30 August 2010

Dream Prism

Over a week ago now, I had "one of those dreams"--the kind I wake from feeling saturated by the dream, as though it had lived in me for many days before choosing a night to play out while I slept and dream me for hours.

No connective narrative remained after I awoke. Only three strong pieces:

SHARE is a magical word, a talisman permitting access to multiple conceptual spaces. I extend my arm towards you with something in my hand -- this is sharing. You extend your arm toward me with something in your hand -- this, too, is sharing. We stand together and face the same direction to share a view. [There are other extrapolations available but only these three were offered in the dream.]

HOME is both a concept and a feeling.

SATURN. In the dream, the planet had two (and sometimes three) rings. Depending on how I held my focus, the rings either circled the planet or became dissecting discs. An omnipresent but disembodied voice periodically intoned "You can draw Saturn." I stood in a vast dark space saying aloud "I can draw Saturn!" and "I can draw Saturn?"


Sharing the dream with others has led to discovery of an excellent book, "Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil"; as well as a reminder of the multiple meanings of "draw"; and a reflection that this is a typically multi-faceted dream whose theme happens to be the multi-faceted nature of language and other things.

This dream is a keeper. I'm beginning work on a one-woman show and I believe this dream has material for plumbing.

26 August 2010

Surprise Attack

As I begin to integrate what I learned while attending the Landmark Forum in July and the Non-Violent Communication Diversity training in August into the day-to-day realm, a tingly transformation is taking place. In body and mind, I'm feeling rejuvenated, inspired and....


I'm in the world and, for the first time in memory since early childhood, unequivocally glad to be here. It feels now like I've been walking around with a broken heart, ill-fitting shoes and a back ache and trying very hard to make the best of the situation. Reaching deep inside myself for scraps of this and that to construct an inadequate but workable frame for my existence.

Yesterday a friend spoke to me of his readiness to move to a cave and speak to no one and live in peace with his incense, candles and spiritual practice. Of course I understood him: that's been my fantasy for a very long time. A cave outfitted with my books and a piano and a comfortable sleeping space. It was my most cherished dream and most potent longing for a long time.

That has changed and is actively morphing even as I write these words. I am on the edge of my seat with unparalleled willingness and curiosity about The World. I am in the world and of the world and that's just fine with me. The world looks fascinating and messy and fertile and scary and hilarious and rewarding to me today and I feel like I have what it takes to be in it.

I can go wherever I want to go. Maybe I'll be the star of the show when I arrive--or maybe I'll be eaten alive! Maybe I'll find the necklace I lost on family vacation 45 years ago or "that [yet to arrive] man o' mine" or the ultimate red beans and rice recipe.

I anticipate surprises to come. I don't mean someone misunderstanding me or being "fired" or a Cat 5 hurricane. Not even an assassination or election of the first woman to the U.S. presidency will qualify as surprises. We know these things are coming; it's just a matter of time.

I mean something completely unexpected. Something that's gonna take my breath away and make my eyes pop wide open. I anticipate I'm in for surprises -- and they won't all be jolly surprises because I'm not seeking a 24-hours-a-day jolly set-up for my life. I'm seeking juicy and provocative and poignant and obscene surprises as well.

There was an exasperated "Why am I here?" whining in the background of my life and it's gone. Maybe you and I will run into each other out in the wide, wide world of possibilities and I'll tell you about what's replaced it.

18 August 2010

What About God?

Last night I was a Guest. Friends served a light supper consisting largely of vegetables fresh from their own garden. We sat at a beautiful wooden table in their dining room, sipping chardonnay and watching the sun fall into the Pacific from high in the Oakland Hills. Every detail of the experience was exquisite.

We haven't seen each other since I left Oakland in 2004. By dinner time, my historical narration had advanced to discussion of my recent introductions to the Landmark Forum and Non-Violent Communication (Search on any of these as keywords to access earlier relevant posts). Somewhere during the unfolding of "Life is empty and meaningless" one of my hosts confessed that she is "a worrier." She said "Horrible things happen in the world and it's not because I make them up or call them "horrible."

We talked for awhile--me offering examples of horrible events that could be viewed in a very different light by another set of eyes with a different history or driven by a different combination of needs.

Out of the blue (from my perspective), she asked "What about God?"

I don't remember where the conversation went from there, but the question returned to me this afternoon. I called a friend whose strongly Buddhism-based spiritual practice is evident even in the outgoing telephone message I heard when I called him around 4. In a calm, natural tone, his voice said, "Good Day to you. Thank you for calling. Let me know what's on your mind by leaving a message and I will get it. Thanks."

After leaving a brief invitation to come with me on Sunday for the service I will do at the Petaluma Unitarian Universalist church, I hung up and reflected on all the work both of us have done in churches--mostly UU for me; mostly Catholic for him. We are both primarily musicians. We've both had love-hate relationships with a variety of faith traditions. We've both had periods of hard-core theism and adamant agnosticism over the years.

I wrote a thesis on my personal theology as a final assignment in the Bachelor of Arts Completion (BAC) program at the CA Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) over 10 years ago. I wonder if I still have a copy of it...

A great deal of insight and inspiration are currently pouring into my life. If God is a set of beliefs in a concept that produces a feeling of safety and brings purpose and meaning to life, then I could say I am having a close encounter with God these days.

There is no sense of a distinct entity of superior intelligence or power. No question of right or wrong winds through my sensorium. I feel simultaneously held and free, in a vast, intimate unfolding.

Trainers and participants shared a ritual one night during the retreat. Various objects--dry leaves, empty bowl, silk scarf--were placed on the floor on a large cloth. Those who wished could take a turn and engage with the objects in an expression or prayer. On my turn, I was profoundly surprised to hear myself invoking "hope" verbally while feeling "full of hope." It is not a sensation I have felt for a very long time. For years, "hope" appeared in my language as "I don't do 'hope'".

"There is no safety." "I don't do 'hope'."

That's been my byline.

This afternoon, as at the retreat ritual, I'm flooded with a new sensation: I am safe and full of hope. I see my own fingerprints on the suffering of my life. I feel my heartbeat and hear my voice in the choices I make and the events of my life. I am alive. I am part of everything. These points of awareness feel like Divine presence. Like there is no further proof needed and I can breathe and smile. I am free.


I spent last week in the Santa Cruz Mountains at a "Non Violent Communication and Diversity" training retreat. The event was staged at the Pema Osel Ling retreat center, a beautiful campus in a 100+ acre redwood forest.

Like many other "people of color," I cringe when I hear the phrase "diversity training". We've attended too many of them, for one thing. For another, it's hard to detect any growth or change or transformation in ourselves or the world after attending. Eventually, one begins to wonder "What's the point?" of diversity training.

This training was a different kind of training for me and, based on conversations with other participants, also for the other road-weary people of color who attended. One of the first notable differences was the racial and ethnic demographics of both the trainer-group and the participant-group. People of color formed the majority in both cases.

A second important difference was the NVC frame in which the training took place. NVC is based on a number of fundamental beliefs, such as:
  • all humans have needs
  • needs are the underlying motivation for thoughts and feelings and behavior
  • clarification of the needs at work in an encounter can be achieved through empathic listening
  • awareness of needs (and their attendant thoughts and emotions) makes non-violent communication possible
Not long before attending the training, I was in a difficult conversation with a friend and stated that I was annoyed by her "neediness." She said she believes that everyone is "needy" and people who are impatient with neediness should "get over it." This was a new perspective on "need" and I've thought about it a lot since that day. The NVC training was a continuation of my contemplation.

Is "neediness" the same as "need"? I realize now that, for my friend (who is also familiar with NVC principles), the answer might be "yes" but, for me, they are not the same.

NVC teaches that awareness of an unmet need, in myself or someone else, does not carry a requirement or assumption that the need be met. I might, for example, notice that as I approach a podium to speak to a large group, I am feeling some fear and that this fear is based on needs to be perceived as competent, to receive approval and respect, to be noticed, etc. I can request that the audience members give me their attention, that they not interrupt me, etc. in an attempt to meet my active needs
BUT there is no guarantee the audience will grant the request and I make the request with that understanding. To whatever degree I make the request with an assumption or hidden demand that it be fulfilled, I have become "needy". And this is the difference I appreciate between the terms.

One of the world-rocking and comforting precepts of both NVC and the Landmark Forum is the limited (sometimes non-existent) relevance of "right" and "wrong" in the realm of human
interaction. My friend and I can hold different definitions of "need" and "needy" and "neediness" and neither of us is wrong; we simply see things differently from where we stand. Neither of us must carry the burden of trying to convince the other to adopt our point of view.

I was reminded again of my experience during the Landmark Forum when the trainer told the story of meeting his wife. "I will never need you" they promised each other during their wedding ceremony. Nuances of the vow become apparent when considered through the lens of NVC. "I will never need you expands to: "During the time we are together, I may experience needs for recognition, comfort, beauty, consolation, entertainment, companionship, encouragement... I promise to never merge my needs with who you are. I promise not to hold you responsible for meeting my needs."

What would the World be like if everyone everywhere took this vow?

04 August 2010

Alex is Scary

Last night's "Six Feet Under" viewing marathon included the disturbing episode from the fourth season entitled "That's My Dog." Yikes! That was, without a doubt, one of the scariest things I've ever seen on film. My heart raced, my breathing became quick and shallow, my palms sweated. Emotionally, my thoughts and feelings veered recklessly from terror to anxiety to grief to horror... A cacophony of voices screamed a collision of messages inside me, "I can't take any more!" "Don't say that! You'll jinx him!" "Pray!" "I don't have to watch this!" "Please!"

I couldn't press "Pause" or "Stop" because I had to hang on and see a happy ending. Otherwise I would be haunted for god-knows-how-long with whatever horrific conclusions my imagination would create.

This morning I'm left with residual physical and emotional distress. (I probably should NOT be drinking this excellent cup of Starbucks' Gazebo Summer Blend espresso...but I am.) Thinking about fear and the differences in individual definitions of and responses to scary things. Thinking about times in the past when I've been told I am scary or intimidating. Sometimes, I only sense that someone is afraid of me. They don't actually say "I'm afraid" or "I'm afraid of you"; the manifestation of the fear, for me, comes as a change in the air or electrical field that surrounds and permeates me and the other person.

They might say "You're intense" or "I'm offended" or "That's inappropriate" or "I don't want to talk about this"; but what I observe is nervousness in the eyes, a tensing of facial muscles, quickening breath and sometimes mild trembling. Sometimes the display looks like anger. Sometimes it looks like sadness. Sometimes it looks like superiority.

My host here and I had an encounter yesterday. The details aren't important in the current discussion. In Landmark Forum parlance, discussing the details would be "running a racket." Discussing the details would be, at base, an attempt to demonstrate I am right and she is wrong. If you accept this viewpoint--and I do--the more compelling and relevant discussion begins with an examination of my experience of the encounter. What meaning did I make around the experience?

Within seconds of perceiving what I understood as fear in her, I ended the conversation. I saw it in her eyes, felt it on my skin and in the air between us. I felt a little nauseous and also frightened. I said "It's okay. We don't have to talk about this" and left the room.

What escaped my notice at the time but sparkles with truth today is my own fear in the situation. At the root of my "story" in the moment was "I don't want you to be afraid of me. If you are afraid of me I must be a scary person--awful, flawed, terrible...and unlove-able." The feeling was profoundly unpleasant. Definitely an experience of suffering.

To continue the Landmark translation: a "racket" consists of "a fixed way of being + a persistent complaint." Despite refraining from a detailed discussion of who-said-what in this post (or anywhere), I am "running a racket" internally. Running the "I'm right, she's wrong" scene inside my own mind, for my private "enjoyment."

Running a racket involves both payoff and costs. The pay-off is self-righteousness. The costs include losses of intimacy, full self-expression and vitality.

This morning's breakthrough is a full awareness of the costs. I think of yesterday's encounter and feel immensely isolated and stifled. I feel heavy and psychically depleted.

In the last few days, two weeks post-Landmark Forum, I have focused on abandoning the "fixed way[s] of being" and "persistent complaint[s]" of the past and creating a new future for myself, out in the vast universe of possibility. I've struggled in this project because my fixed ways of being are...well, persistent. I've been baffled by how exactly abandonment is accomplished. It's reminded me of trying to remove chewing gum from the bottom of my shoe without using my hands.


A smile has been growing on my face for the last 15 minutes or so. A cool, fresh feeling of freedom has begun to invigorate and invade my psyche.

I am alone in the house; my host is away for the day. When I awoke to the empty house today I was relieved -- and simultaneously dreaded her eventual return. In this moment, I'm looking forward to her return because I'm no longer afraid or angry or exhausted. Somehow, acknowledging that I felt afraid during the encounter has shifted something inside me. Feeling the loss of intimacy, self-expression and vitality--actually feeling it still, hours later, in my body--has deepened my understanding of "racket running."

I "get" it. I know where it lives in me and I have stepped into another space.

My learning has been facilitated by a physical experience of the intellectual construct. It's like finally found the dress hanging in the back of the closet and put it on. And laid it aside.

I have designed a new dress and I can't wait to wear it in the world. Not in expectation of the world's approval or rejection but because I love this dress; I made it, it feels great and I know I wear it well.

02 August 2010

A Fork in the Road

I am making my way through a viewing of the entire TV series "Six Feet Under" on DVD. Someone dies at the beginning of each episode, followed by a screen stating the name and bookend dates of the deceased's existence.

The central characters of the series own a funeral parlor and most episodes launch from their planning consultation with the survivors. We learn a little about the life of the deceased during the consultation scene and sometimes a bit more during the memorial service.

The show has sparked some consideration of my own death, specifically "What will they say about me at my memorial service?" In every version of my imagined memorial service, something is said about "Alex' search for sustaining and meaningful work." It's been the centerpiece of my adult life and close friends have gotten an earful over the years about my successes and failures and longing.

Through my work in the Landmark Forum I gained a deeper appreciation of some critical aspects of my work saga. It's always been something of a mystery to me how a powerful resume and an impressive presentation in interviews have been insufficient to open the right career doors. Beginning in high school and continuing to the present day, I have looked like a "winner" to most people -- but my real-life story has been a losing one.

Twelve hours later...

There are no guarantees. I could die in my sleep tonight.

I want Them to say "She struggled for a long time but she finally won."

Tomorrow my work begins.