Monday, May 15, 2017

Collateral Beauty

I recently watched the movie Collateral Beauty. (You can read about it here, unless you don't want the plot line spoiled for you.) I thought it was as good rewatching it as watching it for the first time in the movie theater.

The title comes from something one of the characters says to another. The statement is essentially that, despite grief, you should continue to look for the collateral beauty. I understand this deeply. My parents died 7 and half days apart. I was the executor for both estates, which in some way delayed moving through grief for me. Yet, despite all this, I had moments of laughter, joy and happiness. I miss both my parents to this day; however, I haven't stopped looking for the collateral beauty in life.

I still try to look for the collateral beauty around me no matter my circumstances, the current political climate, or the global situation. I believe that it helps me cope. I believe that it helps me continue my work, my writing. Otherwise, I think I might be subject to despair. Despair would only get in my way, keep me from acting, from hopefully helping others through my work.

Flowers keep blooming. Waterfalls keep falling. Swans still swim. I am able to walk, talk, read, write, think for myself, and make my own decisions. The view out my study window is trees and a mountain. I can spend time contemplating the Conneticut River from a lovely park in my community. I see interesting lichens around. Ice formations in winter can be quite interesting and beautiful. The list of physical beauty most likely is endless.

But, most important, I have the beauty of relationships and family. Beauty is seemingly everywhere, and truthfully, it's not really collateral; it becomes collateral if I don't take the time to notice it. It is here. It is almost a living entity. I hope to continue to be able to see it, really see it, and to take it in. 

I hope that same for you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The More Beautiful World

The title of this post is the first part of a book title: The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. Yes it is quite a mouthful. The idea for this post came to me when I was listening to Krista Tippet's Interview of Marie Howe on On Being (you can listen here). In this interview, Marie Howe talks about an assignment she gives her students. The assignment is to write 10 observations a week, without using metaphor. Just 10 "naked" observations. It can be an observations of an apple sitting on a table, for example. The point of the exercise, I think, is to really tune into the world around her students, to make them pay more attention to the world. 

I believe that when we do this we see the beauty, we see the connectedness of things. We can possibly find ways that are possible for us to take care of the world around us. The world, to me, includes not just the physical world, but ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbors. After all, we are all part of the world, part of the earth. 

I also think that when we focus, when we breathe, we can see that there is much to be grateful for. lt can give us a way to see beyond the fear that is so pervasive, to keep hope alive, because, after all there is much beauty in the world, even if it is "just" an apple sitting on a table. 

An observation for today: There is a folding knitting basket sitting to the left of my computer desk. It contains knitting tools, boysenberry colored yarn, teal colored yarn, a darning egg. The basket has wooden handles and wooden cross supports. The handles have a diagonally cut circles incised into them. The fabric is beige with palm trees on it. Some of them a slightly darker color of beige, others are green and brown. 

It would most likely be impossible to pay that much attention to everything around us. In fact we apparently have a brain chemical that helps us filter out much of the stimuli coming in so that we are able to focus. But, taking time to make an observation like this can be a way to slow us down for a few moments, to make our "monkey minds", as meditators call it, slow down and let go. 

Let go and see.

Just a note: all the images today are from my book, Opening the Heart: Meditations on How to Be (here).

Monday, May 1, 2017

Crossing Thresholds

I recently read a piece that explained why we forget what we want to do when we go from one room to another. It's because we cross a threshold. I don't remember now where I read this or what the explanation for this phenomon is. I do remember thinking how interesting this is. (I do now wonder why people study these kinds of things.)

This has set me to thinking about thresholds. There are the ordinary door thresholds - even if they are painted red. Then there are the not so "ordinary" thresholds. First is conception and then birth. We cross from non-being into being with all that entails. This threshold is marked every year as a birthday, a change in age. Somehow various cultures decide that a certain age is a threshold, such as thirteen for bar or bat mitzvahs. In the US, sixteen for driving, eighteen for voting, and twenty-one for for being able to drink hard liquor. 

We mark the crossing of thresholds when someone graduates from school. When we retire from working. These are the ones that I can think of off-hand. I'm sure that you can point out more. Each of these are meant to mark a change in someone's life circumstances. 

The last threshold to be crossed is death. In American culture, the discussion of death is almost taboo. You don't talk about it in polite society. Some people don't want to make a will or create an estate plan because it means thinking and talking about death. 

Yet, in the work that I do, when someone asks about a deceased loved one, the answers almost always talk about the loved one was escorted across this threshold. I hope to hold onto that so that I don't fear the final threshold for this lifetime of mine. I want to be able to welcome crossing this last threshold.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Labels, Boxes

I recently had a conversation, well actually two conversations, with a neighbor about 2 other people living in our condominium complex. She used two sets of labels about these people in the first conversation. First Dumb and Dumber. Then Frick and Frack. I asked her, knowing that she professes to be a Buddhist and has a picture of the Dalai Lama in her home, "What would the Dalai Lama say?" Her response was that she isn't the Dalai Lama. I went on my way, and left to do what I was intending to do. When I came back and parked my car, she came over saying she had seen these 2 people walking around, again calling them by the one of the nicknames she had for them. I said something to the effect that she can think what she wants but please don't call them this around me. She told me to lighten up. I told her that I am trying to be enlightened. She said I might be, but I'm not light. Then she walked off. 

These conversations started me thinking about how we judge, label and box people away: sometimes because we disagree with someone, sometimes because of who or what they represent to us. Sometimes because of their gender, skin color, religion, or ethnicity. Sometimes we make assumptions about what someone else is feeling or thinking. What if were were to peel off the labels, open the boxes and see what is really there not just what we perceive is there?

I had an experience of feeling boxed in and labeled yesterday. I was listening to a webinar, had a thought in passing and typed a question into the chat room box because things seeming to slow down. There was a bit of an exchange. I decided to leave the webinar rather than feel I had to defend myself when the presenter said something to the effect that I should work with her or someone like her - despite my saying in the chat room that I was just curious and that it was just a passing thought. I went to a local park and reflected. I realized that she had made a judgement and labeled me based on an assumption she made from a question made in passing. I probably did not say in my comment up front that it was just a passing thought, and, by the time that I did, I don't think she could "hear" it.

If I don't like being boxed up and labeled, I should try my best not to do this to others. After all, assumptions just, as the old saying goes, makes an ass of you and me. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

How Many?

How many petals in a peony or blades of grass that come together to make a beautiful difference in the world? How many trees constitute a forest?

How many drops of water make a stream, a lake or an ocean? How many drops of water so that they create a glistening on the leaves of a peony or on blades of grass?

Sometimes it takes hundreds or thousands of something or  people to make a difference. A concert has less energy with only a few people. A movement to make a change often needs lots of people to make that change. 

But sometimes it takes just one? Someone to smile, to ask if you are okay. Sometimes it's a phone call to a friend when you're feeling a bit blue so that you have someone to laugh with. Sometimes all it takes is one person to be a witness or to agree to act. 

This post was inspired by a recent poem that came to me. I read it to my sister, and she said that I should submit it for publication somewhere. I've decided to publish it here. 

How Many? 

How many did
Gabriel visit
and ask before 
Mary? How many ran
from the room,
fainted dead away
before Gabriel found Mary,
willing to stand upright,
to say yes?

©2017 Kathryn L. Samuelson

I believe that sometimes it takes someone asking over and over again. Without giving up. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Courage to Act

My thoughts have been ranging lately on the acts that we are called to carry out - each doing what we are called to do and not worry about doing it all. Sometimes it's making art. Sometimes it's writing. Sometimes it's marching. Sometimes it's signing petitions. Sometimes it's gathering in community.

I have also been watching videos on youtube about WWII. Oh, my goodness the acts of courage that happened during that time period. People being parachuted behind the lines to work with the resistance, all the while knowing that their life span was not great. The people of England and elsewhere enduring all the bombing, the privation and not know when or if the war would end. The men sent into battle and the courage it took to keep going. This reminded me of a book I read sometime ago. This is the book review that I wrote for a now defunct blog called Explore Beyond the Usual

"Among other books, I am currently reading Sheila Isenberg’s Muriel’s War: An American Heiress in the Nazi Resistance. I am continually asking myself, “Would I have the courage to act?” The answer, so far, is I hope so, but I cannot say so with certainty.

Muriel was Helen Muriel Morris, the granddaughter of two of the three Chicago meatpacking (dare I say robber) barons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She ended up inheriting a large amount of money in her teens when her father died. This money was placed in trust and was managed well by her oldest brother. She could have chosen to live a life of luxury and ignore the world around her.

In fact, though, due to circumstances of her upbringing, she became quite liberal and possibly bordered on being a socialist. This started with her nanny who told her stories of poverty in Ireland and the difficult trip to America. She saw the conditions of steerage on a ship when her family sailed to Europe when she was ten. These started her thinking about justice and fairness, which she continued to think about for the rest of her life.

She was educated at Wellesley and then went to Oxford. She was refused her Oxford degree because she did not condemn Mary Shelley’s suicide attempts in her thesis. After this, she traveled finally ending up in Vienna where she started psychoanalysis with one of Freud’s protégés. (I am not listing her various relationships here as they are not the point of this post.)

She continued to read avidly, a habit she gained as a child. She especially paid attention to politics and the world situation even during the deteriorating situation Austria. She chose to stay in Vienna rather than leave, although she sent her daughter and daughter’s nanny to Switzerland. Muriel became part of a network of American and English people who provided money, food, forged documents, and support to Jews and socialists who were in danger of being arrested or murdered. She even hid some of them in her apartment. All the while in medical school and continuing her psychoanalysis.

I have not finished the book, but I do know that she survived. I cheated by peaking at the pictures in the book—there she is in old age. I do not know yet if she stayed for the whole war or how she managed to evade the Nazis and survive. I admire her courage in making this choice because I am sure that while it was a bit easier to act because she was a wealthy American, I am not sure the Nazis would have cared if they had discovered her participation in the resistance. 

Which brings me back to my question: Would I have the courage to act, even for a short period of time in this kind of circumstance? Again, I hope so. May we see more and more people of courage and light."

I did finish the book, and yes she did indeed survive the war. At this point, my vague recollection is that she finally left before she was caught by the Nazis. 

I am not saying that we are in such dire times, but surely if people could act and speak out in that time, we can surely speak and act in our times. If they did not give into despair at was going on around them, we can surely not give into despair, although I do confess that I at times just delete all the political emails because I get tired of the language of despair and desparation that is used in them. I work to see hope everywhere along with the possibility of ending divisiveness between people, groups and countries. Sometimes, I think, that refusing to give into despair is an act of courage. Refusing to give up, to keep working in the face of ambiguity is an act of courage. What is yours?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sometimes it Just Seems to Pour


To be frank, this post was inspired by the fact that it is raining here in Vermont today - and at times seemed to be pouring. It's gray. It's certainly chilly if not cold. It would be easy to let myself feel down, if not outright depressed by the weather. But, I have too much to be thankful for. Family. Friends. A home. Income. Decent and improving health. Clothes to wear that are appropriate for each season. Libraries close by. A terrific local bookstore. Good healthcare practitioners. People who can listen and help me figure out what direction I want to move in, how to proceed.  Federal legislators who have a vision for a better future for everyone.

It can also, seemingly, be pouring not just physically but also metaphorically. It can be "pouring" so much that it clouds our vision, makes it difficult to see our way. There may seem to be no light or only blurred light. It may be hard to think this, but there is always some light, even the darkest night has starlight. There may be clouds on a dark night obscuring the light - but the light is there none the less. One of the meditations images in Opening the Heart: Meditations on How to Be (here) is: 

Floods, famine, war, racism, sexism, homophobia, hatred of someone else's religion all exist. People not caring about the environment, only about what they can extract from Mother Earth are still operating in the world. I think that, despite all this, we can hold onto the vision of light entering all of our hearts, minds, and souls. And, I do mean everyone, not just ourselves and our family and friends. I mean everyone. 

I wrote this poem inspired by this meditation image: 

Starlight on the Darkest Nights

Sit with the dark.
Breathe with the dark.
Don't fight the dark.
Let the dark calm your
mind, your soul.

Vision can clear in the dark.
What is over there:
dancing, twirling, calling you?

Is it starlight?
Is it hope?

©2017 Kathryn L. Samuelson