Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sitting with the fear

I just spent the past few hours feeling unbelievably afraid.  In the past few weeks I have heard of a number of people getting food stamps.  I have heard of two suicides, both having to do with financial problems. A friend just told me about a documentary she just saw which is about the financial crisis "Inside Job." She said it was really good and also very depressing.  A professor from Columbia University was paid $124,000 to do a study about Iceland's supposedly fabulous economy right before it melted down.  All of the Wall Street players who helped get us into this gigantic mess are still out there - not one of them is in jail.

I know that Friends In Deed and many other non-profits are struggling to stay afloat.  FID has been my lifeline this past year.  I can't imagine where all of us would go if they closed their doors. A close friend of mine is about to have yet another round of radiation and oral chemo and she goes there often for support and a good place to just talk about her feelings. I cherish the times I can volunteer there, just so I have a chance to give back.  I think I would try to have meetings in our living room if they ever closed and probably half of their clients would offer that too.

I made myself some dinner tonight and as I was reading an article about a couple who broke up after six years of living together ("opposites attract, but then ultimately they can drive each other crazy).  She wrote about how challenging the past year has been. I suddenly had the thought, "Okay, well, sit with the fear and the sadness.  Stop trying to block the feelings, just welcome them in."  I have done this numerous times in the past few years, but I often forget that by not pushing it away or fighting it, sometimes the anxiety does get relieved, even just a little bit.

This morning I went to a breakfast meeting at an apartment in one of the most desirable buildings in Manhattan, on Central Park West, filled with unbelievable artwork.  There were Warhols, a Calder, everywhere you looked there was amazing art.  These people are not struggling right now.  I don't know if that triggered my anxiety, but I was there to hear about Project Kesher, a wonderful organization that enables Jewish women in six countries of the former Soviet Union, Israel, and the U.S., to get organized and become more economically and politically empowered. 

I think that the desire for economic empowerment is definitely something that I can relate to.  As I read these past few months for the United Nations about women all over the world learning trades and earning a living, even if it is small at first, I could really relate to that feeling of accomplishment and independence.   We are in an economic crisis around the world and though there are millions of people in this country who aren't feeling it, it does seem to have touched so many of us.

So I will do what I particularly love to do in times of fear:  I will open my small Pema Chodron book and look for something to read.

"Gain and victory to others

There is a classic Tibetan Buddhist teaching that says, "Gain and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself."  These words, defeat and victory are so tied up with how we stay imprisoned.  The real confusion is caused by not knowing that we have limitless wealth, and the confusion deepens each time we buy into this win/lose logic: if you touch me, that is defeat, and if I manage to armor myself and not be touched, that's victory.

Realizing our wealth would end our bewilderment and confusion.  But the only way to do that is to let things fall apart.  And that's the very thing we dread the most - the ultimate defeat.  Yet letting things fall apart would actually let fresh air into this old stale basement of a heart that we've got.  

Saying, "loss and defeat to myself" doesn't mean to become a masochist: "Kick my head in, torture me, and dear God, may I never be happy."  What it means is that you can open your heart and your mind and know what defeat feels like.  

You feel too short, you have indigestion, you're too fat, and too stupid.  You say to yourself, "Nobody loves me, I"m always left out.  I have no teeth, my hair's getting gray, I have blotchy skin, my nose runs."  That all comes under the category of defeat, the defeat of ego.  We're always not wanting to be who we are.  However, we can never connect with our fundamental wealth as long as we are buying into this advertisement hype that we have to be someone else, that we have to smell different or have to look different.  

On the other hand, when you say, "Victory to others," instead of wanting to keep it for yourself, there's the sense of sharing the whole delightful aspect of your life.  You did lose some weight.  You do like the way you look in the mirror.  You suddenly feel like you have a nice voice, or someone falls in love with you or you fall in love with someone else.  Or the seasons change and it touches your heart, or you begin to notice the snow in Vermont or the way the trees move in the wind.  With anything that you want, you begin to develop the attitude of wanting to share it instead of being stingy with it or fearful around it."

Pema Chodron, "Start Where You Are"

Last week I had to go back for more root canal and my lovely friend Maxine's husband, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, did the root canal for a small fee and told me to pay him when I can.  We thought that it might be an extensive amount of work on the tooth, but it turned out to be rather simple. Then, last April I filed for an extension on my taxes and found out last week that I had to file them by October 15th.  I talked to the accountant and within a day they were filed, for a very small fee.  As scared as I am sometimes, I do feel grateful that someday, one day at a time, things come together.

And right now, I'm sitting with the fear and I honestly think it feels a little bit better than fighting it.  

About an hour after I wrote that post, I picked up Melody Beattie's book, "The Language of Letting Go" and this is what I read:

"What do we really want to do? What do we feel led to do?  What are our instincts telling us?  What do we feel guided to do?  What are we excited about doing? Seek to find a way to do that, without worrying about the money."  

I can do that. I can try to do that.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Back to court

Or rather, first time to court with everyone involved in the divorce there.  All I can say is divorce sucks, but it's better than an unhappy marriage.  Our judge seems very fair and I like her.  I wish this were over already.  I wish we could move on with our lives and not have to keep paying lawyers and wasting time and money.  I wish this was a year from now, when most of the wounds would probably be healed. 

My life is good right now and I am filled with gratitude for the two friends who accompanied me to court yesterday and sat with me for three hours and then took me out to lunch.  Barbara and Cathy - friends don't come much better than both of you.  And then another really dear friend, Karen, took me out to dinner.

So how can I feel sad?  Life is great, having friends is amazing, the judge will finally bring this to a conclusion, hopefully on November 30th, when all of us are expected to gather again, this time with more information and then, hopefully, a resolution.  Although one thing I've learned from all of this is nothing is certain and lawyers make too much money.

It's a beautiful day today.  I'm going to ride my bike to a party at the Hudson River in a couple of hours, to watch a sunset and gather with friends.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


"LSD" as in laughter, singing and dancing.

The other day, my loftmate Abigail and I, and six other people (I won't call us all dancers) performed a dance as part of a service at Judson Memorial Church, which is Abigail's church.  We danced to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now."  It was ridiculously fun and Judson has a long history of dance performances by both famous dancers (Twyla Tharp) and not famous (us).  I had exactly two rehearsals -- and it was a bit scary, but so much fun!

And - I'm embarrassed to recommend yet another book, but I will. This one is called "Reinventing Yourself" - How to Become the Person You've Always Wanted to Be - by Steven Chandler. Steve Chandler coined the LSD phrase.  I found the book because Mama Gena (Regena Thomashauer) the woman whose fantastic workshop I took, recommended it.  She works with Steve as her career coach and she managed to turn her life around after a very challenging divorce.  I picked up the book and it has so many great messages - the first one being about "victim" vs. "owner" of your life.  A victim lives a comfortable life, safe job, doesn't take risks.  An owner takes many chances, tests himself, fails often, picks him/herself up and continues on, taking more chances. It's definitely a scarier, but much more interesting way to live. 


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happiness without a hangover

Some mornings I randomly open my "Pocket Pema Chodron" just to see what reading shows up for the day.  This one seemed so appropriate, I had to share it.

"As we train in opening our hearts and discovering the soft spot, we gradually feel more joy, the joy that comes from a growing appreciation of our basic goodness.  We still experience strong conflicting emotions, we still experience the illusion of separateness, but there's a fundamental openness that we begin to trust.  This trust in our fresh, unbiased nature brings us unlimited joy - a happiness that's completely devoid of clinging and craving.  This is the joy of happiness without a hangover.

How do we cultivate the conditions for joy to expand?  We train in staying present.  In sitting meditation, we train in mindfulness and unconditional friendliness; in being steadfast with our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts.  We stay with our own little plot of earth and trust that it can be cultivated, that cultivation will bring it to its full potential.  Even thought it's full of rocks and the soil is dry, we begin to plow this plot with patience.  We let the process evolve naturally.

At the beginning joy is just a feeling that our own situation is workable.  We stop looking for a more suitable place to be.  We've discovered that the continual search for something better does not work out.  This doesn't mean that there are suddenly flowers growing where before there were only rocks.  It means we have the confidence that something will grow here.  As we cultivate our garden, the conditions become more conducive to the growth of bodhichitta.  The joy comes from not giving up on ourselves, from mindfully sticking with ourselves and beginning to experience our great warrior spirit."

Bodhichitta can be translated to "the awakening mind, the acceptance of what is."  Most days I feel able to live this way, some days are more challenging.  But it feels like I'm moving in that direction and it's good. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Challenging days

We are working on finishing up this film for the United Nations MDG Summit on the 20th of September and it's a difficult time.

I know that it will be great to have done this, but right now, when we're in a huge time crunch and I'm working on a section of the film that is all in Spanish (with English translations, but not everything is translated and I haven't seen the film) - it's a bit intense.

Will write more soon when I can come up from air.  All I can say is, I'm glad to have done this and I will be happy when it's completed.  It's definitely created some stressful moments, but when I remember who the film is really for - the people around the world who need so much help - I feel better.  And it's been a collaborative effort, with everyone from the director to my loftmate, Abigail, who's been enormously helpful. 

Friday, September 3, 2010


You know the 24 hour rule?  When something good happens you generally have about a 24 hour window to celebrate, before you go back to being your normal anxious self.  (Actually, I'm speaking for myself, but I have read this.)  Right now I need to jump up and down and sing and dance and do whatever it is that makes me happy, because I have just had a positive experience.  

The past few weeks has been an extremely challenging learning experience.  I am beyond grateful to have been working on a project for the United Nations that is focused on lifting the poorest people around the world out of poverty, to bring them access to food, clean water, good sanitation, health care, education and more opportunities for gender equity.  This is no easy task, the U.N. has been focused on these goals, called the Millennium Development Goals, for ten years.  Do you know about them?  Not enough people do.  There are five years left in this project and they have to take everything they've learned over the past ten years and push forward on these goals. There have been some positive results, but right now the focus is on the challenges ahead, on the countires in the world that have not benefited enough from the MDG's.  The tasks ahead are enormous, but many of them are so doable. Mothers shouldn't be still dying in such enormous numbers in childbirth.  HIV/AIDS should not be transmitted from mother to child anymore.  Decent health care can be accessible all over the world.  We can put pressure on countries where conflict is still going on and civilians are being killed and raped.  We can make sure that everyone has access to clean water and nourishing food. 

The meeting I had today was about clarifying the language for the short film we're making, while the director and her crew is out in the field working on one part of it.  It was a positive meeting and I felt good about my relationship with the people at the U.N. Development Program.  I have no idea if I will have an opportunity to continue working with them in the future, but what a gift it's been to have had this assignment.  Not only is my brain crammed with information that I never knew, I have been tested day after day, dealing with more stress in a work situation than I've had in a long time.  I handled it.  Not perfectly, not even close, but I did a very good job, given how demanding it was. And it's not over.

We still have a film to make.  And it's due soon.  The conference is September 20-22 and many people have to sign off on it before it gets shown.  Will it work?  Will it all come together in time?  Stay tuned....and I'm going to enjoy the next eighteen or so hours before the fear and anxiety returns.