Archive for February 2007

Psalm 23:A Psalm for Life

February 28, 2007

Daily Automagical posting by Ted
Halfnotes will be back on March 5th. She will reply to all the comments then.
Thank you!

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The 23rd Psalm is often read at funerals, and most people associate it with death. But if we only see it in a context of loss and bereavement, we’re missing the lessons the passage can teach us on a daily basis. The psalm is printed in quotes, my commentary in parentheses.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (The Creator of the universe has dominion over everything, and yet … God takes interest and compassion in me. How could I possibly want anything more?)

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (God is a resting place for my spirit when I can’t find peace anywhere else. The still waters are there to bring me into self-reflection so I can grow.)

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.” (The path of my life may have many twists and turns, but its direction is always toward higher things. As reflections and expressions of God in the human form and among our fellow human beings, we can choose our way, and our choices are a visible manifestation of our spirits.)

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (The shadow of death is not death itself, but the foreboding and feelings of uneasiness and distress that can creep up on us whenever life becomes difficult or uncertain. Even then, regardless of who is with us physically, God is always there. Even if I do not feel as if this is true, God can’t be everywhere in the universe and not with and within me.)

“thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (I don’t think enemies is necessarily referring to people. I think that many of our enemies come from within ourselves. But even with all of these, the anointing signifies that we are precious to God. It was a ritual performed for kings, for priests, and for the sick, and we can be any or all of these at any given moment. The cup running over shows that God’s love and care for us has no limits. Nothing can contain it, and we will forever be surprised by it.)

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Nothing can separate us from God or God’s love. Goodness and mercy are certainly things I would enjoy receiving, but I think here, rather than calling them down as blessings, we are reminded that we are the instruments of goodness and mercy in the world, and if we provide these things with gladness to others, then they will never be far from us as shown or given to us by someone else.)

I’m Flying!

February 27, 2007

This morning is full of all those little last-minute odds and ends that you have to do before a trip, the ones that you think are OK left until last but turn out taking up the most time to get done.

For me, some of those revolve around Ecko. This morning, I trimmed his toenails, and I’ll be combing him one more time before we leave. Last night, we had a housewide search for his favorite toy so I could take it with me. It turned up under my dresser, and you should have seen his eyes light up when he saw it. He proceeded to play with it for a few minutes, tail wagging with delight, then curl up on his bed with it tucked safely under his belly and fall asleep.

I have a rule in packing for trips. I try to finish the day before I leave, only keeping out the things I absolutely can’t pack until just before leaving. I lock my suitcase before bed, and if I’ve done things right, I don’t have to reopen it to add anything in the morning.

I also figure that, if I get to my destination and don’t have something, I either really didn’t need it or I can go find it and get it if I do wherever I am.

I only take one carry-on, and usually, it has a change of clothes for me, Ecko’s stuff (food, bowl, etc.) and various odds and ends that I don’t want in my checked baggage.

This trip will last almost a week, and between Ecko’s food, blanket, bowl and toy, there’s no room in my bag for anything of mine. So I’ve packed one outfit that I can wad up into a tiny ball without it showing any wrinkles and a pair of socks. That should be fine if I end up somewhere other than my planned endpoint, although I’m not expecting any glitches.

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Traveling with a dog is a lot like traveling with a small child. You have to pay attention. Once, flying in first class, Ecko thought he’d escape from his nasty ordeal and crawled under my seat and popped out in the row behind me. I don’t know what other people think, but I’ve noticed that usually the passengers in first class are there on business, and they have the attitudes to prove it.

So I had my doubts when I leaned over the back of my seat and casually said to the man and woman there, “Excuse me, could you please pass me the dog that just came back there?”

I shouldn’t have worried; the woman ended up treating me to lunch in the airport after the flight and we had a good laugh over it. But these days, I tend to keep my foot firmly on Ecko’s leash at all times and never, ever let him turn around so his head is pointed toward the little crawl space under my seat.

Before the first flight I took with Ecko, I decided to use the ladies room. I knew Ecko was big, but I got a great object lesson in just how big when, no matter what I did, I couldn’t close the bathroom stall door with him in there with me. So, I made his leash longer, put him on a down-stay outside the stall door, closed it, and went about my business.

The woman who walked in to use the bathroom after me must have done a double-take: closed stall door, big black dog lying outside it, no person? You just see the darnedest things when you travel these days!

Even with the extra attention I have to pay to keep Ecko stress-free and behaving well, once we’re up in the air I can relax. I’m on my way, I’ve checked all the appropriate little boxes, gone through all the lines, clicked on the right buttons (at least I think I did!). Eventually, Ecko usually settles down too and sort of sleeps.

But the real rest will come late tonight, after I’ve figured out the best route out to a spot where Ecko can leave his mark in some California grass, I’ve learned my way around the hotel and know how to use the room thermostat, I’ve gotten dinner at some crazy hour, called my husband and my mom (“We’re both fine … a little tired, but fine”, and I stretch out on my “borrowed” bed until morning.

Rise and Shine!

February 26, 2007

Yesterday was busy, and by the end of it, I was tired and a little sore.

My dogs, Kiefer and Ecko, are great about being bathed, but with Kiefer being old and Ecko being big and both of them needing to be lifted over the edge of the tub, then the on-my-knees job of the bath itself, which, in Ecko’s case also includes kind of holding him in the tub, my body was kind of complaining. (But the dogs look and smell great, and they’re so silky now!)

That was in addition to vacuuming (no use bathing and brushing and combing if they’re going back on dirty, hairy beds), packing, doing laundry, making last-minute phone calls to make sure no students show up looking for lessons (I don’t think they want Ted teaching them … sword, maybe, but not piano!) In short, I was just plain tired.

But I’d agreed to a nine o’clock distance reiki healing session. But feeling like I did a little before eight, I was in no shape to be healing anyone.

So, I thought I’d lie down and see if I could take care of the ache in my lower back from lifting an eighty-pound dog. But I was so tired, I kind of worried that I’d sleep right through the session.

But what are guides for if not to help us? So I said to them, “I’ve got to get some rest, but I don’t want to sleep too long, and I wouldn’t mind waking up less sore than I am right now. Can you guys help?”

I started out lying faceup, but then one of them said I should put selenite on my lower back, so I rolled over and put the big piece I had at the base of my spine. Then, I lay there worrying about waking up on time, until one of them said, “How can you rest if you just keep worrying? You asked us to do something; now let us do it!”

I don’t remember falling asleep, but when Ecko started barking fiercely and the doorbell rang, I most definitely woke up. I got out of bed fast, but Ted was faster. Who was it at whatever hour it was, and oh, God, had I slept through the session?

In the almost two years we’ve lived in this house, no one has ever rung our doorbell late at night looking for directions to a gas station, but that’s what the young man on our doorstep was asking Ted for now. Ted gave them, shut the door, and came back upstairs. As we heard the car zoom away, he asked me, “What do you think that was about?”

I had looked at my watch; it was ten of nine. I started smiling.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but I have a reiki session at nine and I asked my guides to make sure I woke up on time.”

One of them, my guide from Level 1, has quite a sense of humor, so I’m pretty sure it was her idea. Ted had also been thinking he had nothing to write about in his blog, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the two sets of them got together and planned the whole thing.

“Hey, Ted wants something cool to write about.”

“Yes, and I’ve got to wake Steph up by nine.”

“I know, let’s really give them a head-scratcher and send someone to their house looking for a gas station!”

“That’s too obvious.”

“Well, you know I’ve got to practically drop bricks on Steph’s head to wake her up, so …”

And, on top of all that, my back wasn’t sore anymore. (Hmmmm, another use for selenite … )

Thanks, guides.

Preparations

February 25, 2007

I’m leaving Tuesday for almost a week in California. I plan to visit friends, then do a presentation about teaching Braille music at a conference. Of course, Ecko will be coming with me.

Yesterday, I printed out my itinerary. Over the course of six days, I’ll stay in three different hotels and visit three airports. I’ll be going between two cities. On paper, it looks a little crazy.

My first few days will be in a hotel that doesn’t have a restaurant, so Ecko and I will get to do some exploring. We’ll have to if I want to eat! It’s a chance for us to cement our relationship even further because neither one of us will be in familiar territory.

A lot of people see guide dogs as magical animals that just “know” where they’re supposed to go. But often, this is because they’re seeing them work in familiar surroundings. If a dog goes to the same places many times, they remember, and some dogs, like Ecko, have pretty incredible memories. In these instances, it doesn’t take much for them to figure out where they should be headed, so the blind person often doesn’t have to give many instructions.

But actually, a blind person has to have a concept of where they want to go and how they might get there. If I say to Ecko, “Go to Starbucks,” he’ll start walking, but he’ll have no clue where he’s going, and I’m more likely to end up exploring some bushes while he’s checking for new pee-mail instead of ordering a latte.

Even if I don’t know how to get somewhere, I’ve got a fair amount of experience to draw on. For instance, I learned to travel using a white cane before I ever got a dog. I learned how to listen to traffic patterns to decide when to cross streets and other cues I can use to find my way.

When I’m walking with Ecko, I use all these experiences to tell him which way I want to go. I decide when it’s safe to cross the street; he makes sure I don’t bump into things while I’m doing it. Dogs are color-blind, so it’s not as if he’d be able to tell when the light changed, anyway.

One neat thing is that, in unfamiliar surroundings, we are forced to depend even more on one another. Last year, I took several trips for music and stayed in various hotels. In my opinion, most hotel designers were drunk when they did the lobby. They’re so into open spaces and avoiding corners that navigating through these places while they’re thronged with people after coming off a long, stressful flight is pretty stressful.

So, inevitably, I ask directions; nothing wrong with that, except many people have no idea how to give good ones. “Oh, you go that way a little while, and you’ll come to a door. Go out that and turn and it’ll be right there.” Huh?!

Then, there are the, “Oh, here, I’ll take you”. If I’m in a hurry, this is OK, except that, after I’m where I want to be, I still don’t have a much better idea of how I got there.

So often, I’ll go through the day, do what I need to do, and save my learning and dog teaching until the lobby is almost empty, usually somewhere between eleven and midnight. I can walk the same route a few times and only have to explain that no, I’m not lost a few times. Usually, whoever is working security or the front desk is satisfied with this explanation, and if I need help, they’re more than happy to provide it (hey, it beats trying to find a maintenance guy because the family in Room 812 is complaining about not having hot water!).

Anywhere I go with Ecko, I have to be prepared to explain. What kind of dog is he? How old? How does he know … And Ecko has to be an ambassador. If he’s the first guide or service dog someone sees, better that he’s clean, well-mannered and under control.

So, today, in preparation for this trip, I’ll be giving him a bath, packing his blanket and bowl, buying Ziploc bags for his food. He’s not real fond of flying but has resigned himself to doing it, figuring if “Mommy” is there and he gets fed and walked at least in a reasonable semblance of a timely fashion (it’s often hard to fit a doggy pit stop into the tight schedule of making airline connections), then he’ll put up with it.

Traveling outside our comfort zone brings us into contact with many people, and often, they have a lot to teach us. So even with the challenges that might come up, I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and sharing little pieces of mine.

Unwrapping the Truth

February 24, 2007

The truth doesn’t always come in a pretty package. More often, it arrives when we least want to unwrap it, kind of like that proverbial fruitcake you dread getting for Christmas from your maiden aunt Gertrude who can’t bake.

Many times, it’s our closest friends or family members that deliver the truth. (Strangely, though, it’s often your closest friends and family that will work hardest to hide it, too!)

You can’t choose your family, except for husbands or wives, I suppose. And often, the person we choose to spend our lives with changes beyond recognition as time passes.

Then, we have to choose: Do I stay because I love the whole person, or do I stay because I’m holding out for the person who I thought I knew, the person who has been long gone for many years?

We have to start life by being honest with ourselves. Who are we, really? What story do we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it? What strengths and weaknesses do we bring to each day, each relationship? What kind of people do we want to surround ourselves with?

Once we’ve answered those questions, and I really think they have to be revisited over a lifetime, then we have to choose how we will interact with others. Are we going to put on masks to try and earn approval or get ahead? Are we going to help people without letting anyone help us? Are we going to tell people the truth even when it hurts or hide our heads in the sand because we’re afraid of taking the risk of living and speaking and acting with integrity?

And when we’ve chosen honesty, we must prepare for the fact that many people will interpret it as a personal attack or a judgment on them. I know I do! If someone says something to me about a composition and what could be “better” about it, I jump to the (false) conclusion that they are saying I’m not good at what I do, that my art is wrong or has no value, that they know better than me how things “should” go. Then, it’s hard for me to just be analytical, take their suggestions, consider them, taking the ones I find valuable and disregarding the rest. I get too emotionally involved, and my main emotion is a bruised ego, anger, and feelings of worthlessness.

Which, obviously, does neither me nor my art any good. Then I start with, “Oh, just suck it up and deal! Don’t be such a wussy! You know they’re right, even if you don’t like it, so just shut up, quit your whining and fix it! Stop feeling sorry for yourself and move forward!”

So we come to the question: How does one say something that really needs to be said without making the hearer miserable? And, come to think of it, it’s not really us that’s “making” them do anything! They’re the ones choosing to be angry, hold grudges, whatever.

For me, I think every dose of honesty has to be mixed with an equal measure of compassion. Take any judgment out of it, because we are no better or worse than the next person in line. We’ll get our own dose of the truth soon enough, and it won’t be handed to us wrapped up in a pretty box of fine chocolates.

There Is No Magic Bullet, But …

February 23, 2007

Too often, we are looking for an easy out, a quick fix, a free ride, or a happily-ever-after. We want the goodies, but we don’t want the daily grind. We want the glory without the guts. We want to find some way to shift responsibility off our shoulders. We don’t want to be accountable.

So we choose, and yes, we always have the choice. We look for potions to make us thin without exercise, pills to make us feel happy all the time. We pay huge amounts of money for food that doesn’t fill us up, entertainment that only numbs us instead of bringing joy, and big houses that we don’t feel at home in.

So what’s the other choice, if all these things don’t work?

We can get down to the real business of life, digging in until we find the seed of truth buried within us, the one we try to cover up with fancy clothes, fat bank accounts, fast cars, drugs both legal and not, gambling, eating, drinking, smoking, sex, and just plain sitting around with a blank look wondering why life is passing us by.

I’ll be the first to tell you that digging hurts, and the truth often isn’t pretty. We carry anger, sorrow, hatred, jealousy, distrust, and all kinds of other things around with us, and there’s no magic anything that will get rid of them.

Even God can’t get rid of them; He can only stand beside us while we do the dirty work ourselves. Even if we ask “Why,” we won’t always get an answer.

Better than “Why” is “How”. How do I acknowledge that I’ve got a load of sorrow and anger that will keep coming up over the course of a lifetime and yet rise above it so it’s not dragging me down and making me repeat my mistakes? How do I take off the rose-colored glasses and replace them with a mirror, so I integrate all of who I am into my daily dealings with other people, not just the “pretty” parts that make us all feel good?

Honestly, I don’t have the answers to these questions, either. But rather than clamoring for an escape route, I’m choosing to do some emotional excavation.

I’m not foolish enough to think that, if I deal with it today I’ll never have to deal with it again. Life is full of cycles and circles, and we have many layers within us. Some days, I’m sure I’ll laugh when I should really be crying, eat when I really should be telling someone the truth, or run when I’d be better off standing and facing myself.

But today, I choose: truth above comfort, honesty instead of bravado, an open, human heart where I once only cared to show independence.

When A “Habit” Isn’t Just a “Habit”

February 22, 2007

Any addiction is basicly a habit, and a habit, if allowed to grow out of control, can easily morph into an addiction.

So what’s a habit, and how does it sprout into something more?

A “habit” starts because we think doing something will make us HAPPY, HELP us achieve something we don’t think is possible, allow us to HAVE more than we seem to. But it is also a way of HIDING. We rationalize: “If I drink, I’ll be more relaxed and have a better social life.” “If I eat this ice cream, I’ll feel better about the crappy day (marriage, job) I am in.” “The more I buy, the more I’ll be noticed.” “If I have a lot of sex, I’ll stop being lonely.”

Pretty soon, what started as an occational ACTIVITY becomes an every-day thing. We find ourselves ACCEPTING things that we never would have before, and by ALLOWING ourselves to do these things, we give ourselves permission to keep doing whatever we’re doing without thinking about why we’re actually doing it. “Oh, I only smoked three cigarettes, what’s two more?” “I only ate half the box of cookies, so I’m OK.” “I still have $20, so my gambling isn’t a problem.”

Next, the habit BURROWS deeper inside us. What we at first saw as just a little harmless fun now becomes a BURDEN. We can’t live our lives without having one more drink, playing one more video game, buying a bigger TV or faster car. We BELIEVE we are defined by what we have, who we’re with, and we see the habit as the key that gives us those things. We BECOME defined by our actions instead of by who we truly are.

At this stage, the habit can become so INGRAINED that we can’t separate it from the rest of who we are. But we also IGNORE all the signs in our lives that are screaming at us to stop, to change. We chalk up ILLNESS, whether it’s physical, spiritual, mental, emotional or whatever, and find all sorts of other IRRATIONAL explanations for why we’re having all the difficulties we’re having.

But, at the root of every habit is TRUTH.

We are not what we eat. We don’t get anything beyond stuff when we buy things. Chemical reactions in our brains and bodies can’t mask what we’re truly feeling. Cheap sex isn’t the same as love, and love isn’t the romantic dinners or Hollywood-inspired getaways full of steamy hot tubs and beautiful island sunsets. We can spend and spend and spend and still have absolutely nothing but emptiness to show for it at the end of the day.

The TRUTH often hurts, and it often is unwelcome because it’s shown to us by people we “think” love us. We don’t want to hear what they’re saying, even when they’re totally right and only have our best in mind.

But if we tear away all the shiny packaging, all the cheap “everybody-does-it” bravado, all the noise and chatter we fill our lives with, we’re left with silence, a mirror, our true self, and the universe.

From this position, we have only two choices. We can keep on going in the same direction, trying to stuff our empty hearts with empty products and ephemeral “services” that don’t really address our underlying emptiness.

Or we can start the hard, lifelong work of discovering who we truly are, breaking free of former habits that we used to use to try and mold ourselves into someone “acceptable” or “worthy” of society.

God created each of us in a unique way. But we are also just as human and just as (extra)ordinary as every other person on the planet. We are simultaneously special and not, and as long as we keep this strange and wonderful mystery in mind, we can begin to appreciate ourselves for ourselves, while at the same time not taking ourselves too seriously.

Habits are built over time, and they are only broken over time, too. Even if you quit doing something cold turkey, you still have the ongoing task of taking care of filling the place you used to fill with that habit.

So, today, be Happy with who you are. ACCEPT that everything you’ve experienced, even the unpleasant parts, was necessary to make you who you are in this moment. BEGIN each moment as a fresh start, leaving the past in the past because you can’t change it now that it’s been done. INVITE others into your heart; sometimes it hurts, but we all have valuable lessons to teach and learn. And finally, TRUST that you have everything you need at every moment, even if it doesn’t outwardly seem like you do.

These things, these ideas, can just as easily become HABITS, too.