There Is No Armour Like Perserverance

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THERE IS NO ARMOUR LIKE PERSEVERANCE

Someone, sometime, somewhere, said that. I wrote it down on a scrap of paper and every so often I find it. Or shall I say it finds me. It’s uncanny or just the way the world works when we’re not looking that it always presents itself at exactly the right moment. I imagine it shuffles forward, diving through all the other scraps of paper on my desk, unnoticed, until that moment when it lands on top of everything else and says “READ ME.”

Armour: We all know the #1 definition of armour  - The whole apparatus of war collectively; military equipment, both offensive and defensive; arms, weaponry.

Here is the # 5 definition per the Oxford English Dictionary - Mental or spiritual defence or protection; a quality, trait, characteristic, etc., which provides this. Now rare.

How unfortunate to be losing this definition of armour! I was walking in a cactus garden with a friend recently and she pointed to a large tree which had all these spiky sharp things on its trunk. She said “Look how beautiful!” then opined, “We need that kind of protection.” Indeed. Some kind of natural protection that could ward off the unwelcome intruders, the digs and jabs, large and small, that get under our skin, worm their way into our soul and erode our confidence. Sometimes it’s the littlest thing that people say in the breeziest of ways that cut the deepest. Like. “You can’t carry a tune.” Or. “One day you’ll be pretty.” Or. “You’re terrible with money.” Or. “Don’t even try, it will never change.” Or. “Your best wasn’t good enough.” Or. Or. Or. Whatever it is, you find yourself branded with these pronouncements for life.

If we had armour those things would bounce off us like water off a duck’s back. Animals come with protection. Sharp teeth, legs or no legs, wings, smells, stings, claws, speed, flight, burrowing, climbing. Humans have thin skin and no other discernible protection, except...for our minds. A friend’s meditation teacher says there are two types of experiences, ‘pleasant and unpleasant,’ and she encourages her students to whisper the appropriate word when encountering one or the other. Just name it. Pleasant. Unpleasant. Soon you realize that all experiences, all moods are always changing, flowing from one into the other, passing over like clouds in the sky. To name in a calm inner voice instead reacting is using the mind. Building armour.

 

THERE IS NO ARMOUR LIKE PERSEVERANCE

 

Perseverance: constant persistence in an undertaking; steadfast pursuit of an aim.

Persevere:  to continue steadfastly in a course of action especially in the face of difficulty.

It’s etymology is from severe: austere, grave, morally hard.

To persevere is simply to continue on. I say this to myself a lot. “Just continue on.”

Whenever I read this quote I think of turtles. Disclaimer: I think about turtles a lot. I love everything about them. They are my totem animal. I’m convinced I’m leashed to a turtle. Turtles are the best symbol for perseverance. For 230 million years they have been taking their slow walk across the earth. They can live up to one hundred and fifty years. They can survive through most all swings of temperature. They hibernate and don’t move for months at a time. They have a bony shell calcified with keratinous scales, similar to our fingernails. And we all know they can withdraw into their shell whenever they want. Like diving down into bed and pulling the covers over your head. Now that would be a good trick! Whenever your skin feels especially thin and vulnerable to soul crushing encounters just pull the blanket over your head until you decide to come out. And for learning perseverance and patience there is nothing better than watching a huge tortoise cross a patch of earth toward a leaf of lettuce. When I watch these creatures move, at their glacial pace (with global warming can we use that metaphor anymore?) it reminds me to slow down, to pay attention. Remember the tortoise and the hare? The tortoise just keeps on going, while the hare gets all distracted, running around, so sure he’s going to win he takes a nap, and dreaming of winning he wakes up to realize he’s lost.

 

THERE IS NO ARMOUR LIKE PERSEVERANCE


The quote always makes its way back into my field of vision when I’m feeling quite sidelined by difficulties, setbacks, extreme doubt, obstacles, lack of inner and outer support. Knowing that perseverance arises from the word ‘severe’ is helpful; as in when things are grave - the place of burial literally and metaphorically - when they are morally hard. This is especially the moment when we need to persevere: To continue on, to find a way through, to pick oneself up, to call on our spiritual beliefs, our humour, our kindness toward others, to do the right thing even when it is the hard thing. I sit. Recall. Become mindful of all the many ways I have gotten through before. All the experiences of perseverance that have created this lovely armour that I sometimes forget I’m wearing, it’s so light, so invisible. This armour. It is our shell, our spiky trunk. It is made of strong stuff. Like the thread of a spider’s web. It will protect us.

So persevere. And know you can fly.

Happy Harmonious New Year

At exactly 6pm on New Year’s Eve, like a premature ball dropping in Time’s Square, I was felled by the flu. One minute I was admiring the whole sea bass, pink and rosy against the grassy green of the chopped parsley, figuring out weight to minutes to oven temperature for doneness and the next minute I was swaying toward the couch with a chilled fire brewing in my muscles.

I did get the fish in the oven and watch the real ball drop on those millions of frozen revelors who could unbelievably still sing along with Frank to ‘New York New York’ and kiss their partner without getting their lips stuck together. I’ve never been more grateful to live in California where it was warm and three hours earlier so I didn’t now, especially now as I felt so crappy, have to stay up until midnight. Mother Nature had laid off on us with her fires of hell and turned her attention to the east where she was discharging freezing wind blasts, snow and ice storms to make Niagra Falls almost stop falling. Fire and Ice. A portentous beginning to 2018.

Back to the flu. Or ‘flu’ as the Brits say. However you say it - an unwelcome guest - especially one with which to ring in the New Year. After sampling the fish - delicious! even for my greatly reduced taste buds - I dressed in two layers of sweats, cashmere, socks and hat, looking and feeling like the ghost of Christmas past and went to bed. The only ringing going on was in my ears.

Making Mandalas

Mandalas are spiritual and ritual objects of devotion in Hinduism and Buddhism. They are used in religious contemplation and meditation as a guide to focusing attention and establishing a sacred space. They can be elaborate colorful weavings, drawings, or paintings on paper, wood, stone, cloth or they can be sand paintings, such as the Kalachakra Mandala created by Tibetan Monks over weeks, only to be swept away upon being finished. The word mandala (Sanskrit) means ‘circle’ and Carl Jung’s in-depth study, beginning with his own “small circular drawings’ led to his interpretation of the mandala as “... the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.”  

Back to the flu. I shall skip over the next three days, believing that to trot out my physical symptoms would be worse than forcing you to watch family vacation videos, although you could regal in the pleasure of your good health as compared to my poor state and pride yourself on never being so weak as to get the flu in the first place...oh grandmother what great immune systems you have! Although I will say that the aches and pains, chills and sweats, coughing and nose blowing, bad dreams, nightmares, and a hammering in the sinuses was on par with the exquisite torture offered by an Iron Maiden - where one is packed into a tight wooden box spiked with sharp nails on all sides so that one can not lean in any direction without being pierced. The only message I received during this time, blaring through the land line, was a call for burial plot and cremation. How perfectly perfect! I felt so sorry for that poor woman who had the job to call people on the day after New Year’s, hung-over with their positive resolutions and ask them to think about death -  “Take me!” I cried with black gallows humor, although I had no wherewithal to get to the phone. If I die I shall be buried in the Iron Maiden I thought.

Eventually, on the third day I rose. My hair was sticking up in an exploded beehive do, my nose was not doing anything a nose was supposed to do, my breath was rattling in my chest like the tin man and I had no sense of the world beyond a three foot circle where I carefully placed my sock covered foot. I took a weak cup of tea, slithered down the steps to the studio and perched on the short step stool out of breath from the exertion. I gazed into the middle space in front of me. All seemed unreal.  Absolutely no connection to the world. Time had elongated, become plastic, without my scheduling and delineating time had taken itself back into itself, and, away from human interference had no meaning. Things like days, years (2018???) bank accounts, meals, appointments, friends, job responsibilities, even habits, had fallen away in those three days and they had not yet returned. My sense of myself as a person with agency evaporated as simply as blowing dust off a book that had been sitting on a shelf too long. ‘Dust to dust’ I believe is the phrase.

In that moment of disconnect my eye fell on the mandala I drew when I was five. This relic from my childhood came to me after my mother died, amid folders of saved artwork, school essays, and report cards, in a carefully labeled box with my name. There were plenty of things only a mother could love and save, but not quite willing to throw away my youthful art attempts I lugged the lot home. The mandala was drawn in pencil on the back of a get well card I made for her when she tripped over my baby brother and broke her kneecap. A defining memory, I can transport myself to that moment anytime: my mother on the kitchen floor, her kneecap a deep gully, holding the crying baby, and me, standing on the front lawn, my braids undone, barefoot on the damp fall leaves, shivering, watching as the ambulance came. I held her hand as long as I could, fearing I might never see her again. The medics, fully aware this was no emergency, had no patience for a shoeless little girl. They unceremoniously disengaged my hand and shut the door. I was bereft. Was she going to die? Would she forget about me? Would I be ok without her? But friends pitched in and I was sent to stay with my friend Dougie and it was from there that I drew my get well card, complete with a doctor arriving to tend to my mother lying in bed with a compress on her head, my five year old quaint vision of health care. And on the back was a mandala.

Many years later I have a much deeper appreciation of the place the mandala holds as a practical and symbolic object in spiritual and psychological wholeness. I have viewed and studied mandalas through their Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian uses in spiritual, religious, meditation practice, and ritual. I have read and studied Jung’s journey with the symbol. Obviously I know so much more about mandalas now - certainly things I wouldn’t have any way of knowing at the age of five. But there is a deeper knowing, an ancient wisdom that can be accessed at any age, sometimes more clearly seen in a child, as it was here with my get well card. In my intense desire and desperate need to make my mother and I whole again, to heal us, I drew a mandala.

So with my child self in the lead I picked up a pencil and drew a mandala. And when I finished I felt better. That’s it. Simple. No miraculous healing, I still had the flu, but I felt myself stirring; as when you catch sight of someone in a hidden mirror and realize it’s you. I wasn’t quite ready to join the world, I couldn’t start shaping time again with my human designs, but I could pick up a pencil and draw, feeling myself slowly return, mandala by mandala.

Happy Harmonious New Year.   

~ Megan Rose

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The Listening Booth

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The other day Lucy’s psychiatric booth - from the Peanuts comic strip - popped into my mind.

For those old enough to remember (it debuted in 1959) it was a simple booth like a kid’s lemonade stand, but instead of Lemonade 5¢, it was PSYCHIATRIC HELP 5¢.

 

Here is the debut strip:

Lucy sits behind her booth, an empty chair in front.

Charlie Brown sits on the chair saying “I have deep feelings of depression...” Lucy is listening.

Charlie Brown asks, “What can I do about this?” Lucy is thinking.

Lucy says “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.”  Holding her hand out for payment.

 

So the new storyline begins and then continues, with Lucy doling out her brand of mostly nonsensical advice to cure Charlie Brown’s depression, my favorite of which was “go home and eat a jelly bread sandwich folded over.” Even though this could be a fun and funny look into how far we’ve come in the arena of psychological therapy/counseling/help my imagination took a different turn.

In my mind’s eye I saw LISTENING 5¢ booths scattered throughout our cities and malls, all across America. The booths would be open 24/7 and each booth would have a person trained in Listening. These Listeners would come from a vast rotating army of people of all ages, ethnicities, and class. And their job would be very simple. To listen.

If you go to the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the word listen, you will find that the first definition - to hear attentively: to give ear to: to pay attention to - is now archaic (meaning obsolete, old-fashioned, behind the times, no longer in use) or poetic (used in poetry). Really??? When did we lose that first definition? The second definition - to give attention with the ear to some sound, to make an effort to hear something - is now the operative definition. Hence the word listen is pretty much only used to mean a  physical act, as in “John listened to Beethoven.” It is no longer used to also mean the way John listened to Beethoven...a listening that wants us to pay attention. What a loss!!!

If we return to the OED once again and look up the word attention - we find that it is the mental power or faculty of attending; earnest direction of the mind, consideration, or regard; especially in the phrase to pay or give attention. (I love that you can pay or give attention interchangeably).

We must bring the original definition of listen back into first place! And there is no better way to do that then with The Listening Booth. They would be everywhere. No appointment needed. The payment would be 5¢ - because people feel better if they pay something for a service and almost everyone has a nickel and if they don’t then it’s free. The time allotted would be contained and kept short. Not only to protect the listeners (as with any skill one gets tired and needs to step away from their task) but I have found from experience that when one is in the presence of a really good listener one doesn’t need much time; just like eating a really good piece of dark chocolate, one doesn’t need much before one is satisfied.

Can you imagine how much more peaceful we would be if we had a Listening Booth available in between Whole Foods and the Drug Store? Between Macy’s and the Apple Store? Between low income housing and high income housing, between schools and daycare centers, corn fields and cattle farms, Starbucks and McDonalds. Perhaps we wouldn’t need to go shopping so much, or our habit of looking at our phones every second would relax, or our sense of alienation and isolation would be softened, our anxieties soothed. We’d have a spring in our step, feel more buoyant, less burdened, happier, maybe even joyous! We might find ourselves smiling for no reason at all.

Because the real truth, the hidden-in-plain sight secret with good listening is that it comes wrapped up in Compassion. You can’t have one without the other. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. First, practice listening - some of my favorite teachers in this art are trees - they are incredibly good at listening. Then, when you feel ready, set up a booth with a sign. Sit and wait patiently. Very soon someone will come and sit on that empty chair and start talking. All you have to do is listen …. as in pay attention … and soon, after just one person probably, but surely not more than two, you will begin to feel the warmth spreading through your heart.

Can you see it now? Thousands and thousands, millions and millions of Listening Booths shining like stars across America, creating one long line of unbroken light and compassion.

 

~ Megan Rose

 

Telling Your Story:

The Sometimes Long Search for Meaning

 Turtle Puzzle by Farley Ziegler

Turtle Puzzle by Farley Ziegler

Ten years ago I broke my leg. I was walking in a park in LA with friends and dogs at high noon. It was fire season. A few minutes down the path a group of elderly women were having an al fresco painting class. How lovely I thought - being a painter myself I have a soft spot for anyone who picks up a brush. As we passed an unattended pile of oil paints and paper towels sitting in the hot sun I noticed a subtle change in the air above it, the look of intense heat gathering. I instinctively responded: grabbing the paper towels that were beginning to smolder, I turned to throw them in the creek and tripped over my cocker spaniel, Sophia.

Down I went.

I heard the bone snap as I hit the path.

The elderly women flocked around me with water and concern.

You can imagine the rest.

A few days later, after the initial shock and pain wore off and dreading months of compromised mobility, I looked around for someone to blame. I tried blaming Sophia but that only worked for an hour. It felt mean to blame the elderly amatuer painters, so I ended up with myself. I have always been a klutz, hence...guilty as charged! Then I spent the next few weeks replaying the accident - my mind refusing to accept the fact that this has already happened and there is nothing I can do about it - talk about being forced to be in the present with your body!  

Anyone who has ever sported a cast knows it acts like a magnet for the inevitable question of “What Happened?” so I had plenty of opportunity to tell my story, always ending with “I don’t know if I prevented a fire.” Some people commiserated, while others opined darkly, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Hence I bounced back and forth between getting sympathy to feeling like a jerk for breaking my leg for no reason. What I didn’t get at the time was that my ”I don’t know” was a cry from the heart, a search for meaning.

Four months later (after much acupuncture!!! yes it helped!!!) I finally returned to the park. Taking one crutch for safety I slowly walked the path. As I got to the end of the loop an older man with grey hair and kind eyes was talking to Sophia. We chatted for a bit about the weather and the drought and then he asked if I was hurt - gesturing toward my crutch. I was just about to say I was at the end of a broken leg rehab and leave it at that but the fact that we were in the very park where the accident happened compelled me to tell the whole story, ending with the inevitable tag line - “I don’t know if I prevented a fire.” He didn’t say anything for a moment - always the sign of a good listener - and then he said in a voice wise with years of thinking about such things, “It doesn’t matter whether you prevented a fire or not. What matters is that it was your intent.” Wow. A light bulb flickered on … so it wasn’t a klutzy fall or a stupid accident. It was an act with a pure and noble intent.  

Then he thanked me “for society” and laughed as he caught himself representing society, but what he meant was that he knew how special the park was to everyone who came there, and what a loss it would be if it was gone. As we said good-bye I thanked him for being such a good listener. He said, “That’s what I do for a living. I listen.” What an amazing stroke of luck to cross paths with a wise elder/therapist! Someone whose daily practice is listening, paying attention to the smallest detail, the thin thread that connects one thing to another in a way that can reveal something deep and true and profound about yourself that you can’t quite see ...

As I walked away I felt something straighten in me. I could now appreciate my action. I had respect for myself. The man with the kind eyes who knew how to listen gave me a gift that day. He connected the thread from the broken bone in my body to the intention in my heart which turned on a neon sign in my mind of understanding. My act had been acknowledged, and appreciated, and seen, not only by him, but also by me, in the purity of its intent.

As you can imagine, that was the last time I told that story. I had literally come full circle. I  returned to the place where the accident happened and found something small and delicate and worth its weight in gold. In one magical and powerful moment of conversation my story of “I don’t know” became one of transformation and revelation.

~ Megan Rose

Discovering Joy in Our Everyday Lives


None of us are strangers to our woes and struggles in life. In fact, we seem to know them, as we know an old friend. All day long the list of worries runs around in our heads - how tired we are, all the work we have to do, how little Johnny is failing math class, Fido has worms, we are behind on the car payments...the list goes on and on. 

It is a lot easier to focus on our woes than our joys. When we think of joy, we tend to think major, grandiose events or accomplishments - birthdays, graduations, maybe buying a new house or getting a promotion. We forget that each new day gifts us with a plethora of small joys as well. 

Through mindful practice, we can appreciate even the smallest joys in our daily lives. They are everywhere once be begin to search for them, to actively seek them out. We can manifest joy in our own lives, in any way we choose. Whatever form they come in - the fragrance rising from cup of hot tea, feeling the warmth of sunshine as we turn our face to the sun, the sound of unbridled laughter from a small child, or the glint of the "ocean's shine" as Mary Oliver writes in the poem below. 

As podcast guest Betty Dodson and I discuss in this week's episode: "no one can make us happy, no one can make us have joy, we need to make it for ourselves.” This week I encourage you to explore and capture the joys you create for yourself in your own life. 

~ Susan Lambert