Thursday, April 16, 2009

"If It's miffy, let it go..."

"If it's miffy, let it go."

Elizabeth Lawrence,
on gardening...

If it's miffy, let it go. I learned this years ago in a garden book by the garden maven of the South, Elizabeth Lawrence, whose books are classics in southern gardening. She was referring to plants, how people try to plant things that weren't meant for their gardening zone and though the plants are struggling and are puny, the gardener hangs on to them, determined to make them live when their time could be better spent planting things that had a better chance of survival. She said that there were so many hardy plants that one could make a beautiful garden with that to hang on to the "miffy" ones was foolish. I have to keep writing about this because I need to keep reminding myself of it. I am letting go, letting go of a lot.

I am letting go of things. I am learning about money which I have never managed well, part of my bi-polar disorder and partly because of the abuse I suffered as a child. My father would always buy me things and give me money after abusing me. Buying "things" in my life became a bandaid measure when depression got too deep and my life was out of control. Now, I am letting go, with the help of my therapist, my spiritual counselor, a lovely woman at my bank, and others. I thought I had learned my lesson before. I had not. When I am going through extreme trauma, as I had been, and which I'd rather not go into here, my bi-polar flares up all out of control, my depression runs so deep I cannot function, and I sink like I have "cement shoes" on and have been thrown in the river. And I have been, metaphorically speaking.

What I'm writing here is not easy, but one of the deepest parts of my path is to be a truth teller. I couldn't write this piece until I could tell the truth, until I was ready to lay it all bare. I do this because I know that there are others like me who are suffering, perhaps for different reasons, but those who are know from whence I speak.

Next, I should not have been ordained when I was. I am a deeply spiritual person and want to live as spiritual a life as I can, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to live and teach and write about the Buddhist teaching of maitri, of loving kindness and compassion, all the days of my life. My name is the mantle that I took to remind me of this teaching, but I could not get the most important part, not for myself anyway. The foundation of the teaching of maitri is that you have to have compassion for yourself first before you can give it to another. I have been trying to give from an empty well, and my pump burned out. It has not been pretty.

I have struggled to walk my talk, I have prayed for guidance, and I got it. I will not dishonor the ministry and ministers everywhere by trying to work in that capacity when, at times, I am not well, balance is hard, and keeping my life on track can be difficult enough. In letting go, I actually have more to offer. I can give what I was meant to give which is to speak my truth through my writing and art. To finally see yourself clearly in the mirror is one of the most frightening things one can do. I saw my soul in the mirror and it was quivering and afraid. I know, with my handful of serious diagnoses, that I work best when not under pressure. I have put myself under too much pressure, I have tried to work in a way which is not true to the nature of my being, I have put myself in a box and I was suffocating. It was time to take the lid off of the box so that I could breathe. I came up gulping for air.

For a time I was sitting here dazed and confused. For all that I meant well, from the very bottom of my heart, I was sinking deeper and deeper, unable to move or breathe. I am not swimming up from the depths, able to see the light. I have been praying and meditating and reading spiritual literature and preparing to make way for a simpler life. Simpler and simpler, closer to the bone, led by God and all that I hold sacred and holy, going deeply into my continual 30+ years of study and practice of Buddhism, with a heart open to so many paths. To try to blend them together and clearly come out on the other side with something to offer simply has not worked. I can admit my mistakes and let go. Elizabeth Lawrence taught me that. Being a minister is certainly not miffy, but to try to be one when you are not able to is miffy.

And so, like the dandelion at the top of this entry, I am allowing all of the lovely little seeds blow off into the distance and allowing them to take root in other people's gardens where they can grow hardy. I love dandelions and have never considered them weeds. I make little bouquets of them and put them in little vases on the kitchen windowsill. When I find the dandelions that have gone to seed, I pick them like a child and blow the seeds and watch them travel on the breeze to distant lands. It feels as though I have the power of creation in my hands, planting seeds, or rather allowing them to go and be what they were fully meant to be. These bright little flowers have taught me that living a small simple life, even a life that is odd and misunderstood by many, isn't a bad thing. It is a constant teaching. I need to be constantly taught.

A few days ago I had all of the carpet torn out of the first floor of my cottage where I live with all of my animals. When I moved in here 7 years ago it was very very old already, and as part of my life's work is to take in dear little dogs who are old, perhaps blind, deaf, or otherwise have been through so much abuse that their patterns of behavior are not always what we'd like them to be (cleaning up their pottying when they are too old to make it out or not able to hold it). Inotherwords, the carpet reeked with my best efforts to stay on top of cleaning it constantly. The carpet was thrown out and the floor cleaned. Oh, my, it is so light and airy and sweet smelling in here I just cannot tell you.

Recently someone said to me of a couple of my poor little pugs that have the potty issues, "I wouldn't stand for that. I'd get rid of them." I looked at her in shock, and after I gathered myself together I looked her straight in the eye and said, kindly, but firmly, "What then would you like to have done for you when you are old, ill, and maybe dying, and you are in a nursing home or someone's care and you have accidents and can't 'hold it' and need someone to clean you up? You would hope for kindness, compassion and understanding, and you would certainly hope that you wouldn't be 'gotten rid of' because you were old and unable to take care of yourself." She looked at me stunned and said, "You're right, I'm sorry. I still couldn't do what you do, but now I understand, and I apologize for what I said." I told her she needn't apologize, but she should remember. We don't just love the young and beautiful things. These little dogs are so dear and full of love, and you can see the gratitude and love in their eyes. I hold them close and kiss them and love them with all of my heart, and I will take care of them with great love and compassion all the days of their lives.

I am reading a beautiful book about St. Francis and secular Franciscans. To follow the Franciscan way as a mere woman on a cold concrete floor with a sweet elderly pug in my arms and a parrot on my shoulder, to feed and care for the wild animals outside, to pray constantly and live simply, this is a very holy life, and it is the path that I should follow. To be mindful in the Buddhist sense, to meditate and follow, write about and teach maitri is part of my work. To write my truth so that others may, perhaps, feel less alone in their suffering, this is my job, and I must do it led by my own heart and soul. This for me is akin to the strong, sturdy plants in the garden, this following what I know I am good at and am able to offer. And I am no longer afraid nor embarrassed to tell the truth of who I am and what I have to give and what I can and cannot do, and should not try to do. I will live from my small tender heart. I will love. I will be compassionate in a way that offers to others gentleness and kindness while taking care of myself. I will let go of what's miffy, and I will say No without apology for those things I cannot do. This very act helps me grow stronger and gives more of what I have to give. It is as simple as that.

And so now it is late and I am tired, but so happy to have finally gotten this down. I have a sweet pug leaning against me snoring, big dog Moe on his bed asleep. as are the other pugs and birds, and I will walk across the smooth, cool concrete floor and feel grounded and pure for the first time in a very long time. And I will tend my garden well. I know now what to let go of, .and what to keep.

With love from a full heart,

Monday, April 6, 2009

As we age, things do change, but... Grandmas and Grandpas, penny candy and safe spaces too...

I remember, as a child, how my cousins and I used to laugh kindly at our dear grandmother who used to bemoan the changes that had come with time and mostly how she used to only have to pay a nickle for a loaf of bread. She was such a dear little Irish Catholic lady, a roundish, plumpish sort of wee little woman whose wild wirey hair stood up all over the place, and whose blue eyes were the bluest I've ever, to this day, seen. Gorgeous, just gorgeous.

I think of the wonder-filled days when there was a little mom and pop store on nearly every corner in the old fashioned neighborhoods of the time, when everybody knew everybody, neighbors helped neighbors, and looked out for each other, and grandma would send my cousin and I down to the store to get some penny candy from the huge glass front display. Depending on how many cousins were there that day we might each get a nickle or a dime, but when you were there alone, on occasion, you might get a whole quarter! I would positively swoon in front of that glass front counter and a quarter's worth was worth more than winning the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. It was real goods in real time that we could relate to as a huge delight in the context of our own lives. I would go back to grandma's house holding my little brown paper bag full of candies tightly in my fist smiling so hard my face hurt.

My very favorite candy of all-time were those colored sugary dots on rolls of paper. I still dream about those. They really weren't much to eat, but they held a whole world of enchantment for me. And though I never smoked in my life I loved the candy cigarettes, the the red hot jelly coins, and OH, the jawbreakers (...which likely account to almost every tooth in my mouth being filled! Back then they were big on candy and short on good advice on dental care. Who ever heard of flossing for goodness sakes?!). I could just die for some Mary Janes right now, another top of the line favorite (...ditto ditto ditto the above, candy, teeth, etc.), and the Necco wafers that we Catholic girls used to pretend like we were giving communion to one another with, and, oh, WAX LIPS! And LICORICE!!! I never liked black licorice but I loved red of all kinds, especially the long strings of red licorice that looked like spaghetti, and a neighbor's mom used to get us CHOCOLATE LICORICE!!! which I've never heard of again since I was little, and the whole world was full of magic and wonder.

I remember my dear grandpa, who died when I was 6, sitting me up on a big stool to watch him shave. I sat transfixed as he mixed up the big white foamy mug full of soap and used the huge soft bristle brush to cover his face so he could shave. I still feel very nostalgic about those old shaving mugs, and he always wore Old Spice which I still adore on the rare occasion when I sniff it somewhere, increasingly seldom, and I remember grandma making homemade donuts and giving we cousins the "donut holes" to eat which were heavenly, even while grandpa tried to get us to drink buttermilk! Icky poo!

Those were the days. It may be said that it takes a village to raise a child, but then you didn't need one. A whole lineage of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more lived relatively close to one another, and the neighbors were all like family. No one locked their doors, no one had a lot of money, but we were happy to play in the sandbox, and one of my most glorious memories was going down with grandpa into the coal bin in the basement to get coal for the heater. And he showed me how if you put coal in water, oily rainbows would float on the surface. My grandfather died young, but I think he is responsible for sending me so much magic down from the heavens.

Grandpa was a magic maker. He was also an Irish Catholic old school fireman who was laid off a lot because he was drunk and once fell through a floor in a fire and was burned so badly that he never till the end of his life went without an undershirt at all times, his chest and back were so badly scarred.

Grandpa taught me how to fish and took me down to the public horse stables and I had my first lessons there. I would later go on to fancy stables and winning quite a lot of trophies riding English saddle and jumping five foot fences in fancy equestrian dress, but nothing in my memory is so tender and sweet as going to those old stables in East St. Louis, IL in the late 50's. In 1960 I was in first grade, 6 years old, and grandpa died. Grandma lived until she was 74 in 1977 in September. My eldest, Jennifer, was born in January 1977 and Grandma was so happy. It was her first great grandchild and the only one she would ever know. Seeing Jenny in grandma's arms and seeing the bright pink cheeks of joy on that tiny little wirey haired woman is a sight I will never forget and it makes me feel sad and melancholy. At my grandmother's funeral I cried harder than I ever have in my life. No one's death has affected me as much as hers. I never got over it.

Along with all of the other things I've written, I only felt safe at Grandma's house, or when she spent the night with us. I was a child of long term sexual abuse but my grandmother kept me safe. Even though I was a married woman with a child and no longer being abused, my last vestige of safety, in some sense, disappeared when Grandma died. I have spent the rest of my life trying to find a safe space to rest. It has taken me over 50 years to find it. I have found that safe haven within myself and no one can take it away. I have found a safe haven in a little animal-filled cottage, a tiny one, with gardens, and books, and fibers, and spinning wheels and knitting and crochet and weaving and teaching and writing and now, being a minister.

Now I am about to begin to do pastoral counseling. It is a deep privilege and something I am most serious about. I think one of the first things I will ask people is this... Where was your first safe space, and where do you find it now? Once you know those two things, you will be able to figure out, much more easily, how to work through the best.

And if you're around my age or perhaps older, what was your favorite kind of penny candy? I really want to know.

With love and wishes for safe spaces everywhere...