Breathing Through Stagnation

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I haven’t been blogging lately because I have felt stuck in a motivational malaise. I think part of it is due to financial stagnation. Since I am an adjunct instructor, I don’t teach for most of August and the payments for the fall contract don’t kick in until late September. This year, Irma also cost me hours at my part-time writing consultant job. Although I also run my own academic editing and coaching business, the beginning of the academic year is always slow.

I always plan for this economic downturn, but I hate to see monthly expenses eat away at my savings, even if it was saved for that purpose. The financial stagnation chips away at my motivation. When I have a goal, I like to see forward momentum, no matter how small. Right now, my goal is to save the down payment for my own condo.

I left a job in academic administration and moved out of my apartment during a bad bipolar episode seven years ago. I have rented a couple rooms since then, allowing myself the financial freedom to restructure my life in a way that would be more beneficial to my health and the well being of my daughter. Now we are ready for a two-bedroom condo of our own. We should be ready to buy this spring. It’s hard to be so close, and yet be in a position where you must simply wait. I have never been good at waiting. I like to doing.

For now, I take deep breaths and try to focus on other things. I finished my academic article, did my research for a conference presentation, and now I am reviewing and revising my business plan for the upcoming year.

Sometimes stillness can be as unsettling as chaos, but I know things will soon change. They always do.

Worship

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I could see the large digital clock perched on top of the bank building, nestled between the pastel Art Deco facades of South Beach hotels. It was 10:54 am and already 92 degrees. The ocean was refreshingly cool as I waded out to mid-chest depth. I was in desperate need of a little sun and seawater therapy.

The water was rowdy, tossing waves to the shore. Some rolled in huge hills, lifting me up and setting me down like a boat rocking in a bay. Some waves broke before they reached me, and the white foam slapped against me, spraying up into the air, nearly knocking me over. At times, I treaded water, feeling its salty buoyancy. At times, I tiptoed along the ocean floor, the balls of my feet pressing down into the fine sand. I blissfully enjoyed my commune with nature, rocking in the womb of the earth, but after thirty minutes, I knew my fair skin was on the verge of burning.

I waded towards the shore; the whole time, the water pulled at me, reluctant to let me leave.

This is where I experience “God.” Not at church, but in nature. In the ocean. In the forest. In the song of a bird or a bubbling broke. These are the things that bring me hope and comfort and joy. These are the things that lift me up and keep me grounded. These are the arms that embrace and the voices that speak. These are the many forms of the divine.

Passion as Compassion

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I take a sip of my tropical drink as I minimize the numerous windows open on my tablet. I have spent the past four hours reading research for a scholarly article. A mix of salsa, club music, and intoxicated chatter drowns out the traffic that passes just a few feet beyond the patio of my neighborhood Caribbean restaurant. It’s another humid evening in Miami, but the whirling fans take the edge off the heat. What a great time to write.

I admit, this blog is my own little slice of self-indulgence. I have no intention of teaching anyone anything, or building a platform for some future enterprise. I am here because my soul loves words, and I have learned that I need to cultivate my artistic passions with the same fervor as my professional goals. I have to make a conscious effort to cling to that idea, though. I can become so singularly focused that my life narrows to a one thin shaft of purpose. That behavior serves me well when I want to achieve a particular objective, but it can also leave me lifeless and depleted.  In my quest for productivity, I can often be more compassionate with others than I am with myself.

I have always struggled with the boundaries of compassion. How much is enough? How much is too much? When does the act of compassion become the crime of enabling? I have found wisdom and comfort in the book The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield. In his book on Buddhist psychology, he writes:

“Living with compassion does not mean we have to give away all out possessions, take in every homeless person we meet, and fix every difficulty in our extended family and community. Compassion is not co-dependence. It does not mean we lose our self-respect or sacrifice ourself blindly for others. In the West we are confused about this point. We mistakenly fear that if we become too compassionate we will be overwhelmed by the suffering of others. But this happens only when our compassion is one-sided. In Buddhist psychology compassion is a circle that encompasses all beings, including ourselves. Compassion blossoms only when we remember ourself and others, when the two sides are in harmony.” (32)

I keep the two sides in harmony by indulging in my passions: painting, writing, reading. I maintain a daily journal and an art journal. I blog, connecting with a community that understands the urge to reach out across the vast expanse of cyberspace to craft a personal space of self-expression.

Thank you for taking the time to visit. I wish you the best with your own quest for self-fulfillment.

 

Kornfield, Jack. The wise heart: a guide to the universal teachings of Buddhist psychology. New York, Bantam Books, 2009.

Power of a Word

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My alarm goes off before dawn and I lay there for a moment, staring at the ceiling fan. My first appointment isn’t until 9 am, but life begins much earlier. I shower and dress and pack my tablet into my backpack. This morning I will grab a coffee and write.

As I head to the car, I think about the power of words. One of the first things we discuss in my freshman composition class is the difference between the denotative and connotative meanings of words. The denotative meaning is the dictionary definition, and the connotative meaning is all the associated baggage that comes along with the word. Whenever individuals have emotional reactions to a word, they are reacting to the connotative meaning.

At Starbucks, I add a little half and half and a couple packets of sweetener to my steaming cup of coffee. I give the concoction a stir as I consider words that have impacted me. Bipolar is one. The day I received my diagnosis, the connotative meanings of that word hit me like a freight train. But that’s only one of many. Sometimes we resist words because their connotative meanings seem to box us into a definition that doesn’t quite fit. Many people feel that way about gender pronouns or the racial identification boxes found on applications and surveys. I have always struggled with religious definitions and spiritual identification.

I have studied the fundamentals of many religious and spiritual beliefs, but my convictions never fit in any of the dogmatic boxes. I noted the similarities and embraced the common ground of the various spiritual teachers, but I could not claim to be a Christian, Buddhist, or a modern-day witch. I believe in a higher, creative force, but I hesitate to call it God, simply because the connotative meaning (with its inherent gender bias) doesn’t seem to fit the vast intricacy of such a universal force. Then, this year, I discovered a new word.

Omnist. The Oxford Living Dictionary defines an omnist as: “A person who believes in all faiths or creeds; a person who believes in a single transcendent purpose or cause uniting all things or people, or the members of a particular group of people.” The earliest known use of the word is found in a poem by Philip J Bailey written in 1872: “I am an omnist, and I believe in all /Religion . . .” Finally! A word that fit!

Although definitions can sometimes feel like little boxes that don’t adequately express the complexity of who we are, the lack of definition can often feel alienating. Who are we? Where do we belong? We all crave connection. We all want to be understood. With one little word, omnist, I can express what I believe and find others who feel the same.

 

Bailey, Philip James (1872). Festus: a poem (3rd ed.). University of California Libraries: James Miller. p. 186. Retrieved 30 June 2017.