Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Greeks are Still the Great Thinkers

My dear friend, Sia, who lives in Greece, recently sent a message to me with this sentiment: Nothing is all that important and at the same time it all matters to each and every one of us.

At this time in my life I feel a bit of sadness, longing and regret, but I continue to get up each morning, go to work, laugh with my students, listen to my daughter's account of her day, feed the dogs, start the dishwasher, pay the bills, make the dentist appointments, time my runs, email my friends, photograph the birds' eggs, read the poetry, shower, sign the permission slips, shop for a birthday present, attend the play, sweep the floor, lean in to view the artwork, encourage the music lessons, sign up to volunteer, locate the missing bank statement, return the library books, thank my husband, pour the coffee, hold the child. None of these things alone is important, but together these things make a life. (I'm pretty sure that sentiment is stolen from a book, a movie or something, but I'm also pretty sure I didn't quote it exactly...)

Sometimes things happen in our lives that cause us to reevaluate our situation, to question if what we're doing matters or if we can even continue performing the daily tasks when we feel our energy has been depleted. How do we find the strength to keep going? We don't find the strength - the strength comes if we keep going. Socrates, another person from Greece, is credited with saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I agree, but the view from which we examine it can be cloudy, tainted and blurred and if we examine it too long, it can look downright dreadful. When looking at your life, see who is affected by the life you lead. Does what you do make a better life for one person, just one? If so, then it is a life that matters, examined or not.

So, I will continue to perform the daily tasks that I perform, while wondering when this sadness will cease and chances are, as a new norm is created by performing my daily tasks, contentment will follow.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When the Planets Align

I love moments like the one I had yesterday:

I stopped to talk to another newbie to Jackson, to ask her if she was struggling as much as I was, 'cause you know, it can't possibly be me, it must be Jackson, and if I could get confirmation on that, I would feel so much better! We chatted for a few minutes and I felt validated - not that it was Jackson, but that moving is hard and we are living in a depressed time with the economy doing so poorly, the loss of jobs, a giving up of hope and caring. As I left that conversation I was greeted by a friend who said she had something for me...and truth be told, I love gifts (especially since I'm not suppose to be buying things for myself as noted in the previous post).

The gift I was given is the book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Oh yes! I have wanted to read this book for a very long time, but always hesitated when faced with the possibility of purchasing it. How did this new friend of mine know I needed it RIGHT NOW! How did that happen? I don't know, but I love that it did.

I'm barely into the book, but there is a quote before Chapter One, from John Lennon: Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see. It is from the song Strawberry Fields, one of my favorites and as it was fresh in my mind this morning, I snuggled with my daughter and whispered the words to her. Understanding. It does not come from being the loudest. It does not come for jumping to conclusions. It does not come from assumptions. Understanding comes when we live our lives with our eyes wide open, our hearts wide open and our minds wide open. This is a lesson I so needed to be reminded of...right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Buddha and a Blog

I have a Zen 2011 Daily Calendar. Friday's quote from Buddha was, "In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you love? How deeply did you learn to let go?" I have tremendous difficulty with the last one, letting go.

Coincidentally, on Friday as well, I was told about a blog in which a woman writes of her decision to not purchase anything new or not needed for a year. The person telling me said she was 4 days into her own non-purchasing project and I said I would give it a try (TRY!). Saying this caused little heart palpitations, because I am not good at following through with these types of projects, but a little fear and trepidation can be good for the soul - and great material for a blog.

When I got home and again glanced at the quote from Buddha (I never know if it should be THE Buddha or just Buddha...) I thought of the connection between his words and this new project. I initially took Buddha's words to mean a letting go of expectations, of others and oneself, but I also know that Buddhism teaches a letting go of dependency on physical objects. We do not own the objects, they own us. When we cease depending on stuff to make us happy, we are left with ourselves and holy non-consumerism, that can be frightening!

I am really unsure about this project. I am lazy and able to justify purchases easily (it helps the economy!). Right now I am thinking, "Shoot! I have to get stuff for Easter! My Oprah magazine renewal form came in the mail! I have a $10 coupon from Borders!" Deep breath. I said I would try this. I am letting go of the expectation that I will alter my habits completely overnight. Maybe today I will resist purchasing one unneeded thing. Maybe I will develop a new practice: Baby Steps Toward Buddhism.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Religion versus the World

A friend recently passed along an article that I swear was written by a woman who had insight into my own thoughts. The article is, "Some Kinda Mormon," by Jennifer Pemberton.

In the article, Pemberton writes of her fascination with the Mormon religion and although she has Mormon family members, she is not Mormon. Jennifer, I can kick that up a notch: I don't even have any Mormon family members, that I know of - although with the baptism of the dead bit, maybe now I do. Both Pemberton and I lived in heavily Mormon populated areas, and both of us, upon leaving those areas and returning to the "real world," couldn't shake the fascination.

The article definitely interested me because of the Mormon bit, but what really caused me to pause was this line Pemberton wrote about abandoning her own Christian beliefs during college, "The world became too big for my childhood belief system." I also abandoned the beliefs of my childhood when I entered college, because I left the comforts of my own family and their beliefs and went 2000 miles away to Logan, Utah. I was, for the first time in my life, in the minority. I was a Christian when I moved to Utah, but I wasn't Mormon and that second point made all the difference. It put me in a position in which I'd never been before, and I was pretty angry. If these people, who felt I wasn't good enough to enter their temples and who felt I didn't accept the truth, believed in God then maybe it was time for me to separate myself even further - so I started denouncing my belief in God, publicly.

It wasn't that I actually didn't believe in God, but I talked about religion and beliefs as if there were the possibility that God didn't exist. As I delved into philosophy classes that dealt with religion and myth, I also became exposed to the idea of the Bible as stories of symbolism, not stories of actual events. This was a new concept for me and it made so much more sense than Jesus being born to an actual virgin or literally rising from the dead. I embraced these ideas and felt myself drifting further and further away from the island of Christianity on which I'd been raised. I got so far off the island, in fact, that when I did want to return to it later, I just couldn't swim that far.

During college I also met people from other countries and other cultures (yep, in Utah!) and started to think about the selfishness of my childhood religion, that only Christians have the truth and will be saved. What about the really nice people I met who didn't believe in Christ, but had beliefs stemming from teachings long before anyone even heard of Jesus Christ? I was suppose to believe they were wrong? How egocentric! Also, what if I had been born in say, some middle eastern country? Would I have been raised a Christian? Probably not. I started to see religion as more of a sociological formula than truth. What solidified this view for me was the conversations I had with many people, of many religions, who had never strayed from the religion in which they were raised. Do we believe in a religion because it is true or because it has been hammered into our head and viewed through the actions of our society that it is true?

In her article, Pemberton writes of her grandmother's worry that Aunt Ruth, a Mormon in the clan, goes to hell after she dies. The grandmother is in tears, feeling there is no more they can do to save this woman's soul. I gave up on the idea of hell a long time ago - I'm not sure I ever really believed in it. I do know that, according to many religions, my actions have secured me a place in hell, so I just fall back to a line from a song I've always liked, "All the best people are burning down in hell..." "Now Heather", some of my friends would kindly ask, "Why would you want to hang with people who have committed atrocities and are suffering eternally?" Well, because of the alternative, which I see as hanging with a bunch of people who worship a God who allows for their fellow human beings to suffer eternally. That's just nuts!

Admittedly, my fascination with the Mormons has waned a bit the last few weeks. I gave up reading The Book of Mormon and I've realized that there are aspects of Mormonism I think are wonderful, but there are aspects I just can't swallow. I also feel this way about Christianity. Religion must serve some sort of purpose, because a whole bunch of people subscribe to it, but why do they choose one religion over another? And why can't people believe in an all-loving, all-knowing God without following the rules that are so obviously man-made? What is the appeal of belonging to a religion that states that your fellow human beings, who do not belong to the same religion, are wrong? It just seems too elitist and exclusive to me and if it is those things, then how can belonging to them be serving a God who created all of us?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inspired by Stephen King

Last night I watched a movie I haven't seen in years, Stand By Me, which is based on the novella, "The Body," by Stephen King. I saw this movie when it first came out in 1986 and I loved it, but watching it at this time in my life made a different impression. In 1986 I was only a year older than the characters in the film. In 2011 I have a child who is nearly the same age as the characters in the film. The film's message was lost on me at 13, but I think I get it now - 25 years later. It's about the relationships we have on the verge of leaving our childhood behind and how they'll forever define friendship for us. Richard Dreyfuss's character states at the end of the film: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

Just two days ago I spoke with my friend from that period in my life (the friend with whom I saw the movie) and although we only speak every few years, it is always as if little time has passed. She was my best friend after my family moved from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania and though we drifted apart in high school, we come together every few years to touch base, usually when something monumental has happened in our lives. I have other friends in my life, those I've made since leaving home at 18, friends made at various stages in my life, friends I see day-to-day, but it is this friendship formed at the age of 12 that has been sustained.

Our family is hoping for and planning a trip from Utah back to Michigan this summer with one of Sophie's friends (the friend has family near Michigan). Sophie and her friend are nearing 12 and I want for them this one adventure that I hope will create memories that will forever connect them. I don't think I ever would have done this pre-move from Utah, but I see these things differently now. What might have been seen as too difficult to coordinate now seems like a necessity and after watching Stand By Me, I see its need even more.

I also want to plan my own trip, with the women I was friends with at the age of 12. We've all expressed an interest in this, but I think we need to make it really happen. I want a chance to escape back to a time when we were all seemingly without worries, though I think bringing all our current issues along with us will cement us even more to one another. When you are 12 you cannot fathom ever becoming an adult, a mother, a spouse, a homeowner. You have no idea what those things entail and how they will change you, or how a part of you will forever stay the way it is when you were 12. When I was 12, life was just beginning to involve worries, fears and inhibitions that affected my future relationships. These women knew me when we thought anything was possible and now after some years of experience, I know that anything is possible.

I also know that, as stated in the film when the boys depart from their adventure and it is mentioned that 2 characters drifted away during the boys' youth, "It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant." We are fortunate to have the friends we have right at this moment and we are fortunate to have friends from our past. Any friend, at any time, is a gift.