that they don’t respect my choices. It’s okay they don’t think I am a good mom. It’s okay. And quite honestly, it’s been humbling to see in which ways I really haven’t been a good mom.

  • It’s also okay how I chose to parent at the time.

No matter why I did what I did, which for many years was just not do what my mother did, my kids will survive. My kids will be okay. And even if I did do too much, as human beings we are resourceful and resilient. They will go through the struggles as they already are in their own ways. They will always have the capacity to take what they did and did not receive and have it inform how they live their lives and how they parent, if and when they choose to do so.

As far as what to do as a culture for our kids- as I said I have no definitive answers, but I do trust we are finding a balance between the old-school ways and the newer-school ways. I also know we must find a spiritual perspective in raising kids, ours and society’s. The balance then seems to be keeping a vigilance of our humanity- how we parent within our culture and our own upbringing, while also having a spiritual perspective- that within our spirits we are equals. We are whole. And we are on our journey that continues to unfold and evolve. From this balance we will find and share the wisdom, which comes from this space.

Would love your thoughts on the matter.

The Soul Reporter.

To Pierce or Not to Pierce—this is the investigation…

And I would like your thoughts and opinions….

My 13-year old is begging for piercings- septum and industrial (I had to google them).

I know in my mommy gut, 13 is too young and I sense this is the usual teen dilemma of trying to find oneself . To encourage her idea that it will make her more herself seems silly….BUT I see how important this is to her and I recognize I don’t get the whole piercing world even though I have my nose pierced. I have never wanted any more than that and honestly I don’t find it attractive to have certain piercings- like the septum for instance.  This is of course my opinion and not hers and so I told her I would take two weeks to investigate the world of piercings—calling studios and asking others for their thoughts and opinions.

So—- to pierce or not to pierce. Remember she is 13, turning 14 in June….Thoughts? Opinions? An offering of insight from those who are into body modification?

Thank you,

The Soul Reporter