Learning Presence

September 12, 2013

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us. Joseph Campbell

My fingertips surprise me when I allow them to translate directly from my soul without filter. When I returned to this blog last week, I responded to a comment from Laurie (Speaking from the Heart ) by saying: “The more I learn, the less I know. I have seen, heard, and felt SO much that all I can say is that I know even less than I knew three years ago because my learning has far exceeded my knowledge. Now I have to go write a blog about that.”

So, here I am . . . writing a blog about that—the more I learn, the less I know.

At the age of four or five, I was complete. I knew everything I needed to know. My memories of that time are curled up in an idyllic cloud of nested satisfaction. During that brief period in my life, I had no worries about the past or the future. I was totally caught up in the present and that was enough.

Life happened and the world caught me in its grip of reminiscence and anticipation. Consequences began to haunt me. The future held shadows that foretold of events to come.

Learning became a cognitive process that created more questions. Half a century later, I stand at the edge of knowledge cliff facing a vast emptiness of unknowing.

I have learned that I often get what I have asked for only to find out that I have asked for something that is not good for me.

I have learned that no one is really in charge of life here on earth except the laws of physics and nature.

I have learned that we create our existence.

I have learned that nothing has to happen and everything will.

What I don’t know is how to put what is best for me first.

What I don’t know is how to help others see that we can only be in charge of ourselves and if we just do that, we might cause less harm to others.

What I don’t know is how to create a daily existence that is based on everything I write about here.

What I don’t know is how to let nothing happen.

I am learning ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . that if I just watch my life and live from my true presence, something will happen.

And it might be better than what I had planned.

©2013 Barbara L. Kass

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The presence of returning

September 4, 2013

I’m back.

Back to my blogs. Back to my residence.

It appears from my last blog entry that I had managed some level of awakening and then disappeared. Or given up. The truth is I simply became busier than I could reasonably manage in a 24-hour day and this blog became one of the victims. While I kept up with Meaning Making, all of my other writing efforts were devoted to grad school papers and my final capstone thesis where I became undeniably aware that what I really really really really want right now is stillness and silence so that I can hear/feel/sense/discern the voice of the Divine/God/Spirit/Universal Consciousness.

I’ve returned to my place of living without my things because most of them burned up New Year’s Day 2012. But my habits have returned with me. I turn to see the time on the clock on the wall and see only an empty space. I need to find a new clock for that space because each time I face it, the memory of what used to be shakes me again, hurts me again, and I need to change that energy.

Returning requires replacement.

Returning requires facing what used to be with who I am now.

Returning is asking me the question: now what?

I’ve been living a life of finishing, stowed away in a different portal of time, sunk into a one-purpose outcome: graduation. It did not matter that I had already graduated from kindergarten, grade school, middle school, driver’s ed, dog obedience school, high school, college, and graduate school once before. Oh, no. I had to go back and hit graduate school one more time. It was a pure spiritual calling and what I discovered is the value of my time and attention—what is meaningful for me.

Returning finds me with everything I have absorbed and how it has changed me. I need to digest it all and make it mine. I am returned to where I began, and now I must somehow translate who I am now into my being in the world.

Someone is calling me to return to some greater presence of myself.

©2013 Barbara L. Kass

The presence of awakening

January 28, 2013

Enlightenment does not have to come like a bolt of lightning.

Some people are born enlightened (Jesus comes to mind). Others of us have these ongoing momentous occasions where we are suddenly awakened into a higher consciousness of life and our illusionary personality falls away. Fellow blogger Kathy Drue writes about this in her blog, Simply Here. Warning: if you don’t “get” anything she writes about, then you are nowhere near ready to drop the illusion that you are your personality, your job, your clothes, your body, your thoughts, your words, or anything else you might be attached to, and that’s okay. Come back later.

Meanwhile, there are those of us (===>pointing at self) whose enlightenment and awakening are coming along at about the pace of a two-year-old learning quantum physics. The idea that most people are not conscious and definitely NOT concerned about my personal well-being has taken over half a century to light up in my feeble brain. The truth is we are all self-absorbed. Once I accepted that I am not special, that I am totally self-absorbed, then AND ONLY THEN, could I look at my self-absorption and decide how to deal with it. I can choose to remain self-absorbed. A good deal of my time and effort remain devoted to self-absorption. I don’t go to work, earn money, buy food, and live in my illusory secure environment for anyone’s sake except mine. (Okay . . . a little bit for you, too. If I do it, then I don’t become a burden on society so self-absorption is also a part of self-responsibility.)

But the awakened part of me can let go my self-absorption for moments at a time to care for other human beings. Although I am not sure there can possibly be a total altruistic act, when I am sitting with another person in need, my heart talk is not about what I can get out of the situation. I am scurrying around within and reaching for that cosmic connection to bring something to the table for that other person to take in and bring home. Later, my ego personality will surface and get all puffed up about it, feel pleased, and say “didn’t we do great?” And, I will gently remind myself, “this time.” Next time, we might not do so well. Next time, we might not get what we want.

Here’s a scary part about awakening: I no longer really care if I get what I think I want. Even if I get it, whatever I have received is as transitory as my next breath.

Except waking up.

Once you are awakened, there is no more sleeping.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of resolutions

January 1, 2013

I actually found something useful on the Internet.

It was an article on Yahoo about nine daily habits that will make us happier. The article promised “immediate results” which (of course) caused my gullible alert meter to skyrocket. I’ve edited them a bit for personal use as New Year’s resolutions:

1. Start each day with expectation.

The article noted that life “lives up to (or down to) your expectations” and advises you to think “something wonderful is going to happen today” when you first get up in the morning. If you and your loved ones make it through the day alive, something wonderful has indeed happened so this one is a no-brainer. My personal edit to this one would be to look for the wonderful in my life and expect to find at least one if not many.

2. Take time to plan and prioritize.

Article advice is to “pick one thing that, if you get it done today, will move you closer to your highest goal and purpose in life. Then do that first.” My highest goal and purpose in life has nothing to do with achieving status or accumulating wealth. It is to become the best human being I can be. The real trick is to remember to be and do that in each moment even after some nutjob has just cut me off on the Washington beltway going 75 mph.

3. Give a gift to everyone you meet.

The article defines gift as a “smile, a word of thanks or encouragement, a gesture of politeness, even a friendly nod.” It also admonishes readers to “never pass beggars without leaving them something.” For those of you who claim that giving to the homeless just encourages them to remain homeless, here is my experience with that: most of the people who are homeless are not there out of choice. If they could cope with life better, they would. The awful truth is that they cannot for reasons too numerous to list here. You could not rescue them if you tried. I follow my conscience and do what helps me sleep at night.

4. Deflect partisan conversations.

The article advises to “bow out” of conversations about politics and religion but I look upon these conversations as opportunities to find out what is really going on inside the other person. I don’t have to engage in an argument, but I can bring out my inquisitive self and just keep asking questions like “why do you say that?” and “what makes you feel that way?”

5. Assume people have good intentions.

The article states an immutable truth: “Since you can’t read minds, you don’t really know the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that people do.” However, it implies that you should assume “good intentions” rather than “evil motives” with regards to “other people’s weird behaviors”. My feeling is that I have to use some judgment about those “weird behaviors” and get more information before I assume anything good or bad.

6. Eat high quality food slowly.

The article recommends that we “eat something really delicious, like a small chunk of fine cheese or an imported chocolate” once a day and to “focus . . . taste . . . savor it.” Why only once a day? Why is only fine cheese or imported chocolate “really delicious”? And, why only “high quality food”? Food (REAL food, people!) is more satisfying if eaten slowly and consciously.

7. Let go of your results.

The article tells us that worry is “the big enemy of happiness” and advises us to not focus on “events that are outside” of our control. Once we have done all that we can about any situation, we need to let go of the results. A good deed done does not necessarily translate into a good outcome.

8. Turn off “background” TV.

The article states that “the entire point of broadcast TV is to make you dissatisfied with your life so that you’ll buy more stuff.” I don’t know that this is true. I see plenty of things on television that make very happy that I have my life and not someone else’s life. That being said, I agree with turning off the noise for a little while each day. Embracing solitude and silence helps reduce stress.

9. End each day with gratitude.

The article recommends each day writing down at least one wonderful thing that happened such as “making a child laugh.” I can’t argue with keeping a gratitude journal but I encourage you to find at least three things each day to be grateful for. Make it your assignment each morning knowing that you can’t duplicate items from day to day.

And here is my personal habit that I am adding: live your life as a question. Quit seeking the answers and instead, live into the question you are asking. For more about that, see my article at Loyola’s Meaning Making blog.

Finally, this is my year of Living the Prayer. Praying has always seemed to me to be a very passive sort of activity, so I generally pulled it out only when I had no other choice (the prayer was usually preceded by terminology similar to “oh, crap!”). Something in my realization of what “eternal presence” signifies has caused me to sit up and take notice that while there are always beginnings and endings, there are also continuings (<=== is this a real word?).

Welcome to my continuings.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of meaning making

December 25, 2012

Life is meaningless without us. We are the ones who ascribe meaning to events, people, places, objects, and memories. We are not always in control of the meaning that gets attached nor can we be assured that any two people will hold the same meaning for the same event, place, person, object, or memory.

Christmas holds possibly the greatest expectations of meaning and the day itself is probably left baffled by our frenzied activity. After shopping for gifts for her family, my 11-year-old granddaughter asked me: “How did this whole Santa Claus thing get started anyway?” I know the folklore, but how the holiday evolved into a money-making scheme loaded with emotional meaning that nearly crushes us is beyond me.

We’ve written about Christmas and its meaning at Loyola’s Meaning Making blog and invite you to relax into those words for a few moments. We have no expectations of you.

Like many others, I want my life to have meaning. Whether I want to or not, I am making meaning in all my moments when I encounter another person. I wish for the presence of mind to ask myself: am I in this moment with this person being the best I can be? The solution, I believe, is to think of myself as an angel. I wrote about being an angel-in-training a few weeks back on Loyola’s blog. I think that if we all search to find the angel living in each of us, we would perform mighty and kind deeds.

I believe we all were/are angels and were sent by God to be messengers of love, caring, and kindness. Our task is to listen and provide for people when they cannot provide for themselves. To learn how to give, we must also learn how to receive and we can’t do this if we only give. We are human, too, and so we must receive.

Being an angel does not come easy for me. I tend to be a little cynical and highly opinionated. My mouth is often engaged far ahead of the censor in my brain. I rise from my human defensiveness remembering God often only as an afterthought. My gift to myself today is to remember that when I am in the presence of another human being who is testing my patience, I am yet being given another opportunity to help that angel receive love, caring, and kindness.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of a paycheck

November 25, 2012

From the time I was 16 years old until the present day, I have been unemployed for maybe a total of 6 months . . . and I’m, like, eleventy three forty-one years old or so. For some unknown reason, I have been blessed with this uncanny ability to not only find and keep a job, but I usually have two or three jobs.

Right now, I have three paying jobs. I have a full time career position in health communications. I teach as adjunct faculty at a community college. And, I am the editor for Loyola University’s Meaning Making blog. The full time job takes 40 hours a week. Being adjunct faculty takes about 7 hours a week. My editing job takes maybe 3 to 5 hours. These are all jobs that I enjoy very much.

I did not always enjoy my jobs. To put myself through college and graduate school, I did medical transcription. I made enough money but it was laborious work occasionally sprinkled with sorrowful anecdotes that continue to haunt me. For example, one emergency room doctor referred to motor cycles as “donor cycles” because the accident victims tend to be healthy young men who are dying of head injuries while the rest of their internal organs are intact. I was not sorry to let that job go.

Today’s job market makes me nervous, even with what seems to be as secure employment and credentials as anyone could have. There are segments of our population that are extremely vulnerable when unemployed. One of those groups includes people ages 50-65, and eleventy three forty-one falls within that age group. When these people lose their jobs, they generally also lose their health insurance. This is the age group when high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure begin to make their presence known. Untreated, these chronic diseases cause all sorts of silent damage to your body. Without a paycheck or health insurance, the unemployed are probably not going to get their blood sugar or cholesterol checked. They might have their blood pressure checked. Heck, that’s free at any drug store. One thing is for certain: even if it is high, without a paycheck or health insurance, they are not going to get a medication to lower it. Their only option is to change their lifestyle, eating habits, exercise, and all that.

Here’s another bit of bad news: by the time someone reaches age 50, his or her habits are pretty well established. Very few people are motivated enough to change behaviors when something REALLY bad happens like a heart attack. Almost no one changes their behaviors because their blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure are a little high.

The worst news is that these chronic diseases will continue to affect that person’s body in ways that won’t become apparent until that first heart attack or until blindness sets in or until there is a sore that won’t heal or a stroke or a blood clot. Chances are, though, this person will make it to age 65, be eligible for Medicare, and finally get treatment. But the damage that has been done can’t be undone.

This isn’t news to anyone. It is basic public health principles. We’ve known it for a long, long time. My new piece over at Meaning Making this month is about pastoral care and career counseling, especially for those people who are unemployed and over the age of 50. I am blessed to count myself on the money-making side of the population and often feel quite helpless trying to help others produce a paycheck. Yet, the other side keeps coming back, week after week, and they thank me each and every time.

No, I say, thank you. You are helping me stay real with God.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of expectations

October 29, 2012

As I write this, the wind is howling across the sky, whipping the trees back and forth, and there is a sense of urgency that I finish this before the lights go out. Evidently, there is a hurricane on the way and I live within its whipping zone.

Without electricity, I can’t upload to the Internet and I expect to post to my blog at least once per month. The electric company around here doesn’t exactly have a record of alacrity and speed when it comes to restoring lost power plus there is this rain thing going on and something about water and electricity comes to mind . . .

Anyway, wasting time. This is about expectations.

The world has failed, yet again, to meet my expectations.

I know this is a jaw-dropping surprise to you, especially since I have pretty low expectations:

• Be kind to each other.
• Take care of yourself.
• Take only what you need.
• Use your brain.

Most folks agree with the first three, but for some unfathomable reason (except for a few who think they NEED more than the rest of us but that’s a different blog), I get a lot of flak about the last one. I have this unspoken expectation that people will use their brains wisely. I expect that their definition of wise will equal or at least land on the same page as my definition of wise.

And, this, I have decided is the root of all my unhappiness. I have expectations that others will live up to my definition of wise. They don’t and never will. How hard is it to: not drive 100 mph on 50 mph roads, not leave your baby in a hot car, not shoot people, not stab children to death, not sabotage your co-workers, not kidnap and dismember people, not lie, and not spend more money than you make?

Really. You have to go out of your way to do these things.

The world, however, has met one of my expectations. I am now the editor at Loyola University’s blog Meaning Making. That’s where I’ve been these past couple of months and they’ve even agreed to give us a subscribe button. So, go over there and subscribe. We will only bug you about once a week and we have some uplifting good expectations to share.

I expect I’ll see you there.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of resistance

September 3, 2012

It took me forever to write this.

That you are reading it is testimony that I am not yet a master of resistance. I was unable to resist writing about resistance. It was even a mistake that I began writing about resistance. I misread this quote:

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
Pema Chödrön

I read the word “resistance” in that quote and decided right then and there that Pema was right. I was feeling resistance and, darn it, that meant it was time for me to “lean in” because that is exactly where I am stuck; however, please note that the word “resistance” does not appear anywhere. How Freudian is that? Note also that I am still resisting writing about my resistance.

I am but a novice struggling to make the art of resistance effortless. I don’t resist life entirely. I have made many things happen in my life and actually wanted most of them. There are a few more goals I want to reach but I still resist moving towards them because I would rather push the mountain instead of going over or around it.

(take a moment here and let that image sink in)

The mountain is the mountain resistance. You have one, too. And it is immovable. It’s a mountain! Occasionally, a few pebbles might tumble down and pop me on the head but I don’t think it happens as a result of my efforts. I think any movement on the part of the mountain is a spontaneous outburst to inertia. In other words, the mountain burped and then settled in a little more comfortably. That mountain won’t move because it is self-perpetuating. Pushing the mountain encourages it.

Pushing the mountain can look a lot like waiting for the “right time.” That’s called passive resistance in disguise and here’s how it goes:

“I really would like to [insert desire] . . . (let’s look at the mountain . . . hmmm . . . okay, start pushing!) . . . but it’s [too late, too dark, too early, too light, too soon, too cheap, too costly, too whatever]. . . whew! Did I push any of that lateness, darkness, earliness, lightness, soonness, cheapness, or costliness out of the way? No? But I tried SO HARD!”

Pushing the mountain can also look a lot like living but it is just a decoy for active resistance. Here’s what that sounds like:

“I would really like to [insert desire] . . . (inspect the mountain) . . . but I have to work, wash, clean, cook, travel, exercise, watch, sleep, stretch, fall, get up, love, be, whatever] . . . OH MY GOSH! THAT WAS SO MUCH WORK! But I got it all done. Now, I have time to devote to my desire . . . what? There is no time? But I pushed on the mountain ALL DAY LONG. What do you mean it’s still there??!!!”

Okay. I’m done.

For now.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of self-promotion

August 1, 2012

I am at it again. I am blatantly using my own space to promote the Making Meaning blog at Loyola University where I am obtaining my Master of Science in pastoral counseling. My most recent post is on feeling bad.

Self-promotion is a tough phenomenon for me. I grew up with the meaning of “humble” to read “kick me.” Being humble meant never sticking up for myself. Being humble meant taking the least favored soda, popsicle, and seat. Being humble meant never bringing attention to myself EXCEPT when it was in the service of others.

As I grew up, I noticed that being humble did not feel very good. In fact, it felt pretty crappy. Plus, it seemed that I was the only one expected to be humble. One of my siblings or parent was getting the good soda, the favorite flavor of popsicle, and the best seat. I thought “Why don’t THEY have to be humble, too?” I was in my teenage years when (fortunately) those disagreeable hormones kicked in and humble was suddenly not my preferred way of being in the world.

Growing out of humble and into self-promotion was not easy. We are instinctively programmed to move away from pain and suffering, but there are times when a little pain and suffering is good for us. Struggle makes us stronger. I have struggled with the marriage of suffering to my desire for happiness. If I were to totally avoid struggling and suffering, I never would have had a child, quit smoking, gone back to college, and moved to Maryland. All of these sound like wonderful adventures, but let me tell you: there is nothing — ABSOLUTELY NOTHING — that feels good about quitting smoking in the first six months. Intellectually, there is the reward of saving money, getting that monkey off my back, breathing easier, blah blah blah. But the withdrawal is fearsome. The good news is that I was willing to suffer through those months so I could be successful. Yes, success is associated with self-promotion. I had to promote myself to myself. It was a hard sell.

Self-promotion was a part of successfully negotiating Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Health degrees. I had to get grants and scholarships to afford my passage. Self-promotion was a huge part of selling myself to my employer here in Maryland. Self-promotion is my prime method of sharing my words that can connect me to you.

I am still humble, though. I know I am not alone in my success. Many people and that ultimate spiritual being helped a lot. They promoted me when I wasn’t looking and I turn around in my life right now to find I am exactly where I need to be.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of knowing

July 28, 2012

Knowledge is a dubious gift.

The problem with knowledge is that once something is known, it cannot be unknown. Even though we forget and often can’t recall what happened yesterday, some part of our brain still retains the memory of everything we have ever encountered.

Much of what we do and remember is automatic and linked to our survival and basic needs. Dementia and Alzheimer’s aside, it takes little effort to recall where we live, work, and play on a regular basis. I am grateful to remember my loved ones and special times shared with them. The memories I have a problem with are those when I witness the ugliness we create in life.

The current ugly in my life is the knowledge that people leave their babies and small children to die alone locked in vehicles. This summer, I have read at least five articles where infants and small children died of heatstroke inside a car or van. All of their stories yank my heart right out of its ignorant resting place. For example, a day-care worker “forgot” that she left a three-year-old strapped to his car seat in the van at the end of a field trip. I really would have rather not known this. My imagination has a field day taking on the suffering of others, and I wondered why I needed to know.

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to die like that, so I purposely sat in my car one day when the temperature was about 85 degrees. I parked in the shade, turned off the engine and rolled up all the windows.

Within five minutes, a mild panic settled into my throat and I felt that certain restlessness that I was not in a good situation. Thick and heavy heated air went in and out of my lungs, but it was not enough. Sweat oozed from my skin as my body began its futile attempt to cool me off. Nausea settled in my stomach. Within ten minutes, I had to open my door and let myself out.

And my true suffering had not even begun.

The babies and children I have read about suffered much more. They could not free themselves. The three-year-old who was left in the day care van might have been able to get out of a car seat, but most likely he had been trained NOT to. He sat there sweating, waiting, and hoping for someone to release him. I cannot imagine the distress in their little minds, although I can imagine how I would have felt, what I would have thought, and how alone I would have been with my despair. In my ending, I felt total anguish at the betrayal of trust. I had been entrusted to someone’s care and they had broken that trust.

I think that before anyone gets to have a driver’s license, he or she must endure at least ten minutes of what it is like to be locked in a hot car and not be able to free themselves.

The question again came to me, though: Why had my attention been drawn to these articles? Why did I need this knowledge? I know not to leave a child locked in a car under any circumstances. When I am driving with a child, everything about that driving is with the knowledge that I have precious cargo on board. I could have easily lived the rest of my life without knowing the suffering those children endured.

My answer is metaphysical. God/Spirit/All-That-Is/Universal Consciousness is always with us, connected at the source of our being, even in our dying. I am connected to those children, just as I am to every living soul in the universe, through God.

In this moment, my presence is with every child who is suffering and letting them know they are not alone.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass