Tuesday, July 1, 2014

' I Am' and the Creating /Clearing Spaces

Well, here we are. We made the move from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque. Our old house is sold and our new house is slowly transforming into "our home."

Last night, after another full day of unpacking boxes, running to this store and that for those consumable items we didn't carry along, we settled in to watch I Amthe 2010 documentary by Tom Shadyak.

My family tends to poke fun at me about this, but I hold onto the belief that the universe has a way of bringing us messages in ways that appear spontaneous or coincidental but are in fact in answer to the energy we are emitting. I know. It sounds a little far fetched or supernatural. The truth or falsity is not important. What is important is the choice of the believing. I choose to believe it, so I see it. I have been journaling about the accumulation of STUFF that now inhabits our new space. Shadyak's film is a confirmation of the feeling we are all sharing here as each of us takes on the obligation of choosing what we need and what we no longer want crowding our space. For Shadyak, "I Am" is a bookmark. He begins the film asking what is the cancer of this world--"I Am," and what is the potential remedy? "I am." The cancer he sees is the accumulation of wealth and objects symbolizing that wealth--and the competitive action it requires to obtain them. Love is the remedy--love for all, not wanting anyone to suffer, not even our enemies.

But these words, "I Am," have ancient meaning, that wasn't touched on deeply in the film. When I saw the title, I associated it with "I Am That." Soham (or if using a chanting meditation, you might be more familiar with the inverse HamSah), in Sanskrit, the word is formed by two words: Sah (he) and Aham (I) which together formed gives us the He I or, in other words, He am I . . . and shortened further, I Am (for further explanation see What is the meaning of Soham?)

In this reversed and shortened version, however--Ham Sah or Hamsa--also becomes the white swan which is the symbol of the individualized self, the essence of the self, which for many is the life force (god). This also brings us to Judaism and Islam where the Hamsa is an amulet to ward off evil.

So, for me, I am is resonate with Ham Sah/Hamsa, all pointing to what the film does cover, the essence of what the individual means in a world living alongside so many other individuals. I worry, however, that some might walk away from the film believing that the answer is denial of the self. This is one of the confusing aspects of Buddhism, the absence of all want. Sometimes, extreme asceticism is thought to be the answer.

What isn't in the film is the honoring of the journey to the realization Shadyak makes about his accumulation of wealth. Shadyak saw it as the cancer he is attempting to remedy by selling his home and most of his belongings, but the journey to that point must be honored because without it, he couldn't have made the film. He would not be in the position that would enable him to interview Desmond Tutu  . . . only someone in a position of power (in this case, power as a successful director) would have gained access to interview those he was able to interview in the film, and therefore, give it to us. The film is a gift to the world, one he could only give after having taken the journey he did.

And finally, I return to the original contemplation of our space, crowded with all our STUFF. Balance and Moderation are always key. We cannot throw everything out. We are fortunate, truly fortunate to have accumulated all that we have. It is a reflection of lives woven together. In the move, the packers stuffed boxes with belongings from all of us. Photo albums were alongside stuffed animals and wine bottles. If it resided within reach and there was space in the box, in it went. It didn't matter who it "belonged to." And now, as we are unpacking we have the opportunity to place value on some objects and let go of others. The ying-yang philosophy is paramount here. There is a little light in darkness and a little darkness ever present in the space of light. Each of us needs a space that is ours and is a reflection of the essence of us as individuals tied together by the bonds of family.

I painted the above tree on our youngest daughter's wall. We looked through pics trying to decide how she wanted HER space to be. This is what she chose. A place to read, a tree for reflection. In the bedroom my husband and I left behind, this lotus flower represented the essence of balance between us. A poem by Khalil Gibran bordered its leaves.

The point the film makes that I take in answer to my own overwhelming feelings is the point that we each need our fill, but to take more than we need is where it becomes insanity (imbalance). Gracing our new walls with old and new images of us has made a foreign space our own. But we are also, each of us, prepared to let go of those things that are no longer needed, that are excess.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Not Even Water

I'm sitting in a pizzeria. I decided on a slice and a glass of chardonnay and a water. It's the end of another long day, and I'm trying to prepare for the dissertation defense. My mind keeps wandering to the evening meal, the groceries I need to stop and pick up. My attention is drawn to every pedestrian outside the glass and every voice within. I wish I could just blink and it would be over. I re-read the story of Carmen and the little boy holding onto her leg, begging her "Please Ms. Carmen--don't make me . . .". I didn't think it would be this emotional.

     "Sorry--we don't have any."
     "You don't have any?" I catch a hint of anger in the question. I glance up and see a man dressed in a tattered jacket. He's wearing a ball cap and brown work boots. He has a backpack slung over his left shoulder. The waitress is talking to him from behind the barrier of a table and four chairs.
     "Only for customers." I wonder what he's asked for--to use the bathroom?
     "You don't have WATER? WATER is for customers?" Water? He's asked for water? I look down at my full glass--

The last few months have been a whirlwind for me. As planned, I finished writing my dissertation and defended it in October 2013. As of November 21, 2013, I am now officially a "Dr." Despite a background in writing, I have to admit, the process was far from easy. The discipline it took to finish the research and write the manuscript is difficult to put into words. Everyone who has gone through it--or intimately watched someone go through it--has heard others speak of it as grueling, but I honestly did not think it would be that way. I thought, "this is the fun part!" And . . . for much of my data collection process, it was. The hard part came in trying to organize the work into something others would a) be willing to read fully, and b) have some hope of doing justice to the participants. Research participants share themselves with you in a way they wouldn't otherwise. They know you're asking them to tell their stories because you're a "researcher," and in that role, there is this layer of responsibility that I really didn't anticipate. I interviewed fourteen women preschool educators. They shared some truly difficult material with me, and the enormity of the task just hit me full force. What if they put in all this time to this project--experiencing a sense of risk as they admit things they haven't been able to share aloud with anyone outside their intimate groups of family or friends--and nothing happens? What if it's all for nothing? And part of me sort of knew the reality of that nothingness. How many of us can say we sat down to read a good dissertation over the winter break? No one outside of a select few in academia. That's sad. It's really sad. The women I spoke with deserve to have their stories heard, and after I got over the initial fright of taking on that responsibility seriously, I resolved to see it through. I finished writing it. I defended it, and now, I have to find outlets for the work.

I wanted to hand the gentleman my water. It wasn't plastic, and for some stupid reason, I couldn't think fast enough. I could have asked the waitress for a to-go cup or I could have just offered to pay for a glass of water or soda for the man. Instead, I froze. I watched him leave, and I felt angry at the waitress and angrier at myself. Do you know how many dog-friendly establishments I passed along the way to that pizzeria? Do you know how I knew they were "dog-friendly?" Water. Bowls of water are set outside shops for the thirsty canine passing by, but this man was refused. Turned away. And I was caught daydreaming. I was worrying about passing my dissertation defense while a thirsty fellowman--possibly homeless, possibly jobless--was treated as less than a dog. The image stayed with me. I left the pizzeria and haven't returned, but the moment passed me by.

We all are handed obligations. Some of these obligations we earn; some we volunteer to take on; and some land in our laps unexpectedly. I can't go back and think fast. I can't buy that gentleman a drink, but what I can do is hold on to the way I felt guilty over my passivity. That's the feeling I've resolved to avoid. I distinctly remember that day and the way my mind just wouldn't sit still. I got nothing done--no studying, no preparing, and my research participants, like Carmen, were on the verge of being left silent. My inactivity that day left a mark in me like a signpost. Every time I think back on it, an inaudible alarm goes off in me. I remember that day because it was an aesthetic experience for me--that man, my passivity, and the task I had come there for. All tied up together in my memory. I don't know where the stories of my participants will end up, but the emotion I re-experience when I look back on that day reminds me that it's work worth doing--to satisfy my own thirst for goodness.