26 February 2012

Cafe Being

Over the last few days, every now and then, I feel limited. Like I don't have enough time or money to do what I want to do.

And when the feeling comes, I focus on the movement of my breath and the feelings (as well as the thoughts that feed them) come unhinged.  They detach from me and float somewhere in space.

Often the feelings come when I think about my mother or my blood family. What starts as Puzzlement turns into Grief and then into Frustration....and then into a sense of limitation and bondage.

I focus on the movement of my breath and the thoughts and feelings detach.  They float away from me. My heart lightens and I am boundless. For a few moments, there are no thoughts or feelings at all.  There is only Being.

My social contact is minimal these days. Even when I leave the loaned room where I sleep, direct interaction with other humans is minimal. Verbal interactions often trigger feelings of need:  need to escape from the relentless stream of unconscious talk, worried talk, trying-to-be-something-else talk, trying-to-be-somewhere-else talk, wishing-and-waiting-for-something-else talk that characterizes most human utterance. Everyone seems to be either unhappy or diligently guarding and stoking some fragile happiness they've found.

A standard opening activity in the improv playshops I facilitate on Tuesday and Thursday is the Circle of Seeing.  I look forward to this time when I can be with other people, just as as I am and they are just as they are.  There is room to see and be. 

Players sit or stand in a circle. Silently, look at the others in the circle. Don't make up a story. If you find yourself making up a story, just shift your attention to your breath. Notice -- without judging -- the thoughts and feelings you have as you look and are looked at.
When I am in conversation with someone who insists their life is awful or who needs me to do as they say or someone complaining about Republicans or rich people or corporations or someone obsessed with protecting their privacy or their belongings or defending their point of view

and I begin to feel trapped or lonely or alienated or sad

I pull my attention to my breath....the breath that breathes me. I just let Breath Breathe and observe it, follow it. Without judgment or joy.

I can still hear their voice, still understand the meaning of their words but I detach, divest. Their words, my words, their thoughts and feelings and my own become elements among myriad other observable elements that compromise the present moment:  that warped floor board, the light on the quivering leaves outside the window, the textured surface of the painting, my chapped lips, the sound of a door opening down the hall...

And I become aware of the myriad unobservable elements.

Breath stretches me out and I blend with everything -- observable and unobservable.

This is Being. It's a place to hang out.

22 February 2012

Mother Memory

From time to time in this week since Fannie died, one memory or another from our years in contact will surface. Today, I remembered a dinner with her and one of my sisters in a Louisville seafood house. I was probably about 28. We were talking about death and funerals. As was so often the case when members of my family get together, our conversation consisted of taking turns hurling an opinion into the ring.

With typical youthful bravado I said funerals were macabre rituals that I avoided as often as possible. I said it made no sense to me that people went into debt purchasing caskets and flowers and plots when it made no difference to the deceased.

As was also so often the case, my mother was critical of this opinion, viewing it as one more proof of how "uncouth" I'd become. "Please do yourself a favor and don't say that in front of anyone besides family. Anyone else would see your ignorance and laugh in your face."

How curious, then, that she specified in her will that there be no funeral and that she be cremated within 24 hours.

She apparently changed her mind in the quarter century since our conversation.

16 February 2012

Good Bye Mommy

Fannie Kinchlow

KINCHLOW, FANNIE, 76, passed away February 14, 2012 in the care of Hospice of Louisville.

Ms. Kinchlow is survived by her children, grandchildren and great children and a host of family and friends around the country. She most loved her church and spent the last 12 years working at Sam Swope in Louisville.

The family will hold a private celebration of her life.

Memorial gifts should be sent to American Cancer Society and/or Hosparus of Louisville.

Published in The Courier-Journal on February 15, 2012

12 February 2012

The Mountain Top Within

The family except for me is gathered in Louisville for what doctors say is my mother's last weekend. (I'll just say, "What a world! Where a human has the audacity to make such a statement aloud...") From the hospital, my son texts "This is surreal" and I reply "I cannot imagine."  This is to say, I could make something up but never having sat with someone dying or with friends and family of someone dying, I'm ignorant of the components or contour of such an event.

Over the last few days, though, new ideas and images have started popping up about "the family".  (I wrote "my family" and erased it. Standing now in the new World of "disowned by family", finding language is tricky...)

For instance, could it be that the reason my mother never answered any of the letters I wrote to her over the last 17 years inviting a reconciliation between us was because she was already sick? And since hiding her illness/saving face with/keeping a secret from family, her personal physician, coworkers, neighbors and church members was paramount, she avoided the intimacy of reconciliation with "the big mouth" daughter?

There was never anywhere to hide with my mother and me. From the time I was very young, I was punished and reprimanded for inappropriate statements and questions....statements and questions that any "intelligent" person knew better than to voice. In our house it was understood that to be seen as "not intelligent" was (and, based on my sister's blistering rant of the other night, continues to be) the ultimate disgrace.

In the last few days, I am awaking to the depths at which I internalized the censorship of my childhood. This, after years of therapy and prayer! This, despite being described by a surprising number of people as outspoken or blunt. I thought I was free but the deeper shackles have jumped into clear view in the last three days.  The awakening is marked by an unexpected freedom of expression in my written and spoken communication.

Last week, a friend suggested that I remove a photo of him and an old acquaintance of mine from one of my Face Book albums. Though it had been over a year since I posted it, my friend was apparently seeing the photo for the first time and posted a comment.  My reply to his comment was "shudder..."  This was a shame-faced nod to the strangeness of that time and my relationship with the acquaintance.

Of course, I removed the photo. I have no investment in making sure that what I share via Internet remains there.  What was noteworthy for me was that, in an attempt to be polite or nonjudgmental, my friend's suggestion lost focus and became what I called "indirect":  it wasn't clear why he wanted the picture removed though it seemed like he wanted me to know why.  Something about being "mindful of all the information aggregation going on out there and the implications of who we associate with ..."

The situation reminded me of my relationship to family:  it seemed I was being informed, again, that my pants were down around my ankles, again, in public. I was stunned when the sense of familiarity hit me. I felt the weight of half a century of fear...

of saying the "wrong" thing in public
of feeling the "wrong" way about something and revealing I am not a decent...intelligent...real woman
of being punished or scolded for not being afraid when any decent...intelligent....real woman would be afraid
of making a misstep and being seen for the crass...unintelligent fake I really am

What's happening now is not a discovery of new information. All or most of this was uncovered in my first year of therapy. What's happening now is a dawning awareness that contrary to what I thought, my house is not clean of this shit. I am still periodically wracked with a sense of not knowing how to navigate the waters of human civilization.

What's happening now is an expanding awareness and appreciation of Power of Now teaching.

Enlightenment is not the erasure of egoic mind. It is an awareness of the machinations of the egoic mind and awaking from the illusion that the contortions and cavorting of the egoic mind are "the real world."

Joni Mitchell sings:
I know - no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone
Before and after the show this weekend (Vagina Monologues, V-Day, Oakland), in conversation with other women in the cast, I was struck by how committed to our own perceptions and opinions we are. In nearly every conversation, whether discussing make-up or the Republican primaries or Occupy Oakland, each woman ultimately made her way to a space, a platform, and began to passionately outline and advocate a way of looking at people and "things."  "Each so deep and superficial...."

The lesson for me from these up-close, second-person encounters with Ego is a heightened awareness of the potent persistence of the "illusion of separation" among us; how easy it is to fall into a conviction of perspective that paints a convincing "me against the world" scenario -- at least within our own minds.

I pray to reside in the realm of Being where opinion is seen, without judgment, as Story. I pray to live always in touch with the great stillness that is the home of Love.

So, as my mother lays dying, I am neither reconciled nor disowned. These terms apply to the Story of our lives together.  We are so much more than the Story. Perhaps Death will allow her and the rest of my family an awakening to the majestic reality.

10 February 2012

A Room, A Cage, A World

I am on a house-sit assignment in Santa Cruz.  It's one of my favorite places to stay in CA. One of the two women who live here is a writer (not like me; she's a serious writer, i.e., she has novels for sale on Amazon) so the space is laid out to support writing and I like that a lot; including, lots of books and reference materials and pencils;  a garden that's big enough to walk through, with flowers as well as vegetables growing; and the lighting is perfect in every room. There's also a huge bathtub and a fireplace.

But there's no dryer. So forget about washing something last-minute. You gotta plan in advance around here. These women prefer sun- and air-dried clothing.

a pretty space somewhere in the world
The space I inhabit most of the time in Berkeley is not a favorite space. It's a space I'm grateful to have. It's not what I call "well appointed."  There's not one room in the house that receives direct sunlight and there is no water pressure to speak of.  Still, there's a baby grand piano as well as a washer and dryer in house and it's within walking distance of good markets, theaters and public transportation depots. The owner is fairly easy-going and the space is rent-free.

Earlier this week, I was disowned by family.  It was surreal to read the words "I never want to hear from you again" twice in one night from people I grew up with; but the pain was not sharp. What was sharp was the realization that this was, at last, the explicit statement of an old, tacit understanding.  The door was slammed in my face a long time ago but no one -- least of all me -- had the courage to call it what it was.

Sympathy and support from friends has been abundant and full on FaceBook since I posted the news of Mommy's diagnosis and being banished from the family on myWall, including expressions from women I haven't seen since high school. They were the cool, popular girls back then. I didn't think of myself as cool or popular. I believed I was invisible to them. I believed what my mother told me:  the "white" girls hated me even if their behavior said the opposite; and the "black" girls were either "fast" or "ignorant".

In other words, there was no one outside our house who could be trusted or loved.

In my bones, in my gut, in my heart, in my head...what she said just didn't seem possible. That no one in the world could be trusted or loved.

And yet

I also believed it was true. I was a child.

A year ago, I was still trying to bridge the decades-long gulf of estrangement between my mother and me. I was thinking of making a trip back to my hometown, talking to my mother face to face. My sister warned "Well, whatever you do, don't stop by Mommy's house unannounced. I hate to say it but she's likely to shoot you.  You are on her black list, there are guns in the house and she's capable of anything..."

Same sister who disowned me two nights ago.  Now I wonder whether her comments were based on credible evidence or just some of her own venomous feeling toward me leaking out.

Today, former high school classmates are sharing stories, their impressions of me and memories...  Their comments align with the way things felt to me then -- they really did respect my intelligence and talent; they didn't think I was ugly and they didn't hate me -- except I believed my mother more than myself.

I don't mind the current expressions of sympathy. I don't need them but I don't mind them.

I feel clear.  And free.  And affirmed after all this time.

So much doubt when really and truly my eyes and heart were working just fine.

And my journey to wholeness, my struggle to break and breathe free, to live the life I came to live, feels easier.

I am tired for now of living in other people's houses. No matter how generous the host or well-appointed the borrowed rooms, the arrangements are provisional, whether acknowledged outright or not. I want a room of my own.

I have it in writing now:  I can't go home again. I can stop looking over my shoulder. 

Breathing has been luxurious all day.

Now to find some money....

08 February 2012

From Whence It Comes

Thank you to the person who sent me this candle tonight from their cell phone camera.


for my sister who disowned me tonight
for my brother who disowned me tonight
for my mother who lies gravely ill
for every family everywhere colliding with ghosts and their own pain

07 February 2012

Whose Lips to Read

In my family, we don't talk about "things". So this morning I opened email and found a message from my sister addressed to me and my son.  The Subject line was "FYI".

She said Mommy has been seriously ill for about three weeks and begged us not to call. She said Mommy was resting and she (my sister) was not in a position to receive calls or make calls at this time. She said

We will try to plan a family teleconference for this weekend, perhaps.

I emailed back my availability. My son was online and as soon as my message appeared in his email box he dialed me.
He wanted to share what he knew.  He'd recently had a telephone conversation with my youngest sister and learned that the "illness" is stage IV cervical cancer. He's flying home this weekend at her urging. 

I don't have a plan.

My family, like so many people, has a hard time talking about "things".

I'm having a little trouble thinking about "things" this morning...