On Hope

I went to sleep to the sensual delight of an open window after so many weeks shut to the cold (after so many months soaking up the pleasures of scent & sound.)

I woke to a dream about the election and looked over at the clock to see a series of 1’s, but not four or three, but a stream…

I lifted my head to inquire further and realized that the red glow of the digital was reflecting off the headboard behind my husband’s head. IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

There I was in the center of a stage, seeing my feeling state reflected back by an amphitheater of fans.

There was FEAR, huddled together, down low, dressed in black cloaked garments.

I was surprised to find myself waving at FEAR, and soothed by my own connection and compassion.

Above the dark mass, there was HOPE, fanning out and filling the stands, waving banners and cheering enthusiastically.

My spirits lifted higher. I smiled and waved at HOPE too, realizing they clearly outnumbered their brethren below.

As I drifted back to sleep,other feeling states on a series of more alarming topics–national, global, personal–were reflected by the crowd.

There were the darkly dressed, huddled ones, who never grew much in size and simply desired connection and safety; and above them, in the stands, the crowd that dwindled with each ensuing topic, until there were only one or two remaining, who weakly waved flags.

It occurred to me then, it’s not that we must rid ourselves (or this nation) of FEAR, nor dismiss or ridicule it, but instead pack the stands with HOPE.

Gun sense.
Climate change.
Women.
Children.
Other marginalized groups.
Democracy.
Integrity.
Honesty.
Accountability.
Livable wages.
Healthcare.
International leadership, learning & listening.
Diplomacy.
United Nations.
Alternative energy.
Rural communities.
Vibrant cities.
Farmers.
Clean water.
Protected natural spaces.
Diversity of species.
….
….
…..

Life After Getting Drunk~a St. Paddy’s Day Tribute

The last time I was drunk was St. Paddy’s Day, 1986.

And no, I’m not an alcoholic. Or a teetotaler.

I still like my Chardonnay and my Margaritas…

But I used to like to get smashed.

What changed?

I grew up, I guess. I crossed the line a few too many times in my early twenties, and drunkenness started to feel ugly and sad instead of fun.

That partying lifestyle is a hard one to sustain. Especially when you’re happy. Being hungover feels like crap.

Leaving the bar & restaurant world made it easier to let it go. So did becoming a teacher and a mother. Neither of those roles is very compatible with drunkenness.

Do I miss it?

Sometimes I do. But mostly I’m surprised that it’s still going on. (Without me  🙂

I guess there’s a lot of pain to medicate. At least that’s what I was doing. I drank to wash away feelings of not being enough. I drowned out anger and confusion. I hid from disillusionment.

When I was drinking, all that pain disappeared; and I got to catch my breath. Only the break never lasted; but the mistakes did.

Both my grandmothers and mother were alcoholics, and somehow I didn’t inherit their propensity for that disheartening disease; but I gave it a good effort–with nearly a decade of dedication.

I still got good grades, had goals, and met them; But I missed out on a lot. Like the day after St. Paddy’s Day, 1986, when my sweetheart and I were meant to be in Wyoming. It was a dream of his to see that great state, and it was the first time that the two of us had the opportunity to get out of town together. We were living in Steamboat Springs then, Colorado, working our butts off at the Mountain, and we were thrilled to have 3 days off in a row, together, to finally explore more of the West (before we headed back to the Atlantic.)

Instead, we spent that big adventure in bed, with one of the worst hangovers either of us has ever had. We fought over the last Ibuprofen and shook our heads at the pile of our mud-laden clothes on the floor. Later friends told us that we had been seen wrestling up the hill on our way home from the bar.

We still laugh at that story, and I tell it too much–maybe to point out that there is life after drinking–even though it seems like the most fun in the world when you don’t know what else you’re missing.

Now I define fun differently. Now it’s about creating more of what I want in my life, instead of running from what I’m afraid of.

And when I have pain, I like to “check IN” instead of “check OUT.” Well, that’s not entirely true.  Sometimes, I’d rather watch Netflix or check Facebook; but what I’ve learned, again and again, is that there’s gold to be mined in my discomfort if I just show up: Pain is transformed. Memories heal. Disillusionment is replaced with new, vibrant visions. Dreams come true. And I begin to like myself just the way I am. I cut myself a goddamn break; and I don’t even have to be drunk to do it.

Kelly Salasin, March 2012

Note: Lately, I’ve been accused of being “High & Mighty.” If that’s what you’re looking for, read this one about drinking: Drunk for the Holidays; or this: Father Who Used FB to Teach His Daughter A Lesson: A Human Rights Issue.

The Atheist’s Christmas

Francesco, visipix.com

Why would an Atheist want to go to church?” a friend asks, after my mention of the Unitarian/Universalist congregations that include them.

Her question is a good one. It not only points to the Christian-centric view, it also provides a rich opportunity for exploration.

“I think all humans have an essential need to gather in community and deepen into that which is most important,” I say.

I probably wasn’t that eloquent, and I’m not sure of my accuracy either when it comes to what Atheists need or believe. I imagine they’re like the rest of us–some of this, some of that, and everything in between.

I’ve been listening to The Portable Atheist this holiday, mainly because I couldn’t find anything else seasonal at the library, and I’d rather listen to something about “not” believing than something completely unrelated to the question of the sacred at this time of year.

The truth is I’m not so worried about whether there is a God, and what his name is, and whether she’s benevolent or exacting or both. I just love being immersed in Spirit and for me Spirit comes alive with attention–whether it’s questions or ritual or worship or meditation.

The Portable Atheist makes a valid point, however, about the suffering propelled throughout time by religion. You don’t even need to look back into history for that. It’s happening right now, all around the world. That said, society’s ills can’t all be blamed on religion, just as all good acts can’t be ascribed to those of faith. And yet there is some alarming discrimination going on for those who are (openly) Atheist.

Years ago, I closely followed the story of a teacher at the local high school who was driven out of town because  he was an atheist. I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but if you read the collection of letters to the editor in our small town paper, you’d recognize the witch hunt too.

In my mind, it isn’t religion or atheism that is the root of the problem, it is fear. Whenever we’re afraid, we make the other–an “other”–and then all manner of horrid things are possible. (Think Holocaust.)

This brings me back to the UU’s. A few years ago, I was hired as the interim Director of Religious Education at our local Unitarian Universalist church–where surprisingly it didn’t matter that I had no religion.

I was fascinated by this organization. It found a way to bring together Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Pagans, Wiccans, Agnostics and even Atheists–and people like me who love exploring them all, but never settled down with a one. It was no simple task and I’m not sure the results were ever completely satisfying for any one group, but the effort is valiant and inspiring.

What’s particularly challenging is Christmastime, when the UU’s typically have a pageant–often Christian, sometimes Pagan, and sometimes something else altogether. No matter what, the service represents all faiths–in attendance, readings, music and spirit.

I had a similar experience at the Meetinghouse Church in our town last night on the final Sunday of advent. It was a service of scripture and carols; and it was led by long-time members of the church; but also by newcomers–some of whom are Unitarians or Catholic or dare I say, Agnostic. Most inspiring was the chorus–led by the Jewish community leader, accompanied by a professor of Buddhism, seated in front of the ex-wife of a leading yoga guru.

“I found those kind of services bland,” my friend says, and she makes a valid point. There does seem to be something missing when we try to accommodate everyone. It takes the flavor away. But maybe it’s time for a new flavor. Maybe we just haven’t gotten the recipe right.

Christianity has had over two thousand years to develop its flavor, while Judaism has had even longer. Maybe equality and diversity are just finding their spice. Maybe our taste buds need to adapt too.

Try hugging an Atheist this Christmas–tell them how much you appreciate the good they do, the humanity they uphold, and the reverence and awe they give to nature.

Kelly Salasin, December 19, 2011

From the Unitarian Universalist website:

Atheists are people who do not believe in a god, while Agnostics are people who think that we cannot know whether a god exists. Both groups are welcome in Unitarian Universalism. Today, a significant proportion of Unitarian Universalists do not believe in any type of god. Our congregations are theologically diverse places where people with many different understandings of the sacred can be in religious community together.

More information about Atheism and Agnosticism from a Unitarian Universalist perspective is available from the following UU World articles. UU World magazine is published in behalf of Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) congregations to help its readers build their faith and act on it more effectively in their personal lives, their congregations, their communities, and the world.

Another non-theistic tradition is Humanism, which focuses on human potential and emphasizes personal responsibility for ethical behavior.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

“Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be…Revelation.”

~Eileen Caddy

photo

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is also my birthday–which is why the nurses at the Sisters of Mercy begged my mother to name me Mary on the misty morning that I was born in their hospital by the sea.

Did you know that Mary was immaculately conceived?

If you’re not Catholic, this is probably a shock. And the good news about this news is that if you are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to attend a Catholic school, you get that day off–every year–which is pretty special when it’s your birthday, and probably explains why I continue to take this day off, even though I’m not Catholic.

Well, actually, I’m kind of Catholic, because supposedly my Irish Catholic grandmother, Loretta, baptized me in my carriage. If I remember correctly, baptism is the one Catholic sacrament for which you do not need a priest–which my agnostic father would have never tolerated, especially after The Church refused to marry him and my mother because of his Jewish heritage.  (Not to mention that she was pregnant with me.)

My own husband and I were married in the month of Mary (May) and gave birth to our first son on August 15–the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.  (Did you know that Mary was “assumed” into heaven? )

Given that my mother was born on Christmas Day, I became intrigued with my family’s growing Mary connection. When I later discovered that my husband’s birthday, September 8th, was celebrated as The Feast Day of Mary–her very own birthday–I was beside myself!

Imagine my delight while deliberating over a piece of land in Southern Vermont only to find that the closest neighbor was a summer camp–owned and operated by Guess Who?  The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception!

At this juncture of my tale, I’m must confess that our second son was born on a Pagan holiday which I was sure had jinxed us… until Mary started moving.

A new statue of Mary, that I received for my birthday last December 8th, was set on the cabinet facing the woodstove; but by summer, I noticed that she had inched her way west toward the pond–and toward the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception–who return there each July.  

I would turn her back, liking things just so, only to find her turned ever so slightly again.

Everyone in the house thought I was crazy, but when I swore that I hadn’t touched her, they became concerned. We all agreed to leave Mary gazing at the pond instead of the fire.

Lately I’ve been walking through lots of FIRES of my own making… I’ve discovered work that resonates deeply with my passions, yet I continue to resist and suffer. The mission of this organization is intercultural understanding which means that I get the privilege of connecting to members all around the world from this little corner of rural Vermont. When one of our offices notified me that they would be closed on December 8th for the national observance of the holiday, I felt the tug of alignment once again.

Arriving home that evening, another email came from an old college friend, saying that she always remembers my birthday because it falls on the Feast of the Conception. I joked that I liked any religion that associated conception with “feasting;” but what I didn’t say was that I was finally beginning to realize a deeper meaning and connection to the Immaculate Conception.

I am too humbled and ashamed to make such a claim, but it is true. For despite my overwhelming fear, and my daily grumblings of hardship, this work was certainly brought toward me by the deep waters of alignment and trust. I didn’t grab after it with my mind, as I have so often done (in the wrong direction); it reached out for me –by the heart–and the loins–conceiving of a new self-expression inhabited by allowing the Divine.

Sadly, there is no happily ever after. I’m still human.  I’m still Kelly.  I’m not going to sail off into the sunset, assumed into Heaven like the Holy Mother. 

There is work to be done–on the INside, and the OUTside–and often, I make that HARD. Yet despite this attachment to hardship, DREAMS do come true–again and again–when I open myself to Heaven’s part.

Kelly Salasin, December 8, 2010

(ps. thank you to my wise friend Carolyn who helped me recognize the Immaculate Conception in my own life.)

Previous post in this series: Go Away Dreams!

Next post in this series: The Immaculate Conception, Part II

Sweet Surrender

“Don’t be afraid to go where you’ve never gone and do what you’ve never done because both are necessary to have what you’ve never had and be who you’ve never been.” (Tut.com)

I fall asleep in sweet surrender–despite the fear that my life could be dramatically altered in the morning.

When thoughts of inadequacy appear, something revolutionary occurs.  Rather than attempt to chase my fears away or figure them out, I simply surrender them.

I find myself turning them over to whomever it is who cares for me–the ancestors, the angels, the common consciousness.

Instead of finding fault with myself for either being inadequate or feeling it, I allow it.  I soften into it.  And I fall asleep, dreaming of women.  Marrying them.

These dreams have recurred of late–which my husband blames on the episodes of The L Word, a series that I incessantly consumed while sick. (Beware of Netflix streaming!)  Given my obvious sexual preferences however, we both know that there is something more going on.

I am softening.

After a lifetime relying on the strong masculine aspects of my particular makeup, I have allowed myself to be vulnerable.

In fact, this whole revolutionary process began with a single act of vulnerability–sent in an email to a stranger.

It was her kindness or curiosity or mirroring slip of sanity which set this into motion.  On this particular day, I was faced with refusing or accepting a new position, and I was deeply conflicted. My mind said that it was a mighty fine fit.  My insides had something else to say.

Given my family’s financial needs and how long it was taking me to find “aligned” work, I was about tip the scale toward practicalities. In a last ditch effort to stay true to myself, I scouted the classifieds, and found hers.  I sent out a quick email, requesting a full job description, to which she promptly followed up: “Let me know if you’re still interested.”

Her response took me by surprise.  I had expected the standard, “Please send your resume, cover letter and three references if you’re interested,” and given the discernment facing me on this day, I didn’t have the energy for that.

After reading the very long and thorough job description, I replied that I LOVED the organization, but  found the responsibilities “scary.”  I wished her luck filling the position and thanked her for the ease of our exchange.

Once again, I was taken aback by her quick and easy reply.  “What about it scares you?”

Amused, I delved deeper into the requirements to answer that question for myself; and in the process discovered that I had done pretty much all of what was asked in some way or another.

Inspired by our playful volley of emails, I took a risk and sent her a full response: highlighting my experience and interests–and even going so far as to candidly share where I would be challenged and where I would be bored. I had nothing to loose.

Her reply was dismaying.  She needed to get back to me later in the day because she had some work to finish.

Now, I wasn’t sure what to do.  Do I let go of the sure thing (the job that was on the table) for something that was a big maybe? Do I tell her that I had something on the line?  Hadn’t I already trespassed her kindness?

In an act of even greater vulnerability, I apologized for taking advantage of the casualness of our email exchange and offered a brief explanation of my urgency.

I didn’t expect to hear from her before the end of the day so I enrolled my husband and my sisters in the quandary, out of which came this resounding message,  “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush.”

But did I want that bird in hand, even if I didn’t have another?

I didn’t.

But was that okay?

A prompt reply from the kind and curious woman ensued, assuring me that she had welcomed each of my emails, and that she would like to offer me an interview.  (She added that she would understand if I wanted to take the “bird in hand.”)

Bird in hand? Was it a sign?

In a delirious response to this tidal wave of movement, I drafted two emails–one refusing the job that had been offered, and the other accepting the interview.

Perched on a precipice of insanity, I resisted hitting “send” on either.

While my fingers dangled above the keys, the phone rang.

It was a friend offering some temporary work in the upcoming weeks.  As she went on to describe her needs at great length, I kept thinking that I wasn’t capable of thinking about anything else at this moment, though I didn’t have the strength to interrupt her.

When I hung up, I realized that I had just been granted a reprieve. I could turn down the bird in hand and  have some income to tide me over until another wave of possibility appeared.

Klimt, visipix.com

48 hours later, I arrived with my resume and cover letter and three references to formally meet the woman who may have conspired to redirect “the current” of my life.

Afterward, I ate chicken wings–which brings me back to the beginning of this sweet surrender to hope, fear, identity, expression–and indigestion.

Kelly Salasin, November 8, 2010

To start at the beginning of the chicken-wing/life-work saga, click this link:  The Mask

or to read the previous post of my great surrender, click here: The Revolution–Inside.

and the follow up post: Salamander Dream.

The Revolution (Inside)

One week ago, I interviewed for a job–and a revolution began–inside. (Either that or I ate some bad chicken wings.)

revolution |ˌrevəˈloō sh ən|
noun
1 a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system; uprising.
• a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it

Finally, the long-held tyranny of a demanding dictator was toppled–inside.

tyranny |ˈtirənē|
noun
cruel and oppressive government or rule:  the removal of the regime may be the end of a tyranny.
•rule by one who has absolute power without legal right.

It was a bloody and painful revolution–inside.

I wish that it were enacted more peaceably, but alas, the tyranny was so much a part of the system that it was numb–until it could no longer bear to be. Unfortunately, this sudden coup left a vacuum of power, making the system more susceptible to another takeover.

Had it been intentionally carried out, plans would have been made for transition. A new governing body would have been installed–one which represented the best intentions of the whole–enacted with compassion and courage.

courage |ˈkərij|
noun
the ability to do something that frightens one;
• strength in the face of pain or grief.

PHRASES
have the courage of one’s convictions; act on one’s beliefs despite danger or disapproval.

The word Courage comes from the Latin “cor” meaning “heart.”  Despite the tyranny of the mind and its troubled past, “heart” had always been nurtured within this system.  “Heart” is what made it possible to endure the dictator and to imagine something else was possible–inside.

imagination |iˌmajəˈnā sh ən|
noun
the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses;
• the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful;

The word imagination comes  from the Latin “imaginari” which means “picture to oneself.”

I have long “pictured myself” in softer, more colorful hues; and I have learned that this is not a state of doing, but one of being–in alignment with body, mind and soul.

Given the current revolution, I have an opportunity to allow the old way to decay, to fall from the vine, providing room for the new way to flourish-inside.

flourish |ˈfləri sh |
verb
1 grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, esp. as the result of a particularly favorable environment : wild plants flourish on the banks of the lake.
• develop rapidly and successfully : the organization has continued to flourish.
• to be working or at the height of one’s career during a specified period;
2 to attract the attention of others.

The verb flourish comes from the Latin “flor” meaning flower; and at one time. flourish meant to adorn, as with flowers, in order to attract the attention of others.  That meaning has become obsolete, replaced by the idea of flowering from the–inside.

This brings some new thought to mind: Rather than replace the old tyrant with a new ruler, perhaps I could employ another use of the word revolution– from the Latin, “revolvere,” meaning to “roll back.”

revolution |ˌrevəˈloō sh ən|
noun
2 an instance of revolving;
• motion in orbit or a circular course or around an axis or center.

The truest revolutionary act may be to “revolve” around my own center, living my life more fully from the–inside.

Kelly Salasin, 2010

(To read the previous post on the Life Purpose Path, click this link:  Great Expectations. Or the ensuing post:Sweet Surrender.  To find out more about the path, click here.)

Great Expectations

Runge, visipix.com

There were always great expectations for me–as the treasured first born of two proud families.

However my mother said that I was always rather average. I wasn’t able to potty train at 6 months–despite the swan seat my Nana bought me, and I didn’t walk early either–despite the pretzel gold fish that the same Nana used to entice me.

Talking may have been the exception–which they soon came to regret.

“Chatterbox,” my grandfather chided.  “Please stop talking for one moment,” my mother begged.

And yet, they continued to dole out expectations.  “You are the oldest grand daughter Kelly, you must set a good example for everyone else.”

“You are my oldest niece Kelly, your cousins all look up to you.”

“You are our oldest daughter, Kelly, your sisters emulate you.”

Boucher, detail, visipix.com

Dressed in fancy clothes, telling everyone what to do, my mother says I was thirty by age two. No wonder.

“Dinnertime was particularly stressful,” she said, helping me understand why I had become so bossy, and why I didn’t like sit down meals.

“There were so many aunts and uncles and grandparents telling you what to do that it gave ME a stomach ache,” she confessed.

Peas were to be eaten with mash potatoes.

Steaks were to be cut like so.

Elbows belonged off the table.

Young ladies didn’t chew like cows.

It wasn’t until my late-twenties that I could relax at the table again. Meals that had once been places of instruction and correction–later became places of argument. Often I was sent from the table to my room.

Unless it was a table of younger children to whom I was to attend. Then afterward, my grandmother would help me with my French.

“I always wanted to be a translator at the UN,” she said, “but I never finished college.”

She was married with a new baby before graduation.  Four more babies followed, and a life at home–without the satisfaction of a career of her own.

Klimt, visipix.com

I felt the weight of her expectations–not just for my life–but for the life she never led.  She had so many hopes for me, but then she died before I got to realize a one.

Thus my life was cloaked in great expectations–which served to nurture and smother me.

When faced with an unwanted pregnancy at 16, there was no one I could tell.

There was no room in the mythology of “Kelly” to allow for such disgrace.

Though my boyfriend suggested marriage, I firmly declined, keeping my eye on college and a future of travel.  I refused to let anything get in the way of claiming the life that my grandmother lost.

By my late teens, the great expectations were self-propelling–and out of control.  I became so driven that I was tortured by headaches on weekends, not knowing how to slow down–without being sick.

During summer “vacation,” I managed my uncle’s restaurant, working a hundred hours a week; and when I returned to school and was diagnosed with monoucleosis, I insisted on going to classes and condemned myself for letting my grades slip below straight A’s.

My professors questioned my lagging performance, but  it never occurred to me to ask for help or exception. My father was a doctor, as was his father, and his father; we knew how to be tough; coddling was for wimps.

My father actually knew everything, especially about me, and I longed to hear his latest proclamation of success.  More often, it was criticism:  “Hold in your stomach, Kelly,” he said, and so I did.  “Your hair looks much better straight,” he said, and so I removed the curls.  “You need some color,” he said, and so I spent some more time outside.  “You need to loose weight,” he said, and so I did, until he told me that I was too thin.

Friedrich, visipix.com

No matter what I did or how I looked,  I could never reach his moving target of approval.  And once my parents divorced and he remarried, he quickly lost interest in me altogether.

For a long time, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

Our last remaining connections were grades, but by the time I graduated from college, I had to convince him to attend the award ceremony where I was honored for being at the top of my department. (In the end, he skipped it for another event.)

Despite my success at school, my relatives were disappointed that I hadn’t become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. They had expected so much of me.

I made up for it in the classroom.  At the end of each day, I would tutor and run student counsel meetings and volunteer as a mentor.  On vacation, I taught summer school and tutored some more. I couldn’t get enough of work. “Notice me. I’m important,” I seemed to say.

I was afraid of silence.  I filled it with everything I could–with television or radio or more often, people; Otherwise, I’d hear the noises in my head–the ones that told me what to do and how to do it better.

“Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly,” they’d echo…

After two miscarriages, my doctor urged me to slow down and consider taking some time off. This terrified me–but not as much as never being a mother.

Modhersohn, visipix.com

What followed was a decade of growth and pruning and slowing down–so much so that I became afraid of noise, and of work–and of the return of the Great Expectations–mine and theirs.

I spent another handful of years waffling between retreat and engagement, confused about who I was and what I wanted and how to know either.

Which brings me to today, where I sit in a quiet house enjoying the silence, all the while holding GREAT EXPECTATIONS for a new role to which I aspire.

This is a place that I could bring my grandmother’s atlas and claim her lost hopes. This is a place where I can feed that part of me who loves the world–not in the driven backpacking days of my college years–but with the wisdom and heart of a mother.

This integration of past and present and future has unleashed a fiery dragon from my belly–oozing the unexpressed bile of dozens of years when I couldn’t hear–the precious voice–of my own–insides.

Kelly Salasin, November 5, 2010

Click here to read the previous installment, The Zen Monk in Me in the series; or the ensuing post: The Revolution Inside or here to see the full life path journey–home.)