The Benefits of Being with Nice People Who Do Nice Things March 31, 2015
There was a story in this morning’s Orlando Sentinel about the new book, “Beneath the Surface,” by John Hargrove. He’s a former senior trainer at SeaWorld’s parks who was interviewed for the documentary “Blackfish” after quitting his job in 2012. Apparently his book is opening old wounds in Orlando. People here remember Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was battered and drowned by a bored, stressed-out orca in 2010. Many feel a deep sadness over this incident; some are still outraged.
My trainer and I talked about it this morning. I told him I’d gone to an Alan Jackson concert at SeaWorld Sunday afternoon at the invitation of dear friends. He won’t go to SeaWorld any more and gives everyone who does a hard time. He can’t see why anyone would want to go to a place that holds these magnificent intelligent animals captive for the purpose of making money off them. He doesn’t think their educational programs are justification for it.
I told him about a brilliant but deeply disturbing book I read years ago titled “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. This fascinating mix of science fiction and theology highlights the moral dilemma of being a conscious animal that eats and hunts and experiments on other animals. He says he’s okay with eating a chicken or cow and lower vertebrates because of their less well-developed brains and neural pathways.
We agreed it’s easier to eat an animal you didn’t kill. I told him my grandpa used to chop the head off an occasional chicken, then Grandma would pluck and dismember it in preparation for Sunday dinner. I saw one running around without its head once. I ate it the next day and liked it. We decided kids who grow up on farms get used to this sort of thing. That seems a shame, somehow.
I said I read an article about how some scientists now believe everything has some form of consciousness, even plants. Even rocks. It seems we’re actually surrounded by, and part of a “sea” of consciousness. The cells of our bodies even have consciousness.
He said if that’s true, then if we didn’t eat anything that had consciousness we’d all starve to death. He has a point. He likes the way Star Trek solved that problem. People had learned to make food that was full of nutrients and tasted like anything you wanted, but it didn’t contain animal products. Won’t somebody please invent that? Quick?Meanwhile, I guess we just have to decide which forms of consciousness we’re willing to eat and which we’re not, then find a way to come to terms with it. Otherwise, we’ll all either starve or go mad with existential angst.
Sometimes, living in this world is hard. Sometimes very hard! Yet, I’m feeling mellow on this beautiful spring day. I think it’s a holdover from Sunday’s visit to SeaWorld with Sam and Eleanor. When we got there, Sam took me to where people were learning to line dance and whispered something to the man calling out the steps. He came over, pulled me into the group of dancers, and stayed with me ’til I got it. It was fun.
After that, a woman asked me where I’d gotten the cool black “Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que” T-shirt with the pink dancing pigs on it. I told her Sam gave it to me. He owns Bubbalou’s, one of the caterers for the “Bands, Brew, and BBQ” weekend events SeaWorld sponsored throughout March. She wanted to buy one, but they weren’t selling them. I introduced her to Eleanor. She told Eleanor she’s a helicopter pilot from Alaska. She attends this event every year. It’s the only time she gets to enjoy country music because her family doesn’t like it. Eleanor took off her T-shirt and gave it to her. Sam gave her a ticket for a free Bar-B-Que dinner after the concert.
Sam had reserved front row seats at the concert. Alan Jackson was wonderful. Afterwards, the bass guitar player gave me a free Alan Jackson guitar pick. It says “YEE HAW” on one side and there’s a silhouette of A.J. on the other. I plan to try it out on my ukulele.
I still eat chickens and fish and occasionally cows. I usually feel guilty about it. I don’t hunt or fish; partly on principle, partly because I don’t like to shoot guns or put worms on hooks. I feel sorry for them. The worms and the fish. I ate Bar-B-Que by the lake after the concert. I had the rest for lunch today. It was delicious.
My trainer and friends are good people. They remind me of the wellspring of caring and kindness at the core of every psyche. I’ve been thinking about the Buddhist goal of “Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.” It helps some.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Embellishment May 28, 2014
Last Saturday my half-Italian husband told me about a funny thing that happened earlier that day when he was at the grocery store with his brother-in-law, Gary. “Where’s the tomato sauce?” he asks Gary. Gary looks up and points to a sign and says, “Aisle 3. It says ‘tomato sauce.’”
They go to aisle 3 but all they find is ready-made spaghetti sauce in jars. “Hey!” Fred says. “I’m not using that Paul Newman, Chef Boyardee crap. I’m Italian. I make my own spaghetti sauce.” Just then a 50ish blonde bimbo-type comes up behind him and in a nasal New Jersey accent says, “Hey! Don’t ask a man where something is in a grocery store. It’s in the next aisle with the vegetables. I know how to make spaghetti sauce. I’m married to an Italian. My license plate says: “Fugeddaboudit!”
So they go to the next aisle. He sees cans of tomato paste, tomato puree, whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, but no tomato sauce. He’s complaining to Gary about this when a very proper, well-groomed Atlanta matron standing nearby says politely, “Excuse me, sir. You’re looking for tomato sauce? It’s in the next aisle!” This cracks him up. As he tells me this story he’s giggling so much he can barely talk.
My husband’s ability to tell a good story is one of the things I love most about him. I used to have trouble with it though. Coming from scrupulous-minded, strait-laced Dutch stock, I worried about his blatant distortions of the truth. Maybe he had a serious memory problem. Maybe even a character flaw. “That’s not how it happened,” I’d say in shocked disbelief. “I was there!”
His whole family’s that way. I think they got it from his step-mother, Helen. His youngest brother, Tony, and I were talking about her the other day and he said, “You know, I think the word that best describes her is…” he paused for dramatic emphasis… “Embellishment.” “Embellishment?” I asked. He nodded emphatically, “Embellishment!” He would know. He’s an interior designer who jokes, “Never done ’til overdone!”
While I was pouring my homemade limoncello after our spaghetti dinner Saturday night Fred told everyone about an incident at a friend’s villa in Florence, Italy many years ago. “So,” he says, “after we’re installed in the guest cottage we go up to the villa where the chef has prepared a fabulous meal and our friend tells me to go to the wine cellar and pick out a good wine. I’m down there looking at all these dusty bottles thinking they have to be old and expensive. I didn’t know much about wine in those days and I didn’t want to take the best one so I choose a smaller bottle thinking it’s probably less expensive. Upstairs I open it, pour it in our wine glasses, and it’s yellow! Turns out it’s limoncello!” Everyone had a good laugh while I did a mental eye-roll. “There was no guest cottage. There was no chef,” I told them. “That’s embellishment.” More laughter.
Unfazed, he went on to tell the story of our wedding. “Jeanie’s mother made her dress and said she could either give us $300.00 or spend it on a fancy wedding,” he said. My mother didn’t make my dress, and it wasn’t $300.00. It was $200. I know. I was there. Embellishment.
So what’s more important? Telling a good story or telling the truth? One of the happiest outcomes of my inner work is that I’m learning the wisdom of lightening up. Sometimes truth is overrated. Like limoncello, a little bit of embellishment can be good for the soul.
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
The Ten Best Things About Turning 70 April 23, 2013
It’s April and the bittern is back. (See this blog post from a year ago!) As I write this on April 16, he’s just arrived and is out back by the marshy canal that separates our backyard from the cypress swamp beyond. He’s late this year. Maybe that’s why he’s screeching his head off. Have you ever heard a bittern screech? It’s loud, harsh, raucous, piercing, and frankly a bit annoying. Yet I feel a certain fondness toward this one. He might be the same one from last year who decided to return for his courting. It’s an ideal spot for large water birds…except for the alligators, of course. The canal is connected to a large lake and is shallow enough for marsh birds to easily see the bass swimming by. Yesterday a great blue heron plucked a long squirmy thing out and lifted its beak so gravity could slide it down his gullet.
April’s my favorite month in Florida. Actually it’s my favorite month anywhere because it feels like my very own special month. I was born on April 23 in 1943, a year when the 23rd was on Good Friday. I always felt proud of being born on Good Friday as if it meant I was good and would be rewarded with a comfortable life. Now of course I recognize a universal, less auspicious significance to this day. Good Friday is when Jesus of Nazareth is said to have been beaten, tortured, and hung on a cross to die for speaking out against the ills of rigid religious orthodoxy and the injustices of misogyny and Roman imperialism. As a child I never considered the possibility that, if taken as an omen about my spiritual journey, being birthed on Good Friday did not signify a pain-free life. In fact, it didn’t, but I’m not sorry.
Of course, I don’t claim any factually objective connection between this historical event and my birth date. Conventional thinking would see this as the height of hubris, self-importance, and magical thinking. But as someone who’s spent the last quarter century learning the symbolic language of dreams and experiencing an unending series of synchronicities between my inner and outer worlds, I find it profoundly meaningful anyway. I don’t expect anyone to understand unless they’ve been on their own inner exploration long enough to have experienced such things. But those who have know that the life of the mind is about much more than history, objectivity, linear logic and intellectual reasoning. There’s a grand and glorious MYSTERY out there, and we can be part of it.
Yes, I’m turning 70 on April 23 this year, today, in fact, if you’re reading this on April 23rd, 2013. And I’ve never felt better. To honor this, here’s my personal list of the best things about turning 70. I know my experience isn’t true of everyone my age, and this knowledge pains me. Aging is not a piece of cake and I have a pretty good idea of the unpleasantness I can expect in times to come. But I assure you that at this moment I feel excellent and am filled with hope.
10. I can see the great blue heron swallow a snake and hear the bittern calling his mate. Life is teeming with the drama of the birth/death/rebirth cycle, and I’m still part of it.
9. I’m still learning and growing and I foresee no end to this adventure.
8. I still have my mental and physical health and usually have the sense to enjoy it.
7. I feel more comfortable every day about being transparently me.
6. I’ve survived an agonizing ego death and am enjoying its miraculous aftermath.
5. I wake up every morning to work I’m passionate about, and I can keep doing this as long as my mind and fingers hold out.
4. My life has purpose and meaning because I’m touching people in ways that are making a difference in their lives.
3. Because of the internet and other technology which has eliminated the barriers of time and space, I can be present to the lives of my loved ones and communicate my love whenever I want.
2. I’m proud of my progeny and filled with hope for their futures.
1. I’m surrounded by people who love me and whom I love.
Wishing you all this and much more when you turn 70.
Feasting at Women’s Tables April 2, 2013
Since I left my job to write in 1989 I’ve always been part of at least one women’s circle with sometimes as many as four ongoing groups at the same time. My Jungian study group was formed in 1989 and our weekly meetings lasted for ten years. The Purple Pro’s, my writing group, has met monthly since 1990 and usually shared home-cooked lunches. This year is the first we haven’t had a meeting because of changes in our lives that make it too difficult.
In 1997 a few women and I founded The Matrix, an organization dedicated to identifying and meeting the sometimes physical, but always psycho-spiritual needs of women in Central Florida. Until we passed the torch along a few years ago, my monthly meetings with five unusually wise and gifted women were deeply growth-inducing and soul-sustaining. 1997 was also the year I started teaching classes and leading dream groups at the Winter Park Jung Center. When it closed, our dream groups met in private homes until my latest book demanded too much time and energy.
For over 20 years I have regularly shared meetings, study groups, planning sessions, classes, programs, volunteer projects, weekend workshops, retreats, dream groups, and food with circles of women. We opened and closed most occasions with rituals. Some, like the five minute deep-breathing meditation before dream groups, became traditions. Others were tailored for specific occasions like Matrix meetings, classes, holiday gatherings, and individual life passages such as birthdays, weddings, new babies, transitions into crone-hood, house-blessings, illnesses and deaths.
The defining feeling running through all these groups was abundant nurturing. This is nothing to scoff at, I assure you! Think about it. When’s the last time you were with a group of people who wanted to nourish each other more than they wanted to grab all the goodies? I’m not saying there were no hurts, disagreements or misunderstandings, but there were only two occasions when differences were not resolved with emotional restraint born from growing fullness and caring. In both instances, the unforgiving women who left were deeply wounded neophytes in self-reflection.
A climate of abundance is rare among both genders in social institutions where an attitude of scarcity prevails. Not even religions are immune. Think about the usual office and board meetings, gatherings around the water cooler, times off in the break room, holiday office parties. How many have you attended where you didn’t hear a single snide remark or juicy bit of gossip? I’ve sat in faculty meetings where scorn for other professors, departments or colleges was palpable. Served on boards, chaired committees, and attended church functions where petty gossip, misogyny, exclusivity, and competition to impress hid behind the thinnest of pious veils.
I know some women prefer the company of men. I’m sorry for those who’ve never experienced the deep sustenance offered by mature and generous-spirited women, who’ve been poisoned by the spiteful gossip of miserable, mean-spirited women. I’ve shared tables with a few of the latter type when they’ve joined one of my classes or tried to befriend me. But ever since I excused myself from the company of rigid institutions and started communing with like-minded sisters, women like that have never hung around for long. I think their wounds have left them feeling so empty that they crave a constant diet of discord and drama, and I have no appetite for this.
There are some desperately unsatisfied and spiritually starved women out there, and it hurts knowing they can’t digest the kind of food that would help them discover their inherent beauty and capacity for love. But there are also many generous-spirited Queens, Mothers, Wisewomen and Beloveds, and sharing my journey with some of them, including you who join me at this table, has been a major blessing in my life.
Compulsive Computing: The Perils and Pleasures of Writing 600 Words February 7, 2012
It’s noon on Monday and I have five hours to write and schedule a post before I have to get ready to attend a Magic basketball game this evening. My posts come out twice a week, at 12:01 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday morning. I’ve been doing this for almost two years and am kind of obsessed about staying on schedule. Last week was unusually busy so I’m under the gun today. Only five hours to come up with a topic and 600 words. Holy crap!
I’m a fast thinker. This makes me a slow writer because so many synapses fire at once that it takes some time to assemble all the input into something understandable to others. It also makes ordinary conversation problematic since I have a habit of coming out with non sequiturs. I’ve been subjected to many a blank stare when, for example, we’re talking about Magic basketball and I’m wondering aloud about dinner. It makes perfect sense to me. I associate basketball games with arena food and arena food makes me hungry and hunger reminds me of dinner. In fact, writing the above sentence made me hungry so I had to stop and make lunch.
But I digress. Another reason I’m a slow writer is that I need to know how I feel about something before I’m ready to write about it, and I’m a slow feeler. Well, I don’t really feel slow; I’m just slow to recognize my feelings. As an aside, (and to illustrate my point about firing synapses), I need to digress again: When I say feelings, I don’t mean just emotions. I mean feeling in the Jungian sense of valuing: assessing phenomena in terms of what is meaningful to me, what is not, and why. For instance, I saw the movie A Dangerous Method about Jung, Freud, and Spielrein a few days ago and enjoyed it, but I still don’t know exactly how I feel about it, so I’m not ready to write about it yet.
It used to take three or four days to get a post together and I worried a lot about meeting my deadlines. Why? I don’t know. After all, they’re self-imposed! Nowadays I trust my unconscious to send me something: but in five hours? Last night I awoke several times and each time I was thinking about what today’s topic would be. But nothing gelled.
Then this morning it hit me that this post would be my 200th, and when I checked my blog stats I discovered I now have 200 e-mail subscribers! Now that felt meaningful! So I pondered this computational coincidence over my compulsory morning sudoku, while reading and answering my compulsory e-mail, and during my compulsory check-in with my other sites. Finally, I settled down to write. I refilled my coffee cup. I lit my candle for inspiration. I closed my eyes to meditate. I heard, “You’ve got mail!” It was a series of cartoons from Fred’s office manager about working with computers. All this was too synchronistic to ignore, and the result is this post on blogging, computing, internet networking, and the inefficient wiring of one writer’s brain.
In closing, here’s my latest favorite quote about writing from author Paul Auster, “Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.”
600 words? Exactly! Hard? Yes, but also way gratifying.
Okay, this last sentence takes it beyond 600 words but I thought you’d like to know it took me 4 hours and 53 minutes!