Tag Archives: world view

On… Sound and Silence

 Super bitch. It was intended as a term of endearment from a friend who observed that being ill has not stifled my feistiness. I guess others were shocked, but I recognized the love intended in the label.

Words and sounds have power according to the listener, I suppose. The wrong sound, innocent as it may appear, can easily catapult me into a “pity pot.” Take a squawking crow for instance.

“Caw!”

I was physically uncomfortable and only wanted to sleep. There are dozens of telephone lines on this block, but clearly, the one outside my window was special.

“Caw! Caw!”

Such a loud sound from such a small creature. The super bitch (that would be me) whispered, “Go the [bleep] away!”

As the daily racket of trucks, cars, trains, and my neighbor with the bells on her door revved up, the sounds became more vibrant, larger, and rakishly colorful. Super bitch was frustrated; she just wanted some rest.

The neurologist had diagnosed my condition as Guillain-Barré syndrome. It’s a condition I had never heard of that, for me anyway, brings with it a great deal of anxiety and the need for a gargantuan exertion of will to follow my daily routine.  But I’ve had a series of IVIG treatments and am encouraged by my increased energy and ravenous appetite. Carpal tunnel surgery suddenly seems like a common cold.

“Do you know what caused it?” asked my brother.

“I think my immune system was compromised by the surgery.”

But no one really knows for sure. I pray for miracles like: I wake up one morning and my hands and feet function fully, and the tightness around my rib cage is gone. Oh yeah, that part is supposedly connected to the hiatal hernia.

I both fear the silence and at the same time look for the peace within syllables, the silence within the music, the balance in conversations, and the laughter in silly words like “super bitch.” My intention today is to write: my work and my creative words. And yet, I awoke understanding that I had to follow the natural order of things. The crow was doing what crows do: they caw.

I once had a  beautiful experience of silence. One early morning, the city of Oakland, California was brilliant with activity:  cars that were stalled in traffic blared their horns, folks chattered and shouted in the streets on their ways to wherever, and buses with bad brakes made their usual stops. I had just completed my morning meditation and was staring out the window.

In spite of the activity, it seemed as if everything had lowered its volume and moved in slow motion. I felt content, and at ease with the movement of things. Birds and squirrels danced their morning minuet on the telephone lines, and it made no difference to me.

I have been caught off guard. So, the question I’m asking myself is “How do I reclaim the hidden silence in the sounds?” The sounds will not stop; nor should they. How will I experience the healing color, power, and vision in the words?

It comes as no surprise. The answer lies in a single word: gratitude.

On… The sweetness of a name

This blog is quivery and yellow–  like pineapple Jell-O.  It shimmies and shakes as I struggle through what has become an extraordinary array of challenges.

From carpal tunnel to feet that require the use of a cane or walker, I have been traveling the road to patience and health. It hasn’t been easy, but I have the support of friends and a basically happy outlook. I am also inclined to whine a bit.

With that said, I recognize the need to keep jabbering away. Silence is not acceptable for a blog. This week in particular was an ecstatic one for me as my choice for the American presidency won the race. I am thrilled that President Obama won his second term. And now, we can get to work, the real work, of equal opportunity for all.

Now for this week’s word: names.

I, for one, am intimately connected with the experience of names, having spent years accepting or rejecting several of my own. I was my father’s firstborn, and as such, my birth name reflected his joy and prayers. My birth name meant “gracious gift of God,” and both the name and its meaning lifted me up in good and trying times. I never abandoned the name — not really. Its meaning allowed me to, at least inside my head, recognize myself as a beloved daughter of God, a belief that has revealed itself to me in good times and been hidden away in times of stress or fear.

Given that, in so many cultures, the child’s name describes a dominant personality trait, and with cousins that had nicknames like Cunning or Bossy, I figured I lucked out.

Still, over the years, I have tried on new names like a judge at a dessert tasting contest. How I started the journey is unclear, but there was this point in my development where I felt that my name was restrictive, a sentence to an impenetrable goody-two-shoes life. By the time I moved into a small apartment (and I mean small!) in San Francisco in 1969, I had decided to try out the name of Susan.

Right.

“Susan” was the name of business and surety and normalcy. But anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a Susan, and that shirt would not fit. So, I abandoned Susan when I returned to the East Coast, started working in theater, and eventually met a troop of African-American actors where we all took African names. The name Sala came out of that experience. My father said “you will always be what I named you.” This was significant because there were times when I felt he did not like me. But his statement said that, to him, I would always be a gracious gift of God.

What was I looking for? What identity did I feel was missing? In India, I asked a meditation master to give me a new name. She told me to keep my own name. This began the inner work of trying to know who I am beyond the labels I use to describe myself: a woman, African-American, creative. I was the pound cake waiting to be drenched in the liquid lemony frosting of my own nature. After several years, I received a name from the meditation master. And, in the end, I discovered that all the names I lived with had essentially the same meaning. And the river of God ran through every single one of them.

Sala meant gentle or peace. Gloria Jean, my birth name, meant gracious gift of God, and the blessing I received from my teacher was the name of Gopi, which meant that I was to be a lover of God in all his forms. I had been bathed in the lemony frosting of my nature for my whole life, but couldn’t taste its sweetness.

Finally, I am enjoying the taste of my own nature. There’s more to come.  Yum.

On Autumnal abundance

Autumn is here with its chilly, damp fingers. It comes with a mixture of memories, some good, some bad, and some with rarely a charge at all. It’s raining, and temperatures have dropped, but the reflections I experience are as satisfying and filling as a bowl of hot carrot-ginger soup. Oh, the feelings that autumn colors bring!

I once worked with a frail young woman who feared autumn. She physically trembled as she talked of how the fall reminded her of death. I listened to her speak and watched her for a few moments before I told her my view. Autumn is a reminder of the abundance of life. And yet, I can see her point of view because earthly things come with earthly fears.

Autumn, for me, is a reminder of things that cannot be taken away; kind of like the theme from the Titanic: the things in our hearts always go on.

So what are the things that can’t be taken away? I have some ideas (surprised?).

Spiritual strength. Ah, the goal. Learning to become a spiritual warrior. It’s oh so not the sinkhole of zealotry and dogmatism. Spiritual warriors drive thriving. Where does the mistake take place? How do our honest journeys become paths divested of purity?

At a party, I once pulled a fortune from a jar that contained the word “Coromantee.” I decided to look it up recently because the word on the fortune was combined with the word “warrior.”  I have since learned that the Coromantees from Ghana were warrior tribespeople sold into slavery. They did not go gently.  They were so fierce that it is said an Act was proposed to try to prevent slave traders from shipping them to the West. I’ve  held that word in my heart for many years as my marching orders. Spiritual warriors cannot be enslaved; one will never control a spiritual warrior’s mind.

This morning, I’m also thinking about Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Once one becomes a spiritual warrior, there is no one — and this is an absolute, NO one — who can take that strength away.

The first taste of sweet potato pie. Whether or not you believe it, this is one of those luscious memories that can never be taken away. And although I’ve tried to replicate that pie in so many vegan ways, I have not found anything to replace that first taste. Sunday after church, after the roast beef, after the collard greens, after the rice, is pie. Not bean. Not pumpkin. Smooth, rich sweet potato.

Education. Complain as bitterly as we might about the loans, the two or three jobs, the exhaustion that comes with writing papers at 3 AM; there is nothing that beats the joy, pride, and security of knowing that no one can take away what we’ve earned and learned. Ever.

Love and our relationship to the Divine. Embrace or deny it, we are wedded to the Great Mystery. Nope. Can’t be taken away.

One’s relationship to one’s ancestors. Conscious or unconscious, acknowledged or not, we owe a debt to those who came before us.

Autumn is a time when we remember abundance. And I could probably fill pages with other examples of abundance — none of which are monetary. I know. It’s boring to talk about leaves in shades of red and gold, of orange and yellow fruit and vegetables; of dark evenings at five o’clock. But it’s exactly this magic in nature that brings an awareness of abundance. As the rains soften the leaves so that they willingly drop from the trees, and as I watch the leaves fall, I am willing and happy to concede that abundance lies in things that cannot be taken away.

What about your autumnal abundance?

On Experience

Experience:   fosters wisdom and paves the path to self-awareness.

There.  I said it, and that is probably why I am so committed to learning from my experiences, not from other people’s theories.  It doesn’t necessarily make for an easy way, but it makes for an interesting life.  And if I’ve learned anything about writing my experiences, it’s that no one can change what I know to be true of-about-for me.  A few have tried.  Save the planet, I say.  Stop wasting oxygen.  My experiences keep me grounded in my truth.  My experiences are the petri dish where I test out life’s theories.  And until tested, theories are all that exist.

Oh Lordy, what started this rant?

Well.  A few weeks ago, a friend and I were having dinner and talking about life.  You know.  Life.  I shared how many years ago I was up to my eyeballs in credit card debt.  Another friend at the time, who was a financial counselor, put me in touch with a debt consolidation agency that helped me pay off the debt in five years.  No small feat and a lot of beans and rice I can tell you.

Soooo…my friend and I were talking, and I said,  “I don’t know how I racked up so much debt.  I didn’t have a lot of fancy clothes or new furniture or a fancy car or any of that stuff.”

She listened to what I said for a while and got quiet. Then she asked what I used the card for.  I told her:  college tuition, books, travel, music.

Quietly, she said, “You have experiences. They’re so much more valuable than stuff.”

I thought for a moment.  “You’re right,” I said.  “I would not trade a one of my experiences for all the stuff in the world.”

Everything in these pages comes from one place:  My own experience.  I do not talk about what I do not know about.  I use my own stories to reflect on my life and the choices I’ve made.  I gather what pearls of wisdom I can from my own mistakes and successes.  And by my own standards, based on my own experience, I have more successes than failures.

Life is so full of riches, and experiences teach me what it means to continually go for authenticity. The more I stay in and with my own experience, the more authentic, the richer I become.

If I don’t know about it, I don’t talk about it.  For me, experience trumps theory every time.  If I have a political view, it’s based on experience.  Religious attitudes?  Experience.  Economics, relationships, or people?  You got it; experience.  I’m not saying that I don’t study.  I do.  Then I weigh what I’ve read-heard against what is real—for me.

Experience keeps me from taking someone else’s opinion of another person as my own.

Experience keeps me out of the cesspool of preachy, proselytizing fear mongering.  Because everyone’s experience is different—just look at how my siblings and I remember a single moment differently—owning my experience allows me to practice being non-judgmental.

I trust my experience much more than I trust another’s “ideas” about how the world operates.  And based on my experience, I try to remember:

Most people want to do the right thing. More people are committed to protecting the planet than harming it.  Youth is a state of mind and heart. Physical beauty manifests first in the spirit.

It is my experience that a sense of generosity, compassion, open-mindedness, and faith must come from one or both parents.

It is my experience that a mean young person without significant life experiences will become a mean and wisdom-less old person (hapless and hopeless at best).

It is my experience that mean, wisdom-less old people are not happy.

It is my experience, and my belief, that deep down, the heart, by nature, is forgiving.

It is my experience that knowing one’s own personal values is more important than anything else on the planet.  And that’s the work.

(Okay, and a bit preachy…)

Experience this beautiful day, wherever you are.

Words on Struggle

I just got bored with all her nagging and complaints.  Her job was too hard, her children were screwing up, she was underpaid (oh yeah, 70k…that’s a lotta tofu), and blah, blah, blah.  Whatever.

She didn’t know from struggle.

The word is weighted with political histories tied to tyranny, genocide, refugee camps, and life-exhausting battles.  The word also brings back memories of my mother’s childhood home and of her growing up with her parents in the backwoods of South Carolina with no running water and no indoor toilet.  The electricity on the small farm was their nod to 20th century comfort.

I remember watching one of the first “reality” shows several years ago.  You may remember some of them.  They would take a family and place them in a reconstructed historic situation such as pioneer living on a midwestern prairie.  Far away from their modern-day conveniences, they would have to align themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally with tasks like drawing water from a well, using an outhouse, or brushing their teeth with baking soda.  I remember that in one of these segments, a teenage girl complained about the taste of baking soda and how she missed her toothpaste.  She didn’t know from struggle.

It’s not that I lack compassion for the difficulty of daily living, but it’s been hard for me (even as I look for work) to equate the daily grind with real down and dirty struggle.

I have tried many times to replace the word “struggle” as it relates to day-to-day experiences:  family relationships, friendships, soul-killing jobs, or high gasoline prices.  I like terms like “overcoming obstacles,” or “eliminating barriers.”  These words blunt the prickly sword of “struggle.”  But like the tale of Sisyphus rolling that dang boulder up the hill only to have the thing roll down again, Struggle will not be redefined.  Here She comes at you with the addictions,  national political battles, and teenage killings.  And it’s all a part of the day-to-day.

My father used to tell me over and over again, “Don’t judge another until you’ve walked in his shoes.”  Yes.

If we breathe, struggle is required.  Without struggle, we cannot grow.  Struggle adds value to life.  And while I am truly, truly loathe to admit it, every obstacle is a struggle for someone—even if it’s only about the taste of baking soda.

The folks in other parts of the world who struggle with violent oppression or have lived in refugee camps for a quarter of a century are indeed struggling, some with little hope for change.  The rest of us are struggling with our “stuff,” the things that threaten to suffocate that authentic “voice” within us, the intuition that guides us to a high-quality life for ourselves and all those around us.

All struggles, in the heart, are equal.  I guess, I began this post too harshly.   I suppose–in the heart–recovering from addiction is as much a part of the tightrope as being in a job that one hates.  The difference, however, is that, unlike folks in a refugee camp, most of us can see a way to the other side.  We roll the boulder to the top and watch it roll down the other side of the hill.  Every challenge brings us closer to being the person we know we can be.

Words On Art, Pizza, and a Joyful Life

People like to use the term “fire in the belly” to define that insatiable passion in pursuit of a dream.  I like to think of the term in its relationship to the pursuit of pure joy.

Artists are messengers of pure joy.  They inspire folks to view the world in radically different ways.  They encourage us to be curious and to take risks.   They encourage us to be joyful.  As in…”make a joyful noise unto the Lord..”  Not threatening.  Not fearful.  Joyful.

Even when an artist’s work is something I’m not particularly fond of, I find that I am turned away from that experience only to be propelled toward a more joyful one. For this reason alone, if I had a million or a billion or a trillion dollars, I would give it to artists.

I recently heard a story about how Erma Bombeck said she would greet God if she met him face to face after death.  The story goes (and I am paraphrasing here) that she imagined God asking her what she had brought back for Him.  She said she would tell Him she had nothing to give; that she had used every gift He had given her, and there was nothing in her pockets to return.

I could only sit in amazed silence.  To live like that, one must live joyfully.

The other day, my sister-in-law, nieces, a couple of other girls, and my cousins were over for a pizza making party.  The children are all talented girls, five to eleven years old and sassy with creativity.  Their interests are diverse.  One loves music, one loves to ice skate, and one–I’m betting on it–will be a famous television chef.

The girls immersed themselves in the project immediately, and my small kitchen crackled with joy as each girl rolled out her dough in her own way and used toppings to suit her imagination.  Every pie was a work of art.  I was inspired by their boldness and generosity.   They even made “take outs” for their siblings who were not there to cook with us.

There were no rules, just a lazy afternoon,  ingredients, and joy in the process.  I had done the prep work the day before.  I had made yeasted dough from scratch and filled bowls and containers with toppings that I thought they would enjoy.  To be honest, I had a pretty joyful experience prepping.  I home roasted and sliced red bell peppers, sliced and sautéed mushrooms, chopped roma tomatoes, and sliced black olives.  I diced pepperoni slices into quarter chunks and made a fruit salad.  As I washed and chopped  strawberries,  pears, and oranges, then sliced bananas and added  blueberries and raspberries, I was in the zone.  I could have purchased any number of the ingredients I used–the mushrooms, the roasted red peppers, and sliced olives–but I was painting my picture of children joyously making pizza from scratch.  I couldn’t have stopped prepping if I wanted to.  I was quite happy.

In 1968, I was in San Francisco for the first time.  It was a dynamic time, filled with the presence of flower children and the so-called love generation.  I remember being amazed that I could walk the entire city from one end to another in a day.  There was no BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), no subways.  It was quite a different city then.

One day while walking–and brooding on how difficult life was, a pastime I thought necessary if I wanted to live as an artist–a beautiful man came up to me.  He was African and so beautiful that I will never forget his face.  In those days, I had no suspicion of strangers.

“Why do you look so sad?”  he asked.

I was taken aback, but before I could open my mouth to respond, he was almost singing.  “You should be happy!  Be Happy!”   He patted me on the shoulder and cheerfully walked off.

It seems that this has been a spiritual theme–a command from the Universe, if you will–wherever I go.  Live joyfully. Empty the pockets. That’s the ticket I’m supposed to buy.

Creativity is mysterious medicine, generating in us the desire to live with a fire in the belly for joy.  We’re inspired by interpretations of life–stories, choreography, theater, music, photographs, paintings, and poetry — that reveal the stages and emotional paths bringing us to the joy that we yearn to experience.

Artists inspire us to get up and do something.  Dance something. Write something.  Sing something.  Cook something new and fabulous—maybe a pizza.

Yes indeed.  It is a very good Friday.