Monday, October 31, 2011

Because I am a Girl

I subscribe to Plan International’s Because I am a Girl e-newsletter and recently received a link to their 2011 global report, Because I am a Girl: So what About Boys? It states: “Men and boys, just like women and girls, are set back by gender stereotypes and inequalities, which they learn from a young age and that are influenced by a variety of factors.”

As part of the report, 1003 Canadian youth (aged 12-17) were surveyed to learn more about attitudes regarding gender equality. Here are some of the more positive findings:

91 % of Canadian youth believe equality between men and women is good for both boys and girls.

96% believe girls should have the same opportunities and rights as boys to make their own choices in life and 95% believe parents must take equally responsibility for their children.


31% of the boys believe that a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family.

48% of the youth (both boys and girls) think men should be responsible for earning income and providing for the family.

78% of the youth disagree with the statement “boys should not cry” but 77% believe boys are likely to be made fun of if they cry.

45 % of youth agree that “to be a man you need to be tough”.

I have just started reading the full report but looks like there is still work to be done…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fixing Family Dynamics

It is always interesting how the process of trying to fix family dynamics usually backfires. Here’s the most recent example: An aged member of my family has profound hearing loss and a tendency, as the years go by, to personalize things in a morose way. The former condition has him missing out on the mundane conversations that make up much of family life and the latter has him sounding, at times, like a petulant child. He never used to be like this and alongside the hurt and dismay I feel at the loss of his emotional strength, I also feel frustrated and a little petulant myself: Why do I have to listen to this stuff?

Recently, at a major family event, he was involved in a miscommunication to which he felt slighted. I didn’t hear about it until a few hours later when he groused about it. The first time I heard him left me dumbfounded: did that really happen? Tired and not taking it too seriously, I brushed it off saying, it wasn’t intentional, don’t let it get to you. The second time, I realized my error and I validated his feelings but, once again, reemphasized there was nothing personal in what happened, it was human error. The third time, I validated, I reemphasized and got frustrated. I did not want to hear about it a fourth time, let alone a fifth or sixth. I took action.

I emailed the “offending” party, explained the situation and very gently asked if they could acknowledge what happened and apologize to this mutual relative. I said, “he’s older, has developed tunnel vision, and I know you didn’t mean for this to happen but this is how he took it”. I thought I did a good job. Seems like I didn’t. Short story? Big upheaval where I was portrayed as the instigator of familial riffs. And the gist of it was that the miscommunication was just a by-product of impaired hearing — there was no personal slight.

Okay, the riff is somewhat repaired — an apology was issued and I vowed never to take responsibility for this relative’s emotions again. But I think I missed the boat. Let’s review the facts: I knew he, the aged relative, wasn’t going to talk about the issue to the people who mattered. I knew the alleged offending party was ignorant of the situation and I knew I was dreading hearing about it for the rest of my life. The most important fact, however, and what experience has told me again and again, is that the only thing I can ever change is my attitude and thoughts.

The problem didn’t lie with anyone but me. I had two uncomfortable feelings that I was not taking responsibility for: One, I was frustrated and, two, I felt bad that my relative felt slighted.

Interdependence requires mutuality, respect and leadership. Underneath these requirements is honest communication and the profound right of choice. In relationship, we need to respectfully let others know how we feel or think so that the other can respond in a respectful manner — we take leadership over our emotions. This may or may not involve a change in the other’s behavior but, more importantly, it involves not hiding behind the fear of conflict or the desire of trying to make another feel okay. We can only change how we feel and how we act. In exercising that ability we acknowledge both the limit of our power with others and the abundance of our power in choosing how we live.

More facts: my aged relative has 85 years of experience not talking about his emotions. In the last few years he has made great strides in this but he is not yet at the head of the class. Stepping in like that, however, I took away his freedom of choice: I acted for him without his knowledge or blessings. Because of that I was accused, by the other party, of harsh judgment and condemnation. What I really should have been accused of was patronizing behavior.

In retrospect (and in an interdependent mind frame) I should have talked to my aged relative first. I could have helped him understand the options of how he could take care of his feelings and how it makes me feel when he complains yet does nothing. Perhaps we could have reached a solution even if it meant him continuing to grouse and me, letting him know I did not want to listen, walking away. The bottom line is that we are the only ones who can take care of our emotions.

In going behind his back, with whatever genuine and compassionate ideals, I disrespected him. I took away his rights by bypassing honest communication and thereby limiting the choices we had to deal with the situation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Umbrella

I dreamed
the other night. I forgot my umbrella,
you said you’d wait. I knew you would. You waited
while I ran down the long hallway that seem to grow longer.
I passed people, so many different people I passed, not really seeing. I almost fell
off a platform thinking it to be stairs. I complained to someone, he said, people should look more closely. I ran and got tired of running. It was a long way, longer than I thought at first.
                                                                                                                                    The umbrella
was in your office, in your home, tucked away beside  a gymnasium. Something
was going on, many people were there, different people, many people
I didn’t see. There were colours and interesting things,
and good looking men, but I was too busy
searching for the umbrella,
because I didn’t want
to get wet if
it rained.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fear of Acting

Hard to be interdependent in a suspicious world … hell, it’s hard to even show you care. I was thinking about this the other day when I saw a parked car with its headlights on. The car was outside a house and parked in such a way as if it belonged there. I took a chance, walked up the path and rang the buzzer. The front door was made of glass giving me a view of the small and tidy closed-in alcove with the shoes and jackets of outdoor wear. After some time, the solid inner door slowly opened. A man appeared. He seemed confused to see a person standing there. He hesitantly walked forward. His face held a combination of what seemed like fear and suspicion and, as he got closer, maybe some inner admonishment. It was if he was asking himself: What am I scared of? It’s a just a woman. His partner followed behind him, looking even more tentative. I smiled in hopes of easing their anxiety. He opened the door, eyes still wary, ready to slam it perhaps if I was more dangerous than my looks warranted. “Yes?” he asked. There was more confusion as I gave them the info and then, with vague suspicion still on their faces, they thanked me and I quickly went on my way. No need to have them thinking it was a ruse to get them out of their house.

Since I wrote the blog in August about taking responsible action, I’ve made a quest, so to speak, to not only step up to the plate when needed but to look for the plate — a sometimes risky business. I remember doing a similar deed about thirty years ago. I was walking down Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End when I noticed a fairly expensive parked car with its lights on. I walked over to the driver side and tried the door. It was locked but I still felt good that I had tried to help someone. No sooner had I taken my hand from the handle when two well-dressed business men came strolling up to me: "too bad you found it locked, eh? Couldn’t get your hands on it." Their accusation shocked me but also embarrassed and angered me. How dare they think I was trying to steal their car. I wanted to respond with something hard and biting but all I could say was: Your lights are on; I was trying to turn them off. I walked away, hating the shame and vowing never to do that again. And, I didn’t. We learn from experience, don’t we?

People tend to assume the worst. I recently listened to a podcast on mindfulness. One of the things the researcher, Daniel Siegel, stated was that our minds are programmed to remember negative things: it is good for survival to remember that tigers can attack and dogs can bite. I am taking a small leap here but I wonder if we are also programmed to assume the worst?

This tendency to assume the worst or, perhaps better said, to be fearful of the worst was just witnessed in Foshon, China. I am sure many of you saw the awful video of the toddler, Yueyue, getting run over twice and then eighteen people walking by and not doing anything. (This was captured on street surveillance camera.) It’s a stomach wrenching video to watch so I suggest instead you read an article by Globe and Mail’s China correspondent, Mark McKinnon. He thankfully shoots down the racist comments about the Chinese being less moral and gives two possible reasons why this tragedy occurred.

1) “The legal system [in China] is unpredictable and unfair to those without money and political connections. Getting involved can often get you in trouble.”

2) An authoritarian state, such as China, instils fear in it’s citizens from acting, doing and /or getting noticed.

I would add to these two points the “bystander effect” where “[t]he mere presence of other bystanders greatly decreases intervention.” This is a well documented and researched phenomena instigated by the horrors of what happened to New York’s Kitty Genovese. The bystander effect has been witnessed all over the world — ignoring pain, hurt and trauma in another is not an ethnic trait.

There is, however, a commonality to why people do not respond or help another — fear. I will let you read these stories and draw your own conclusions but until we get over the fear of acting, of risking responsibility, of being seen… our humanity will suffer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Is it Just Me ... or is my right leg Codependent?

A few weeks ago, to the ultimate of horrors, I became a cliché. There I was dancing, strutting and bumping —moving to the music like a sail boat gliding through the water and riding out an ocean swell when pop went the hip and crumple went the leg. Yes, it is true, middle aged women do throw their hips while dancing to Billy Idol. Sigh.

Ligament strains, of course, are nasty to heal. They like to take their time, teasing you with feel-good days that entice you to push it just a bit further only to screw up all the healing already achieved. I am not amused. However, this minor injury has given me time to reflect on the nature of codependence and, for that, I give thanks. After all, it ‘tis the season.

What got me thinking about codependence was how my right leg wants to compensate for my left, where the injury lies. I notice it when my left hip starts to stiffen after walking too long. I recognize this as my body’s attempt to protect the afflicted region from further damage — the stiffness is a natural cast seeking to immobilize the injury. The best thing to do when this happens is to stop and rest and allow my body to heal. Not known for doing the best thing, however, I ignore the stiffness — I am not in pain, after all — and keep on walking. When I do this, regardless of the fact I am not in pain, the right leg will start compensating. It is subtle at first but if I pay attention I can feel my gait changing. This is not a good sign. From past experience I know that once I start compensating I am only asking for another strain, this time on the otherwise healthy leg.

So, once again, instead of resting, I continue moving but bring focus to my injured leg. I concentrate on walking naturally, willing the leg not to limp. The result is only half successful: yes, I reduce the limp so that a person walking behind me might be fooled but no, not so much that my body is fooled: my right leg continues, however subtly, to compensate. I turn the tables and focus in on my strong leg, willing it to relax. It works but only to a limited degree. If I was to impose my anthropomorphic ideas onto my leg I would say: It wants to help; it needs to help; it lives to help. And why does it do this? Because it feels it is in the best interest of the whole body to support the injured area.

When I first contemplated this, I thought, hmmm, a part of my body supports an injured area to the extent where damage is done to the caretaking part. What an analogy to codependence, I conclude. What a mistaken one, I later realize.

A quick review of codependence. Codependence is the addiction of looking elsewhere: of finding value and worth not in yourself but in the reflection you see of yourself in others. It is not whether you feel yourself worthy, but whether others deem you worthy. Codependence can be manifested in a variety of ways from caretaking to bullying and one can be in a codependent relationship with a person, pet, hobby or even their god. For more information check out the side bar or go to my other blog

Coming back to my strained left hip, my good leg will do anything (it seems) to compensate for my bad leg. It does this to the extreme of hurting itself. This is what often happens in codependence: the person who is looking for self worth outside themselves often makes themselves sick in the process. They do, and continue to do for the other with no conscious regard for their own well-being. Or, said another way, they believe the best way to take care of self is through taking care of or controlling another. At it’s extreme, a codependent relationship can feel like it is a life and death issue.

Now let’s flip the coin and look at interdependence. Interdependence is the process of taking care of self while also taking care of the community as a whole. Pure interdependence is a win-win situation. Of course, that is the ideal. Sometimes one must make sacrifices or, alternatively be selfish but decisions are made with a consciousness that acknowledges that everyone has value and everyone deserves respect.

When a part of our body gets hurt or sick, biological defences go to work. The community, i.e. the cells, the organs, and the different body systems, immediately strive to fix the situation or at least mobilize the body so to decrease the risk of further harm. This initial action is a beautiful example of interdependence — everything or everyone working together for the good of the whole. My first reaction when this happened to me, however, was to find fault. My right leg, I jested, is being codependent with my left — it is working twice as hard, to the point of injury, in order to safeguard my injured leg.

I kept with this idea until I actually wrote it down and, as what usually happens, found a more honest assessment. It is not my leg that is acting codependent but me. If I had listened to my body, that is, if I had rested when my leg stiffened and took care of the injury, my good leg would not have had to compensate to such an extreme. Yes, it would have stepped in (ha!) and helped out but not to the point of acquiring its own injury. The only reason my good leg felt strained was because I didn’t listen to my body; I didn’t rest. And why didn’t I rest? Because a part of me finds identity and self worth in a healthy body that can run and hike and dance with no limitations. To stop and rest would be to question my worth.

Something to think about.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Remaining Human

My friend, Bonnie, recently posted a link on her blog to an article written by Michael Stone. Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street. Worth reading the full text but here is a small excerpt:

In the Lotus Sutra it is said that the quickest way to becoming a Buddha is not through extensive retreats or chanting but through seeing others as a Buddha. If you see others as Buddha, you are a Buddha. You remain human. You no longer try to get beyond others.

… If you can’t trust that you have the possibility to do good, to see everyone and everything as a Buddha, then how will you even begin? Our Buddha nature is our imagination.

These protests are reminding us that with a little imagination, a lot can change. We are witnessing a collective awakening to the fact that our corporations and governments are the products of human actions. They aren’t serving anymore, and so it is in our power and in our interest to replace them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Sacred Art of Not Writing

During a recent conversation with a friend I was given a not so subtle hint that I was neglecting my blog and, therefore, my writing. I protested: I am writing… just not there. Not good enough, she said. She’s right, of course. Even though I am in the midst of working on a collection of short stories and therefore putting time into my writing practice, a commitment is a commitment: I need to blog.

Ironically I was saying something similar to someone else just last week. I had arranged to do a 30-day challenge with him in which you write 500 or more words a day and submit to the other for comments: one comment about what works and another stating what needs work. I had just finished a similar challenge in August and found it extremely satisfying when, that is, it was not excruciatingly, mind blottingly difficult. Out of that challenge I got about twenty-four short stories of which I am now reworking and making readable. My friend, in this new challenge, reneged on the first day and pleaded a week’s extension. I agreed. He reneged again. I phoned him and said, “500 words tomorrow. I don’t care if it dribble … it probably will be dribble, it doesn’t matter. One, you made a commitment and two, if you want to write, you got to write, period.”

I was feeling kind of smug as I was in the creative mode and actually writing everyday but smugness has a way of pushing my eyes open till they bleed the truth. Sure I was writing but it is just recently that I had managed an “everyday” routine and, more to the point, I was just as brilliant as my friend in devising ways not to write. I sit down at my computer, for example, and fatigue will come over me and I have to lie down. I rest for twenty minutes and, sitting back up with a great idea, be overcome with hunger. I’ll find a hair on my leg that got missed while waxing; get thirsty, have to dental floss, stretch, or have a perishing need to call the automated weather service. Last week, to both my horror and delight, I cleaned out two of my junk drawers.

Now you may ask why cleaning a junk drawer can elicit such emotion. Good question. I have a long history with these compartments of wonder and cleaning them can seem, well, irreverent. I wrote a story about junk drawers four years ago (see below) which may enlighten my distress. But, coming back to my cleaning them out last week, what it really shows is the depths I can go in the avoidance of actual writing… I will even desecrate a sacred altar, otherwise known as the Lady of the Junk Drawer.

Our Lady of the Junk Drawer

I have a fondness for junk drawers. I love them in fact. I always have one, usually two and, on occasion, three. In there is the answer to all problems. Need a screwdriver? A paperclip? Candle for the cake? The junk drawer. Curtains need hanging? A felt pen? A twist tie? The junk drawer is your answer. Why just as I was researching this story, I found the phone cord I have been thinking of buying. Saved me seven bucks! Junk drawers are grand, they give me hope.

What a grand thing, hope. Growing up, I watched my older sister gradually fill her hope chest with dreams of the future. It was a combination trust fund and wedding planner overlaid with a wellspring of pride: a modern day dowry. I never really knew what she was putting in there– it was her private domain – but ever so often you could see her opening it up and adding something to the pile. It was part of the mystery of becoming an adult, one day I too would have my own box, my own source of wonder.

I was inspired early on to seek that sense of wonder. In the spare bedroom cum formal dinning room we had a floor to ceiling bookcase. It was filled with your typical kitsch: snowfall scenes in sparkly water filled domes; football pennets; tacky orange glazed vases and ceramic “Lassies”, alert and ready for Timmy’s call. I spent many an hour examining all its inherent treasures but it was the sparkle that lay above my reach that held me in thrall. Sometimes when courage got the better of sanity, I would climb the lower shelves and ever so carefully peer over the edge in anticipated delight. I was never disappointed. Whether it was a dust filled bowl of spare change or a lucky rabbit foot key chain it was a cornucopia of pleasure.

Later years I tried transferring that joy of quiet exploration to the empty lot across the street, old musty book stalls and curiosity shops but they never quite met my expectations. Perhaps it was the knowledge that what lay on those dusty alters were somehow related to me. My family was not close knit nor strong in their ability to communicate thoughts or feelings. Those trinkets – contemporary family heirlooms – connected me in a way that human relationships could not. They rooted my fragile sense of being-ness to something solid: the mess and disorder of the dining rooms shelves was not only my joy, but my safety.

With this lineage, it is no wonder that I love junk drawers but it was not always so.
For many years, I took them for granted: doesn’t every family have one? In a way I treated my junk drawer like a prayer: I didn’t look to it until I was really in need. Save me now (oh God) and I promise to be good; please be in there (oh Junk Drawer) and I promise to clean you. The funny thing is, both Spirit and Junk Drawer don’t care for that kind of attention. What is more important is how I honour them as part of myself. You see, the secret of the Junk Drawer is not so much that it holds answers and gives hope but that it mirrors my mind. Just as Spirit manifests through my soul and I feel comfort in that connection, the chaotic meanderings of my thoughts are reflected in the anarchy of the drawer: like meets like and I feel peace and tranquility. Yet there is more to this than a homeopathic metaphor. The brain seeks solutions to its internal chaos while the Junk Drawer surrenders to it. Where the mind empowers action, the Junk Drawer just is. The Junk Drawer, much like the yogi sitting in calm stillness amidst the fervency of modern day life, is part of, yet detached from the chaos. Rather than the coming together of similar energies, then, it is the union of the male and female – the active and the passive aspects of who we are – that truly restores a sense of calmness. The Junk Drawer, for all its innate pandemonium, reunites me with my feminine self and brings balance to my otherwise dominate male side.

Stop, you say? Enough silliness? You understand how junk drawers give hope and inspiration but truly, connecting it to the feminine and finding balance in one’s life is a bit of a stretch. How can a box of chaos compete with rubbing the Buddha’s belly, a weekend meditation retreat or saying a few “Hail Marys”? Well, sit down grasshopper (mind the rice paper, though) and learn. The Junk Drawer is about to expand your mind.

One can always trust the Junk Drawer. She, the Junk Drawer that is, is intuitive about needs but patient in waiting for requests. She is eclectic with her own sense of language, revels in the art of disorder yet trusts what will be will be. She decries rule making and rigidity, preferring anarchy over hierarchy and, as noted earlier, is chaotic. But just like the chaos that gave birth to Mother Earth, the Junk Drawer (JD or, more formally, Our Lady of the Junk Drawer) is the wellspring of creativity. From chaos to form and back again, the Lady continually reinvents herself: a modern day Phoenix arising from the ashes of enforced structure.

The Junk Drawer is a comforting presence in a world where organized sport is considered healthier than spontaneous play and performance is elevated above creativity; where air conditioning is preferred over a cool breeze and swimming in the ocean is passed over for the chlorinated pool. She is the one that eats a second piece of chocolate cake and sits around all day reading whatever she pleases; dances to the moon at midnight and feeds the crows from her window. The Junk Drawer in all her chaotic stillness and creative intuitiveness is the feminine incarnate.

With JD as my new feminine symbol my inner chaos will experience its mirror and finally come to rest. In meditation, while still imagining roots sinking deep inside the earth I will now visualize corkscrews and napkin holders at the core, sitting idly into the night. The Lady’s motto will become mine: I sit and await in detached passion; my being-ness is all that matters. Safety will be nurtured by the assurance that all I ever need is close at hand while the chaotic and uncomfortable feelings of the past will be welcomed into the mosaic of who I am today.

I imagine it now: a new path created and the dawning of a new era. Goddess followers, Wiccan priestesses, and earth worshippers will forgo all previous incarnations of the feminine: nature, fertility statues, the colour pink and Easter hats. Women will still run with the wolves, belly dance and gossip over coffee but they will do so now with reference to their inner Junk Drawer. Chaos will be respected and all households will have one, preferably two, alters in ever changing permanence. Balance will be restored as the Yang of our past will come to terms with the Yin of our presence. Men and women of the world unite as the Lady of the Junk Drawer reawakens in us all.