Monthly Archives: November 2013

Reflections on acrimony and the circle of love

Today a friend shared this post, which lead me to read this one.

I was struck by the ideas, not because I consider myself an angry person (I am usually quite the opposite) but for what these thoughts mean for someone who lives with the focus of anger. Yes, labels are really awful, especially when they are not given with a charitable mind. I root for the underdog so when I see people rallying against some real or perceived injustice, I tend to call them on it. People don’t like that and they tend to get angrier or more upset.  That is a part of the human condition. We want our worlds to be peaceful streams of consciousness. And in my times of anger, I fight against that like mad. Unless, of course, the principal object is to be the proverbial devils advocate (which can be cruel, and unfair because you don’t do that to friends, it is not gentle).

However, I am generally not an angry person. I have learned to vent and let my thinking processes run me through the gamut of emotions entailed therein. There are exceptions, but they are able to be counted on one hand with fingers left over.

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
~ Aristotle

See, the one thing that I have learnt is that anger comes from fear.  And fear is not an ideal thing, it produces a stress response, it can cause delusions, it creates anger, it starts up the flight or flight response… which are fine and dandy if you are being chased by a predator, but not if you are navigating a world you want to be filled with gentleness. Angry people are averse to gentleness, and I think that I can say that based on how I can be towards those who anger me. I am not gentle, I can be cruel, I fight them, and ridicule them. I admit that this response of mine most likely comes from a place of fear. I venture to guess that they cause me to feel vulnerable, and I may not trust them to take care of me there. Or I think they are crazy and need to be put on medication.

“Most hatred is based on fear, one way or another. Yeah. I wrapped myself in anger, with a dash of hate, and at the bottom of it all was an icy center of pure terror.”
~ Laurell K. Hamilton, Guilty Pleasures

The one thing that I have noticed with angry people is that they tend to find comfort in being a victim or feeling victimized. Such comfort that it must become addictive, I would guess. The thing that struck me in the second link above was that the author was searching for the naivete that she had when she was younger and, I am guessing, the world seemed so much more open and the shades that were not black or white were making themselves known and it was exciting and waiting to be discovered. I have had those same feelings, though I call that wish to return to that time as searching for a state of grace.

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.”
~ William Arthur Ward

But, anger is not a state of grace. It is almost its opposite. And because it is such a destructive force, theologians (I am sure) included it in its pantheon of the most vile of human behaviours… yes, it is built in to the ideas that gave us the more modern notions of the deadly sins… and were thankfully complemented by the seven virtues.

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Another thought on anger that I have is that is inflamed by cowardice. When I hear that someone is angry at me, I try to confront the issue and manage it accordingly. However, there are folks out there that are such that they refuse, they set up specifications that are almost impossible to arrange, or cancel (repeatedly) appointments made at my request to discuss things. In the face of these, I have to find that they are cowardly and that they are living in such desperate fear that they are incapable of listening to the other side of the story, or even of allowing me to hear theirs… selfishness?

“The fiercest anger of all, the most incurable,
Is that which rages in the place of dearest love.”
~ Euripides, Medea and Other Plays 

How sad to be that angry, I can’t think of a single person that I would not give the opportunity to should it be requested of me… but to live in that kind of anger, just breaks my heart because I might venture that, as Euripides suggests, the anger is taking up the space that could be occupied by love. Even for others that might not be the source of the anger. My mother often reminds me when I rail at anything, why waste your energy on that when there is so much else you could spend your energy on.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

So, there is letting go. What does that mean? Is there any one answer? Is it an easy step? is it a process? I think it is all of those. One of the things most people don’t understand is how I came to peace with my father. After all, I railed enough that I changed my name (something I still would not change if I could do something over)… my answer, and it is often completely misunderstood is that I let go. I let go of the anger and resentment (not that they don’t raise their ugly head on occasion, but I am aware and I try to curb it) and focused on what was between us. I would not call myself close to him, but I try to read through the actions to find the languages he uses to communicate with others. In the process, I have learned so much… and mostly because my mother made me…

“Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others– it only changes yours.”
~ Shannon L. Alder, 300 Questions to Ask Your Parents Before It’s Too Late 

 So where did I learn to try to manage my anger? My mother, who has had enough chaos in her life that if she were the most bitter and angry person on earth I would think it was with good reason. My mother, whenever I would have fits of anger at my father or any other perceived injustice would gently say to me:

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!
~ Edwin Markham, From the poem ” Outwitted”

Now, I can say that being angry is easy, drawing that circle of love… that’s hard! Another lesson I learned at my mothers wise and gentle side. How lucky I am to have her as a guide.

NaBloPoMo 30 (I did it!)

Manifesting my illuminated ancestors

When we illuminate the road back to our ancestors, they have a way of reaching out, of manifesting themselves…sometimes even physically   
~ Raquel Cepeda

Today we went, as an extended family, to visit the grave-sites of our most distant local ancestors.

While I am sickly and tired and exhausted I am so glad I did. I love trudging around the huge cemetery looking for my ancestors. 

I love wondering if there will ever be the mystery flowers  put on my great grandmothers grave again. The story is that she was well liked by a former politician (mayor or governor?) and that flowers were placed there well into the 80’s. I know she was a tremendous force in the burgeoning days of Phoenix, she had “the sight”, was a well respected dressmaker, and even supposedly sold Winnie Ruth Judd the ticket to California… of all the ones I have heard about, it is her that I would love to have met. Though not at the expense of the others, she just sounds like she must have been a wonderful person in a way that I could relate to. She was my maternal great-grandmother… and her grand-daughters (my mom and aunt) recall her most fondly.

I look at so many different things; the differences in headstones (an indication of those who had and those who had not as much), the direction their headstones face… The old cemetery is always such a journey of stories, so it was especially wonderful to have my mom there with us today… telling all of us stories as we sent the young ones off to find the different grave-sites from our map, watching them run around the headstones asking if one or the other had found it yet…

One thing struck me today, as we were driving out… was that I noticed a group of headstones, decorated with ribbons, balloons, potted plants, stuffed animals… and all of them had Hispanic surnames. 

So, I talked with my family about this observation, nothing which really surprised any of us but did lead me to ask “when did “white, non-hispanics” get so bad at veneration of the dead?”

For the record, the picture above is a before, we placed a poinsettia with all sorts of holiday baubles and glitter at each of the sites… my family is just a hair shy of adding a stuffed animal to our ancestral graves. I love that about us.

We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.
~ Liam Callanan
NaBloPoMo 29

Habemus Papam

I have never made a secret that my life was greatly formed by liberation theology.

As a child who was a deeply religious seeker (still am, though the nature of the seeking has changed a bit), I was awed by the Church that I witnessed serve the people in South America. It was a Church that was still evolving away from the pre-Vatican I rituals to the ones that were intended by the council… so, I witnessed a lot of Latin, covered heads, churches that had not yet lost the adornments (of ostentation?) that I would postulate that they shouldn’t in this part of the world, many of these cathedrals were built with the blood, sweat and tears of the natives during conquest and they were allowed to put in their own touches… one of my favorite cathedrals in Quito is painted with red ocher paint (and tons of gold), an unusual color for the walls of a a Church. The Jesuits had the most lasting influence, in part because I think they were the most willing of orders to manage the New World and its intricacies.  Like the Inca rise and conquest they managed to influence the most striking behaviors of the natives through adaptation… a rather ingenious way to be able to govern a conquered group. It was not without its own evils and problems, but there were some amazing things that came out this (movements to end slavery came out of the clergy serving South America)

Our new pope embodies that whole idea, and has dramatic sparks of the liberation theology that I grew up with. I know this kind of thinking is not without its problems, but the compassion behind the ideals has always deeply appealed to me. I am humbled by the return to true service. I am excited for the church, it feels familiar again (it hasn’t felt familiar since I arrived in the USA). I read his interviews with atheists and things like this story and I feel moved and so very excited for what could come from this kind of religious leadership.

NaBloPoMo 27

Courageous childrearing

For the greater part of my maternal experience I have been incredibly inclusive of my son.

I am not sure when I made the decision to fully include him in my life but it evolved into that. I told you how he has been out with me while serving the community since his birth but I don’t know that I have ever talked about the way that has played out with my peers.

One of the bigger surprises was when I was called a helicopter parent for taking him so many places with me. He was young, maybe three or so, and it was the first time I heard this turn of phrase. 

The first thing I did when I got home was to look up the term and realized that I was not a helicopter parent. I don’t make his behavioral choices for him, I don’t manage how he behaves, what I have chosen to control was his place, as in location. 

I think the irony was in where I think this came from. I had read a book called Freakonomics and was pretty impressed with its look into how readers are created. My understanding was that the biggest factor in reading was if the parents were readers, that it indicated that modeling the behavior was as important as asking them to experience reading. 

So, when I would model reading with him I would often think about modeling other behaviors that I considered important. One of those was that of giving back to his communities, volunteering and while I don’t recall making that a conscious decision I do recall taking him with me to meetings and events thinking about what he would infer from these experiences over time. In time, it became a norm and just what I had to do based on other choices like which school I enrolled him at, where my husband and I work and so on.  I am so very lucky that he is often really well behaved.

I don’t know what he will do with those experiences, he doesn’t get upset with having to go to yet another meeting, and I try to fend off only child syndrome as much as I can. I do know he is a wonderful little boy and that I am excited to see how he grows and finds his place in the world.

So, I do the best I can and take a deep breath when another parent vocally makes an opinion on how I choose to rear my son. The greater courage comes from ignoring most other parents and to keep following my gut.

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..” ~ John Steinbeck, East of Eden

NaBloPoMo 26 

The gentle waves of reality

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ~ Lao Tzu

So, the thought  for today is what I strive for… currently my personal thinking about myself and my place in this world is captured in the ideas of mindfulness or in being present. While it is something I think I am pretty good at, it is also easy for me to forget and find myself wrapped in things like anger, bitterness, sloth, and even the good stuff like being happy.  Yes, happiness can be a very selfish place too, in certain situations.

Allowing myself to give in to the flow of how life arranges to present itself to me and be there for those moments without giving into extremes,  to “lean in” to life and do so in a manner that is not based on the multitude of roles that I serve in my life; a mother, wife, daughter, friend, volunteer and to stand straight and face it as a human among other humans, not as a certain type of human.

Recently a friend told me that I disappoint them when I act like “most people” the quotations theirs. I suppose I have no idea what that means though I infer that it means that there is a notion that there are “most people” and that there are “other people”… something so vital that it is almost like some form of speciation that makes this human so much different from that one. I have to think that because the only time I would consider that there is a most people and an other is when the other has particularly vile pathology that somehow removes them from being fully human (intentional violent murderers would most likely fall in this place of other humans). I try to respect the human condition and even when I hurt or celebrate I sense that the depth of those emotions is part of something that I share with other people. 

At the end of every day I know I am no different from anyone, my challenges are different, but so are my blessings. Like a snake, humans require the shedding of lessons learnt and a move onto new challenges and joys, I am not separate from others because of my temperament, experiences or even my curiosities. I am like them because of those things.

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

NaBloPoMo 25

Revisiting Eve

“I do not wish to be a coward like the father of mankind and throw the blame upon a woman.”
~ Ouida

The notion of Eve has stuck in my mind for a long while. Through exploring the thoughts running through my head I seem to be heading in one certain direction


So Eve… Let me go back a bit and put out some of my thoughts on the parable itself.

I think that this parable has its basis in the change, for humans, from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence to that of an agrarian society. this change is probably one of the most dramatic changes that occurred in human history (now mind you, I say this fully believing in evolution and having faith in a divine). Some regard it as our biggest mistake… and I tend towards agreeing with that. Not that I would give it all up and head out and join the Hadza (ironically this article is part of what helped form some of the burgeoning conclusions I appear to be coming to.

I suppose, since I link to an article that helped in some transformative thought that I need to share what started off the whole thing. It was this article by PZ Meyers. Please, I think he has some of the most interesting links and put some interesting thoughts out there.. I think he worships from the dogma of atheism in a manner similar to an extreme fundamentalist and I am of the thought that both require some mechanism of faith to be present. Anyway, I digress… I am going to brush off the rest of the PZ article because I think it is fueled by much the same thing as tele-evangelists making appeals for money for ones salvation… self-interest.

So, Eve. I am not so sure why his article struck me in that one point… but I do think that Eve was always deeply misunderstood. I recall the first time I heard of the story of taking of the so called forbidden fruit and I knew exactly why she had, I think I may have been about 6 or 7 at the time. I always assumed it was be cause she was curious… not in the way one looks in the medicine cabinet when in the restroom of a house they are visiting … but about everything. how things grow, how things die, how things change, how things are, why things happen, the concept of zero, the concept of 1 (yes, one can argue there was stasis in the garden of Eden, but to me that is just not possible.. and I can get into why I think this if you want but in a nutshell it is just about how I marvel at the world and how magnificently it operates and that a big part of that is how there is change over time, adaptations.. it is just such a magnificent construct that I am often left speechless in its mere contemplation).

So Eve, as PZ proposes, as a free thinker is a valid thing to postulate… however, I would argue that if there is a God in the form of a divine being then perhaps Eve was created to do this very thing, to make the leap from one kind of existence to another, that this is change over time, adaptation and evolution in a cacophony of interpretations.

As an anthropologist I seek to find the origins to things.. why would this story be the a part of creation story for Abraham based religions. Who was the ancestor that were Adam and Eve and why did they become immortalized.

Now, I realize that Adam and Eve could be just one specific couple but I would venture that it was a collection of couples. Or, as I am starting to think, perhaps it was generations upon generations of couples that lived as hunter gatherers. And that Eve is the symbolism of the move from that lifestyle to an agricultural one.

Friendships, firm and constant

Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm & constant. 
~ Socrates

I am not sure if I do friends well or if I am terrible at it. I tend to assume the former, but contemplate the latter at times.

How fortunate, though, that we live in a world where friendships can exist.

If you are a friend though, know that I will be very loyal to you because I don’t bring people in quite so casually and when I do, I feel an obligation to the friendship, knowing both our boundaries, and I tend to commit to that pretty seriously.

I am slow to fall into friendship, but when I do I remain as firm and as constant as needed and is reciprocated.