The Dharma of Cats

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Trust can be a sticky, scary business. Learning to trust ourselves, our lovers, our friends, our family members, can be lifelong work. In an ideal world, we trust them not to hurt us. We trust them not to lie to us. We trust them to be faithful and generous and kind. When one of these trusts is broken, it sends us spiraling into a frenzy. We feel betrayed. We are angry. We don’t understand why they are behaving this way. Why can’t they act like we think they should?

The other day one of my cats killed a baby rabbit in my yard, and I was angry with him. Later, I realized how ridiculous this was. I was angry at a cat for behaving like a cat. He was simply doing what cats do. Cats are hard-wired to hunt-catch-kill-eat. He doesn’t see rabbits or birds or mice as sentient beings like himself. He sees them as prey. He’s a cat.

How many times in our lives have we expected the people we know to stop acting like themselves? How many times do we get angry at a cat for being a cat?

Certainly there are times that we should expect children, friends, co-workers, or lovers to behave differently — but that isn’t what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is asking people to change who they are. There’s an old Maya Angelou quote: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Personalities and habits are not likely to change without a great deal of personal commitment by the person himself. If someone makes a habit of cheating on his lover, he is unlikely to change the pattern — particularly if he’s done it more than once. If your boss takes credit for your work regularly, she is unlikely to stop doing it, even if you complain. If your kids always wait until the last minute to finish homework no matter how many times you remind them to start, they are unlikely to become the kind of student that gets things done ahead of time. These are cats. You can try to keep the cat inside, you can talk to the cat and try to explain why they shouldn’t hunt prey, but as soon as the cat manages to escape outside and away from your view, he will hunt down another bunny, bird, or mouse, and behave like a cat.

The same is true for people. They will not change who they are intrinsically no matter how much we cry, scream, or beg. When we engage ourselves in transactional trust, meaning “I will love you as long as you behave in X way”, we are robbing ourselves and our loved ones of acceptance and true love.

When we see people for who they are, instead of who we wish they were, or projecting a view of how we would like them to be, and then fighting about why they aren’t that way, our hearts can open, and we feel pure compassion for not just the ones we have relationships with, but all beings, without exception. When you stop trying to make a cat behave like something other than a cat, you are able to allow the cat to be who he is without judgement. You can still not like that he’s killing bunny rabbits, but stop expecting him to do anything differently.

Suffering is rooted in expectation. Love is rooted in trust and compassion. If we trust that the cats in our lives will continue to behave like cats, we can stop the cycle of transactional trust, and watch our relationships unfold into more meaningful connections.

 

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The School of Life

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My 30th high school reunion was held recently. I wasn’t able to go because I was out of town, but since we live in the age of Facebook, I was able to see all of my old classmates and read their funny stories about things that happened in high school.

The problem is, I don’t remember any of it. And I don’t recognize 95% of the people in my Senior class. I don’t remember their names, I don’t recognize their faces, I don’t remember any of the things they’re all laughing about happening. It’s a weird experience, realizing that you were there, but not really there. It wasn’t until I saw a photo of the people from my junior high that it hit me. I was in a daze from the time I started 8th grade, well into my twenties. I’ve written before about my addiction issues, but I haven’t written about what started my descent.

I was emotionally and sexually abused by my 8th grade Social Studies teacher.

My teacher was attracted to me, but I was not attracted to him.  He would find a reason, any reason, to take me out of the classroom and down the hall to the empty offices near the school cafeteria. Sometimes I looked at him wrong, or rolled my eyes, or didn’t answer a question with a sweet enough voice when he called on me. Several times a month he would take me out of the classroom, tell the rest of the class to work on their homework, and walk me down the hall to one of those offices, lock the door, and barricade me in with a chair.  He’d pull the Venetian blinds closed and start to yell at me.

I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t react. I’d just sit there, glare at him, and take it.

It only made him madder.

He’d tell me that he knew I was a “little whore” and that I knew “how to suck a dick”. For the record, I wasn’t, and I didn’t.

Sometimes he would yell at me and then let me go. Other times he’d sexually abuse me. Then he’d walk me back to class, business as usual. I coped by dissociating. I would “check out”, as though I was having an out-of-body experience, and what was happening was not happening to me.

I told my mother that he was being mean to me and that I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I had terrible stomach pain and headaches. She called me a liar and told me I had a bad attitude and probably deserved it.

I was fourteen years old the first time I remember wanting to kill myself.

I made appointment after appointment with the school counselor. I wanted to tell her what was happening to me, but I always chickened out. I would make up something about wanting to know what I needed to do to get into a good college.

You would think after the third or fourth time of the same student asking about college entrance requirements when she was just in the 8th grade that the counselor would have figured out something was up.  She didn’t. Or maybe she did, but didn’t want to ask. It was 1982, after all.  Things were different then.

By the time I entered 9th grade, the teacher was gone. I was never told why, but I still wonder if he was abusing someone else whose mother did believe her, and who did report it, and the administration quietly reassigned him somewhere else.

This year of abuse was the catalyst for my addiction issues.

Grownups let me down over and over and over. No one believed me, no one would help me, and when I wasn’t dissociating, I was trying to numb the pain other ways.

I was drunk through most of high school.  And when I say that, I mean I was actually drunk during school hours. We had “open lunch”, which meant that we could leave campus to go get food. My best friends and I would go to Hardee’s, where I’d order a Diet Coke, dump half of it in the parking lot, then pull out a flask of whiskey that I’d filled from my parents’ liquor cabinet and fill the cup back up.

I would go back to school reeking of cigarettes and alcohol. I made good grades and I didn’t cause trouble, so I never ended up suspended or expelled.  I don’t remember anything other than being really, really wasted a lot of the time, and no one being the wiser. I was a functioning alcoholic by the age of 16.  I lost control in my mid-twenties, reigned myself in shortly thereafter, and have been completely sober since May of 2010.

Looking back, it makes me sad that I lost so much of my teenage years and young adulthood to addiction. It makes me mad when I look at a photograph of people I went to school with, smiling and reminiscing, knowing that I had a very different experience than they did. People tell me all the time that I’m so calm, and they want to be Zen like me (for the record, I’m really not. I have a terrible temper that I work very hard to control). I don’t tell them that the process of becoming who I am today involved a lot of unraveling and figuring out how to handle stress without the crutch of sex, drugs, or alcohol. Addiction is a wicked mistress. She creeps up when I’m not looking. I’ve learned to recognize patterns of behavior and redirect myself when I start slipping. Meditation has been a literal lifesaver for me, as has finding solace in gardening, yoga, writing, and spending time with friends and family.  The fact is that had I not gone through what I did, that perhaps my high school years would’ve been more memorable, but I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that the stuff that breaks you down and tears you apart physically and emotionally teaches you lessons that you cannot learn when life is easy and love is abundant. Everything is impermanent. Relationships end, people you care about die, situations change.  These are the things that ultimately help you rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. When you think you can’t take one more minute of the pain, look for the lesson. Life is our best teacher.

Nothing Is Under Control

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What if we stopped trying to control our lives?

What if we stopped trying to control anything at all?

What if we allowed our lives, and the lives of those we love, to simply unfold?

There’s so much vitriol in politics today. More than I’ve ever seen or remember in my 48 years on Earth. Both sides think they’re right. Both sides think the other is stupid/lazy/uneducated/(insert bad trait here). There is no clear way to resolution, so fighting erupts.

The same thing happens in our personal lives. We think our kids should study harder or spend more time outside. We think our partners should pay more attention to us, spend less money, load the dishwasher correctly, and put their dirty socks in the hamper instead of leaving them on the floor. Whatever it is that’s irritating us, they are doing it wrong and need to stop being so stupid/lazy/uneducated/(insert bad trait here). There is no clear way to resolution, so fighting erupts.

What if we just let go?

I have struggled mightily with letting go of control. Since I have freed myself from the chains of relationships that dragged me down and kept me on constant emotional alert, it’s been easier to just let things be as they are — to allow people to do whatever it is they need to do to be happy, and realize that everything is going to work out however it is going to work out. I trust the Universe and karma.

What if, just for today, we practiced radical acceptance?  No resistance, no need to control, no concern for deadlines or what we think is right or wrong. Just open acceptance to allow life to drift over us like water over river rocks, smoothing our edges and reaching our destination, wherever that leads, without worrying how to get there.

Imagine how much more peaceful our lives and the lives of everyone around us could be if we all let go of our need to be right, and we all understood that nothing is under control. ♥

 

Mistakes Were Made

I used to know a man who had been a professional football player and a womanizer, who turned to God, quit football, found a wife, had five kids, and became a phone rep for the financial company that I was working for at the time. His name was Kevin, and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. What I remember about Kevin, beyond his penchant for proselytizing every chance he got, was that when a shareholder would call and complain about something, Kevin’s response was always, “I’m sorry. Sometimes our humanity shows through.”

I love that perspective — that the essence of being human is making mistakes.

Some of our mistakes are very small. We turn on the wrong street, or we forget to pick up bread at the store.  But some of our mistakes are big; we get involved with the wrong people, or we go to college to do something and then end up hating the job. The thing to remember, though, is that very rarely when we are making these big mistakes do we see, or understand them to be mistakes.  At the time it feels so right, it feels meant to be — so we continue on…until the problems start. And then we resist.

There’s that pesky word again — resistance.

We fight and fight and fight against what the Universe is telling us. That feeling in the pit of your stomach, that voice inside of your head that tells you, “Something feels off. Something isn’t quite right.” We fight it because what we want to believe is right for us, is not.

If you’ve spent thousands of dollars on an education for a career that all of a sudden doesn’t feel so perfect, or you’ve spent the last several months or years in a relationship with a person that makes life SO DAMN HARD sometimes, it’s difficult to give up that fight and let go. To admit that we’ve erred.

To let our humanity show.

What I have found to be true, though, is that when we let go and move on, a weight lifts. We can breathe again. We feel free. Sure, it may take awhile to completely extricate ourselves from relationships or jobs or home purchases or a move to a new city, or whatever big mistake we’ve made, but the process of walking through that is a learning experience. If we accept that we are fallible, and that by virtue of being human, we will make mistakes, we give ourselves permission to be imperfect. Hopefully we don’t continue to make the same mistake over and over, but if we do, we should accept it as a part of the learning process.

What a wonderful gift to allow ourselves to say, “I’m not perfect, but I am learning from my mistakes. I am human.” What a wonderful gift to allow ourselves the space to admit we were wrong, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and do what’s next.

Every moment is an opportunity to start over, without regret, without fear, without worry.

 

 

New Beginnings

The last few months have marked rapid change in my life. It has been a time of putting old things down, centering myself, and preparing to move forward. Spring seems to be the season when I, along with the Earth, shed the Winter’s heavy grey blanket and begin to grow, and to bloom.

My kids are just a couple of days away from Summer vacation, which is my favorite time of year. Lazy days of sleeping in, going to the pool, to the water park, our second home at the lake, and hanging out together. No agendas, no schedules, no homework or projects. Just enjoying each other and the long, sunny days.

When you’re a kid, growth is clearly marked, whether it’s with a pencil on a doorjamb, or by grade level. You graduate from one grade every Spring and start a new one in the Fall. Once we become adults, the demarcations of growth are much less obvious, and much less often. We may get married, or divorced, or have a child, or start a new job, but other than that, we may not notice changes.

I have grown so much spiritually and emotionally since last Fall. I have opened a new book, full of new chapters and new possibilities, where anything and everything is possible. I just have to be open to receive it. I need to listen to the guidance of the Universe, and trust it.

After every ending, there is a beginning. Old patterns die hard, and it’s important for us to recognize when we are drifting back into patterns that did not serve us well in the past. Lessons are repeated until they are learned. Change can be scary, but if we are to grow into who we are destined to be, we must take a deep breath, gather our courage, and step into the unknown.

 

 

Apathy

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Elie Weisel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.”

This quote hit me today, because I realized that I have become completely apathetic about certain people. I honestly do not care what happens to them. I see who they are with brilliant clarity, and I want nothing to do with them. My life, my emotional health, my bank account, are all better for getting toxic people out of my life.

It is not that I wish them ill-will, I simply do not care one way or the other.  I hope they aren’t suffering, but if they are, I have no attachment to whether they live or die. Their lives, their decisions, their mistakes, failures, and successes have no bearing on my life. I am able to see with absolute certainty who they are, faults and all, and feel nothing.

I have released attachment, I am healing old wounds, and I am free from the chains that weighed me down for so long. I am grateful to those who helped rescue me from a terrible situation, and I am committed to helping others break their own chains. My heart was heavy for too long, and the burden I carried was too great. To be able to see with such divine clarity, and to move on, free from it all, feels wonderful. ♥

 

Moving Forward

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When I am given the opportunity to sit in silence for extended periods, I always jump at the chance. I was given that opportunity today, and spent the morning at a half-day silent retreat. This particular retreat was exactly what I’ve been needing.  It wasn’t Zen, with all of its rules and zazen and kinhin and chanting; it wasn’t a guided meditation like what is offered at my old temple.  It was simply three hours of noble silence, divided into 45 minutes sessions, with short breaks between.

What I find happens most often when I sit for long periods is that as my mind settles, and as I’m able to release old resentments, I emerge with a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction. When I was teaching Dharma School a few years ago, I used a Mason jar filled with water and a bit of dirt. I’d shake the jar so that the water and dirt combined into a dark slurry, and then set the jar down. As the sediment fell to the bottom and settled, the water became clear. This is exactly what happens during meditation.

I suppose there are people that are much better at meditation than I am who are able to find that kind of clarity in five or ten minutes.  For me, it takes a good hour of sitting and breathing and consciously releasing negative emotion.

Today’s epiphany was that I’ve been attending the wrong temple. To be fair, I always knew the old place wasn’t my spiritual home. I went because I felt like I had an obligation to someone that I no longer speak to, and because I was afraid of change. The temple that I attend now is mere steps away from where I used to work. I was given so many opportunities to go to this temple in the past, but never did. My workplace would hold functions and meetings there, and I never attended. I don’t know why I was so resistant. I see now, very clearly, that the Universe was pointing me there all along. It’s been pointing me there for literally the last twenty-seven years, and I kept ignoring the signs.  I’d tell myself, “No, not there, over here! This way! Over here!” And the Universe kept gently guiding me back over and over and over again until today — when I finally came to the realization that I have found my home. As soon as I walked in this morning, I was greeted with a smiling face and a welcoming voice. Everyone in the retreat was kind and friendly. I made several new friends, and I was encouraged to come back as soon as I am able. As I was leaving, I looked over the list of classes and meditation sessions that are available and was stunned that I wanted to take every single one of them. Why have I been looking elsewhere for so long when what I wanted and needed was right in front of me? How many times in our lives do we ask ourselves that question?

Every time there is an ending, there is a new beginning. Trust the Universe and its guidance. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t for you. This is true for temples, churches, relationships, careers — everything in life. Don’t be afraid to step out of one life and into the next chapter.  There are far greater things ahead than any we leave behind.

The Clinging Vampire

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I have written a few times about the relationship with my Energy Vampire that I ended in September. What I haven’t written about is how he is still hanging on and manipulating my life.

I’ll give you some background. I started going to a Buddhist temple in late 2012. At some point in the process I filled out a card indicating that I was interested in helping with the Dharma School, which is like Sunday School for Buddhist kids. The Vampire was running Dharma School at the time.  He immediately Friended me on Facebook. This is how my trip through Hell began.

He had been married for six months, but was unhappy. Several things happened that I won’t discuss, but the short version is that he desperately wanted me to leave my husband, manipulated me, and used me for my money. I bought his kids clothes, I bought his family groceries, I paid for his car tags and taxes, I bought him a new laptop, got him a couch, new plates, silverware, bath towels and shower curtains, and I paid for all of the meals we ever went out for — I even paid for the new valve for the toilet in his apartment. The man couldn’t even pony up five bucks for a new flapper valve. Didn’t even reach for his wallet. Didn’t ask if he could help install it, either.

He’s a taker. He uses people. But he always plays the victim. You see, I am the crazy bitch. I am the one who is a horrible person, even though he preys on married women.  His current girlfriend was married (still is, actually). He sent photos of his genitals to a married work “friend”. He was exchanging those photos and “I love yous” at the same time he was courting his current girlfriend. I found all of this out on the day that I took him to get a vasectomy in mid-July, and then spent the next six weeks convincing him to go to therapy, and trying to talk him into stopping the affair with his current girlfriend. When I couldn’t get him to understand that what he was doing was wrong, I ended our relationship.

But I am the crazy bitch. I’m the horrible person.

He got kicked out of our temple a couple of years ago by the old Lama.  When the new one took over I encouraged him to come back, and he did — and then he forced me out when I dumped him.

I tried to mend fences so we could peacefully coexist.  He seemed agreeable. I went to a Zen retreat and he hugged me a little too long and a little too close. And then he blocked me on Facebook to shut me out of all of the conversations he was instigating about events going on at the temple.

But I’m the crazy bitch. I’m the horrible person. He’s the victim.

The funny thing is, that even after all of this, even after blocking me and forcing me to leave the temple, he still stalks me. He is supposedly over-the-moon happy with his latest conquest, but he checks my blog repeatedly — sometimes several times a day.  He asks my friends about me. He can’t let go.

Sometimes I wonder if he had been the one to end the relationship if he would still be hanging on. And I wonder, when his current girlfriend gets fed up with him and his antics, if he’ll try to weasel his way back into my inner circle. I won’t allow that to happen for a variety of reasons, but the biggest reason is that for the first time since I met him in 2012, I haven’t suffered from chronic fatigue or suicidal depression.

For those of you who are in the jaws of an Energy Vampire, here is a helpful article about how to handle the outflow. Ultimately I had to choose to avoid him, and then cut off contact completely when avoidance didn’t work. Setting boundaries and self-preservation is incredibly important when you’re dealing with someone who is off-balance. It can be really hard to do, especially when you have a community of people that you enjoy hanging out with and have to give up because you are made into a pariah.

If you are an Empath, you must be mindful of your energy level, and how others affect you. You are important. You matter. Don’t let someone who is making you feel overwhelmed and exhausted continue to be a part of your life. If there is one thing I have learned through all of this, it’s that when you release toxic people from your life, your life improves dramatically. You deserve to be happy, and at peace. The process can be lengthy and difficult, but it is worth it. And so are you.

 

 

Tending Garden

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When you see your life as a wide open space where anything can unfold, it gives you room to ask the question, “What do I want to do?”  So often we bog ourselves down with responsibilities and expectations that don’t exist.

Earlier this week I was reading through a vintage bread-baking book, and it occurred to me that people made bread with what they had on hand. There are corn bread recipes for dairy farms, with milk, butter AND heavy cream. There are recipes made with sour milk. There are recipes for bread with no dairy at all. It was then that I realized that I am just one generation removed from being on a farm. My mother grew up on a farm, and my dad’s folks both grew up on farms in rural Kansas. My grandfather had thirteen brothers and sisters, and quit school in the 8th grade so he could tend to the fields. I remember my mother telling me about how to rotate crops to improve the soil, and how she used to break open watermelons on the sly out in the field, sitting down and eating it without Aunt Laura knowing.

Is it any wonder that I love to garden? That getting my hands in the dirt and cooking with the food that I grow gives me such a profound sense of satisfaction?  Probably not.

Yesterday I drove out to a friend’s house who lives in the country. To be fair, my house is eight blocks from cows, so it’s not a long drive to what most people consider to be “the country” — but for me, driving out to the country means going about fifteen minutes south to where houses are a quarter mile or farther apart.  My friend lives on forty acres and has horses. As I was driving, I noticed a farmer who was plowing under his field, preparing to plant a spring crop of who-knows-what. I noticed farm after farm of cattle. I noticed a really big black crow walking down the gravel road, just because he could. I felt at home.

I work for a large hospital, but what I really want to do is grow food. I want to bake bread. I want to tend to my garden. I want to be fully present for my family and friends. I’ve been absent for too long, spending too much time on social media and embroiled in drama with people I never really liked.

It’s time for me to get back to my roots, to dive deep into my center, to care for myself and the people I love, and to do what I want to do. My purpose in life is not to tend to other people’s crops. It’s time to tend to my own garden, and see what grows.