Category Archives: Writing

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

On A Big Birthday & Goal Setting

Faye @85th birthday dinner

Every birthday is a marker in time, an opportunity to look backward and forward. Perhaps, because I was born at the apex of spring in the midst of the vibrant arrival of cherry blossoms, daffodils, and azalea, my senses are heightened. This past 85th birthday, I learned that aging is like breathing, rhythmical and effortless, until you pay too much attention.

There was no warning that this mid-decade birthday would feel like a big event; but the night before, after a fun tour of Fenway with a group of elders where we walked (slowly) up five flights to the top of the monster ball park and Shabbos dinner where close to my age friends dug into topics of aging at home, maintaining health, and presidencies over eight decades, I was off balance, feeling the weight of accrued years.

As I write this, the shock of recognition has faded and I am focused on the best way to maintain balance by paying less attention to what has passed and more attention to what is possible in my creative life.

Two weeks before my birthday, I began to revise a short essay for my annual submission to the Solstice MFA Anthology. While reading the piece aloud, I was taken by the rhythmic structure of several sentences and as I labored to shape it, the piece morphed into a poem. It took two full weeks and daily devotion to detail to reshape the piece into stanzas. An individual poem, because it is more compressed and every word is significant, can demand what seems like an inordinate amount of time. Yet the process, in and of itself, was compelling and joyful.

For many years, during my psychotherapy practice, I maintained balance by writing and revising poems daily; but once I retired, I left poetry behind in the wake of essays and memoir. The return of my poetry muse, especially in this post Trump world, convinced me to re-examine my writing schedule. Thus, for the near future, I have decided to shift my blog writing to every other week so as to attend to poem making as well as the longer works of nonfiction.

On the subject of setting goals in this post Trump world, I came upon an April 13th New York Times Opinion piece by Nicholas Kristoff in which he cites how he quizzed a scholar, Gene Sharp, 89years old, THE expert on challenging authoritarians. Sharp and a colleague, Jamila Raqib offered the main message that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

“Think!” Sharp said. “Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.”

Kristoff points to how Sharp gives emphasis to grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration and patience before turning to 198 nonviolent methods he has put into a list, from strikes to consumer boycotts, to mock awards.

I’m grateful for Kristoff’s column; it is well worth the read to those of you seeking to weigh in and make a difference.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/opinion/how-to-stand-up-to-trump-and-win.html

 

 

A Gratitude Shout Out

Science March, Washington, DC
Thanks to N.Y. Times

Thanks to Bill Maher, I no longer feel guilty over my wake-up habit of checking my I-Phone to get a reality check on our president’s nighttime tweets. In last week’s broadcast, he rued the day-to-day anxiety of Trump’s unpredictable behavior and copped to his own habit of waking in a nervous sweat, needing the safety of facts to begin his day. I was so taken with Maher’s mirroring my own behavior, I yelled at the screen, “Me, too, Bill. That man makes me nervous.”

What helps is the sheer gratitude I have for all those folks who are engaged and active in resisting the capricious and arbitrary edicts of Trump’s administration. I have a cast of journalists, reporters and writers who ground me. Every day, I read news and opinions in my favorite  outlets and varying articles suggested by my peeps on Facebook. I listen to Maddow at 9:00 every night. I relate to her broad perspective and close tracking of issues that spell “danger.”

Yesterday, in particular, the occasion of Earth Day, combined with the Science March, highlighted two of my main concerns: the well-being of the earth and the well-being of all living creatures who inhabit the earth.

This blog is a shout out to the thousands who turned out yesterday here and Boston and all through our nation to march for Science. It seemed unbelievable, the need the educate, never mind to organize a march, to emphasize the importance and worth of scientific thinking and reasoning for the growth and safety of our nation.

Eager to get a close-up of the Washington events, I logged onto the Washington Post live stream from the podium. Rain drops clouded the feed just a tad but did not deter my appreciation of the crowd trying to stay warm and dry as they listened to the speakers representing scientific organizations of every realm. It was clear: we are a nation under siege from our executive branch and now is the time to step forward to protect what is precious.

Like many fellow writers, I turn to the written word to shout out, to express my concern, and to try to make a difference. In the lead up to the planning for the march in Washington, The New York Times posted a book review column titled, American Poets, Refusing to Go Gentle, Rage Against the Right. The columnist, Alexandra Altra, caught my attention in her description of the poet, Jane Hirshfield.

The poet Jane Hirshfield has never thought of herself as an agitator. A self-described “genuine introvert,” Ms. Hirshfield likes to spend her days gardening, hiking and writing verses about nature, impermanence and interconnectedness.

But a couple of months ago, to her own surprise, she emailed the organizers of the March for Science in Washington and urged them to make poetry part of the protest. At the rally on Saturday, Ms Hirshfield will read her new poem “On the Fifth Day,” which addresses climate change denial and the Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations.

I am grateful to identify with a sister poet/gardener and offer her poem, On The Fifth Day, for your reading. Just click on the title above or continue on.

On the fifth day

the scientists who studied the rivers

were forbidden to speak

or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air

were told not to speak of the air,

and the ones who worked for the farmers

were silenced,

and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,

began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak

and were taken away.

The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers

that spoke of the rivers,

and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees

continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,

and the rivers kept speaking,

of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,

the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,

code writers, machinists, accountants,

lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,

of silence.

 

 

 

Show Up, How To Advocate — Part 2

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of Ashiaray.com

For those of you are trying to focus on a way to make a difference, I offer Part II on Training To Make A Difference. I’m grateful to those of you who weighed in on my last blog and offered feedback about how difficult it is to focus on one issue. Scrambling events, scrambled minds seems to be the order of the day. All the more reason to call upon what is common knowledge about mindfulness— to pause, take a deep breath, and seek resonance to what calls you.

SOLIDARITY is the byword: Pick an issue you’ve never thought about, and show up

Initially, I scratched my head at this suggestion and then, thinking about the big picture, the element of weighing in, the surprise of commonality made sense.

  • It’s as simple as showing up. Be a body among others.
  • Especially at local levels, public forums: 10 more people can swing how a room feels
  • You don’t have to agree on every single thing an organization does to recognize and support the common fight

Be Brave 

  • Braver than officials are or can be 

How many times since Trump took office have I been amazed, surprised, pleased, grateful for the throngs of citizens who show up at public forums, at the doorsteps of their representatives, in marches, with placards, unafraid to shout out what is essential for their well being.

Practical details of Contacting Your Representatives

Request a specific action 

  • Methods in decreasing order of impact. Write OpEd Letter to the Editor, plan 1:1 meetings, attend legislative office hours, write letters, make calls, participate on social media, send e-mails. DON’T FAX 

Know critical information about what you are requesting, make it personal 

  • bill number, current sponsorship http://magov/Bills/Search
  • re: bill he/she have sponsored—ask how you can promote
  • keep staffers’ email addresses
  • Remember: officials and staff are real people
  • suggestion: “I think you are the kind of person who can do the right thing.”

Make It Local

  • If you’re federal representative isn’t listening, go local

Stay informed & spread the word (examples are from MA. check your locale)

Following the training, there was a lengthy Q&A session. The following points are salient and useful in understanding the impact of participation.

  • Re: increasing turnout: detach from an individual, attach to ideas
  • What doesn’t work: Data suggests that “the sky will fall if X wins/loses” is a failed model
  • What works—engage on issues: go door to door to engage on a specific issue that regularly affects your life (social security, education, healthcare)
  • one study on this approach: 18% increase in turnout
  • In relating to those with different views—1. if you start with your values, you open a discussion about how to fix a problem. 2. if you start with your policy position, most people will assume you are closed to their point of view.

I close with gratitude for the opportunity to share this valuable advocacy training experience with my readers. In highlighting the information I felt most compelling, I have a far greater sense of how each and every one of us, in stepping up in small and big ways on issues that relate to our values, can make a difference. As always, I am grateful for the give and take of comments and look forward to your sharing.