Author Archives: fayewriter

GRATEFUL FOR CHAUTAUQUA

Amphitheater
Derek Gee/Buffalo News

As I write this, I am grateful to be anticipating and preparing for a week of learning, walking and socializing at Road Scholar’s Chautauqua Experience in Summer. This is Marv’s and my 4th summer!

The Theme of the Week: Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age. I cannot believe the timeliness of the topic. When we chose our date almost a year ago, we had no idea that Trump would be elected or that issues such as real or fake news, and ethical dilemmas in both the media and news would be so pertinent.

Every Chautauqua Road Scholar event has a resident scholar who provides a daily lecture on background and current information in preparation for the Amphitheater public lecture series. During two of our prior visits to Chautauqua, Marc Glassman, a radio and print journalist, and his wife, Judy Wolfe, a creative arts consultant, provided exceptional content through lecture and video examples. At luncheon and dinner, the couple circulated among our various tables to continue the conversation.

Gratitude for their friendship and a rich and varied learning experience influenced our choice for this summer. Who could predict the serendipitous possibility last July, over lunch, when we decided to join Marc and Judy for their gig in August, 2017!

Yes, I am up to my eyeballs in news, fake and real, trying to discern, stay the course, to be informed. I need a “chill” vacation and yet I need to understand more about how the news and media are influencing the day-to-day behavior worldwide. Just this week, with Trump’s impulsive shoot-from-the-hip Fire and Fury response to a news reporter, we are looking at nuclear warfare; the possibility of another Korean war outbreak is front and center.

How to manage what seems real from what is real? How to manage multiple perspectives? Hopefully, I will come away more able to discern, assess and distinguish what has heft and meaning from what is fear mongering.

Here’s the lineup:

Monday: Jeff Rosen, liberal media critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University. He authors the PressThink blog on “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges in rethinking what journalism is today.”

Tuesday— Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center. She runs Fact Check, an organization devoted to examining the factual accuracy of U.S. political advertisements.

Wednesday— Arzu Geybullayeva, columnist and journalist. She has been a co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation since 2011, an organization that fosters relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Thursday—Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time Magazine

Friday—Marty Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post, with Eric Newton, Innovation chief, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.

I’m pleased with the distribution of men and women and their varied expertise. I’ll be taking notes with the intention to distill and share in future Gratitude is as Gratitude Does blogs. In the meantime, be mindful of options that can bring gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

On Gratitude & The Integrity of Two Women

Susan Collins & Lisa Murkowski

I am but one of the minions who are grateful to Susan Collins, the GOP Senator from Maine and Lisa Murkowski, the GOP Senator from Alaska for their courage and conviction in following the tenants of their own integrity. They voted “no” to the passage of the Republican health care bill.

Of the twenty female senators, five are Republicans. Consider this, Senators Collins and Murkowski were the only two GOP members consistent in their opposition among 50 senators, 47 of whom were male.

According to a New York Times opinion column by Gail Collins, “their joint stand was the logical outcome of a year that has been marked by utter Republican indifference to women.” It turns out that both women serve on the Senate committee that handles health care.

Ironically, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not appoint either woman to join 13 men to write a health care bill in which the needs of women were bi-passed. There was no effort to control maternal care costs, to cover contraceptives or to protect Medicaid reimbursement for any and all Planned Parenthood services.

It turns out that both Senator McConnell and the males in committee had little appreciation for the importance of services that Planned Parenthood provide to women, especially in states such as Maine and Alaska where services are spread over vast landscapes and hands on prevention and health information for women are in short supply.

It was no secret to Patty Murphy, the leading Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that Senators Collins and Murkowski would vote “no” upon facing the decimation of Planned Parenthood. They were clear in their values and concerns.

There are times in one’s life when one gratefully looks back before moving forward. Thus, I offer this quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt, my first model of an outspoken, courageous pro-active woman speaking out to women.

… The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong…what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

In 1953, in my early twenties, I came upon Matty, ashen-faced and hunched over in pain, as she made her way along the Wayne University dormitory.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I just had an abortion.”

I was shocked. A sheltered Yankee, I knew that abortion was against the law and had no  close-up experience. Matty’s horrendous story of a “back alley abortion” and the lack of good care she endured never left me. Her struggle thereafter still lingers: the thought of returning to coat hanger abortions unthinkable. Her story has fueled my need to support and thank these two brave GOP women and to speak out for viable and safe options for women’s health care options.

 

 

 

AGING,GRATITUDE & ONWARD

SOLSTICE FUN

As I age, gratitude is more present and possible. When I turned eighty, I was nervous about the future, how to live my life fully as an Octogenarian. I met the challenge of that birthday by committing to a daily gratitude diary. It compelled me to practice, to call to mind and appreciate the what, wherefore and how of a gratitude practice.

I’m not one for gratitude lists. A list, in its very form, is brief, shorthand. I needed to widen the context, to assess and ponder the meaning of my choices. The diary, all those lines on the page, cried out for descriptive language, mined from the senses, the story of my encounters. At the end of a year, I had amassed 8 notebooks of gratitude writing. Some notations took the form of short essays. Some explored definitions, where I searched for truth of a word, of language chosen. I followed what fascinated me, the usual and unusual, reflections in the moment, from memory.

At the end of a year, trusting my ability to “show up,” I turned the daily practice into a weekly blog— a commitment to friends and potential readers to write and share 500 words about the experience of gratitude.

Now, in this era of Trump, I write bi-weekly—sadly, a necessity so as to distill all the political and emotional input and pull out a meaningful kernel or two to explore and amplify. I am grateful to subscribers and followers on Facebook.

As I write, I keep my readers in mind. I feel supported, less alone. It’s curious how, as I age, I am far more able to discern, take notice and note grateful encounters. By putting pen to paper, I am challenged to shape the story of each encounter.

Earlier, this past week, a childhood friend who suffered a mild stroke remarked on her experience in rehabilitation. As she began to learn to use a walker to regain strength and balance, she assessed her good fortune at being on her feet and moving on her own. She was not wheelchair bound nor was she bedridden. She was able to read, talk, recall, laugh and complain.

I have learned that gratitude accrues as one ages. It’s inherent in the landscape of the odds as Carl Reiner, age 95, explains in HBO’s documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast . “ I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed,” he jokes in the film,

I am privileged to have many younger writer friends, the result of having graduated from Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program in my mid-seventies. During the course of two years, I worked with three different mentors on creating and crafting long personal essays, mostly memoir of family and my professional work. Ageism was nowhere in sight. I was an aspiring writer among other aspiring writers. This past weekend, I attended my 12th Solstice residency as an auditor in several classes where I was again a student—learning and refreshing my dedication to the craft of writing. I am ever grateful for the generosity of a program that invites return and renewal.

NATURE PACKS A PUNCH

First Lilies

Near sunset, the Solstice sun blazes late in the day. Facing west, I am grateful to sit on my marble bench, a fireplace hearth from my former home secured on two cement blocks overlooking the garden pond. From this vantage point, three tall Japanese red-throated lilies rise above the budding green shoots of the lily bed. They are parade masters setting the pace for the vibrant blossoms ahead.

Over the last two decades, my soul tracking practice has demonstrated how gratitude comes with ease during the season of summer growth. Science is now proving the connection between nature and our well-being. Yesterday, John Douillard, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, posted an article on The Life Changing Benefits of Forest Bathing. He cites 4 scientific articles, which attest to how our conscious immersion in nature can make a positive difference in our mood, state of mind and relationships to others. He writes,

The Science is Convincing

Four studies were done measuring the psychological effects of nature immersion. They found that those who regularly “bathed” in nature were more pro-social, focused on supporting others, and those who did not spend time in nature were more self-focused and self-centered. The group that spent more time in nature were also found to be more generous in their decision-making. These studies suggest that nature immersion supports a more community-focused, giving mindset.

In another study, after just a 4-day nature immersion and a disconnection from any type of technology, creativity and problem-solving skills were enhanced by a whopping 50%.

In other studies that were part of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), nature immersion was shown to boost executive processing and cognitive functions such as selective attention, problem-solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking.

The effects of forest bathing were measured by comparing the inflammatory markers of 2 groups of ten healthy adults. One group was immersed in a city and the other group immersed in nature – both for four days. The nature-immersed group saw reduced oxidative stress, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and less inflammatory markers along with greater signs of energy and vigor compared to the city-immersed group.

Day lilies provide excellent practice in mindful immersion. After coffee, I arrive at the lily bed early when the petals first open to feed on light. I steady my gaze and relax my breath as I focus with deliberate intention on the shape, color, smell, and overall aesthetic of the blossom before me.

A peach and striped lemon lily appetizer, a prelude to the main course, appeared two days ago. I photographed it, to savor deep in winter when the season of white pervades. Douillard reports that in another study, many of these nature immersion benefits were mimicked by exposing a group to a virtual reality nature experience. This suggests that if you cannot regularly expose yourself to nature, having pictures and murals of nature in your living environment may deliver some of the nature immersion benefits. I have found that pictures from nature, especially those evoking contentment, can buoy the spirit.

If I were a flower, I would be a day lily. Swelling until I burst, petals splayed with color— yellow edged, pink center, black stamen—I raise my face to the sun, quenching my thirst for light through the long day until the chill of dusk causes me to shrivel and wane.

 

Sustainability and Free Play

Jake&Zoe at the Pond
Photo by Marv

I’ve begun to think about the relationship between free play and sustainability for our planet. Does the early childhood experience of hiding behind a wide tree trunk while playing hide and seek or daydreaming in a field of high grass as I did in childhood lead one to equate happiness, a sense of well being, with nature?

Imagine— if somehow we could imbue the present generation with enough connection and joy for the out of doors as for their I-phone or latest X-man offering— how they might influence and steer the environment challenges which are already upon us.

In preparing this blog, I went to my files to retrieve an article, Wild in the Streets, about the loss of free play, The Journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, May/June Issue, 1997. I was in private practice and ordered a dozen copies to distribute to highly anxious two career parents who were struggling with the demands of over-scheduled lives and its effects on their children.

Given the explosive shift in global temperatures, weather patterns and Artic ice melts, Laura van Dam’s citation of scientific research on the benefits of play on long-term development are particularly salient now. As a family therapist trained in systems thinking, I was struck by how a family’s daily choices and the rhythms of their everyday life affected mood and ease of adaption.

And while no doubt everyone can find nurturing from the natural world, children who need an alternative to unhappy home situations —and over scheduling, a break from technology —may particularly benefit from quietude outside.

I introduced the notion of “play,” shifting the rhythms of structured activities to more spontaneous, out of doors activities, to my clients. Those with childhood experiences in nature tapped into their positive memories and embraced the notion of intentional choice. Clients who clung to structure resisted and needed point-by-point homework assignments to dip their toes into what seemed unnatural. In time, perhaps because of my own certitude in the benefits of embracing the natural rhythms in one’s life, I helped families flex and find more balance.

Given the merchandise hawking of the latest technological gismo and our lemming impulse to follow, the challenge of offering the next generation quietude in nature is more daunting. Yet, through Facebook posts, I experience possibility and hope reflected in the many stories and pictures of my colleagues raising children in New York City or in forested Greenfield, MA, where they offer their children extensive opportunity for play, connection and creativity in the out of doors.

We are what we experience. I am grateful for long years of quietude, and my own childhood experience of long hours in backyard play and roaming in nature, passed on to my children and grandchildren. van Dam cites—

Out door experiences, particularly before adulthood, is the most frequent motive people give for caring for the environment.

 Time outdoors can nurture a deep concern about the natural world.

….the natural environment offers space and time for reflecting on one’s own— which is critical to developing a sense of self.

 The question at hand—how does one train the self as well as the next generation to shift attention to the larger issues of global warming and its effects? I would be grateful if you could share your experience in my comments section or on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

About Sustainability

Listening Frog
photo by Faye

The June 3rd front page headline, Trump Risking the Planet for Own Gain, Kerry Fears, resonated with my own sense of the effect of Trump’s ill thought out decision to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement. The article leads with how Kerry, just one year ago, his 2-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, in his lap, signed the historic climate accord. And now, only 13 months later, at first pretending to have listened to all sides of the evidence, Trump has discounted and misrepresented the scientific evidence, which mandates the necessity of attention to climate change.

All during May, from dawn to dusk, and sometimes during the night, these erratic-in-weather spring days seem to match President Trump’s fitful tweets and irrepressible amoral edicts.

As a gardener, I live close to the earth and its seasons. Every day, I am wedded to checking the weather and scanning the garden to see how my plants, trees or shrubs are faring. Rain causes wilt, rot, and satisfying plant growth, excluding the intrusive weeds. The absence of sun is frustrating and challenges my planting and weeding schedule.

Yet, each day, I am grateful to arrive at a space of quiet, soft moist smells and beauty. During this past two weeks, the purple arrivals— iris, lilacs, and columbine have given way to mounds of white rhododendron blossoms trailing above the pond. The effect is inviting and calming.

Just yesterday, as I began my daily soul tracking near the small pond, a lean and muscled green and brown frog leapt from the water and jumped to the far side where it sat at the edge, as if in listening mode.

“Good morning, Mr. or Ms.” I said. “Nice day.”

The frog did not flinch, unafraid.

“Lovely day, I’m glad for your presence,” I continued.

That statement, said aloud, bore the truth. This rainy spring, in particular, whenever I have approached the pond area, I’ve been greeted by a shrill “eep” sound followed by a flash and a splash.

But this silent, still listener was different, seemingly curious. I felt comforted by his calming presence, a sign from the universe, I was certain, that taking note of the small things in our environment best feeds and forms our sense of connection and meaning.

I am grateful for mayors and governors who are stepping up to counter the effects of shifting environmental challenges on their citizenry every day. I appreciate organizations such as 350.org, The Sierra Club, Green Peace and Union of Concerned Scientists.

I am especially grateful to Governor Jerry Brown for his passionate engagement and willingness to explore sustainability options with China, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s willingness to pledge $15 million to support the United Nations agency that helps implement the Climate Accord agreement.

There is something to be said for the groundswell of concern, worry and love for Mother Earth. Perhaps, the full effect of Trump’s egregious decision to abandon responsibility for Earth’s well-being will fuel and feed our considerable will and creative energy to find more useful and usable solutions to sustainability. One can only hope.

 

 

Mindful Attention: Cloud Watching

Cloud watching
on a sky blue day

The plan to slow down, to allow more time for reflection and writing, as the world around me speeds up, is no easy task. Given the historical events of Comey’s firing & Mueller’s appointment, the experience of my ability to turn inward, to focus and write, seemed miraculous. I am grateful for the habit of mindfulness, which I learned through the practice of soul tracking.

Last night, as I began to consider the focus of this blog, I recalled how I was drawn to the book see your way to mindfulness on the literature shelf at the Newton Library. On the cover, David Schiller promises Ideas and Inspiration to Open Your I. Cute and meaningful, yes—the intertwining of “eye” and “I” which resonated with my intention of finding a meaningful book.

I was expectant as I scanned the library’s New offerings. The title of the book caught my attention; its size, 6 by 6, and the rosy cover picture of clouds and tree branches resonated with the “I” and my wish to slow. On page 1, Schiller sets his intention—“And once we’re off the meditation cushion…Forget about it. It’s as if society has fashioned a world whose sole purpose is to distract us from the here and now.”

He cites all the inventive technological gismos which have lead us down the rabbit hole of screen watching, texting messages, selfie photo-shooting, tweeting and snap chatting.

He follows with a century-old story of a man who asked the eccentric Japanese teacher and poet Ikkyu to define the highest wisdom. Ikkyu wrote one word: “attention.” When the man didn’t quite understand, Ikkyu repeated, “attention means attention.”

I could not agree more. During my first year of training in social work graduate school, I wrote down and processed, word by word, the nuances, and affect of every client I interviewed. My supervisor reviewed my transcript and taught me how to attend. Questions such as “What did you notice, how did you feel at that moment,” were common. She was rigorous in her mindset training, to stay in the moment and avoid assumptions and distraction.

The practice of attentive noticing is basic to a mindfulness practice. In Schiller’s words, “Seeing isn’t really looking and it’s not watching.” Seeing is active. To my mind, seeing is about engagement. Through conscious action to pause followed by deep breaths and specific effort to slow down, one aspires to shift attention away from automatic thoughts to that which is in focus— a tree, a flower, the waves of the surf, the quest to articulate a mindful experience as I attempt to do right now.

Schiller uses pictures and quotations to prime the consciousness with everyday inspirations from nature and thus offers a way to learn to fully attend. For those in search of a primer, a small, easy to read book with prompts and pictures, I can recommend see your way to mindfulness. For those ready to practice, check out my Soul Tracking blogs dated 10/24/16 and 10/31/16.

Yesterday, I trimmed the top 4-or-5 inches of foliage off several bloom-spent daffodil plantings. Afterwards, I lay back in full sun to watch frilly-laced cloud puffs cross the blue sky. I was grateful for the sense of peaceful calm. As a result of this writing, I am grateful to experience it twice fold.