Heart/Lotus

An image I often come back to is that of a full lotus blossom. Earlier last month, a massage therapist at Pura Vida in Costa Rica reminded me that this flower represents the heart chakra in Ayurvedic medicine.  Right before she told me this, I experienced an open lotus filling my whole chest, which prompted her to explain what I was seeing from within.

This living more consciously from the heart– being with a sense of openness, wonder, and gratitude– has been a path longtime in manifesting.  But, I seem to come right back to it after straying off now and again into fear and anger.  It’s like I have a clearer, new-found baseline to live from and always return to.  Thank the gods!

 

More From a Baby Boomer’s Child

Elaborating further on my previous blog post, I do think my hippie elders I grew up with and around had their hearts in the right place in many respects.  But, they didn’t in other ways, such as most of the men at the time with their sexism. This helped lead to the next wave (certainly not the first) of the Women’s Movement in the 1970s.  Also, homophobia and heterosexism remained largely unexamined, which then contributed to the Gay Liberation Movement concurrently manifesting with the feminists’.  Recent reflection on my childhood has elucidated for me just how pervasive a self indulgent ethos existed, expressed, for example, through loose sexual boundaries and a general self-centeredness (the “rampant narcissism” I previously mentioned), in addition to the already discussed plethora of substance abuse.  All of this behavior and mindset hurt the next generation, i.e., the children of these hippies, such as yours truly.  It’s like these Boomer and pre-Boomer progressives spent a lot of time extending their adolescence, as much as doing so helped to foster artistic cultural expression along with (formerly referenced) healthy political rebellion.  I deeply appreciate the occurrence of both these social phenomena to this day, as they became foundational to my own value system.  And, in significant part, these same Boomers et al went on to form the two aforementioned Movements, which were inherently political, formally and personally.  However, at least one important domain, that of attentive, responsible parenting, got somewhat set aside, a big psychological, even arguably spiritual, price to pay.  “How so?” one might ask.  Well, many progeny of West Coast hippie folk internalized experiences of being and feeling set aside (or worse) while our parents rebelled, created, partied, and focused on “finding themselves,” both in and out of marriages or less conventional, traditional unions.  Indeed, we all err throughout life, so this automatically includes whole segments of a generation.  These mistakes of my elders are ultimately forgivable, much as holding them to account is important.

As I have grown comfortable in my own beliefs and overall sense of Self, what I am no longer doing is idealizing in any way a particular movement or cultural scene, in this case the very one I grew up within.  Now, I just idealize the gods, as expressed through nature, some art, scientific wonders, those deep moments of love between one and another/others, etc.– whatever opens my heart up and transports me into a deep place of wonder, connectedness, and gratitude.  These are above and beyond any particular person, group, generation, or specific movement or culture.

From a Baby Boomer’s Child

I find that a segment of the Baby Boomer generation went too far with rebellious behaviors. To a point, they were understandably bucking the staid ways of the middle and upper class establishments. Jack Kerouac, from the preceding generation, was one such inspirational voice (among others) of rebellion for a swath of Baby Boomer, and some pre-Boomer, intelligentsia. His often crass ways of speaking and relating were taken up and run with as a way of life by many folks. Substance abuse was a significant factor in much of these behaviors/interactions. And while boundaries were duly, constructively pushed and even broken, namely in the political arena, leading to some much-needed awareness and change (for which I am very thankful), a lot of damage was done interpersonally and intra-psychically along the way. I speak from personal experience and observation while growing up.

For the longest time, I idealized a lot of aspects of the Baby Boomer and pre-Boomer generation (including my own parents’ critical thinking, much of their values, and progressive-minded idealism), namely those in the West Coast-based hippie poetry scene. I also cringed at other parts of this very scene in which I was raised, such as all the substance abuse and rampant narcissism.  Over the years, I have steadily embraced my pragmatism and emphasis on self-examination as I continue to integrate these with lessons learned, and worthwhile values retained, from my elders, including many Baby Boomers.

Writing As a Part of My Life

I am steadily fixing up and typing out my long blog post about our recent trip to Costa Rica. About half of it is still in long hand. Slow and steady wins the race, or so they say. This is different for me than my often compulsive-feeling, do-it-all-at-once approach to completing writing projects. I can embrace the former of the two ways gladly, particularly for longer pieces of work. Since I have a non-creative writing job, a marriage, and other responsibilities and needs, it’s a must that I take this long-range, steady strategy anyway.

What I feel happening is a new-found trust in my muse that she won’t fade off or shut down just because I’m not sitting with her for multiple hours at a time each moment I engage in the creative process. I know she’s there and I feel she senses I now listen to her with my inside ear, even when I am not actively writing. Engaging more with my inner life this way and putting some of it out in written word form is helping me to feel both more whole and productive. It’s been pleasantly satisfying in an increasingly gentle, steady manner.

I highly recommend everyone engage in whatever creative endeavor(s) strike(s) their fancy, and doing so as often as possible, a bit at a time here and there. Do your best not to think about the quality of the effort while first creating it. There will be time enough later to re-work and polish up the results. Just do it!

My Inner Muse

My inner muse feels and is very feminine, which is great to know so clearly after all these years. This makes sense given how I identify as being significantly part woman internally/psychologically-spiritually, even though I am cis-gender male on the outside. Lately, my muse has had me creatively writing steadily and often about many things, all from a feminine-feeling sensibility in terms of what I like to write about and the overall aesthetic I draw from when writing. All very feminine in content, feel, and style. This goes far beyond the influence of my parents and other major figures in my upbringing. It is a strong, sometimes strident, sometimes gentle female voice coming through me, into my fingertips, and out as words onto the page or computer screen. She doesn’t sound like anyone I know or have known in particular. She sounds like…me, or, more specifically, a very major part of me.

One reason I have been inhibited with writing for so long is that I had to release an old internalized belief of how and what I thought others wanted me to write, namely parent figures in my life, past and present. I thought I should write “like a man,” whatever the hell that even means. It’s like there was a subtle layer of homophobia and sexism just under the surface of my conscious awareness, constraining my dear muse as if she were being tied and gagged to a chair most of the time, allowed to be unbound to write a bit of “proper,” “neutral,” “professional-sounding,” or “acceptable” material here and there. Then, she had to go back into the shadows and shut up. Yeah, enough of that. She’s done with being silent and I am the much better for it. I’m done with being silent.

Interestingly, my folks no longer hold over me these strict expectations that I write in a “masculine” voice. However, I do remember that they once did long ago via all sorts of indirect and direct messages they used to convey that I needed to butch it up more, be a man and not such a sissy/fag/weakling, etc. After all, I (read: they) didn’t want my peers to think I was gay, even though these peers pretty much already knew I was. (That horse left the barn at my birth, folks.) That wouldn’t be good. Conform or be isolated, either/or. It could be argued that my folks didn’t extend these expectations of cis-gender conformity to my actual writing, but then even one small memory of my father’s disdainful face over a short story I had started to write in detail about a pretty boy when I was…a (somewhat) pretty boy…reminds me that I am speaking truth to experience here.  That little story promptly died in my mind.  Well, my folks didn’t know any better at the time, bless their hearts. They do seem to know a lot better now. People can and do evolve.

And I thought I’d unburdened all of that old shame. Well, there was a bit more there, it seems, which has steadily melted away. I write in the voice that’s mine to write from. And if some or many readers find my writing sounds/reads as “manly” (yeah, right, but okay– lol) or neutral, that’s fine with me and doesn’t matter anyway. I hope people enjoy my jottings, grapple with my views, are stimulated, regardless of the gender tone the writing comes across as being, if there even seems to be a “gender” there at all for readers. Perhaps I may not always feel a gender to this inner muse, or I may find another writing muse comes forth who has another gender or no gender or is a mix of genders. That will be interesting. I’m not concerned, just open and curious.

In the meantime, the inner muse I do know and experience is female and growing ever-clearer of late. She has always been there. She loves being out in the open– in the light of day, in the dark of night, under the winter sun, under the spring moonlight, in faraway lands, at home in Beverly under the bedroom skylight. Listening, watching, then drafting the best choice of words to knit together into points to be made, thoughts to be shared, images to be conveyed. She’s here, folks, and she’s going to stay. She has a lot to say. I have a lot to say. And I’ll listen, with my inner ear. And my muse will sometimes write out what she has heard with me. She will do so with gusto, like a woman tossing back her long, black hair over one shoulder, before looking down to write, smiling and sighing, “Ooh la la!”

Joyce and Lolita

From October of 1995 to the end of January 2000, I worked at a human services agency in the Greater Boston area.  I was a freshly-minted Masters degreed social worker who didn’t feel ready to fill his shoes, specifically that of being a psychotherapist.  So, I took a job as an adult foster care case manager to get to know the ins and outs of my profession in the real world.  I then could ease myself into my particular, true calling I’d awoken to at the age of fifteen.  I was still so overrun by anxiety and a subsequent lack of confidence long developed during my childhood.  Well, that combined with having attended Smith College School for Social Work, an impressive place of learning which had left my brain top-heavy with psychodynamic theories but hardly any practical training in treatment methodologies.

Working in the adult foster care department of an elder services agency, I nervously struggled through my job, especially during the first six months or so.  I got to know some kind, interesting people along the way.  A little over two years into this position, the agency relocated, losing some great staff in the process, which included a mini exodus of diversity, these nonwhite folks being competent, savvy workers.  The move into a less expensive, more industrial area off the beaten path from our previous site in the heart of a renewing, artsy urban center helped to shed these employees.  But, financially, a non-profit human services organization simply could not keep up with increasing office rents in a fast-gentrifying city square.  This change was one of a handful of reasons why and when my job satisfaction started to go downhill.

Feeling too insecure to look for other work, I stayed for almost two more years after the agency moved.  Midday often found me in the building before driving around to homes for the afternoon to meet with my assigned foster families or returning to the office down the hall to complete paperwork and make phone calls.  The kitchen was a larger space in the (old) new building, usually filled during lunchtime with a handful of the same people over and over again.  I don’t remember ever having any stimulating or particularly engaging conversations in that eating area.  The culture there largely consisted of heterosexual white women who tended to gossip and complain, which is probably why the same ones generally showed up there and other employees stayed away.  I don’t recall how long it took for me to catch on, but I eventually did.  I started meeting up for lunch downstairs with Joyce and Lolita, two friends who worked together in the fiscal department.

Joyce and Lolita were two heavyset women who lived in Dorchester, or Joyce did and Lolita may have resided somewhere else close by to that part of Boston.  Many details are no longer clear to me.  Joyce talked more than Lolita, had some grown children, and, I believe, was divorced.  Lolita was at least ten years younger, childless, and never married.  Her voice was deeper than Joyce’s.

These two women of African American descent quietly took me into their precious space and break time, their duo of support and unspoken understandings.  Their caring warmth was palpable to me, like a calming thickness in the air between them.  I don’t recall much what we talked about and, honestly, that didn’t matter.  Their communication with each other, and then with me too, was often nonverbal.  A single sentence would be said and the other usually nodded, adding a slow, “Mm hmm.”  Then, silence would resume.  I think I spoke most often, filling the air needlessly with my voice, though I never once got the sense that this bothered either Joyce or Lolita.  Their wide faces always appeared relaxed with a calm, wise knowing.  It’s hard to explain.  I remember expressing appreciation for letting me hang out and eat with them, stating that I felt uncomfortable with the social scene in the dining area upstairs.  Joyce nodded in empathy and said something like, “Yeah, we know.  We don’t care for it either.”  I felt a wave of relief.  I’d finally arrived at a safe haven there at work.  An implicit understanding of how all three of us were outsiders had been made explicit.

I sometimes joked with Lolita, calling her “Queen Lolita– you know, like Queen Latifah.”

“I wish I had her money!” She’d reply in her smooth bass drawl, slowly smiling.

I agreed with her on how nice that would be.

This brief banter happened on at least three occasions, probably more.

Joyce was the main person I spoke with in the fiscal department whenever I had to inquire about a monetary concern with a case.  She was always responsive and easy to problem solve with.

I remember talking to Joyce a little about her being from a Southern-based family, her being black something I did not overtly ask about.  I didn’t blatantly come right out to her as being gay either.  It was simply understood.  I can’t recall now what state her family originally hailed from.  I do remember consulting with her about a young African American man from Florida who had flattered me with his almost aggressive attentions at a movie theater one Saturday afternoon.  I wish I still knew exactly what she had said, but my mind draws a blank.  The gist of it was that being direct was culturally his way, that she too had not been raised to beat around the bush.  This felt refreshing to hear about, me being a “proper” white boy whose anxiety included feeling conflicted over the need to be polite and “not too intense” versus being forthright, up front.  (Years later, another woman I met would say to me how some of her white friends and coworkers described her strident frankness as “having a black moment.”  I’ve always admired the directness of many African American women.)

This exchange with Joyce elucidated for me Joyce’s and Lolita’s natural openness and comfort with their feelings.  Even though they spoke little of their innermost thoughts or — so often– actually much of anything at length (at least in my presence), whatever they felt was right there on their faces, to be known, shared, joined in feeling.  Their ample bodies were an extension of all this sensing and emotion, or vice versa.  Their calm, slower movements relayed a graceful comfort and centeredness in their fullness, indifferent to some foreign, white-created standards of health and beauty.  I find myself thinking of the ancient Venus of Villendorf figurine when I reflect about Joyce and Lolita.  Earth Mothers incarnate.

After leaving that first job out of graduate school for a full-time clinician position elsewhere, I returned a few times to visit Joyce, Lolita, and some other former coworkers.  When I said a last “goodbye” to each of these two women, I don’t remember thinking about the finality of it.  I was preoccupied with my new job, my home life, and whatever else that was going on for me at the time.  Somehow, I recall it being rather brief and casual, almost as if I were soon going to see them again for lunch by the small break room area not far from their office cubicle.  At least that’s how it comes back to me.  The last time I ever spoke with Joyce may very well have been that conversation about the much younger (than me) guy from Florida.

My farewell to Lolita is even fuzzier.  I still think of her in the hallway, chuckling at my calling her “Queen Lolita” while wearing a lovely bright cloth wrapped around her head.  I saw her in more than one headscarf over the year-plus that I knew her.  I think one was bright yellow, or had yellow in it along with green.  In my mind’s eye, I see her in a red one too.  And while it ultimately doesn’t matter what colors Lolita actually wore, that my brain has long shifted around and altered the hues and patterns of her headscarves and clothing beyond factual accuracy, what is important is how I so clearly remember her quiet yet bright fabulousness.  And then there was Joyce’s more understated fabulousness.  It came through in other ways, such as in her big-toothed smiles and kind words of clarity and understanding, very much a fabulousness.

And I feel a warmth, mingling with gratitude, rise up inside from my stomach into my throat and head, to settle all through my body as I think about how Joyce and Lolita offered me safe haven of real human connection while on the job.  From their presence flowed a sweet water of sorts that I came back to drink in, now and again, at lunch time.

Coming Into One’s Power

BLACK PANTHER is one of those movies I found myself watching (for a second time) in a dual attention way.  I mentally-emotionally processed personal stuff while engaging with the happenings on screen.  This film is about many things, one being that of the simultaneous occurrence of a few individuals’ and a whole people’s struggle to both take back their true, birth-right power while also coming into their power.  To be clear, I don’t mean “power over,” when I say “power,” but, rather, one’s natural inner confidence, agency, and influence in the world.  So, while I witnessed on film a beautiful unfolding of good people coming into their power, including through hand-to-hand combat, I found myself internally better understanding just how I have given my power over in my life without clearly knowing that I was doing so or feeling like I had any other choice.  Well, I now have the space both inside myself and on the outside of my life to see and feel in my heart, head, and body that I need not allow anybody to take my power any longer, ever. And if and when I do start to give over my power, simply out of old residue of habit, I shall mindfully and quickly right this imbalance and promptly reclaim it.  So Mote It Be!