Tag Archive | compassion

First World Problems

I led a meditation this morning that began with inviting everyone to share a ‘first world problem,’ and ended with some time to ponder gratitude, impermanence, and perspective. The theme occurred to me as I was telling a friend before the meditation started that I had to drink tea instead of coffee because I was out of decaf. Three days in a row I’ve enjoyed full-strength coffee, but this body can’t handle it, so I brewed a weak pot of Earl Grey. Even that gave me indigestion, but that’s beside the point. I laughed as I ‘complained’ about this, and said “First world problems,” then told her about the first time I heard that phrase.

It was in Moonrise Espresso a hundred years ago, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I walked in and was complaining to someone about something inconsequential, and a guy I’d never seen before looked up from his laptop and said, “First world problem, huh?” I was speechless, then laughed out loud. I understood instantly what he meant, and it was a moment of awakening. Perspective! But it took awhile for that insight to really sink in, and inform my entire way of being. Practicing mindfulness, one of the first things we learn is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I wake each day in a bed with a roof over my head, turn on a tap to get water, and have a choice between coffee and tea, both of which come from faraway lands. I’m in reasonably good health, and am content with my life. In the context of starvation, climate displacement, war, and countless other desperate human conditions, I really have nothing to complain about.

This doesn’t mean that everything is always peachy and I have no right to complain, or be unhappy or scared if real trouble arises, or wish things to be other than they are. It simply means that I can keep things in perspective, and not waste energy fretting the small stuff. It means that a momentary frustration is just that, momentary, and losing the internet for a couple hours, or a clogged drain, or any other inconvenience, isn’t going to ruin my day or even my mood. It also means that I’m aware of great suffering in the world, holding compassion for those suffering and wanting to help where I can. And it means that I can bring compassion to myself also, recognizing when things are really hard and not just annoying, and be more supportive and caring for myself and others, and more resilient in challenging situations. I’m grateful for the perspective of ‘first world problems.’

Getting snowed in at the end of a quarter mile driveway could also be seen as a first world problem. That I even have a driveway that long is an enormous privilege, for which I’m immensely grateful. That I even have a driveway. I’m grateful for friends with big trucks! I didn’t get back out to take a picture after the Bad Dogs dropped off groceries, but am sure grateful they were able to punch through the drifts to get down here.

Little Tiny loves the snow, but not when it’s up to her shoulders. It’s the first time we’ve been out that she has jumped on me to pick her up and carry her home. I’m also grateful to be making progress on the puzzle, enjoying the warm sunny view while the fire warms and lights the house inside, even as clouds and wind blow outside.

Practice

I’m so grateful for this mindfulness path. Some days the challenges are small, some days larger; some days easier to navigate, some days harder. But it’s always good to have some awareness of what is actually going on, what is real, versus what’s all in my head. Today gave me plenty of opportunities to practice.

First, it was hard to get anything done this morning, with the little love bug sprawled over me at every turn…

Today’s guidance in the Mindful Life Community was about going beyond forgiveness to having compassion for those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is hard enough for me, much less compassion for those who have wronged me, even long ago, without an apology or accountability. But tonight’s Mindfulness in Recovery meeting, where we discussed the guidance, opened my heart to remind me how ego lies at the root of resentment, and opened the door to finally forgiving, and even having compassion for, that crazy bitch who stole from me and the state, and let my house fill with mouse shit, when she was supposedly tending it for me during my mother’s decline and death. Does it sound like I’ve forgiven her? It’s hard, but I’m getting there. I’ve made some pretty awful mistakes too.

Why was I even thinking about her? Today’s Mindfulness Activity was “to reflect upon some people or situations that you may be resentful of. Try to step back and identify the suffering that gave rise to it. Can you find it in your heart to forgive? Can you find it in your heart to be compassionate? Can you give yourself permission to heal? As you go about your day, try to be aware of how your outer actions are reflective of your inner states. See if you can recognize this in yourself and others.”

I was grateful for this small, quick puzzle I received for Christmas. It was just what I needed to keep my mind calm while I filled the hour between lunch and leaving for the dentist this afternoon.
It was just tricky enough to keep my attention off my pending excursion, and easy enough to complete in an hour, plus full of delightful surprises like the unexpected edges. Plus, what better way to contemplate mortality?

I had plenty of time to reflect on people or situations I may be resentful of as I drove to the dentist and home again this afternoon. I was anxious about going to the dentist because of potential covid exposure, and my anxiety was well-founded. There were absolutely no covid precautions in place: no signage even suggesting voluntary masks, no masks on staff, no hand sanitizer on the counter. There was a large, older gentleman in the waiting area, unmasked, and I sat as far as possible from him, but that didn’t make me feel any better when he coughed without even covering his mouth. Then I heard one of the unmasked staff beyond the counter also cough. The tech who led me back masked when I asked her to, and the tech who did the x-ray came in masked because I’d asked; the dentist of course was masked for his protection but when he pulled down his mask to talk to me–I felt his breath on my face–I got that static in my head and took a long while to figure out that it was okay to ask him to keep it on for my protection. Just in time for him to leave the room.

The tooth in question, ‘good’ in the dentist’s estimation, because the root is sound, but the tooth is cracked and liable to break again in a year or two if they simply fill it.

I am having second thoughts about pursuing a crown with this office. Yes, the middle-case scenario is what’s prescribed, not a filling (best-case) or a pull (worst-case), but a crown. (This is not the kind of crown I want.) But I’m grateful for the technology and the expertise to repair a tooth, despite the sticker shock from the price tag.

I was grateful that staff were willing to mask when asked, and some were even pleasant about it, but the general lack of awareness and concern for at-risk patients appalled me. Any medical office should have hand sanitizer on the counter. Any medical staff should be masked when they interact with any patient, or at the very least, when a patient comes in masked anyone who interacts with that patient should automatically put on a mask when they see that the patient is masked. I get that I’m on the fringe where I live, that people in this county are done with covid, but as Eric Topol wrote just last week in the Washington Post, the coronavirus is not done with us. I’m grateful for access to newsletters from leading researchers, analysts, and medical professionals, including Topol, and public health professor Dr. Leanna Wen, whose email today addressed the plight of a woman whose husband is immunocompromised with stage 4 kidney disease.

For millions of Americans who are immunocompromised or who live with someone who is, it extremely difficult to live in a country where most people no longer see covid as a threat. The same is true for elderly Americans who are more vulnerable to severe outcomes and those who simply wish to avoid the potential consequences of infection, including long covid.” (from The Checkup With Dr. Wen: We need to do more to assist the immunocompromised 01.12.23)

Dr. Wen agrees with this woman’s policy prescriptions, which include this proposal, so relevant to my experience today: “Masks should be required in medical or dental situations until and unless covid becomes much less of a threat to those who are at risk. Many at-risk people already skip necessary medical and dental appointments due to fear of contracting covid, and optional masking in these venues only makes matters worse.”

I include this picture because Amy doesn’t seem able to distinguish between black mustard seeds and nigella seeds… here’s the difference, haha!

All in all, at the end of the afternoon as I drove home, my nerves felt frayed. I chose to turn my attention to some healthful comfort food once I got home, and calmed myself, indeed practiced the skill of relaxation, by cooking this delicious red lentils with butternut squash and tamarind paste.

As I worked in the kitchen, I relished the view of alpenglow on the West Elk Mountains through the living room window, breathing deeply my contentment in this precious little life I’ve created.

The dish came together and simmered until dark, when I sat down with one bowlful, and then another. Grateful for food, grateful for teeth, grateful for another full day of practice and living fully.

Drag Queens

Bob the Drag Queen, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8, performing at a recent ‘Say Gay’ rally in Florida.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m grateful for Drag Queens. Over the past six or seven years they’ve taught me so much about compassion, kindness, authenticity, inclusivity, and shattered so many of the negative biases I was raised to believe. They’ve opened my heart, broadened my mind, and enriched my life immeasurably. My love affair with drag queens started when on a whim I decided to check out RuPaul’s Drag Race on Amazon Prime. For awhile it was an obsession, then merely an addiction, and for the past few years it’s been simply a joy.

The other day I tripped over another drag queen show unexpectedly, ‘We’re Here’ on HBO. I’ve only watched two episodes out of the three seasons currently available. The first was filmed in Grand Junction, Colorado, the closest big city to where I live, and the place I go to see the dermatologist, pick up visitors from the airport, the nearest Natural Grocer, and once upon a time a shopping or restaurant destination when I used to drive up there once a month or so for errands. Just before Covid hit the US, friends had plans to take me to a drag show up there for my birthday present. Oh well. This episode was a consolation prize. The other episode, which I watched tonight, was ‘Florida-Part I’. In the series, three drag queen stars, Shangela, Eureka, and Bob the Drag Queen, travel to small towns in the US mentoring queer people and putting on a drag show starring their mentees.

Shangela, Drag Race legend, at the central Florida ‘Say Gay’ rally, as seen on ‘We’re Here’ on HBO.

‘Florida-Part I’ was a fabulous representation of the ramifications of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill popular there now. The episode is culturally and politically relevant, inspiring, moving, and hopeful. The three queens mentor a ten-year-old trans girl whose mother is a schoolteacher now prohibited by law from mentioning ‘gay’ or ‘trans’, a 58-year-old gay man living in conservative bastion The Villages, a 75-year-old recently trans woman and her wife of 50 years, and a Pulse survivor who brought his celebratory party of twenty friends to the club that night where four of them were soon shot to death. Imagine living with that: it was your idea to move the party to the club, and four of your friends died as a result.

Ten-year-old Dempsey has known she was a girl for as long as anyone can remember. From the age of two, she was choosing girls’ toys, girls’ clothes, anything sweet or sparkly. She has been socially transitioning for five years. Her mother is prohibited from speaking about her or others like her at work because guess what? She’s a schoolteacher in Florida. So they take their conversation to the street.

The intolerance, hatred, misrepresentation, and fear that perpetuate tragedies like Pulse, Club Q, and any other culture-wars mass shooting have got to stop. Obviously, me saying that won’t accomplish anything if governor after mayor after governor saying so hasn’t stopped it yet. But all of us saying it, time after time, in our homes, our communities, our churches, and our ballot boxes, can finally make it stop, or at least slow it way the hell down. LGBTQ people are people. We are all people. In my world view, deer, mountain lions, juniper trees, even skunks are people.

Why can’t we live and let live? We are all connected. Whoever you are, someone you love is gay or trans or differently gendered or sexually oriented than you think is ‘normal.’ Anyone who votes for ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation is hurting or killing someone they love. This isn’t the time or place to go into it, and also I don’t know enough to proclaim but the research is out there; I do know that throughout human history and across cultures, gender and sexuality have never been purely binary. Let’s learn from the drag queens, and just love each other how we are.

Resting

Wren doing Arts & Crafts at doggie daycare yesterday. I’m grateful today that we both got to rest at home. I napped in the morning, I napped in the afternoon, I showered and rinsed my achy nose; I read, ate, read, talked with people; I rested all day and now it’s time for bed. I actively appreciated so much of what I did and didn’t do today. Namaste.

Self-Compassion

Maybe the best sourdough bread yet, at least it looked like it to Wren. And it couldn’t have been simpler! Mix together four ingredients, wait awhile, fold it a bit, wait some more, and bake in a cast iron dutch oven. I’ll definitely practice this recipe again soon.

Then I whipped up some crispy fried tofu with homemade sweet n sour sauce for dinner. I didn’t have potato starch so used corn starch, so it doesn’t look quite as good as the picture in the NYT. But it was definitely crispy. I used up the last of the apricot jam in the sauce, what a great idea, and some homemade paprika. I’ll make this recipe again too. I’m grateful for this abundance of simple good food.

And now I have a perplexing story to share. I noticed a couple nights ago that the globe lights on the tree outside my front door weren’t lit up, and assumed the catmint had overgrown their solar panel. Today I checked the panel, and saw the cord had unplugged from the panel. When I looked for the cord, I realized that it was gone. I was baffled as I searched the tree and saw that the whole string of lights had disappeared. Nowhere to be seen in the tree or anywhere around. Wind? Then I wondered if someone had pranked me. Then I noticed a few twigs on the ground where I knew I’d raked pruning. And then I saw some fresh scars on the limb where the twigs had been torn away. And then a horrible scenario arose in my imagination. I still can’t make sense of it.

The bucks are no longer in velvet, so I don’t know why one would be rubbing antlers on this limb, but they are in hot pursuit of does all over the yarden. So that was my first guess, a buck–and then his antlers tangled in the light string and he pulled the whole thing off the tree in his frenzy to escape, and ran off trailing a string of 3″- globe lights. I looked all around the yard at that point, hoping to find them, but nothing. As I searched, an even worse image came to mind: a doe had been nibbling and caught the line around her neck, and run off tangled up in the lights. But there wasn’t much to nibble except some thorny twigs. I feel pretty sick about it. If someone did prank me, all is forgiven and you can keep the lights, if you just let me know!

I wish that’s what happened but I don’t really think so. Bucks have been seen around here with big pieces of field fence wrapped in their antlers; a doe was spotted crossing a field with a five-gallon white bucket hanging around her neck. One of the worst moments in my garden happened a few years ago when a doe got her head stuck in the fence around the Fuji apple tree. After much thrashing, she wrenched herself free and I immediately removed the fence and rolled it up out of the way. We inadvertently create wildlife traps when we humanize our landscapes. I’ll never again string lights in an outdoor tree. I pray that whatever animal ran off with this string managed to shake it off and escape uninjured. I hope one day soon I’ll find those lights out in the woods on the ground so I know for sure. I feel a terrible compassion for any suffering that might have happened to another creature, but I’m truly grateful for the ability to feel some self-compassion for my own suffering of imagination and guilt.

Plagiarism: Special Election Day Bulletin

   Maybe no political party is as virtuous as it wants to claim. But there was a time when the Republican party could at least bill itself as the party of financial responsibility, small government, defending democracy, supporting the troops, paying your bills, family values and even telling the truth. These values are now gone from the Republican party. And they didn’t fall, they were pushed.

Maybe until now you’ve stayed with the Republicans hoping once Donald Trump was gone the Republican party of old would re-emerge. But two years later it’s clear even his sizable loss didn’t open the door to the party returning to its values but instead somehow managed to only accelerate the decline.

Every political party through history has had its more extreme elements, but few have allowed the extremes to seize power and control the agenda. You saw with your own eyes what they did to Liz Cheney for keeping her word and honoring her oath to uphold the Constitution. This isn’t just not your father’s Republican party anymore, this isn’t your Republican party either.It’s been said elections have their consequences. Part of this is who gets elected, but equally important is how our votes define who we are as people. Who are you? What do you stand for? Do you really want children to have to carry their rapist’s children? Do you really want no exception for abortion to save the life of the mother? Do you really want gay friends and family members to fear for their marriages? Do you really want birth control to be a conversation between a woman, her doctor, and her local politician? No, of course not.

So maybe this is the day you stop voting for all these things you don’t believe. Maybe today’s the day you stop waiting for a miracle and simply admit you are done with the nonsense, done with the cruelty and that you really just aren’t a Republican anymore.

So what next? If you are in a spot where you feel safe to do it, I’ve heard from customers making the leap and telling the world the Republican party is no longer for you can be quite freeing. People will be excited to have you on our side.

For those of you living more complex lives in less liberal communities with all the scary bits about what Republicans have become, there’s something to be said for starting out with a slightly stealthier approach. Maybe borrowing a page from the LGBTQ+ rural teen handbook and living a double life for a while is your safest bet. Ultimately this is more about who you are than about who others see you to be. Today who you vote for is far more important than who people think you voted for.

I know this isn’t easy, but I think you may be surprised just how many of your old values have found a new home in the Democratic party. At the heart of conservatism is the belief in passing on an at least as good of a world to future generations as the one we inherited. To achieve this we must preserve the environment, education, and equal rights. To think, the Republican party was started to end slavery. Times change.

Please don’t let yourself be locked into continuing to vote for what you don’t believe in. Both our nation and our planet face serious issues that can’t wait another decade to be addressed. You being among kindred spirits where you no longer have to hide your empathy and compassion just to fit in is the first step toward preserving what’s good about this world. Come join in. You are welcome. Plus, our side has the tastier treats 🙂

Thanks for giving this some thought,
Bill

bill@penzeys.com P.S. Please forward this to everyone you know of who is far more kind than those you think they will be voting for. Thanks!       Penzeys Spices12001 W. Capitol Drive | Wauwatosa, WI | 53222 USview this email in your browser
 

With all the encouraging words out there from so many compassionate and wise leaders, this mini-essay from Penzeys exec Bill struck me as the one I wish I had written. Everything changes, all the time. The Republican Party has changed, dramatically, from the one I was raised to believe in. And I have changed. I’m not the same person I was yesterday, much less five, twenty, forty years ago. It’s no only OKAY to recognize the changes in ourselves, our beliefs, our perceptions, our needs, it is essential to our growth and maturing as a sentient being. If you haven’t already, please vote for women’s rights, human rights, and the rights of all those beings without human language who are being decimated by loss of habitat through destruction, poisoning, and other effects of human greed. Recognize our interdependence with each other and all beings, and vote for a real future: vote for love.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Herb Roasted Potatoes

…with feta-yogurt dip, chopped nuts, and scallions…

All I knew was potatoes and feta, and all I had to do was show up with the ingredients. Amy talked me through the recipe. How thick to slice the potatoes, how long to boil them, how much of which herbs to toss in with onions and potatoes to roast…

…how much feta and yogurt, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper to blitz in the food processor for the delicious sauce… to line the bowl with the sauce, spoon the roasted vegetables on top, sprinkle with nuts and scallions, and drizzle with honey. We sipped our cocktails and talked of many things as we cooked and ate, as we always do. I can hardly recall a single one of them. I’m grateful for the easy, long friendship (is it 50 years? 51?) that we get to continue across the continent with zoom cooking, and grateful for all the great dishes we’ve made together in person and apart. I’m grateful for locally grown, organic potatoes from Farm Runners, and for custom grocery delivery from P&P. I’m grateful for perennial scallions in my garden from early spring through late fall.

In the midst of cooking I paused to split the bread dough in two and set it on the warm stove to rise in loaf pans. I’m grateful for the sourdough starter that Ruth gave me oh so many years ago still going strong, for the new standard loaf pans I bought from King Arthur to finally replace the oversize pans I inherited from my mother oh so many years ago, for the persistence to try this recipe again and again learning a little more each time how to bake at high altitude.

I’m grateful that this time, I think I finally got it right. I won’t quite know til I slice the loaves tomorrow. They just came out of the oven and need to cool completely before I take the serrated bread knife to them, but they look and sound just right.

I’m grateful for a slow, quiet morning in the garden, and the gorgeous snapdragons I grew from seed which are just now starting to bloom. I’m grateful for connections with friends and cousins here and afar throughout the day, and grateful that as far as I know everyone I love woke up alive this morning. Not everyone did, and that stark reminder highlights the value of each precious day and every act of kindness, compassion, and connection it holds. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice, and the healthier perspective it’s brought to all aspects of life, from the personal to the political and the planetary. I’m grateful.

Melancholy of Caring

Twisted piñon on the rim of the Black Canyon
A silvered juniper skeleton serves as a fence to keep people away from the precipitous edge of a sheer cliff.

I’m grateful to live so close to one of the most spectacular canyons in this country, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, protected as a National Park. I’m grateful to live near the North Rim, by far the less visited part of the park. Usually on a summer Wednesday morning there might have been one or two cars parked at the ranger station, a couple of tents in the campground, and no one else on the rim drive overlooks. I guess with Yellowstone closed for flooding everyone decided to come here. I’ve never seen so many cars at the ranger station, a dozen at least, and four or five at the nature trail parking pullout. There were people everywhere!

The Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado

I’m grateful for the sweet melancholy of caring enough to miss someone I barely know when he’s gone… enough to grieve the wild world, the ancient trees and fragile lives in this park, for the state that the human species has brought this planet to… enough to wish the best for all beings, even humans, even so… I think I prefer this to not caring.

Healthy Choices

Another thing that lifts my spirits is SEED TIME! Maybe, just maybe, I went a little overboard on peppers, but I’m really looking forward to growing enough to make plenty of wicked fermented hot sauce this fall, oh yeah.

Life is hard enough (even without the threat of a new World War) that we don’t need to be challenging each other on every opinion. I mentioned inflammatory comments on Facebook in yesterday’s post. They came after I posted this innocuous sentence: “I joined Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and other concerned global citizens in dropping Spotify in protest over Joe Rogan’s misinformation podcast.” My thought was, if the same number of people as have died from Covid in the US were to cancel their Spotify paid subscriptions, maybe Spotify would grow a pair and take a stand for truth. That was three weeks and roughly 100,000 needless deaths ago.

I unfriended the people who jumped all over me for ignorance and cancel culture. Life is too short. It really is, it’s just too short. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t have time for that shit. I do have time to enjoy the creative endeavors of other people of big heart and open mind, like the adorable Australian series “Please Like Me,” created, written by, and starring Josh Thomas (on Hulu). But I missed the easy access to a variety of music on Spotify, especially instrumental jazz, and while I love mountain grown public radio KVNF in Paonia, not all of their music shows are to my taste, and I can’t handle the interruption of unsought headlines these days.

So I have embarked upon an exploration of public radio stations around the world, in search of my kinds of jazz. I have checked out a number of stations I used to enjoy when I lived in their broadcast areas, like WTJU in Charlottesville, VA and WMNF in Tampa; and other stations I’ve enjoyed as I drove through their airwaves like KMUD in Garberville, CA. In my search for jazz I came upon WWOZ in New Orleans, which I’ve been listening to for a few weeks, and today I found Radio Swiss Jazz, which I think I’ll be listening to a lot for a very long time. I figure if I find twelve public radio stations I love around the world, and donate $10 each month to one of them, I’ll have done a lot more good in the world with my $120 than if I had kept on supporting commercial, profit-driven streaming services like Spotify. So that’s my plan!

Unnecessary moment of tender beauty

Thanks for the messages of comfort and encouragement after my gloomy post yesterday. I’m grateful for them. I woke this morning to news of Russia’s malevolent invasion of Ukraine, and set my intention for the day to let–or make–peace begin with me. There is literally nothing I can do about this new war. Other people get paid to take care of these global issues. I call and write my representatives to let them know my preferences. I voted a compassionate president into office. He’s done the best he can with what he has to work with. Not much else I can do there. But I can renew my commitment to practicing kindness, wisdom, and compassion as much as possible every precious remaining day of my short life.

Thanks to mindfulness practice, though I sometimes slide into the shadows, I no longer dwell there consistently as I did for much of my life. And when I do go dark inside, I let it be, resting in that sorrow: my friend Impermanence always comes through. Things always change, inside of me and out, and I’m grateful for the wisdom to know that, allowing myself to feel what I feel without judgement, and resting calmly with what is, until it changes. It does sometimes take an effort to make a healthy choice, like seeking out music and art that uplift me, and opening my heart with gratitude to connection offered by friends old and new. While I know that no one and nothing else can lift my spirits for me, healthy choices can certainly help shift the balance.