Chasing Inspiration

Friday, October 28, 2016

Of Archbishops and Dalai Lamas


I am slowly making my way through The Book Of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams.

These three men are from very different worlds. And these three men from different socio-economic, faith, and racial backgrounds joined together to write a book about joy. I was intrigued from the moment I first learned of this book. While I believe in God, I do not believe that my faith background holds all the truth there is to be learned about life and compassion, about God. The world is too big, God is too large for that to be so. And it warmed me that a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Jew could forge such bonds of friendship with each other. Could delight in each other.

Which is part of why I'm slowly reading this book. Normally, I would devour it quickly and move on to the next book. I love knowledge and learning. Sometimes I love it more than the application of knowledge. Knowing this about myself, and knowing that joy is something that has been on my mind for the last three years, I made the decision to enter into this book with intentionality. This might be my only opportunity to learn at the feet of two men I admire greatly and a man they admire. I was going to make the most of it.

The forward sets the tone for the book, and within the forward are these paragraphs:
No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield. 
Lasting happiness cannot be found in pursuit of any goal or achievement. It does not reside in fortune or fame. It resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope you will find it.
Lama, Dalai; Tutu, Desmond; Abrams, Douglas Carlton (2016-09-20). The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (p. ix). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
I read these words and had to put the book down and let the words wash over me, through me. In these words is permission. Permission to choose. Permission to create and dream. To wrest back our ability to act from the hands of everything around us that wants to lay siege upon our will. We are put back into the driver's seat.

But how? How do we find joy? Especially if it is not happiness. And is not found in accomplishments? If joy is an internal state, what must be done to find it? And live in joy in a world filled with suffering? Some of this comes down to choice:
They offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, of joy that we can aspire to in our own lives. Their desire for this book is not just to convey their wisdom but their humanity as well. Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response. (p. 7) 
And resilience, I think, though so far this term has not been used in the book (I'm still mulling over the introduction and first chapter), but resilience applies to how Archbishop Tutu describes life with joy in the face of suffering:
Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken. (p. 12)
Joy seems to spill over from empathy and compassion. From feeling deeply. Which sometimes scares me. If I don't feel too deeply, then I'm not going to expose myself to too much pain. Isn't this what we learn? That feeling deeply leads to deep pain? But what if it doesn't? What if feeling deeply, or empathy and compassion, actually leads to resilience? It's something I am questioning for myself.

The Dalai Lama builds on this, and stresses the inner life. That the core of our joy, of our strength, is within. And that this is the same for all people, regardless of race, religion or creed:
It does not matter whether one is a Buddhist like me, or a Christian like the Archbishop, or any other religion, or no religion at all. From the moment of birth, every human being wants to discover happiness and avoid suffering. No differences in our culture or our education or our religion affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire joy and contentment. But so often these feelings are fleeting and hard to find, like a butterfly that lands on us and then flutters away. 
The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not power, not status. Some of my friends are billionaires, but they are very unhappy people. Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.  (p. 14)
I'm chafing a little at the thought that the ultimate source of joy is within. I was taught we are created in God's image and all good things come from God. Joy comes from God. At the same time, this makes sense. Joy is intensely personal. It may spill over from within onto the people around us, but it starts with us. With me. And if the source of joy is within me, that doesn't detract from God. Or from human evolution. Or social science. It shows just how amazing humanity can be.

The Book of Joy is going to be a very interesting journey. It's already doing it's best to stretch my understanding, which is a very good thing.

  1. Chocolate coconut water. 
  2. The loamy scent of autumn.
  3. Silence.

Velcro Dog, Fur, and Me


I've been battling what is likely a mix of allergies and a sinus cold. For almost two weeks. I'm just sick enough to run out of energy quickly, but not sick enough to snuggle on the couch and watch movies all day. It's a balancing act, this thing called life.

Today I am going to tackle the floors. There is enough dog hair on the floor to gather and spin into yarn. Which I'm not going to do. I'm a wee bit allergic to my dog and if we are going to enjoy living together, the floors need to swept up at least every other day and someone (usually me) needs to groom Velcro Dog to release the fur that continues to shed. When we were told he is half Vizsla I almost wept for joy because most Vizslas I have met don't shed a lot. Velcro Dog is also half Labrador Retriever. He sheds like a Lab. I love him anyway.

Due to the lack of real energy, and the fact that Mountain Man has been out of town this week for work, the floors haven't been dry mopped. Hence the carpet of fur.

Every day I have to choose what to tackle. Every day I have to remind myself that it's okay for there to be tasks still on my task list. Every day I remind myself what I have actually accomplished so I can look back and recognize that I was productive. Productive just has to mean something different right now than it did a few years ago.

Today, it's the floors. Hopefully the kitchen counters. And if I'm lucky, the cheque book. And that's just fine.

  1. Whoever invented fleece should be honored and revered. Without fleece, I would be freezing my ass off on my daily Velcro Dog walks. 
  2. Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is so full of positive. I love him. But not as much as his wife does. Honest. 
  3. Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama because no matter what they have been through in this world they have been able to seek living a life of joy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

When Grief is Messy

Nude Woman and Grief

Warning: if you are family, you may want to stop reading. I love you all, but I needed a place to process, and maybe my process will help others. 

In July we visited family in Victoria, British Columbia. Which is one of the most gorgeous spots in all of Canada. I admit I'm biased because I am Canadian, even if I'm living in the USA. The trip was not for pleasure, though there was much to enjoy. No, this trip was because of the death of my last living grandparent. My grandmother. My mother's mother. A woman who is part of my earliest memories. Memories that I now know were the foundation for some of my neuroses.

I want to say I had a good relationship with her, but honestly, we never connected. She was critical and wanted different things from me than I wanted from myself. She was verbally abusive. She had done a number on my mother. How do I know this? My mom would become this pale shadow of herself whenever Grandma was around. I think I hated the woman because of all the times she reduced my mother to tears. I think the child in me lost some respect for my mother for all the times she wasn't strong.

The adult me knows that trauma untreated will not heal true.  When a broken bone isn't set, it doesn't heal properly. Even if set properly, the healed bone will always be different than if it had never been through the trauma of a break. We are like that. If we are emotionally battered down until we stop seeing ourselves and see only the thing our abuser wants us to see, we are like that broken bone. Even if we get out from under the situation, unless we go through the work to release ourselves from the trauma, we will never be reset. We will live as though the trauma is happening to us right now.

I'm writing this at 3:30 in the morning, otherwise I would take the time to find references for the above paragraph. Please let it be enough to know that I was a therapist for a time, and continue to keep updated with the latest in psychology. And trauma is an area I am very familiar with.

My grandmother had good points. She had a dry sense of humor. She took family seriously. She took on the task of taking care of my grandfather, who she loved fiercely. I don't have a memory where Grandpa wasn't in need of some form of care or pain management. She did that because she loved him. She was the primary caregiver for her mother when Alzheimers stole her independence along with her mind. She worked hard.

But that wasn't enough to erase her cruel side. The side that told a four year old me that I was never going to be good enough. The side that made sure that when my brother and I spoke of our dreams for a future, she would shoot them down, telling us we had champagne taste on a beer budget. Translation: we were over reaching our status. We were from working class people and we would always be working class people. Which is partially true. Dad was a blue collar worker. But who tells children to dream small because life is small?

When I was fifteen or sixteen, I spent two weeks with Grandma and Grandpa. I took the bus to Victoria, rode the ferry from Vancouver on my own. It was a fabulous trip! I loved the adventure. And I tried to be a good guest. I kept my room clean. I helped with meals and dishes. I tried to be small enough that Grandma's cruel side wouldn't notice me. It worked until the day I wore shorts. Then I got the lecture on how by the act of wearing shorts I was sending a message to all males that I want to be raped. I shook my head, it was just Grandma, after all. But something in me started to feel ashamed of my body. Scared that maybe I was responsible for what others think and feel about my presence. Add this to the script of "You're not good enough" and we have a recipe for confusion and years of not believing I was worth anything good that came into my life. All good things were suspect.

It was after this that there was an outward change. In all the pictures taken after that visit I am not smiling, knowing the world is one huge adventure waiting to explore. Instead, I'm withdrawn, even frowning. I didn't want to be near Grandma. Deep down I knew she was toxic for me. But I didn't have the vocabulary to explain this to any one. And therapy wasn't on my radar until college.

I cut the ties after my high school graduation. I wore this beautiful dress that my mom's friend made for me. It was strapless and amazing. I felt like a heroine from a novel when I put it on. I never wanted to take it off. When I stepped into our living room to show my grandparents my dress, she sneered and told me I looked like a slut. What should have been an amazing day became one of the most horrible days in my life. And I told Grandma that other than visits with mom and dad I was done. I was eighteen.

These examples aren't meant to vilify. They are only to illustrate my relationship with Grandma. I eventually started therapy. Got my MS in Psychology. Worked with trauma survivors. Had more therapy. I needed to take out the thorns that were festering in my soul and my psyche, then I had to do the hard work of healing. I'm not all the way there yet. Trauma changes a person. Abuse leaves it's mark. Our experiences become a part of our DNA. They leave us changed from who we might have been.

I left Victoria and my family with mixed feelings. Relief. Sadness. Anger. I was relieved that her suffering was over and her spirit had moved on to somewhere that could heal the trauma and pain she could not, or would not, heal in life. Relieved because maybe in death the stranglehold she had on her daughters would end, so they could breathe and live and heal. Sad because all around my family were the fingerprints of her - the good and the bad. Angry because she never extended to me the type of relationship she extended to younger cousins. She never showed that side of herself to me. Even two years ago when I saw her last, she didn't talk to me without the side of her personality that was critical and cruel.

Maybe some of that is on me. I cut her out of my life because I couldn't grow as a person with her still in it. I hated the pieces of her that were sharp and quick to cut. I loved the parts of her that were wry and loyal. I was sad for the parts of her that were damaged and bleeding.

Maybe it hurt so much when her china went to a younger cousin because I was the oldest and she had told me she would pass it down to the oldest. But I had walked away and my cousin had not.

Maybe it hurt so much when at her funeral I was introduced to this caring, tender woman, a woman I didn't recognize because whatever tenderness she may have shown me was buried under the tsunami of judgement.

Maybe being the oldest grandchild is a lot like being the oldest child, and Grandma made her mistakes with me so she could be a better grandmother to others.

Maybe I reminded her too much of the self she lost along the way. Or maybe not.

It's messy, saying goodbye to someone who has hurt you. It's tricky walking the line between utter relief and compassion for those who are grieving more deeply than myself. My grief is less the loss of a person who's love and light embraced me, and more an ability to finally take a breath. How do you explain that to family? I don't know. If you have the answer, please let me know.

  1. The wisdom living brings. 
  2. My husband, who walks with me, even when I drag him through the messiness of life.
  3. The stillness of night. 

Photo by x1klima

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In Being Flawed

kintsugi closeup

Do you know what I love about movies like Bad Moms? It's about flawed people trying to do the best they can. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it very wrong. Sometimes they do everything right but still get kicked in gut for trying. And somehow they find the way to get up every morning and try to do their best again.

I'm not a mom, but I know a lot of moms who work hard raising children, hoping they become strong, healthy adults. I'm a woman so I know what it's like to be a woman in today's world. How sometimes as a woman it doesn't matter what you say or what you do, you're either too much or too little. How the rules seem to be different between men and women. Against one group of women to another. I know what it's like to be called overly emotional for being passionate about something. Or overly sexual for wearing something that makes me feel fabulously alive but shows too much skin. Being called a bitch because I call someone on their behavior. Or have a strong opinion. Or just because I breath.

And sometimes I feel like no matter what I do I'm still going to be too little or too much. I'm never going to be just right.

We are all flawed people. In someone's eyes we are going to be too little or too much. Everyone has an opinion and judgements and insecurities. Everyone is trying to find a way to keep getting up every morning. For some, this may be easy. For the person secure in who she is and who has her back, it may be easy to shrug off the naysayers and push forward. For others, it might be very, very difficult.

Sometimes we are our own enemies. Raise your hand if you have ever told yourself you were stupid, inept, or a failure. If you have looked at yourself in the mirror and berated yourself for being in Vogue shape. If you have made a mistake and have not forgiven yourself. If you hate something about yourself. If you do something for yourself and feel guilty after. If you look at the people around you and judge yourself for not being just like them. If you have looked at the lives of other people and hate them just a little for being better than your life.

Maybe if we are trying to live an ethical life, if we try to be kind to people, to be compassionate, to strive to become better versions of ourselves just a little every day (or week, or month. I'm not judging), then maybe we can let up on ourselves. Maybe when we make mistakes, we own them and try to learn from them, then we can stop berating ourselves. Maybe if we allow ourselves to believe we are worthy of kindness and compassion we can stop feeling guilty. Maybe if we acknowledge that there are bad days where our shit falls apart, we can start being kind to ourselves.

Maybe if we stop looking at the lives of other people as the bar we hold ourselves to, we can be kind and compassionate and generous to others. If we want to love our neighbour, maybe we need to learn to love ourselves.

It is Yom Kippur, and though I am not Jewish, I find something compelling with this Jewish high holiday. One of the passages read on Yom Kippur is from Deuteronomy and is about choice. Choose a path of forward momentum and growth and light, or choose to stay mired in mindsets and choices that are slowly destroying us.
Move forward into a space of opportunity and growth or remain trapped within perils of the past and fears of the future? The choice seems obvious enough, but the path to renewal is far from easy. Choosing “life and prosperity” requires us to recognize our previous misgivings, but it also challenges us to accept whatever consequences lie ahead. (Reform Judaism
While this isn't all that is encompassed within Yom Kippur, and I apologize right now to my Jewish friends and family for distilling what is a day of huge import down to a question of choice, I find it important to ask myself, am I willing to choose the more difficult path? The high road is lonely. Change is hard. Being honest with myself means being honest with others. Even if that honesty requires me to go low and apologize and offer reparations for something I have done that has had negative effects on someone.

Yes, we are all flawed people. And we will make mistakes and our shit will come undone. Despite it all are we willing to make a choice toward becoming our better selves?


  1. Movies and books about flawed people. 
  2. Velcro Dog urging me to leave the house every morning. Not for my benefit, for his, but it's all good. 
  3. The gentle love of my friends, even when I don't always love myself. 
Photo by Pomax

Friday, October 07, 2016

Feeling Disconnected

The Lonely Road

One of the most difficult things for me right now is this feeling of disconnection. 

In my post-work life, I spend a lot of time alone. I'm usually great with being alone. I read. I write. I walk the dog. I knit. I watch television or movies. I like me some alone time. The problem is that the majority of my time is alone time right now. 

Chronic health issues can make a person's world shrink. I don't know when I'll have the energy to go out and spend time with people. When I make plans, I'm not able to look into the future to see if I'll actually be able to follow through. It makes me hesitate to step outside myself. 

I'm not worried about people judging me for having to cancel at the last minute. All. The. Time. I do worry about inconveniencing people. In the past I would force my body into compliance and would do everything in my power to keep those plans. Today, it's easier to not make plans to begin with. 

By not making plans, I lose touch with people. And losing touch with people means there are fewer people in my life. And fewer people in my life means my world is shrinking. 

But what about the internet, you ask? Yes, what about the internet. Social media is supposed to expand our world, isn't it? There are more people out there to connect with, albeit virtually. 

Intimacy can be found online, but one has to work at it. And having hundreds of friends on Facebook does not mean a person has people solidly in her corner. Sure, there are billions of people online and sure I can find like minded individuals with whom I can build relationships. But just as in the physical world, this takes time and effort. And there are days that can go by, weeks even, where I don't log into Facebook or Twitter. There are days I don't even check email.

This feeling of disconnection, it's on me. The state of my relationships, that's on all parties involved. But no matter how many people I have in my life supporting me, only I can do something about feeling alone. Disconnected. Lonely. I can reach out when the days feel too long and too disconnected. I can get my ass out of my house and go somewhere with live people and strike up a conversation. I can text someone to see if they want to get together for a last minute coffee date. Or lunch. Or a walk. Or to see a movie together.

I can't expect people to magically know just how alone I feel at times. I need to actually tell people. I need to actually *gasp* ask for help. 

I am thankful for every person in my life who has been willing to live with my current inconsistent brand of friendship.

  1. Brand new days, because they are kind of like do-overs.
  2. Holy basil and rose petal tea. 
  3. The internet.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Melancholia and Me

  1. Looking at the rain from our newish porch. It's fantastic!
  2. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu - they are amazing men with a shared message of joy and compassion.
  3. Rawhides. They are for dogs what the TV is for small children. Don't judge!
autumn leaves

I'm not going to lie, it's been a rough week. As I have stated before on this blog, I have situational depression, which means I have short term depressive episodes that are triggered by circumstance or situation. While this is not clinical depression, it does share symptomology: depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, crying, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, etc. It can lead to major depression if the situational depression isn't addressed.

I am also naturally more melancholy in mood. Melancholia is not depression, as Eric G. Wilson explores in his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy:
There is a fine line between what I’m calling melancholia and what society calls depression. In my mind, what separates the two is degree of activity. Both forms are more or less chronic sadness that leads to ongoing unease with how things are — persistent feelings that the world as it is is not quite right, that it is a place of suffering, stupidity, and evil. Depression (as I see it, at least) causes apathy in the face of this unease, lethargy approaching total paralysis, an inability to feel much of anything one way or another. In contrast, melancholia (in my eyes) generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.
Please know that I'm not attempting to minimize clinical depression. This is a very real dark shadow that sucks a person down into their own quiet hell. It is a straight jacket, the darkest night, a twisted tunnel of reality that is loathe to let a person go. Clinical depression requires therapy and medication and a lot of support.

This week's lows stem both from my melancholia and situational depression. What has happened to trigger this depressive state? I couldn't pinpoint one single event. I haven't changed jobs, ended a relationship. The only changes that have taken place in my life is that summer has moved into autumn and the two year mark of not working due to health issues has come and gone. I haven't worked in two years. I'm no closer to being able to work than I was then. In fact, I think things have worsened over the last few months.

That may be why I have sunk beneath the waters of melancholy and lay in the pool of short term depression.

Knowing what's going on within my body - physical, emotional, spiritual - means I'm more likely to be able to do something to help myself. Sometimes it's watching Doctor Who or Star Trek. Other times it's getting outside and being out in nature. Sometimes it's getting together with a good friend who loves me, quirks and all. Sometimes it's therapy.

Today, it was figuring out why I feel so low and then writing about it. I have named it. I can now regulate it (inside joke with Claire, but true nonetheless).

There are things I can do toward my health issues. I know this. I've been lax in doing many of them. I got tired of the supplements and the diet restrictions. I started to slip while on vacation in July and kept right on slipping once I got home. My sleep hygiene could use some tightening of routines. I could move my body more.

And I can let myself feel low, feel sadness, frustration, hopelessness. I can sit in these feelings and let them wash over me, through me. I can seek to answer what triggered this round of depression and increase my distress tolerance and my skills. I can let the emotions wash away a layer of myself that no longer fits.And  I can come out the other side being a bit better version of myself.

It's okay to feel low. To be melancholy. It's normal to be so thrown by a life event that you temporarily feel suffocated by depression. This doesn't make me a freak of nature, unlike what my brain continues to try to tell me. It makes me normal. It makes 

Photo by: Seth Stoll