But who will set my dvr?

Articles abound on how to prepare your kid for college (Reminder to self:  Buy him tylenol, ibuprofen, tums, benedryl, neosporin and bandaids.)  Even though some are cheesy and some are ridiculously expensive and over the top – I’m reminded of just how many onesies I was told he would need when I brought him home from the hospital – it’s nice to have a list to check.

But where is the list of what every parent needs before their kid (selfishly!) takes all their knowledge to another zipcode?

My personal list:

  1. Brush up on all football knowledge so I can ease my husband’s sorrow at losing his #1 football companion.  Practice high-fives, cheers, and memorize stats on Ravens’ players.  Try to stay awake through all 4 quarters.
  2. Begin practicing staying up late so I am awake to pick my daughter up at curfew – No longer will her older brother be around to save me that task.  Warn her that her curfew may change to account for parents who need sleep.
  3. Have him teach me: To set the DVR, to log-in to the cloud, to back up my phone, to update my phone, to work my phone.
  4. Don’t put too much pressure or pay too much attention to his sister who has 2 years left at home, in an effort to express all that parental energy that has no where to go.  Instead, get a life.  (Trust, that like nursing and weaning, that energy will reset to match the need.)
  5. Reconcile self to reality:  I’m getting old, even if 50 is the new 30, an entire phase of active day-to-day parenting energy of keeping track of and worrying and is coming to an end.  Figure out:  Now what?
  6. Trust all the research that says adults whose homes do not include children are far happier and have a higher quality of life.
  7. Remind self:  It’s okay to cry when you drop him off.  But take tissues, and plan fun outing with husband.    Right – re-connect with husband.

Again, I am reminded of how potent these life transitions that are so universal, but so gut-wrenching when they are YOUR life transitions.  The days ARE long, the years ARE short.  This is life.

baby ben copy

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SONY DSC

Sexist Blindspots: I hate running into them in people who should know better

We all have them – blindspots, that is.  I’m not arguing that point in this post.

And the pastor in me does try to have some compassion for others’ blindspots, because I know I’ve got them as well.  (The log versus the speck and all that.)

But when I see a blind spot in the world of academia, in the social sciences, in popular history books like “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” in the one chapter that directly addresses the pervasiveness of patriarchy – AUGH!  My heart is already beating harder as I write.  (And that’s because anytime I’m reminded that sexism is alive and well, my amygdala feels threatened.)

The guilty party?  Yuval Noah Harari, history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of the newly popular New York Times best-seller “Sapiens:  A Brief History of Humankind.”  (Don’t let the accuracy of “humankind” vs “mankind” fool you.”

Yuval Noah Harari's book "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind"

It’s not that I didn’t like the book – And no, it’s not about patriarchy or feminism or equality between the sexes.

BUT.  He does point out how cultures have used the biological differences (aka wombs) as the foundation for cultural reasons why men should be in charge.  Then he goes on to perpetuate that same stereotype and hierarchy in the language he uses to refer to people.

Yes, in some places does he use the more precise and clear “humanity” and “humankind,” but in other places he reverts to “mankind,” or even, ugh, “men of science.”  At the very least, where was his editor?  And how can he possibly miss how his language is perpetuating the problem?  BLINDSPOT.

He sees the vicious circle clearly when addressing how men – yes, I mean men – of color were excluded from white collar jobs and therefore since no men of color held white collar jobs, clearly they weren’t capable of white collar jobs.  But he’s blind to how he does the exact same thing when it comes to women.

And at the ending chapter of the Part 2: The Agricultural Revolution, titled, “There Is No Justice in History,” he says:

“If the patriarchal system is based on unfounded myths versus biological facts, then what accounts for its universality and the stability of the system?”  Good question.  And he inadvertently answers it two pages later:

Part 3: The Unification of Humankind, opens with this sentence:  “Unlike the laws of physics, every MAN-MADE  (in case you couldn’t guess, emphasis all mine) order is packed with internal contradictions, and cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions.”  Hmmmm.  Women aren’t part of culture?

And then “….(The modern political order) … guarantee(s) that every individual (is) free to do as HE wishes, (which) inevitably shortchanges equality….”  Ah, yes, women are not “free to do as (they) wish….”

And he continues to use the inexact and prejudiced male referent throughout the rest of the book to the very end, where he says, “And it’s not just pious monotheists who object that MAN should not usurp God’s role”  (Heaven forbid women should try.)

I guess what irks me so much is that he is addressing the very problem he is blind to.  And yes, I know I am tilting at windmills.  But “MAN” means just that:  “males.”  Which are NOT the normative.  People are normative, even to quote Harara himself:

“(The words) “man” and “woman” name social constructs, not biological categories…..” “because biology is willing to tolerate a wide spectrum of possiblities.”  To get all Jesus-y, “In Christ there is neither male nor female.”

Breathing, Part II: In the pulpit

So, breathing meditation helps with fear.  How about anger?

Maybe you don’t get angry – but probably, you do.  And at inappropriate times and places.  Maybe certain issues push you over the edge and your heart is racing and your palms are sweaty and your breathing is shallow and fast.  Maybe you too can go from peaceful to raging in less than 6 seconds.

One recent Sunday afternoon found me in the pulpit of a funeral home, leading a very eclectic memorial service for a friend’s sister and brother-in-law who had died in a climbing accident.  American-born Koreans, first generation Koreans, and Koreans who just flew in for this service and didn’t speak English were joined by the yoga community to honor these two beloved people.  I was trying to hold together a multitude of world-views, traditions, faiths, and spiritual practices, and I’d be lying to say I wasn’t a tiny bit nervous and self-conscious.  We would recite the comforting 23rd Psalm along with a responsive reading from the Bhagavad Gita.  “Nothing in life or in death can separate us from the Love of the Divine,” from Paul’s letter to the Romans would be joined by chanting in sanskrit.  Then 20 minutes before the service was to begin, I was told that the pastor from a local, large, well-known non-denominational church had been invited to say a few words – Could I find a time in the service to have him speak?  Yikes.  I was not a happy camper.

My anger started to build.  I don’t much care for non-denominational pastors.  I am too Presbyterian, too connectional.  I believe pastors need outside accountability.  I believe churches need to be less pastor-centered.  Such churches present as liberal when they are anything but.  They tend to have very narrow interpretations of scripture.  They easily become all about the personality of the pastor.  But mostly, I firmly, passionately believe God calls women to ordained ministry, and take it extremely personally when told otherwise.

It’s now one minute before the service is to begin and in he walks, and I am now very ticked.  I had worked hard on this service; I was anxious; I really did not want to have Jesus shoved down people’s throats as this time, as I assumed he would.  In retrospect, I realize I did not want my Christian faith represented by him.  After introducing myself, I invited him to stand up and speak.  And my blood started boiling.  All my buttons were getting pushed – It wasn’t his fault, I just have issues with (usually men) establishing their credentials in the pulpit  – Naming his church, how long he had been there, how he knew just what people needed to hear at times like these, how Jesus loved them, how the week before he had been leading his own mother’s funeral service.  I unkindly thought, this isn’t about you, Mister!

Thankfully he spoke long enough I had plenty of time to breathe.  Deeply.  Over and over and over.  Inhale – this isn’t about me – Exhale – It still isn’t about me.  Inhale – what does it matter what he thinks about me – Exhale – It still isn’t about me.  Inhale – de-personalize.  Exhale – trust the Spirit is at work.  Inhale – I am here to help this family – Exhale – it will all be okay.  Over and over and over.  Inhale – who cares how long he’s served  – Exhale – I too am called by God.

And finally, my self-righteous anger subsided. Never mind how inappropriate or poorly timed.  When we’re angry, we’re angry, and denying we are can just make it worse.  But letting the beast be in control isn’t the way of compassion; in fact it’s downright selfish.  And so I breathed.  And so my nervous system found a balance.  And so I was able to lead the rest of the service from a place of calm and compassion.

Yep, guess I’d better keep on meditating.  Give it a try – maybe it will help you through some of your own tough times when your own less-than-best self shows up.

Breathing, Part 1: In the Kayak

I’m horrible at meditating – In fact, while I was just meditating, I kept trying to write this blog post in my head.  Which is not what meditating is all about.

Lately, I’ve been meditating on my breath, because everyone breathes, right?  But in spite of all the reading & research I’ve done, it’s hard to know if it’s making any difference in my day-to-day life.  Do you ever feel that way?  Like you’re doing something because people have told you it’s good for you, but you aren’t sure ….

And then, I was in a kayak.  A 10′ kayak.  At a broad place in the St. Lawrence River, the Canadian side, several islands away from our cottage on Hay Island.  What had seemed like a nice break in the weather turned into only a temporary reprieve, and now I was in shorts and a tank top and a life jacket, and the sun was hiding and the temps were dropping and the winds were picking up and the rain started to fall and it was getting dark.  None of this is good news on this river in May, when weather is temperamental and can turn in an instant.  I was scared.

And then, I remembered to breathe.  Well, I hadn’t ever forgotten, I just decided to be intentional about breathing.  Inhale as you paddle right, exhale as you paddle left.  Inhale paddle right, exhale paddle left.  What was I scared of?  Inhale-paddle; exhale-paddle.  Thanks to yoga my arms were strong.  I wasn’t ever going to be far from shore, even if it wasn’t MY shore.  Inhale-paddle; exhale-paddle.  Sure it was getting cold – very cold, but only cold enough I was uncomfortable – not life-threatening cold.  Even if the wind tipped me, again, I wasn’t ever far from a shore.  Inhale-paddle; exhale-paddle.  No need to panic – which would rob me of the deep breaths keeping me calm, and make my heart race even faster, which would not help me paddle any faster.  Inhale-paddle; exhale paddle.

And then, I was back.  Safe and sound.  And I realized – Huh!  Maybe there IS something to the practice of meditation after all!  No matter how bad a meditator I am, I think I’ll keep at it a little longer.

The St. Lawrence on a calmer summer day

The St. Lawrence on a calmer summer day

“Don’t TELL me to CALM DOWN!” Why it won’t work

Ever heard these 6 words when you’ve been upset?   Ever said these words because someone else was upset?

And how did that go for you?  I’m guessing, from personal experience, not well.

I admit I’ve lost it probably more than my fair share of times – You know what that looks like and sounds like:  In my case, a screechy voice, troll-like red dripping nose, zombie-like eyes spouting fountains of tears, hiccups, maybe throw in a foot stomp or two.  Shall we say, not a pretty picture?  I can’t form sentences, at least not ones that are coherent to humans.  But more to the point, I cannot hear you.  Especially if you are calmly telling me to “just calm down.”  Even though I’m guilty of saying it to my own teenaged daughter.  Even though I know it won’t work.

But why is this so ineffective?

When the limbic system takes charge, it hears your pre-frontal cortex command to “calm down” as a personal affront.

When my pre-frontal executive rational logical functioning mind goes off-line because all my mental energy is consumed with anger, betrayal, injustice, hurt, fear rumbling like a volcano spewing forth, I cannot hear your words.  At least not the way they are intended.  Those words get filtered through the lava of anger, betrayal, injustice, hurt, and fear so what I hear when you say, “Just calm down,” is:

Judgment:  Why are you so upset?

Critique: There’s nothing to be THAT upset about.

Impatience: You are just over-reacting.

Belittlement:  It is not a big deal.

Disgust: What’s wrong with you, anyway?

Dismissal: What you are feeling is wrong, out of control, and not nearly as important as you think it is.  IE: You and your feelings are not important.

Of course this is NOT what you are trying to communicate to the person who’s lost it in front of you!  But what you may be communicating when you say, “Just calm down now,” is:

Your amygdala’s display of such uncensored and apparently out-of-control emotional volatility is making me uncomfortable, and I can’t help you when you are like this, and that makes me uncomfortable, so please calm down and we’ll all feel much better.

So what to do?  Imagine that apparently out of control limbic system in front of you is a scared, wild animal.  Because honestly, it pretty much is.  Soothe it – don’t command it.  Reach out to comfort it – don’t dismiss it.  It’s skittish, and scared, and lonely.  Don’t threaten it.  Let it know you won’t hurt it, you understand, because to them, in that moment, the world is not safe, and they aren’t convinced you are safe.  Under no circumstances say, “Just Calm Down.”  That’s like fuel to the fire.  And no one feels better.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Can we agree? The Gun Edition

1. This blog will change no one’s mind.  It’s true – Brain research shows that no matter how hard we try to be open minded, everything comes through our preconceived filters.  So this blog will only help solidify your stance on the gun issue.  But I’m writing it anyway, because surely we can agree on SOME things, right?  (maybe not, but here goes)

2.  Guns are getting into the wrong people’s hands.   As I drove home from worship yesterday, NPR’s news break reeled off 3 different gun violence deaths, starting with last Wednesday’s AME church shooting; (Is that now going to be a thing?  Like “school shooting,” we’ll have “church shooting?”)  then one at a block party, and finished with one at a park.  Clearly those guns were in the wrong hands.

3.  If we can agree that guns are getting into the wrong people’s hands, can we agree that maybe the current laws are not working? That seems logical to me, but I have to be honest about my own firsthand experience.  Studies of our brains also show that firsthand and anecdotal experiences hold much more weight in our opinions than say, science, or research, or facts.  So, because my cousin-in-law was able to lawfully buy another handgun the day before he was to be arrested for murdering his mother with the first handgun, (and in a twisted blessing, used it to kill himself) you’ll be hard pressed to talk me out of #2 or #3.

4. Part of our inability to find common ground is that evidenced-based public policy on guns suffers from lack of extensive research.  We all know something needs to change. (Please, please tell me we all agree on that!)   Some say more guns, others say less, but what does evidenced based research, aka the scientific method suggest?  That’s a hard sell right there, because we can’t agree that science should have a voice at the table, let alone a voice that outweighs our beliefs and personal experience.  Our brains naturally prefer story – It’s how we’re wired to learn.  Plus, our brains naturally divide the world into “us” and “them,” and the gun problem is with “them,” (read, poor, inner city, black, drug dealers, gangs, etc.) Throw a little reframing fueled by the “us-them” divide – –  “Guns aren’t the problem – Violence is the problem,” (and it’s them – those violent people – who have a problem.) and you can see how our brains aren’t always our best friends.

4.  We read the Constitution (selectively) literally.   Okay, you might not initially agree with this statement, but hear me out:  Some folk insist they read the Christian Bible as God intended, literally, factually, every single word true, but no one – NO ONE follows ANY whole holy scripture entirely literally (For a great laugh-out-loud example of what it might look like to do so – check out A.J. Jacobs book, “My Year of Living Biblically.”)  When we worry about changing our interpretation of the Second Amendment, it might do us well to remember this world is not what the founding fathers imagined.  After all, they wrote the constitution to apply ONLY TO : Free.  White.  Over-21.  Men.  Landowners.  We now understand their words apply in a wholly different context, in ways they never foresaw.  Let me just say as a women, I’m grateful, although in my more paranoid flashes, I am capable of wondering if someone will decide to lead a crusade to exclude women from the “All men are created equal” phrase.  The constitution as it stands does not prohibit that.

5. Given how our brains work, guns work way too fast.  Our brains are not (you can argue, yet) designed, equipped, evolved, capable, of using guns responsibly in a threatening situation, unless we’ve gone through extensive re-training or practicing over-riding our brain’s natural tendencies to “shoot first, ask questions later.”  An active responsible amygdala runs the show, and fear makes decisions much faster than logic, leading to tragic results.  That’s not me speaking, that’s science.  That’s how God made our brains, if you like:  To keep us alive first, ask questions later.

Those are my thoughts, with a little neuroscience thrown in, in the “for what they are worth” column.  But let’s agree on this:  You won’t change my mind, and I won’t change yours.  We have to find a different approach.

Brain: FAIL. Alzheimer’s & Depression

I’m reading an absolutely breathtaking book written from the first person perspective of a 65 year old medical doctor struggling with early on-set dementia. It’s called “Turn of Mind” by Alice LaPlante, and we are immersed in the mysteries of her own brain’s failings, her self-understanding moving in and out like the tide, and the death of her best friend.  We only know what she knows at any given moment.

turn of mind

This is what hits hard:  Her reality is so convincingly utterly absolutely true to her in that moment, even as we know, it’s dementia ruling the day.  But what she does, what she says, what she thinks, it all makes absolute sense to her.  Sometimes, she can be brought back to the more objective reality of those caring for her.

She insists one night it is an emergency, she absolutely must get to the drugstore THIS INSTANT, she is out of tampons.  Her caregiver reminds her she is 65.  “O,” she says, “Right.”  The strange working of the mind, that one minute she knows without a doubt it’s a crisis.  The next second, her medical mind remembers no 65 year old woman should be having an emergency tampon crisis.  And she can trust her caregiver who tells her, she is 65.  Crisis averted.  But she doesn’t always trust what others tell her.

Here’s the thing:  This is what depression feels like.  You forget you have depression, and your emotional responses make absolute sense to you, and you do NOT understand why no one else sees the crisis, or the sadness, or the pointlessness of this moment.

 A mundane anecdote from when I was struggling:  My daughter got up early and ran out the door without telling us where she was going.  I suspected she just went out for a run, but I was mad that she hadn’t told us.  I start to dial her cell phone, but my husband rightly said calmly, “Let me talk to her.”  Because in that moment, he knew better than I that this was not a crisis, and did not need me treating it like the emergency it was to me.  I sort of got it.  At least I trusted him enough that I handed him the phone.

LIke when tears would spring up for no reason, and I wondered what the HELL is wrong with me? Or I couldn’t find the energy or will to put on my running clothes, or if I did manage, it took everything out of me, and I had to lie down.  And again, like someone struggling to remember they have dementia, that’s why depression is so challenging to face.  Because it’s your own brain turning against you.  Since our brains are relentless meaning-making machines, the narrative runs:  “You are just lazy.  You are weak.  If you just tried harder.  Just get up off the couch!  How hard can it be?”  Resisting the obvious explanation:  You are depressed.

 And then, if you are extremely fortunate, and blessed, someone you trust will point out that maybe it’s depression coming back.  And even though you KNOW they are lying, they are just trying to be kind, they don’t know that really, you are just a lazy slovenly couch potato, some part of you is willing to believe, like the main character:  O, 65 year olds don’t need tampons.  And you trust them enough to agree maybe you should just check in with your doc.  Because maybe something isn’t right.  And maybe those stories in your head aren’t telling the whole truth about you as a person.  But it’s hard, because those stories seem so, so real.