May 2008


I was at the grocery store and a picture caught my eye. “That’s ani!” I thought. And it was, right on the cover of…Mothering magazine? Well, I picked it up to read the interview and felt like a poseur while I was checking out!

Looks like it is a pretty good magazine. I saw adverts for happy heiney’s, which I am familiar with after researching and helping get a friend into cloth diapering. I saw an anti-advert by adbusters, which was pretty cool. I saw some recipes that look pretty good. I’m going to have to make copies of those.

But the magazine itself, I’m giving away to someone who is a mother and interested in it! I read the ani article, and I thought it was pretty cool, but the rest of the magazine will go to waste (other than the recipes), so I want to get it in the hands of someone who is interested. It is the may-june 2008 issue. I’ll pay postage, just leave me a comment and I’ll email you for your address.

And while I’m at it – giving away things that have to do with being a parent – I have a book called “My mother wears combat boots: a parenting guide for the rest of us.” I am a “friend of AK press” which means they send me books every month, whatever is recently published. And while this book really does look interesting, it is never going to be relevant to me, and so I know I won’t end up reading it! So, it too is being offered free to a good home. Here’s AK Press’ blurb about it:

Jessica Mills is a touring musician, artist, activist, writer, teacher, and mother of two. Disappointed by run-of-the-mill parenting books that didn’t speak to her experience, she set out to write a book tackling the issues faced by a new generation of moms and dads. The result is a parenting guide like no other. Written with humor, extensive research, and much trial and error, My Mother Wears Combat Boots delivers sound advice for parents of all stripes. Amid stories of bringing kids (and grandparents) to women’s rights demonstrations, taking baby on tour with her band, and organizing cooperative childcare, Jessica gives detailed nuts-and-bolts information about weaning, cloth vs. disposable diapers, the psychological effects of co-sleeping, and even how to get free infant gear. This book provides a clever, hip, and entertaining mix of advice, anecdotes, political analysis, and factual sidebars that will help parents as they navigate the first years of their child’s life.

Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say “Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.” What is “this”? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only “the hope of peace some day.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart

I’ve been trying to find certain kinds of balance – how to have goals that don’t become tools I use to beat myself up for not completing all of them? That’s one I think I’ve made some progress on.

It is funny, I periodically read blogs about personal development, about efficiency and productivity, and over the past few months I’ve grown to positively distrust these ideas. I’m more than a list of goals, and my happiness is certainly more complicated than that. Or maybe I mean simpler. It is sometimes hard to tell.

Regardless, I’m doing myself no favors by writing a list that will later make me feel guilty for not having been able to complete it.

Yet, goals themselves are mostly positive things.

And so I have begun to learn that I need to have goals that are a bit more vague. “Read some pages in a non-novel” is helpful, “read 1 chapter in such-and-such book” is not. For me.

Tonight I began reading a book I talked about a few days ago, “The mindful way through depression”, and I am just as impressed three chapters into it as I was two pages into it. More so, in fact.

There is an eight week plan to help start a practice of mindful meditation. I started tonight. It was a guided meditation, lying on the floor doing a guided body scan.

I’m not experienced with meditation. I really appreciated that he stated, a few times, that there was no judgement, no failure, that thinking thoughts was natural and we shouldn’t feel bad when our mind starts to wander, to simply notice and bring ourselves back to the present, to our breath and our body scan.

I didn’t find it difficult at all, and I look forward to seeing how the meditation feels day to day. I’m sure it will be different every time.

Two of the most interesting physical reactions I noticed were:

  • my hands were the hardest body part for me to relax, especially my left hand
  • when I would notice, and really hear and feel, my heart beating, it made me panic a little

Neither would have been anything I’d have predicted!

The one thing that it confirmed for me is that the physical act of sitting (or in this case, laying) meditation is fairly easy for me. I don’t have the urge to move or to get up and do things (at least not with a guided meditation). Mentally is where it is tough, and I had all kinds of mind wanderings, from real life stuff to fantastical imaginings to “hearing” bits of songs. Well, I say “tough” but it was more interesting than difficult to me.

I think that meditation is going to be a big help for me. Hopefully it will help me prevent relapses into depression. Even if it doesn’t do that, I know it will nevertheless help me with general life stuff.

betty and billy at ps

I read today that Utah Phillips has died.

I’m sure most people don’t know who he was, and many likely wouldn’t care regardless. But for me, he was someone who could teach and inspire through his stories and songs. I never saw him in concert, I never met him, and that’s a regret. It would have been something to remember.

I’m so glad that ani worked with him on a few albums – that’s how I was introduced to his music. You can hear something of Utah through his podcasts.

Utah was a thoughtful man, the kind of man who would seek out knowledge, not from books, but from the experiences of others. He would talk to people, and find out what they knew, what they’d lived, and that is the knowledge that Utah trusted. He was the folksinger equivalent of Howard Zinn.

It makes me so sad to hear that Utah has died. He had so much to teach and to share. I feel like I’ve lost a friend, which must sound silly for someone who I never met.

Nevertheless. Rest in peace, friend.

Sometimes we have the chance to see fragile perfection, the kind that is heartbreaking in its beauty.

fawn at ps

I’ve got a friend who always says “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m pretty sure that is a quote she picked up from somewhere else (it sounds so zen…or maybe field of dreams?), but nevertheless, it is a sentiment that I feel like I’m living this past year.

And not even just student and teacher as two people…it also seems like when I am ready for a message, the message appears. That sounds very mysterious, but I think it is pretty simple – when I’m ready to hear it, I actually hear/see the things that others have been saying all along.

For instance, this past year of therapy I’ve come so far in getting a handle on my depression, on my life, on me. I still have a ways to travel on this path, and that is frustrating sometimes, but overall I’m in such a better place now it is amazing. Sometimes overwhelming! And in the past month or so I have felt like I’m struggling.

Not struggling with depression, but struggling with some of the old patterns associated with a lifetime of depression. Not wanting to do things, apathy, a bone-deep weariness that is more emotional than physical. I kept thinking these past couple weeks that I’m just tired of fighting…tired of fighting myself.

I finally looked at a book that I’d gotten a couple months ago, on my therapists recommendation. It is called “The Mindful Way Through Depression” and it is about meditation, and comes with a guided meditation CD. The first paragraph:

Depression hurts. It’s the “black dog” of the night that robs you of joy, the unquiet mind that keeps you awake. It’s a noonday demon that only you can see, the darkness visible only to you.

And I about fell out of my chair. How did they get in my mind? Okay, I never have trouble sleeping…at least, I am almost always too sleep deprived to have trouble sleeping, and I’ve been resisting my own efforts to get to bed earlier, which is disconcerting. It makes me wonder…what do I think will happen if I’m not tired? Somewhere inside I guess I am worried that I won’t fall asleep easily…that I’ll think, and think, and think. Even if the falling asleep part doesn’t apply, the rest of it is eerily accurate.

So the book starts off running. And then on the very next page:

We wrote this book to help you understand how this happens and what you can do about it, by sharing recent scientific discoveries that have given us a radically new understanding of what feeds depression or chronic unhappiness:

  • At the very earliest stages in which mood starts to spiral downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it.
  • Our habitual efforts to extract ourselves, far from freeing us, actually help keep us locked in the pain we’re trying to escape.

In other words, nothing we do when we start to go down helps because trying to get rid of depression in the usual problem solving way, trying to “fix” what’s “wrong” with us, just digs us deeper.

Yikes.

I imagine this can be misinterpreted – we do, after all, need to do something to help ourselves. I think of it as reprogramming (I am a software developer, after all), it can also be thought of as retraining ourselves. We have these old patterns that we have walked so often we have grooves dug deep, and it is easy to slip right back into those old worn patterns.

That is not the “fixing” that they’re talking about here. They’re talking about that fight we have with ourselves. The “shoulds”, which I consciously try to eradicate from my thoughts and speech, the judgements, the expectations we put on ourselves and then beat ourselves up for not meeting.

I have another book on my to-read pile that ties right in – “Radical Acceptance”. I need to get through both of them. I believe that meditation will be a big help. I have a hard time sitting still to do it, but I think the guided CD will help there also.

No wonder I’ve been feeling tired from fighting myself, and watching the apathy seep back into my life no matter how hard I fought.

baby geese at ps

Email received today from an old friend:

Where are you?

I tried calling and texting. Is everything ok with you?

Still living near DC?

Guess I need to charge my phone!

And, you know, not move across the country without telling people. Again. That happened only once, I promise.

lenny and jeremy at ps

Sometimes I feel like my life is consumed by my activism (which mostly doesn’t show up on this blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it!), and other times I feel like it is impossible to ever do enough. To be effective enough. This is an uncomfortable tension, to say the least.

The frustrating thing, in some ways, is that it is never up to one person to change the world. At the same time, it is always up to one person to change the world. What I mean is that we all have the chance to change the world by every action we take, every decision we make. Be the change we want to see, right? Ghandi said it so simply, so profoundly. Itty bitty changes, they are, but combined together they can become significant. If everyone did one small thing, it would be revolutionary in the difference it would make. We all have that power.

In fact, the only way real change will happen is if we all make those changes, be those changes. It starts with us, it comes from us. It isn’t about who is elected to this position of power or that position of power. We decide, we act, we change. Together, we change the world. Sounds naive, doesn’t it? Yet it is realistic as well…much much more realistic, in my opinion, than thinking that change will magically happen if and when the “right” person is elected to a position of power.

Whenever I think about these things, Ben Harper comes to mind. “With my own two hands”

Next Page »