Witness to Life

In this past week, a stunningly beautiful baby emerged from her mother’s womb; forty-eight hours earlier, a canine named Sam finally found the light that had eluded him all his life. One woman was the guide for both journeys.  I am reminded of the seventh verse of the Tao:

”Heaven is eternal–the earth endures. Why do heaven and earth last forever?  They do not live for themselves only. This is the secret of their durability. 

“For this reason the Sage puts himself last and so ends up ahead. He stays a witness to life, so he endures. 

“Serve the needs of others, and all your own needs will be fulfilled. Through selfless action, fulfillment is attained.”*

Dave R Farmer Image
WANA Commons

The woman serving as the guide for the baby’s birth and the canine’s death reminds me of the Sage, for she has always kept herself last. So well she understands that a new life has yet to experience all that physical existence can offer while a life at its end stands on the brink of what is beyond experience.

“Often the thing feared, once crossed, turns out to be an unexpected bridge from which we can see who we were and who we are becoming” (The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo). Certainly, this is the sentiment shared by Sam’s veterinarian caretaker and guide to the bridge. Here, in her words, is a bit about Sam’s life as well as his death:

“Sam was truly a one person dog, and he had the potential to be dangerously aggressive toward other animals and people who made him uncomfortable. His aggression was most likely fear based, probably the result of prior experiences before he came to us [an animal sanctuary].

“When Sam did act out aggressively, it was intense, unpredictable and he truly could become very dangerous very quickly. But Sam wasn’t always aggressive.  In fact, he was actually quite affectionate, loving and trusting toward me. He always greeted me with a tail wag and never once did he act out aggressively. He and I had a relationship based on trust and respect, which ultimately made the decision to let him pass over the Rainbow Bridge that much harder for me.

“In addition to his potential for aggression, Sam was extremely storm phobic. Despite numerous attempts to help him–anti-anxiety medications, pheromone collars, and changes in housing–when the summer storms came through each year, Sam became uncontrollable from fear and anxiety. Even I wasn’t able to comfort him when he was at the height of his anxiety attacks.

“As Sam aged, his anxieties and fears became increasingly worse. He became more unpredictable and outwardly aggressive toward people simply walking by his kennel. He started to become destructive, had a wide-eyed and scared look about him, was excessively vocal at times, and occasionally seemed desperate to escape from his kennel.

“Sam continued to be affectionate and friendly toward me but it became apparent that Sam’s overall quality of life was deteriorating. He wasn’t happy. His fears and anxieties were getting the best of him. Our decision was incredibly difficult as Sam did not have anything ‘physically’ wrong with him. His body was still healthy but his mind was not. We made the very difficult decision to let Sam’s fears and worries finally be put to rest.

“After a scrumptious breakfast and spending some extra time with him, I reassured this handsome boy that everything would be okay and that he wouldn’t have to be scared ever again. I hugged him close and reassured him the whole time. He was clearly scared but he trusted me enough to know I was helping. Sam fell asleep quickly and quietly in my lap, and he finally appeared at peace.

“I have no doubt he knew I was helping him but letting him go was very difficult, more difficult than if there had been a physical, visible medical concern. The fact that Sam trusted me enough to hold him while he fell asleep meant a lot but also made it very difficult, yet for Sam, it was the best and only choice to be made.

“Three years ago, we made a commitment to keep Sam safe, happy, healthy and to protect him from fear and stress. By helping him to cross over the Rainbow Bridge, we feel that we held up our end of that deal. Rest in peace handsome boy. We hope that your troubled mind is finally able to be at peace and that you are once again able to enjoy just being a happy-go-lucky, care-free dog. You don’t have to be scared anymore.”

 

JM Randolph Image
WANA Commons

Both the death of the dog and the birth of the child are indirect experiences for me yet I am profoundly moved by each for they have in common a woman whom I admire and respect. I know I am fortunate in being able to call her friend. She is young enough to be my granddaughter but her wisdom is of the ages.

Some would say hers is an old soul—once, I ascribed to the notion of rating souls but for me, rankings disappeared with duality—this young veterinarian is acutely aware of her world, inner and outer. I doubt that she reads books on awareness or oneness nor do I remember her ever using those words. She just lives, keenly and completely. Her equanimity in listening to other perspectives, other points of view is rather remarkable. Yet, she is not always appreciated, initially.

Of course, Sam knew better. He trusted his friend to help him cross the bridge into an existence void of all he had known. Two days later, his friend gave birth to a baby, sweeping away the sadness of Sam’s absence but not his existence for the leaving and the arriving are always one for the witness to life.

*Tao translation from Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

What Abundance Knows

How do we live with our hearts open? How do we use what is within us to bring together all that divides us? How do we, like the fifth verse of the Tao Te Ching suggests, “…offer our treasures to everyone”?

And the Tao means everyone, not just those we love/like, for living with an open heart is all-encompassing. It is difficult to open ourselves to what a person feels when that person’s beliefs are so separate from ours yet abundance knows no separateness only wholeness.

Unconditional Love Experts

It requires a larger vision whose origin may be right in front of us.

Often I offer the thoughts of Mark Nepo and Wayne Dyer but honestly, when it comes to abundance and unconditional love, I turn to beagle Cooper James and EmmaRose, a grey-blue dilute kitty of 5.5 pounds whose one word name was decided by a paw-press on the “Enter” key.

The three of us are an illustration of what was separate that is now whole.

How we lived before does not define us nor does it measure who we are. Those are years separate from us, now. As a feline, EmmaRose is 44, canine Cooper is 57, and as the human, I am sixty; what we measure is what we are together, and in that, our differences are minute.

Blanket Mountains

Our one-bedroom apartment is all we need and in some ways, more than we ever had. EmmaRose moves about the apartment most, rearranging throw rugs, curling up in what have become known as the Blanket Mountains of the living room, playing pine cone shuffle with cones Cooper and I brought her from one of our fall outings. EmmaRose is not a traveler outside the apartment–she enjoys her solitude–Cooper and I provide her her time on a daily basis.

"Why now?"

We all share the bedroom—the adjustable, queen-sized bed supports canine and human arthritic joints—EmmaRose’s preferred spot is on the computer modem that rests on the round, wicker bedside table, darkening with age. The table provides EmmaRose the perfect distance to meow in my ear—at least a couple of hours before dawn–if she has seen her reflection in the bottom of her food dish in the dark.

"Yes, Dr. Mac?"

Like many canines, Cooper is food-motivated and as a beagle, he is indiscriminate in what he eats, resulting in a daily antacid prescribed by Dr. Mac.

When the three of us could still eat tacos without major digestive upset for the human and the canine, we each had our favorite ingredient: Cooper scarfed cheddar cheese shavings; EmmaRose preferred powdered corn tortilla bits; meat and lettuce were for the human.

EmmaRose has never noted the absence of our taco dinners but it has been hard on Cooper and me. About a month ago, we gave into our cravings and purchased one taco; Cooper wanted more, as always; EmmaRose was not in the mood for tacos that night; as for me, I cannot imagine a time I will want another taco ever.

Having food and shelter is something we have always shared amicably, perhaps because all three of us have been as close to homelessness as we ever want to be. For Cooper and EmmaRose, euthanasia was near; for me, life was a series of question marks for some time.

What if

We learned to re-frame our lives, not looking back at what we no longer have nor looking to what we fear but rather through it, moment by moment—together. Cooper and EmmaRose seem better at facing fear than I but in watching what they give to one another as well as to me, reciprocating is effortless.

Every vision starts somewhere.

I suspect the force that is all life, whether the form is matter or antimatter, sees wholeness not separateness, offers treasure without condition—imagine.

ROW80 Wednesday Word Marking

 I am re-framing my writing goals. This round, I am concentrating on revising the original draft of my novel, based on the kernel idea I developed in a writing workshop. You can view what I have to say about that here.

I did manage to write a little more than a thousand words (1,068) on how the new version of the novel will read, in particular what it will mean for many of the characters. It is a fascinating process, for me.

Straw Dogs: Not the Movie

The fifth verse of the Tao Te Ching focuses on the temporal but equitable nature of existence in which we are but straw dogs.

“Heaven and earth are impartial; they see the 10,000 things as straw dogs. The sage is not sentimental; he treats all his people as straw dogs.”

It is a rather provocative statement of our role in the physical universe of the 21st century. It is not a comfortable image as straw dogs are too temporal, too much a reminder of  our brevity. Within the Tao Te Ching of the 6th century B.C., straw dogs have a role to play for a brief, shining moment, and then, they are gone, only to be followed by more straw dogs.

Impartial existence does not seem all that special.

Stephen Mitchell, a translator of the Tao, has written that “’straw dogs were ritual objects, venerated before the ceremony but afterward abandoned and trampled underfoot’” (as quoted in Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life).

In the Urban Dictionary, a delightful resource, I found seven different meanings of straw dog including one who is “faithful” to snorting cocaine. To me, the Urban Dictionary definition most resembling Mitchell’s translation is “something that is made only to be destroyed”; the sample sentence uses a doll as an example of a straw dog.

My favorite Urban Dictionary straw dog definition is “a word that you interject anytime that you don’t know what word to use but want to make it sound like you’re smart.”  The sample sentence illustrates the definition completely in that a nuclear physics speech “seemed like a straw dog compared to other theorys (sic),” definition and example perfect for my pearl book.

Regardless of how many definitions I may find online and elsewhere, any and all of them underscore the temporal nature of the physical universe from a cocaine high to a venerated sacrifice to easing out of an uncomfortable situation by saying something silly. They all pass from existence, as the Tao, the Source of all things, knows:

“To him none are especially dear, nor is there anyone he disfavors.”

In appreciating the straw dogs of the  6th century B.C. within the experience of the 21st century A.D., it is possible to feel the forever of existence, the comfort in knowing that straw dogs follow straw dogs. “With impartial awareness, the sage genuinely sees the sacredness within all the straw dogs in this ceremony we call life” (Dyer). 

We are not special unless we all are special.

Imagine a world where all know and accept that existence is a gift for all to be opened, to be lived, and to be left for others.  What is special in each of us is our life force. Imagine if we stopped celebrating our separateness and revered our one moment of existence, straw dogs all.

ROW80 Sunday Summary

A brief, mid-week lupus flare limited my reading and writing but it was a brief flare, and I am grateful. I credit its brevity to my better diet (now a weight loss of 66 pounds), to my work with the Tao, to meditating, and to participating in ROW80. Anyone with chronic illness  or who is confined for any length of time, can appreciate how important it is to connect with life whenever possible. As a bit of a distraction, I concentrated on re-learning Twitter; fellow ROW80er Morgan Dragonwillow helped me with TweetDeck and when my brain fog cleared a bit, I re-read the Twitter segment of Kristen Lamb’s book We Are Not AloneWho knew a lupus flare could be so productive?

Am halfway into The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. For the first time since seeing the movie Toby Tyler (late 1950’s), I want to run away with a circus, especially one as magical as the Circus of Dreams. I enjoy Morgenstern’s wit and although the time structure is a bit wobbly–I had the same concern in The Time Traveler’s Wife–Morgenstern’s writing keeps me turning the pages.

If you want to read more about my ROW80 progress, please click here.

Go for the Metaphor

Eleven days ago, I stopped blogging regularly on Wednesdays and Sundays and my mind shutdown, leaving me alone with my ego.  It had been years since that had happened, and I did not want to go there, again.

And so I begin my second Round of Words in 80 days, the writing challenge that knows I have a life and probably has similar suspicions about my ego. Wayne Dyer refers to ego as “Edging God Out,” and when it comes to God, I’m with Joseph Campbell:

Joseph Campbell
newworldlibrary.com image

 “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” (PBS Power of Myth Series with Bill Moyers).

It is always advantageous to define one’s terms succinctly, if possible, and if not, find others who can and do.

Our fearless ROW80 leader, Kait Nolan, provided an initial inspirational post for her ROW80 ranks of writers.  In particular, Kait dispelled a popular fallacy for many writers: if writing were their full-time job, writers would write as many as three or four novels a year, at the very least.

Once again,  ego spins falsely into fantasy.

Before I retired to writing, I, had that fantasy, which faded–frankly, on my first day– with full-time watching of Turner Classic Movies, then PBS, then British television, simply seductive. While some movie/television gazing can be considered studying the craft of scene and dialogue, reading and actual writing are closer to the grindstone.

As a writer and a human being—at times, known to be one and the same—my ego chatters constantly but I want the metaphor, aware  that I cannot know what transcends all intellectual thought but I can contemplate.

Frankly, ROW80 is what got me pursuing metaphor, in a most practical way. When I began round one in January, I was determined to publish a Sunday and Wednesday blog post for the entire round.

I did.

However, success has consequences, often overlooked in the glow of self-satisfaction, but for every action, there is a reaction.

The amount of time I spent writing blog posts, thinking about blog posts, and trying to have a week’s worth of posts written so I would not be always writing to deadline took on a life of its own, admittedly, a life bigger than screen gazing but it was not the metaphor.

So, here I am writing this post on the afternoon of April 2, the deadline for my first post of the second round of ROW80, battling my ego that says, “Post a couple goals. By Wednesday, you’ll be organized.”

No, I’m following fearless leader Kait Nolan:

“I want to help you develop that discipline and establish those good habits in your everyday life.  I want to help you take YOURSELF seriously as a writer, treat YOURSELF as a professional, so that bracket of time you can devote to writing, be it an hour or a day, becomes set in your mind as Writing Time–something you protect with the fierceness of a honey badger.”

See what happens when you go for the metaphor?

ROW80 Goal Posting

I have a separate blog page for the precise accounting of my R0W80 goals and updates, although I will probably  include a summary on main blog posts. Frankly, I can decide that later but for now, here we go:

Writing and Reading

Writing: Beginning April 4, 2012, write 500 words five days a week on my current manuscript. Word counts will be updated every Wednesday starting April 11, 2012.

Reading: Beginning April 4, 2012, read at least 50 pages every night to re-establish my reading routine. Am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Beginning Sunday, April 8, 2012, I will comment on my reading progress each Sunday.

Blog Posts

By Sunday, April 15, 2012, I will have at least one week’s posts written and scheduled so I am not writing to deadline. 

Honey badger, honey badger….

Comment Choice

Image from themacfeed.com

It seems last Sunday’s blog on silence coincided with the implementation of some “comment updates” from WordPress, the hosting company for this blog. I chose WordPress for its theme diversity and low cost but mainly for its ease in connecting with other social networks.

A blog that deals with Oneness and being is about connecting so hosting my blog with WordPress did and does make sense. It also makes sense that there will be missed connections, from time to time. On Monday, some readers wanting to leave a comment received this message:

That email address is associated with an existing WordPress.com (or Gravatar.com) account. Please click the back button in your browser and then log in to use it.

No one has to register with or log in to my actual blog to comment;  however, my blog has always required an email address (never revealed) and a name to accompany all comments. If I didn’t, anonymous responses could conceivably rival spam contributions so on my blog, one must create an identity to comment.

Identity seems to be at the core of the recent comment update issue, although I do not pretend to understand the technology of it so I may be completely wrong.  However, it does appear that in order to leave a comment on my blog now, readers must sign in with an existing social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, etc.) or create an account with WordPress.

Image from playthink.wordpress.com

This is the ether so remember that  updates/changes to what I just wrote are always just a breath away, if that far.

As this blog is also about one boomer being–I have an appreciation for and history of questioning authority so I do “get” why some readers are upset—I support every reader who does not want to sign in with any of their existing accounts or create an account with WordPress in order to comment.

For me, blogging is all about community and finding ways to support each other. Yes, I am nauseatingly optimistic almost all of the time but just the fact that we can have a global conversation about commenting or not commenting is a positive for all of us. Here’s an alternative way to comment on my blog:

Under Contact in the right hand column on my home page (Oneness),  please click on Email me!  to send  your comments.

As I do with all comments, I will review, respond (if appropriate), and I will post your comment just as if you had submitted it in the comment section. Please provide a name that you like as your identity. It may even be your own.

“So rather than giving energy to…perceived misfortunes, [I look to] the Tao…inexhaustible…the ancestor of it all…living infinitely” (Wayne Dyer).

“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,
love is knowing I am everything,
and between the two my life moves.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj


Round One of Round of Words Final Tally
 

The first round of Round of Words in 80 days ends tomorrow, and round two begins April 2. ROW80 helps writers bring their writing into their real lives, no more goal-gazing or sighing. ROW80 helps writers establish realistic goals that may be revised as many times as any manuscript. All one needs is a blog and a love of writing.

I was skeptical about ROW80 but if nothing else, I launched a blog, the writing of which requires way more than I anticipated. Furthermore, I saw my writing as it really is, which is not exactly how it was playing in my head or through my heart.  Now, I know what is possible so thank you  to the ROW80 community of writers who post their progress on Sundays and Wednesdays.

My beginning goals were modest—write at least 250 words per day, write a blog post twice a week, do something with a 17-year-old manuscript. I made it hard for me to fail, for once.

I progressed from 250 words per day to 30-minute stretches and to a daily average of 900 words. In these last few weeks, I am comfortably writing over 1,000 words per day. The type of writing includes technical, nonfiction, fiction, and blog posts but in this first round, I excluded technical and nonfiction writing from my word count. Total fiction and blog post word count is 23,639. Total technical and nonfiction word count is 14,000-18,000.

As a writer who was not writing except for an occasional spurt, I am more than pleased. What ROW80 reveals is that it does not take a great deal of time to generate words. With words come ideas and better words, clearer thought.

My manuscript is in shreds but its core, kernel idea is intact, which is more than I expected. The story is completely different as am I– seventeen years later–but the story’s idea is as fresh as always.

ROW80 Round Two on deck.

A Unified Life

It is not frequently the “world is too much” with me but too much always means a matter of words.

These are days of careless and thoughtless words thrown around the world in a nanosecond and forgotten just as immediately, as if a word once released is never more.

KM Huber Image

Every word reveals its writer, as Wayne Dyer demonstrates in his work with the Tao: “Live a unified life” and forego the “mind game” of duality, that “propensity to compartmentalize everything as good or bad, right or wrong.” Ah, the slippery slope of duality.

I take this viewpoint or that one, keeping each in its box, opposites, while I allow myself the luxury of weighing right vs. left, considering women vs.  men, contemplating yin-yang.

I name it balance but my heart knows it as judgment unexpressed but held. I am a lifelong hair-splitter within myself as well as with the world. At times, both are too much with me.

I am a true believer in finding common ground on any issue—no matter how insignificant that spot of ground may be, I know it exists–often, I am tenacious beyond popularity with left or right, no or yes, yet it keeps me just shy of duality. Dyer offers this: “eliminating opposites paradoxically unifies them.”

Imagine that as a political viewpoint in a discussion of  the role of government for the individual, for an entire country, especially when our planet is so pendulous, left-right, right-left, right-wrong. Words and more words, this word heard, that word ignored, a lie believed, a truth buried.

It’s a squawking sky of words where a good offense is the next day’s defense, and no one remembers to ask whether the sky is falling for the sky is full of flying words.

“…notice an opportunity to defend or explain yourself and choose not to. Instead, turn within and sense the texture of misunderstanding…just be with what is.” 

These Wayne Dyer words clear the sky for me on any day. The moment is all we ever have and it’s more than enough to “just be.” In order to clear the sky, I have to remove “me” from the words so I can see their meaning, their context, how they come together and when. Then, I can hear them.

“The world is too much with us, late and soon,” Mr. Wordsworth, as it always has been.

Amanda Stephan Image
WANA Commons

Rhythm of ROW80 Sunday Scheduling:

This past week, I started a month-long workshop with Bob Mayer on Idea and Conflict. For the rest of this round of ROW80, I will work with the kernel idea and conflict box of  a story that may actually become a novel.

Daily, I write for at least 30 minutes, often longer, generating at least 1,000 words per day  for blog posts as well as some creative nonfiction. In this regard, I have exceeded my word count for this first round of ROW80.

All Wayne Dyer excerpts are from Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, second verse of the Tao.

Imperfect Reader

In her debut novel, Perfect Reader, Maggie Pouncey does a fine job with a protagonist who irritates within a plot that invites.  Twenty-something Flora Dempsey is so thoroughly dislikeable I had to keep reading to find out what she’d do next, all the while hopeful she might at least let go of her snobbery but Pouncey knows how to take readers to their limits and does not disappoint.

Flora as snob fits in well with the granola, privileged college community of Darwin to which she returns after the death of her father, Lewis Dempsey. A former president of Darwin College, Lewis Dempsey was a literary critic of some repute and devotee of Hardy, but  Lewis’ pure and constant love of language as illustrated in Reader as Understander–where the perfect reader puts aside life experience to experience only the words on the page–is the work that defines his professional life.

In retirement, Lewis turns to poetry, providing his perfect reader, Flora, a handwritten manuscript of  his poems, which she decides  not to read. When Lewis dies, Flora inherits a bit of wealth, including the house in Darwin, and she is named Literary Executor, forcing her to confront the poems along with her father’s late in life lover. And so, the story begins.

Author Pouncey is never cliché or sentimental but relies on wit and the subtlety it requires. My  favorite minor character is Joan Dempsey, ex-wife of Lewis and mother of Flora. All that Lewis is, Joan Dempsey is not as Pouncey draws us into a Thanksgiving dinner conversation between mother and daughter:

Joan “…was incensed about `Bible thumpers’ sprouting up all over the country in the guise of politicians, `like a plague of idiots’….

“`Every day there’s some new denialist denying the existence of some atrocity—there never was a Holocaust…there’s no such thing as global warming….If it doesn’t work for your agenda, say it never happened…how do you take that next step of actually believing the whopper—denying history, denying science?’”

In response, Joan Dempsey takes to writing a blog, The Responsible Anarchist, that “…attracts a healthy group of readers, some of them, admittedly, insane—who else was Googling the word anarchist?” (pp. 107-08). I read for these moments and to mark Flora’s progress, of course,  but always hopeful for Joan’s return.

My only complaint with the novel are infrequent, hazy references to characters I don’t remember ever meeting. Perhaps it’s just a characteristic of my older mind but I still require firm footing for any character that has a name and therefore a raison d’être.

A perfect reader I am not for what speaks to me in this novel– more than I care to admit–is Pouncey’s portrayal of the “Pompous Circumstance” of the academic world I adored. As this novel so beautifully illustrates, the world of Darwin is and always has been attainable by and for the very few. Making the grade involves social status as much as being awarded the diploma, something I’d forgotten, until I looked for the luster, long dulled, and now, a way I will never be.

Perfect Reader reminded me of much I once believed important, and it was refreshing to remember, imperfect reader that I am. As for author Maggie Pouncey, she tells a truth as perfectly as she knows how, which is all any reader ever asks.
Quoted material from Perfect Reader, a novel, by Maggie Pouncey, New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. 

Rhythm of ROW80 Sunday Scheduling:

The 30-minute writing stretches have improved the overall quality of the “words I keep.” The exercise provides a way to think through material for blog posts as well as novel scenes.

Last week I started writing out the concept of my already drafted novel, using Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and Kristen Lamb’s concept critique.  On Saturday, I submitted an overview of the novel to my concept critique group and am still making scene notes. Plan to finish scenes and plots points this week. This is the first substantial progress I’ve made with my novel in the last four years.

Doing the Tao with Dyer: being, not doing

Nepo morning meditation continues