Wake up!

In general, I have steered away from political topics in this blog, believing that there are plenty of better-informed commentators, a plethora of varied opinions out there, and adding my voice would bring little gain. But I woke up this morning needing to make a gesture of solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan. I am painfully aware that this is nothing more than a gesture.

Today, my first contact with the media informed me that Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, had fallen to the Taliban over the weekend and that the elected president had fled the country. I heard this at about 8:50 a.m. while working out in my retirement community’s fitness room, wearing yoga tights and a short-sleeved tee-shirt, earbuds connected by Bluetooth to my iPhone. The BBC interviewed an Afghan women’s education activist about the Taliban’s takeover, asking her if she feared for her life.  From hiding, her response was not alarmist. On the contrary, she was trying to keep an open mind but spoke about her worry for women university students and those working outside the home. The dramatic contrast in our circumstances could not have been more apparent.

The situation in Afghanistan is complicated and hard to understand.  The history of the country and the Taliban’s role there is murky and confusing.  I’ve gained superficial knowledge from news reports on NPR and Khaled Hosseini’s novels Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both sources demonstrate the Taliban’s inhumane actions toward women and children—at least from my perspective. Likewise, the United States’ relationship to Afghanistan, its military and political activities in the country, its withdrawal of forces, and the effects of its influence are widely debated. I know two American veterans who have served there. One lives with PTSD, and the other has severe physical injuries. I wonder what they were thinking this morning about the Afghans they have known and the suffering they have seen.

I can do nothing practical to affect the situation in Afghanistan. Yet, my heart is filled with sadness and fear today for the approximately 14 million females living there, half the country’s population. Like women and children worldwide, they are disproportionately harmed by war, persecution, and violence. Taliban rule will profoundly and adversely affect their lives.

I am immensely grateful for the privileges I currently experience and conscious of how fragile these advantages, protections, and freedoms are everywhere. My respect and compassion for Afghan women—what they have suffered, fought for, and again lost—makes me want to scream, “Wake up!”

No nation, no ethnic group, no gender is exempt from the possibility of war, enslavement, physical and mental abuse, environmental disaster, or disease. The last seventeen months of global pandemic and accelerating natural disasters worldwide have made this dramatically clear.  When my sister in Afghanistan suffers, I suffer.  My fate is linked to hers, inextricably.

Wake up!  Violence, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred are universal. See them for what they are and where they are in your life, in your presently sheltered and relatively safe little corner of the world. Relinquish complacency and self-delusion. Wake up, pay attention, be alert!   

The Tyranny of the List

I’ve been making lists since, well, probably first grade.  As soon as homework entered my childhood world, I began making lists:  assignments for the next day or the next week; vocabulary lists; when playmates would come to my house, and I go to theirs; lists of things to do, lists of things to buy, lists of Christmas gifts requiring “thank you” notes, lists of letters or cards due, packing lists, bill paying lists, phone call lists, email lists.   Virtually all of my lists focus on things that I must not forget.  Sometimes, they are things I feel I must do to be viewed positively by someone else. 

Usually, making a list calms my anxiety about forgetting or failing. That function is a useful and helpful one.  A thorough, prioritized list can talk me down off the ledge of panic.  For most of my career, I was responsible for accomplishing my work and helping my bosses keep track of and achieve their goals.  I could not have been successful or, indeed, survived without an advanced “list-making” technique.

And then came retirement, and I went right on making lists.  To this very day, five and a half years after I left my last job, a list sits next to my computer—this one I have highlighted in multiple colors indicating the urgency of various tasks.

I’ve heard it said that there is a great deal of satisfaction to checking off a task on a to-do list.  I’ve experienced mild pleasure in doing that.  But invariably, for each job I check off, I add at least two and sometimes ten new ones. The sense of accomplishment does not last long or feel deeply gratifying.  Indeed, when I go to my list to check off a recently completed item, my eyes will stray to the rest of the list where I will note, with a sinking heart, the number of things I was NOT doing while I was finishing the one thing just checked off. Even as I initially choose one item to focus on for half an hour, I am aware that fifteen others will go undone in that timeframe.  Truly a depressing and discouraging realization—perhaps the epitome of the “glass half empty” syndrome.  Here are the things I am not able to do right now because I AM doing THIS.

It’s a vicious circle—a vicious list.

I have friends who make fun of me because of my “obsessive” list-making. The implication is that I am at least a little odd, if not downright bad.  It has been hard for me lately not to subscribe to their point of view.  And, truthfully, I’d like to do away with list-making as a thing of the past, no longer necessary in this more relaxed stage of my life.  But remember, I have been doing this since I was six years old. 

Realistically, I don’t think a complete about-face is likely.  I can and have moderated my list dependency, and I give myself breaks from it periodically when I am on vacation, sick, or on retreat. However, as with most other aspects of my life these days, the most helpful approach is to take myself less seriously, to “hold it lightly,” as one of my friends might say.

A few quotes from Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape (Shambala, Boston & London, 1991) might shed some light on the “path” I am currently cultivating:

“…if we see our so-called limitations [habits, crutches, addictions] with clarity, precision, gentleness, good heartedness, and kindness and having seen them fully, then let go, open further, we begin to find that our world is more vast and more refreshing and fascinating than we had realized before.  In other words, the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see clearly who we are and what we are doing.” [p.13-14]
“The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself.  The other problem is that our hang-ups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth.  Our neuroses and wisdom are made out of the same material.  If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom…So whether it’s anger or craving [for comfort through list making!] or jealousy or fear or depression—whatever it might be—the notion is not to try to get rid of it, but to make friends with it.  That means getting to know it completely, with some kind of softness, and learning how, once you’ve experienced it fully, to let go.” [p.14-15]
“Our life’s work is to use what we have been given to wake up.” [p. 30]

Thank you, Pema! 

So, I am not going to pour a lot of energy into reform.  Instead, I’ll look deeply at what lies behind my list-making.  What are its roots?  Where does it come from?  What’s life-giving in it and what is not. I will offer acceptance to whatever I find in that investigation and hold it gently, lightly, and kindly. While I do that, perhaps I will find myself understanding and feeling compassion for others who, like me, have compulsions, coping mechanisms, and addictions.  I’ll wonder about the roots of their behaviors. And I’ll try to open up—wake up—to the other side of the coin of my neuroses and theirs, our wisdom. 


	

REST – My One Word – Mid-Year Check-In

Little did I know in January 2021, when I chose my “one word” for the year (see this post), that I was in for an adventure in insomnia. 

Truthfully, I thought of rest mostly as slowing down, taking life easier, feeling more relaxed, healthier, and balanced.  But I didn’t think about its relationship to sleep.  How dense can one be!

Then, a necessary medication change sent me on an unexpected journey. I began having trouble falling asleep, started waking up multiple times during the night, and getting up earlier and earlier. (I’m writing this at 4:30, but I have been up since 3:00 a.m.) My excellent nurse practitioner medical team suggested cognitive behavioral therapy, and I had a couple of sessions with a very astute therapist.  She recommended creating a sleep ritual, so, following her suggestions, I started stepping outside to get a breath of fresh air just before bed. I made the bedroom darker and covered the digital clock. I began writing in a “brain dump” book and reading a couple of quotations from Hush by sleep expert Rubin Naiman.  Then I turn out the light, make an intention to let go of wakefulness and embrace sleep, and start breathing deeply and relaxing progressively from head to toe. On most nights, I am asleep within twenty minutes.

BUT I awake again at 2:00 a.m., and often I am unable to go back to sleep. So when I awoke at 2:00 this morning, I asked myself, “What does insomnia have to teach me?

One of the wisest of Dr. Naiman’s bits of sleep advice is: “The best strategy in our war against sleeplessness is surrender.  We wage war against illness.  We fight disease, kill germs, and go to battle with our symptoms.  This is most evident with insomnia.  Many of us silently hurl expletives at our nighttime wakefulness.  But the peace of sleep cannot be realized through an inner civil war.  To sleep well, we must learn to approach sleep in a thoroughly nonviolent way.  Giving up this fight is not about a forced supplication, but rather a gracious surrender.”

Who knew embracing “rest” would lead me to contemplate surrender? And not just in sleep, in everything. I’ve begun to notice how much of my life is about struggle, particularly struggle against something.  It takes a lot of effort to pit yourself against gravity, the clock, responsibilities, aging, physical and mental diminishment, cold, heat, uncomfortable or painful feelings, disappointments, loss, unfulfilled dreams.

Some synonyms for surrender are “to cease to resist, yield, acquiesce.”  I’ve deliberately chosen positive ones because I don’t want to imply that resistance is never appropriate. Resistance and struggle are never effortless, though, and rest is. So, my mid-year check-in on rest has brought some of the following concepts to the fore. In no particular order:

  • Effort requires balancing with rest.
  • Exerting control is exhausting; letting go, accepting, and flowing with whatever is happening is restful.
  • Rest is self-care and self-respect—no guilt trip.
  • Stop being so damn responsible!
  • Time is abundant, not scarce.
  • Rest first, do later.
  • Breathe.  It’s the most restful thing you can do!

ANNOUNCING THE PUBLICATION OF “I’ve Got Your Back!”

In December 2017, I began a series on With All Due Respect entitled “Respecting Those Who Serve You – Through the Lens of the Executive Assistant.” In November of 2019, after 11 posts, a friend suggested I might consider expanding the series into a book. It’s taken me about a year and a half, but the book was finally published last week through Kindle Direct Publishing. It is available in electronic version for Kindle or tablet, and in paperback version as well. Putting my ideas about the vital role Executive Assistants play in all organizations “out there” for the public has been a satisfying project. I’ve learned a great deal about the self-publishing industry, how to design a book and a cover, and how to find a good editor. My thanks to everyone who helped and encouraged me along the way.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, go to Amazon.com and type in “Moriah Freeman” or click on the following link – I’ve Got Your Back!

Repeating Myself

Sometimes I wonder if the Source, or whatever name you use (the energy of life, God, the I AM, the unmanifested one, the universal consciousness, Mother Earth) has created the Coronavirus to give us human beings the opportunity to recognize our interconnectedness and interdependence.  Or our “interbeing,” as the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, would say.

If you follow the emergence, re-emergence, first, second and third waves of COVID-19 around the world, you will notice that as soon as we humans begin to let down our guard, we experience another outbreak. When we put individual desires and wills ahead of the common good, we start down the path of another “surge.”

The refusal to wear a mask because it is “my right” to choose whether or not I do, puts those around you in danger.  The need to “open up” as fast as possible for the sake of the economy (this all-important economy in which the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer) precipitates another surge in COVID cases.  The refusal to be vaccinated sets us all back on the road to “herd immunity.”  The current competition for vaccines worldwide and the disparities in vaccination rates in rich and developing countries flies in the face of the truth that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe—from anything.

The Coronavirus goes on, mutating, developing new strains, dodging, and eluding all our attempts to beat it back. Should we ultimately succeed in defeating COVID, when will the next pandemic strike? What will the subsequent super infectious disease be? And the next?

Could the lesson we are avoiding be—everything is entirely dependent and interdependent? Huge disparities in health, wealth, and resources only create instability that ultimately undermines everyone’s safety, security, well-being, and perhaps even our continued existence.

(See also: I Dream a World, COVID Sacrifice, Cleansing or Transforming?)

I Dream A World

This year, on Martin Luther King Jr Day, NPR ran an interview with its poet in residence, Kwame Alexander.  Alexander noted that the poem “I Dream A World,” by Langston Hughes inspired Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech 58 years ago. He invited listeners to write and submit poems beginning with the line “I Dream a World.” From the submissions, he will take phrases and lines to create a community crowd-sourced poem embodying the listeners’ dreams. I was intrigued but didn’t enter the challenge.

Early on in the pandemic, a friend suggested that COVID may be a wake-up call to humanity. Social distancing might provide an opportunity for self-examination, reflection on the state of our crisis-ridden world, and imagining a better future. For some time, I have been struggling with how to express my dream for the post-pandemic world. A world presently plagued with poverty, injustice, racism, hate, inequality, sickness, war, and climate crisis. Though I can imagine a different, fairer, healthier world, my imaginings seem as naïve and unlikely Dr. King’s dream. After all, look where dreaming got him! Though I cannot make rational arguments to justify my vision for the future of the earth, and I am powerless to persuade others that it is viable or even desirable, I still dream.

The more I allow myself to dream, the more my desire for such a world grows and affects my words and actions. I hope that I will not let myself off the dreaming hook, that others will have similar dreams, and that change will be both imagined and created.

I Dream A World
  
 I dream a world
 Where each receives enough:
 Enough food to satisfy the body's hunger,
 Enough clothes for warmth or cool,
 Enough shelter to call a home,
 Enough learning to foster growth,
 Enough imagination to dream,
 Enough freedom to walk proudly,
 Enough work to impart dignity,
 Enough safety to banish fear,
 Enough respect to nurture hope,
 Enough hope to conquer despair, 
 Enough suffering to make one wise,
 Enough beauty to feed the soul,
 Enough love to fill the heart.
  
 I dream a world
 Where earth soaks up the gentle rain,
 The air is clean and clear,
 Where sea breeds and nurtures life.
 Where heat and cold are balanced
 And gently alternate
 Like night and day. 
 Where skies are black or blue,
 And stars and moon are bright,
 And sun warms, and shade cools.
 Where life is green
 And death embraces earth.
  
 I dream a world
 Where balance reigns 
 And justice rules
 Along with truth and love.
 I dream a world
 Where tender hearts are open,
 And open hands are giving,
 Where eyes are softly gazing, 
 And ears attuned to listening.
  
 I dream a world,
 Where perfection and failure
 Are not the nagging enemies of good.
 Where each unique being, 
 Each thing is treasured,
 Held in reverence and awe.
 I dream the change of hearts,
 Abundance shared by all,
 And lack no longer known.

 I dream of many friends,
 To walk with me this path
 Of letting go too much
 And wanting what's sufficient,
 So, all may have enough.

- Moriah Freeman
  January 23, 2021
   

One Word

Carolyn, a friend and blogger I deeply respect and whose posts I follow avidly, has recently revamped her blog site.  It’s now called Your One Word. The idea is that you select, through a process of inner listening, a word that will be a hallmark of your life for a year.  Hallmark is, for this purpose, defined as a distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature.  It may be a quality or virtue you aspire to, a practice you want to embrace, or something you want to understand more deeply.  Through reflection, active noticing, perhaps even study, you will let the meaning of the word unfold in your daily life for a year, checking in monthly or even weekly to become aware of its effect on your thoughts, dreams, and actions.

Carolyn provides some helpful resources for choosing your word and working with it regularly.

My word for 2021 is REST.  My word for 2020 was “slowly,” but I was a dismal failure at incorporating it into my life.  Anyone who knows me will laugh at my 2020 choice because I do everything as fast as possible – walk, eat, exercise, clean, shower, dry my hair, read, type, cook…ad infinitum. One thing I learned from “slowly” last year was how fast is my usual pace.  I also observed others around me, particularly my partner, and noticed how graceful and gentle moving slowly is by comparison.

I am 68 now, and I’m tired, in general, and in particular of going fast. So, without moving too far from last year’s aspiration, I chose “rest” for 2021, or rather, it chose me.  Already, with Carolyn’s help and inspiration, I am learning about what rest means for me.

I want to share with you the list of questions that arose when I began to explore my word:

  • What is the definition of rest? What are some synonyms?
  • How does rest show up in my hobbies: photography, writing, coloring, card design?
  • How is rest affecting my chronic pain?
  • Has rest helped me to move more slowly?
  • Am I struggling against something? Can I stop and rest?
  • When I have rested, what have I noticed?
  • Does rest help me to let go?
  • How are rest, solitude, and retreat related?
  • What three memories of rest can I recall this week, this month?
  • Have I seen examples of rest in nature? In others? What can I learn from them?
  • How are rest and saying “no” related for me?
  • How are rest and mindfulness related?
  • And, for the sake of this blog, how is rest related to “respect?”

For me, rest has an essential relationship with self-respect.  It gets at a part of my nature that has always been troublesome – my difficulty setting limits.  Limits on my workday’s length and intensity, limits on my care for others, limits on the physical demands I place on my body. Getting older, if you pay attention, can teach you vital lessons about limits.

This year, I hope to practice self-respect by discovering what rest is and incorporating it into my physical, mental, relational, and spiritual life.

Is “one word” calling you?

COVID Sacrifice

Wearing a mask during the COVID pandemic is a sacrifice. Some are willing to make it and others are not.  Many who refuse to wear face coverings say they are exercising their personal freedom – their ability to make choices without taking anyone else into consideration; their right to choose what is important to themselves, regardless of what authorities say is necessary for the greater good; and their right to disregard what scientists have told us about how the virus spreads.

Those who choose to wear masks for their protection and the safety of those around them, often do so at significant personal sacrifice.

For instance, those who are severely hearing disabled and who rely on lip reading to understand another’s speech, cannot do so when masks are covering lips. Therefore, they are at a disadvantage in social gatherings.  They haven’t a clue what others are saying.  They are aptly described as “out of it.”

Those who wear eyeglasses are also at a disadvantage.  Their glasses steam up, especially outdoors in the winter cold.  The seeing-impaired are constantly adjusting their masks to minimize steaming.  Many have chosen not to wear glasses outside at all.  I am among those, and the outdoor world is now a constant blur to me.  I don’t recognize neighbors when I meet them on the street and have to rely on the sound of voices to identify approaching figures. I can’t see what my dog is sniffing, and I miss seeing colorful sunsets clearly.  I admit blurred vision has a certain charm – occasionally.

Those with breathing difficulties also make sacrifices by wearing masks.  They are continually short of breath. I don’t have this problem, but several of my friends who have asthma, COPD or congestive heart failure are struggling with this sacrifice.

For these three groups, the inconvenience of wearing masks is prolonged by those who refuse to do so.  The duration of the COVID pandemic will be determined, in part, by how carefully and sacrificially we observe the CDC’s public health recommendations: wear a mask, stay six feet apart, don’t gather indoors in groups of any size for extended periods of time, and wash your hands frequently.

Which will it be for you?  Personal freedom? Or personal sacrifice?

Deep Listening

The other day, a friend asked me to join a conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the following cartoon satirically depicts, post-election, some liberals express a desire to “heal the divide” in our drastically polarized country. 

This aspiration sinks right down to the personal level where friends and families, neighbors, and co-workers hold opinions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Four years of the Trump presidency and the vitriol of the 2020 election have split apart some close relationships. Many, mostly liberals, believe it is time to mend our families, communities, and the country’s torn fabric.

The issue is not a burning one for me personally.  I do not know many ultra-conservatives, and I do not plan to plow into the company of Alt-right strangers waving an olive branch in my hand.  With the two to four I do know I have an amicable relationship, which does not include talking about our political views.

I have erected some barriers to protect myself from those whose political, social and economic views differ from and oppose my own. Frankly, many of them scare me.  I am afraid of everything from awkwardness to physical harm. But, I feel, given the opportunity in a setting that feels safe, it would be closed-minded and rude not to engage with those who differ. 

Why? On a microcosmic level, I acknowledge the interconnectedness and interdependence of us all.  I know we are more alike than different.  I know we all suffer; we all want to have enough, be happy, and be free. 

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggests an uncomplicated approach   He encourages responding to those we might consider enemies or opponents, because they have the potential to cause us harm, by listening deeply and compassionately:

 “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

And:

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”

Listening deeply involves letting go of my need to be heard and of my preferred outcome. One must have no other agenda than listening to understand. Deep listening eschews judgment, labeling, denigration or mockery. The listener is patient, calm, open-hearted, receptive, and compassionate.

I do not deny this is a tall order, but I tell myself I must begin somewhere with someone.  If I do not, the healthy unity of differences, the tolerance and respect we desperately need in relationships, communities and nations will be an empty and vain hope.

Creeping Normalcy…in a retirement community

I have not posted to the series “Diary From a Social Distance” in many months. The novelty, even of a pandemic, and the insights it might offer each of us, have gradually faded into the background of daily life, no matter how restricted. I offer this poem, written over the course of the summer and early fall, as a final post in this series. An historic US election will take place in less than a month and, regardless of the result, will, perhaps, give birth to a new series of posts under the umbrella of “respect.”

Creeping Normalcy

Normalcy is creeping back into our lives.

It is hard to resist.

All my resolutions to live

By the lessons learned during

These past months of pandemic,

Are donning fresh feathers and

Getting ready to fly out the window.

Sick of “social distancing” guidelines,

An impromptu cocktail hour

Has sprung up on the patio.

Technically, chairs should be

Six feet apart and masks should be donned,

But even without a tape measure, I can

See that the chairs are nudging closer.

And masks are dangling from one ear

Or bundled beneath the chin.

A nose peeps out, to catch a breath

Or lips to speak a word unmuffled by a covering.

Others have dispensed with masks all together.

After all, how can you consume a cocktail

With your lips held prisoner by a mask?

The staff, hoping I suppose to set good examples,

Wear their masks avidly and sit at great distances

For their lunch breaks on the patio.

At the beginning of this long ordeal,

When I would step outside my door in early morn,

To begin my daily round,

I would be shocked by the quiet – the absence

Of traffic humming in the distance.

Now, not only do I hear it at

Rush hour, but when I drive to some “essential” errand

I notice a “normal” number of cars on the road. 

In pandemic’s early months, the streets were quite deserted.

Though I have not dined in a restaurant,

But only ordered take out,

Or shopped in any store,

Except a pharmacy or a supermarket,

I felt emboldened by the warm weather

To meet friends outdoors and walk

Among the budding trees,

Six feet apart, of course,

En-masked for sure.

Now that nearly seven months have passed,

And we are reminded frequently that not one single

COVID case has plagued our retiree sheltered lives,

We feel a sense of invulnerability.

We think, why not eat inside at the “Dolphin”

Shop with crowds at Walmart,

Go to church, a wedding, or a funeral.

Let those who live in congregate housing

And those who live in cottages co-mingle, we implore,

To do jumping jacks and yoga,

Play bridge and ping pong,

Meditate and talk!

But no, the risk is still too great

Until we vaccinate.

The prime concern as winter comes,

And holidays are round the bend

Is contact with our families.

We’ve seen them “en plein air,”

So to speak, in summer months.

Cold gradually prevents that luxury now.

The staff is searching for a way

For us to see those we love in cold and snow.

A special room, a special shield,

Hygienic cleansing, no touching please!

Enormous effort, expensive too.

Reminding some of TV scenes

Of prisoners on either side of

Touch-proof glass

With hands outstretched, and eyes engaged.

What seems acceptable and normal now

A year ago

Would have been unthinkable.

This normalcy has crept upon us

Each day, each week, each month.

So now, the temptation is oh-so-keen

To abandon caution,

Let down our guard.

But no! En garde! My friends.

A little more patience and sacrifice

Is required of us still.

Our strength and ingenuity will help us

In this battle against virus and the flu.

Get your shot, wash your hands,

Wear your mask, stay six feet apart.

We will prevail!

And though the virus spreads and kills,

We’ll do our part on our small front

To end this Plague, and stem this Tide

Of loss and grief,

Inhumanity, and vicious Pride.

Moriah Freeman

October 10, 2020