Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Do What You Need To Do

"Junk Fence" photo borrowed from Elite Feet

“Setting healthy boundaries”, what the heck does that mean?!

Most of us understand that old saying “Good fences make good neighbors”. It refers to setting a physical boundary around one’s property. It’s something that is generally agreed upon by both neighbors as a binding or legal division, it keeps pets and often plants and maybe offspring safely contained, and in the old days people often visited over the back fence. Healthy personal boundaries refer to how well we protect our body, mind and spirit. In this context it’s something like defining property limits in that it shows others “this is where I begin and end, and outside that is your stuff”; “stuff” being emotions, day to day problems, attitudes, opinions, ethics, and personality issues. People can violate physical as well as many psychological boundaries. Our job as emotionally healthy people is to set up a “fence” that consists of the limits we impose on what is acceptable to us emotionally and physically, that help define us, and that grant what kind of access is okay, and who is allowed that access and when, while also protecting us from people who are the emotional and psychological equivalent of bullies and vandals and thieves, people who are boundary violators.

Think of it in terms of having healthy self respect (which might be a foreign concept to many). When children are taught the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch”, they are being taught healthy boundaries. Child molesters are an egregious example of boundary violators. If you work in a corporate office setting, you may have had a “class” covering what is considered sexual harassment, because a lot of people don’t have a clue, or are intentionally disregarding your right to your personal space. Emotional and psychological boundaries are harder to understand than physical boundaries, as they are more difficult to define succinctly. One clue is that when something “feels bad”, in that it makes us uneasy, angry, or feel ashamed; there is often a violated boundary involved. The key here to making a strong boundary is understanding that we are responsible for ourselves, which means owning all of our feelings and taking responsibility for our own attitudes. Simply put, nobody “makes us angry”, we do that to ourselves, we push our own buttons, it’s an “inside job”. It may be that the other person triggers our old wounds that we don’t even realize seethe in our subconscious, but they are still our wounds. It’s difficult to remember that feelings and thoughts are ephemeral and transitory, they come and they go, and the pain or pleasure they trigger is equally illusory. Our thought and feelings are not “Us”, but we think they are. What they are is our EGO, our false self, the self that feels it's entitled. The "real" self is in the quiet places between the thoughts and feelings. It's the part of us that feels connected to everything. The ego part is what makes us feel separate and isolated. This ego as illusion is a common concept in Buddhist thought. I like to think of it as our true self being more like the Christian concept of the soul, stainless and perfect.

We are habituated in the West however to identifying “self” as what we think and feel. But that's really just ego. When my mind is still and settled then, where am “I”? And that's scary in a way because our idea of self is based on habitual patterns of thoughts and feelings and our resultant behaviors. But if you can become aware of this than it's easier to understand how we are responsible for what we think and feel. Conversely other people’s thoughts and feelings are their responsibility. If someone says “YOU made angry, you made me feel sad, you ruined my day, my life”, guess what? Yep, those are still their feelings and thus their responsibility. If you did violate their boundaries you owe them amends, but they must own their feelings. A common Buddhist description of anger is that it is “the acid which destroys the vessel that contains it”. If I am stewing over something someone did that in my perception injured me, it isn’t affecting them, it’s raising my blood pressure and roiling acid in my stomach. They are probably eating chocolate cake while driving down the street in their new car while illegally talking on their cellphone, all of which they essentially stole from me (yes, I am visualizing a specific soulless cretin), but they aren’t feeling any pain! So when I take responsibility for my anger over letting someone toxic repeatedly violate my boundaries because even though they did not respect my “No”, no matter how loudly or how many times I said it, well, eventually I find that with practice and awareness, it becomes easier and easier to let that anger go. And I am healthier and happier for it. But it can be really hard work.

Having healthy boundaries doesn’t mean we don’t have compassion or empathize, but it does mean that we shouldn’t codependently wallow in someone else’s issues or psychodramatic angst. If you find other peoples emotions to be contagious, then you likely have weak or porous boundaries. There is a difference between having empathy with someone and getting sucked into their issues and sharing their misery vicariously, or letting them dump their crap in your lap. Healthy boundaries in the context of interrelationship mean being able to say “No” and stick to it or being able to remove oneself from the situation if your no isn’t an acceptable answer. I wish I had learned that a lot better a lot sooner.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Say What You Need To Say

Probably most people think of this as just a love song, unless they have seen "The Bucket List", and then it has a deeper and more poignant meaning. I can't help but read the Dharma into it as well, because it contains some of the basic teachings that resonate with me. We may have real "problems" in our lives, but how we deal with them is usually from our ego or feeling state, which is essentially most often with coping mechanisms we learned to help us survive our childhoods intact. So we think we're dealing but find we aren't doing very well, and we don't understand why things don't change, and why we aren't happy.

Some of us were lucky enough to have excellent models of caring and compassion, people who taught us well and kept us safe, while giving us tools to live a healthy, centered and productive life. Many of us were not. We were damaged to some degree or even to a point of barely being able to function by people who were in turn damaged by the people who raised them, back though generations in what is often referred to as a generational curse. But we can learn to resolve (re- solve) the damaged ways of relating and living that we learned as kids, by re-parenting ourselves and learning effective tools for dealing in a healthy and compassionate way with ourselves and the people and situations that form our lives now, in this moment, and from moment to moment. In practicing taking care of ourselves (and I don't mean in an egocentric, selfish and entitled way), we learn to heal ourselves down to our soul (which is pure and blameless and incorruptible). And from here we can relate outward with kindness and compassion towards others, and with healthy personal boundaries. It really is an inside job. It's that Inside Job part that is what is common to both Buddhism and 12 Step programs.

From either perspective, most of what we carry around in our heads is the past in the form of old patterns of thinking. We are constantly listening to the internalized abuser, fighting with "the shadows in your head". We learn to walk "like a one man army", bristling with aggression and weapons to defend ourselves so that we don't get hurt again. Our "problems" define us in drama and self pity and low or hyper inflated self esteem, or in isolation and walls of self protection. We build up a false "sense of honor" that entitles us to blame others, or on the flip side makes us feel we need to take responsibility for other people's actions (we are only responsible for our own feelings and actions, and that's what owning them means). We live out the "patterns in your head" of childhood over and over again, feeling neglected, ignored, punished, less than, unworthy. Or better than, entitled, superior and punitive. For those who feel less than, even if we said what we needed to say, we were discounted and invalidated, told that's not true or that we were liars. We were made to feel unimportant, and we learned that if we said what we needed to say, there would be unpleasant consequences.

With help we learn to put aside the "fear of giving in" because we find there is a wonderful freedom in finding our voices and saying what we "need to say", even if we start with ourselves, which may actually be the best way. We benefit from letting go of the need to control our world and the people in it, that's illusory anyway. Surrender done right ultimately brings peace and equanimity. We can start with being rigorously honest on the inside, and find that it's okay to be flawed, that letting go of personal fears makes us stronger to the point that we can look back and wonder why we were so afraid. Humans are social animals, and we are constantly expressing ourselves, even when sitting still in a chair. It makes sense that we should say what we need to say, even when our hands are shaking and our faith is broken, that is when we are most vulnerable and our hearts are wide open. That is when we are most receptive to having compassion for ourselves and others, that is when we are most connected to the Universe, and surprisingly, that is when that Universe hears us and pulls us up from the ashes to be reborn. Maybe not in the way we think we want, but in the way we actually need, we get everything we ask for.

And if it means telling someone you have a crush, or just letting someone know you love them, of course that works too. Let it be okay though if you don't hear the answer you wanted, because you had the strength to say what you needed to say, and being honest is really good practice for following the Dharma, and for being in a harmonious relationship with the world around you. And it's about saying what you need to say, not what you want to hear in return. That's a different song.

PS: The young man in the red Rockets shirt (BoyceAvenue) on the video links (after the video) has a lovely and sensitive cover of Say, and I think he has a better voice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Meditation on Cleaning the House

Another post from MySpace. I'm too old and tired to start over at Facebook. :P

Meditation on Cleaning the House
Current mood: contemplative
Category: Life

Cleaning the house is my job because I'm good at it, and I can set my own hours of work, being multiply self employed. (My Apache Indian medicine man said we're self employed because we're basically unemployable.. ;D). That said, I have never exactly enjoyed it. I like the end results because I like a neat, clean house. I don't like dust, grime, and clutter. (That's actually wanting control. Wanting control is wanting "ground", and ground is something Buddhists understand as illusory. Wanting to have ground is ego clinging and attachment, and attachment is what leads to suffering!). I like everything in it's place (That's control too ;D). That's a good thing though for living in my current environment because my roommates all feel exactly the same way, though we are all obsessive about it in slightly different areas. So I honor the others by understanding their particular tweaks, and taking care of them. That meant spending about 20 minutes just cleaning the fucking toaster! But it looks pretty close to new now. So far it's like 4 hours just in the kitchen, and it's not even like you would have been unwilling to eat dinner here if you were in the kitchen checking things out while I was cooking last night. It looked great. (Tonight was leftovers and everyone for themselves.) The problem is to not take on the others' obsessions! I have to draw a healthy boundary there, my own obsessions (coffee) are enough to deal with, and I am working on dismantling them.

I never mind cleaning all the coffee machines, that's my gig. I hate cleaning the stove though. I'm also the main cook, because I'm good at that too. But the grease that builds up on the stove top and stuff above it is like industrial strength! What's up with that?! Is it the killer tacos?? 'Cause I clean it like 3-4 times every time I cook. It's not even like it's a nice appliance, just a cheap crappy condo stovetop/oven combo. Not the gorgeous 6 burner $15,000.00 professional kitchen appliance I would prefer, that might be worth such a serious cleaning. Might even be an enjoyable process, like the coffee machines. (Though I'm certainly very grateful to have the use of it!)
So I just plugged in my iPod, for which I'm also extremely grateful and count as a major blessing, and hit my "Inspirational" playlist, which kept me going with cleaning on and off all day until 2:30 a.m.. I think that's a personal record. That even includes laundry. I try to take the Buddhist perspective of maintaining a mindfulness of purpose and intent, but somehow I think the music is a cheat.

At least I have the resentment thing about it scaled waaaay down, so I think the mind training in awareness and staying in the moment (shamata or shinay meditation) is having quite the positive effect. And the house looks great. Of course, I realize that wanting and enjoying a clean house is the equivalent of wanting and enjoying having ground, when existence is really groundlessness. But it's a nice illusion, and I'm fully aware that it's an illusion, and that it's just ego enjoying illusion. And that ego is what keeps us stuck in samsara, or suffering. So, that's definitely some progress in understanding the Dharma. But then that's ego and illusion too! The third quality of threefold purity (regarding expectations of meditation) is "Give up all hope of fruition". Hmm.

Currently listening :
Everyday Driven
By Everyday Driven

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dressage Freestyle, Original Horse Version

Dressage is the consummate expression of horse and rider becoming one. I think I've mentioned somewhere in this blog that I rode dressage as well as "stadium" jumpers and both are a perfect melding of two minds and bodies into one being. It's similar I think to the tremendous ties of loyalty between dogs and mankind (maybe more loyalty on the part of the dogs however).

When you stop to consider though that the horse is a prey animal, that anything on it's back is something to be fought instinctively I think it lends an even greater appreciation for how much horses have given up for people. Not only letting us on their backs and following our commands, but being taken from a natural life of roaming and grazing over 10-20 miles in a day to being cooped up in 12x12 stalls, of if lucky a stall with a run or of small pasture. We ask for and expect so much of them.

So in keeping with the dog "dressage" post below, I thought I'd share this video from the World

Equestrian Games Freestyle Dressage Final performance of Andreas Helgstrand on Blue Hors Matine.

I wish the quality of the video was better, but the quality of the horse's movement and expressiveness, and the oneness with the rider, the evidence of the tremendously deep bond between the two, is the epitome of the art form. It might make you cry with joy, or at least think "WoW".

Friday, April 11, 2008

Doggie FREEstyle!

From some of my previous posts it's probably obvious I'm an animal lover, and my greatest bonds have been with dogs and horses. I have a Poodle sitting on my lap right now as I type this, he is one of the greatest joys of my life, well, actually, the people in my life don't read this blog, so I will admit that he IS the greatest joy!

I used to ride dressage on my horses, and a friend sent me one of these videos, where the dog and owner are in a canine freestyle class, and are doing all the moves of freestyle dressage; half pass, piaffe and passage, canter pirouette, tempe changes (it looks like skipping), and Spanish Walk, plus a salute to the judges at the end. It's pretty amazing, and it made me cry to see on video an example of how the bond between canine and human can be so very deep. My dog and I watched several videos together, and I thought I'd post them here, since that bond is often my secondary blog subject. The video of Carolynn Scott and Rookie is one of my favorites, and to me it is pure joy.

Take a moment to pat your furry buddies if you have one.

Tina Humphrey and her Dressage Dog

Carolyn Scott and Rookie

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Bought Paint!

I have a nasty thing called "A Birthday" coming up. I don't like them at ALL! I enjoy still being "here", preferably 'here now", as in "in the moment", but I don't like the yearly reminder that I'm older. It seems to sit in judgement of me, as in "So what exactly have you accomplished in the year that just flew by since your last birthday?".
So I try to look at it as a "REbirthday", but it's difficult to stay in that mindset. I know that truly the voice of judgement in the back of my head is that of my inflexible and cowardly father and my psychotic stepmother, who never had anything nice to say about my dreams or accomplishments, either one. No matter what I did or what anyone else thought of it, what I got from either of them was at best "Yeah, but you can do better", and at worst a long mean spirited lecture on why I should not be wasting my time on what I loved best. Talk about a motivation killer! And that was just concerning art. I finally gave up on those people when I learned what toxic parents were.

The upside of birthdays is that I love everyone else's! Maybe it's a vicarious thing, I enjoy celebrating and choosing neat presents for those I love. My beloved's birthday is just before mine, and I have picked out something really cool, and it's also useful. It's a milestone birthday, so it's even more special.

The one thing I will do for my own birthday, even though I lay low on the actual day (because a lot of bad things have happened to me on that day and I have become leery), is that I will indulge myself with a few things I have wanted, usually paint or green coffee beans. Last year and this year it was oil paint! (It's not here yet, I binged last night, that's last year's birthday paint in the photo). I got a coupon in my email from Studio Products, so I bought some Ugly Dog Painter's Safety Soap, which I use on both my brushes and hands. It works very well. (I use a barrier cream on my hands before I start painting, because I'm sensitive to latex so can't wear the gloves, but if I get a smear of a toxic cadmium or a cobalt I go wash and reapply the cream). I also got a tube of their Transparent French Red Ochre, because I wanted to try their paint, but I have a limited budget. It's also a very versatile pigment, good for landscapes and for portraits both. Studio Products offers a hard to find selection of Old Masters traditional resins and oils and specialty mediums as well as paint. There is often some controversy swirling around the owner on various art forums, I believe mostly because he is a person of strong opinions, but the products and service are excellent, though the prices are high. Artists who have used the paint extensively have reported excellent quality and workability, and many swear by the flake white as being the only white they will use. I bought the red ochre because while I have some lovely Vasari red earths, I wanted to try Studio Products in comparison. So far my Vasari earths are some of the nicest I have ever used. Vasari Classic Artist's Oil Colors is currently having a SALE on their earth colors through the end of March, so go take a look. You won't be disappointed in any of their paint! They have a sale every month or so on a different color set. I believe last month was greens.

I also dropped a C note on a nice lot of "Special" Cadmiums from the Williamsburg site. The "Specials" are colors that don't quite exactly match the standard line, but are still the same excellent handmade paint. When they are listed at half price or less a tube, ask me if I care! Cads are, like other paint, generally modulated and not used straight from the tube anyway. Really well made cadmiums are expensive, and I consider them a necessary luxury. Other reds and yellows, while having their place on a palette, just will not have the clarity or tinting strength of a finely made cadmium! So they were a great find (I was looking for something else and just stumbled across the specials). In truth, I have a Williamsburg Camium Yellow Light that I have to rub up with some high quality cold pressed linseed oil because it is drying in the tube. I will retube it, it was at least $30. a year ago. A year is a long time for a handmade paint to sit, so it's not the fault of the maker. But it's not much bother to salvage it. (If you need tubes, I finally found some at Sinopia). So if you are an oil painter, and love rich and vibrant color, and are looking for quality paint, grab some now before they are gone, this is another paint you will not regret having in your paint box!

Sinopia (now combined with Kremer, another big name in specialty supplies for discriminating oil painters and which, like Sinopia, is oriented toward supplies for making your OWN oil paints) is where I dropped another $50. on the fancy Swedish Cold Pressed Linseed Oil
which I got for the Cad Y L above. I also picked up some clove oil, which is used to slow drying time when you need to leave oil sitting on a palette. I often think I'll get back to a project the next day and it doesn't happen. A drop added to a paint nut or just to the palette which is then covered will help to retard drying.

So now I have to go back to work so I can pay for this late night buying spree (always when I am the most vulnerable to the lure of buying on the 'net, all alone and under the cover of darkness..)