was rumi a slow walker?

“The world is filled with people like Shams of Tabriz but where are the men like Rumi to see the truth in them?”Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought by Sefik Can, page 67.

I think I must pass many wise people when I go throughout my day. Wise with a capital “W”. Wise about the ice on the pond and the gunshots and the meditation pillow and the swastikas and all the police who are not in prison.

I think I must pass many wise people, and yet we all walk so fast these days. How can I even have time to begin to see the truth in them?

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It’s Black History Month… and I’m angry.

Amazing poem by Jasmine Mwanaisha.
Hell yes, Solidarity, Anger, Consciously choosing not be blind. Yes Yes Yes

READ ME TWICE

My eyes roll counter-clockwise as if to dial back enough time to catch myself from swinging.

My soul makes sounds for words my mouth hasn’t learned to form yet

This heavy burden grieves me

The weight of atrocity that some have the option to not see

Like changing the channel on TV – they can easily remove themselves from my reality.

But the reality is I’m still grieving.

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poem for the february sun

It is 4pm in Western Massachusetts in February and

the sun is shining

and it is 33 degrees outside.

Let me repeat that.

It is 33 degrees outside.

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Let me clarify in case you are confused.

I am used to relief

at over-zero.

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Don’t get me wrong.

There is still a lot of snow.

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But after so many

blizzards

and below-zero days

and grey skies

relief flows like water

pulled by gravity.

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I have not been able to motivate myself

to walk out my door

into the cold

and yet

when I pushed myself

to do so today

I felt I was breathing for the first time.

Oh what a joy

to watch my feet disappear

in the snow

to hear icicles dripping

and to think maybe there are green buds in me

about to burst through

just as there are in the earth

unseen but present and ready.

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inspired by the art garden

Last night I was able to attend a glorious event called Paradise [not yet] Lost at The Art Garden, a community arts space in Shelburne Falls, MA. The invitation to the event read: “You are invited to participate in Paradise [not yet] Lost, a community exhibit about environmental issues, climate change, and the places we love and want to take care of.”

The exhibit included stunning works of visual work including paintings, collages, ceramic work, and mixed-media pieces. At 7pm performances began, and these included storytelling, recitations of poetry, musical sing-a-long, and an incredible interactive piece involved levitating ping-pong balls (with the use of hair-driers and many helping hands) that each said positive qualities such as “balance”, “intention,” and “love.”

I was inspired beyond belief, and the feeling still lingers twenty-four hours later. All the visual and performance work touched on the beauty of the natural world, the activism people are doing to care for the world, the love and belonging people feel to the places they live, and the investment in building community around these issues.

Everyone was invited to write an intention for engaging with nature and in a creative, social, and preserving way. We wrote our intentions on leaves and taped the leaves onto a card-board tree that was built in a corner of the room.

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Especially amidst the isolation, loneliness, and quiet of winter, I could not have asked for a more wonderful way to spend an evening with humans, feeling grateful for humans and for the beautiful world we live in, despite the challenges we face. So much gratitude to Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, artist director of The Art Garden, the many staff there, and all the artists who participated last night. My creative juices are flowing. My appreciation for nature has been rekindled. Thank you!

anthropological look at psychiatry: questioning a system

I am reading a book called Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at American Psychiatry by T.M. Luhrmann. While a bit on the academic side for “pleasure” reading, it is a fascinating look at the culture and process of how psychiatrists begin to think like psychiatrists. It was published in 2000, and many things have changed in the field of psychiatry in the past fifteen years, but many arguments that Luhrmann makes are, I believe, still very valuable today.

This illuminating quote is a bit long and jargon-y, but bear with me, there’s some good stuff in here. Luhrmann writes, “If a very new resident is asked whether a patient meets DSM [The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] criteria for, say, schizophrenia or paranoia, that resident will pick up DSM and read the criteria for each. She may find that the patient meets some for both and the difference between the two categories is not that straightforward, at least in this case. If you ask that same resident about such a patient one year later, when she has developed prototypes for the illnesses, she will probably not reach for the diagnostic handbook, and she will probably not feel that the difference between the categories is inherently uncertain. She is more likely to believe that there are clear differences between illness categories and more likely to pick up data in a case presentation that correspond to the prototype and ignore information that does not. As this happens, it becomes difficult for the psychiatrist to remember that initial skepticism about the diagnostic criteria. A patient’s illness seems less like a sorting problem–is it like this or like that?–and more like an identification task. Diagnoses begin to feel like real, distinct objects in the body” (Luhrmann 42).

In terms of documenting how psychiatrists begin to think, this is a bit frightening, no? Human beings become more likely to be defined by their diagnosis as a psychiatrist gains more training. Of course, at the same time, the psychiatrist is gaining more experience, and therefore their instinctual diagnoses might be more likely to be on target. Still, given the amount of mis-diagnosing that occurs, and that a diagnosis often leads to a medication prescription, this is a bit scary.

Then there is the topic of stigma, and how those of us who struggle with mental health issues begin to internalize the diagnose(s) we are given. In my case, I am fairly certain my diagnosis is correct. However, has it impacted the way I see myself, and the way I think about how others see me? Absolutely.

I don’t feel I know nearly enough about the inner workings of psychiatry or psychiatric training to make broad generalizations about the quote above (I haven’t finished the book, and even if I had, woe to the person who reads one book on a subject and thinks themself an expert.) However, being on the other side (i.e., being a patient and not a clinician) it feels very personal to read one account of how the minds of those judging my own mind get changed early and throughout their training. The quote mentions the likelihood, over time, to notice more and more what fits with the gut diagnosis, and ignore what doesn’t. We all do this throughout our days, in some form or another, in terms of “selectively seeing” and “selectively noticing.” There is simply too much for us to see and notice to be able to take it all in with equal amounts of attention. However, human beings are complex, and it concerns me that with more training a diagnosis procedure would become less–not more–complex.

I am aware that many psychiatrists have helped many people, including me, and that there is a great deal of good that is done in the field. However, recent experiences have led me to question the system and process itself, and whenever there is an eagerness to question a system, I think we ought to start exploring.

my last day working at the bookstore

I will miss the peace of being surrounded by books and feeling that all the words in the world are holding me.
I will not miss being made to feel stupid because I made a small mistake.
I will miss intellectual and literary conversations with strangers I will never see again.
I will not miss customers harrassing me and asking me out and making me feel uncomfortable at work.
I will miss the wonderful people who work in the bookstore and in the building and who have become friends and backup teams and silly gooses and who work hard at what they do.

Every job has it’s ups and downs. When you decide it’s time to move on to the next part of your journey, it’s a mixed bag. I feel nostalgic already for the parts of bookstore life that I love. I feel excited for what lies ahead. Change is always happening, but sometimes the change feels big, and the change begs to be honored and marked. I am honoring and marking this change, grateful for all that I have learned and the experience I have gained, and eager to see what is next. Is “I’m standing at the crossroads” cliche. Absolutely. Is it true right now? Absolutely.

Sincerely,
grateful and humbled and proud and ready

escape: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 3 of 3

In my final reflection post about The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball I find myself eager to discuss Kimball’s contemplation on the escape of horses, and the larger concept of escape in general.

“I’ve had more than one opportunity to wonder…what it feels like to be a horse running away. I know there is fear, but I also think there’s a certain joy, or if not joy then exhilaration, abandon. The broke horse is always poised between his instincts and his training, and running is giving in to the instinct.” 

Commitment is scary, be it in the context of a relationship or a job or a lifestyle or, in the case of The Dirty Life, all three at once. There is a power to nesting and rooting and grounding. Today you can read Kristin Kimball’s blog about Essex Farm and see the amazing work that is being done there as a result of committing to finding stability amidst the chaos of running a farm.

However, I am also interested in this concept of abandon and exhilaration. The tension between instincts and training. After spending so many years trying to be “good” and “do the right thing” and “not get in trouble” I often feel that my instincts are more trustworthy than my training. And I wonder if following my instincts, and abandoning my “training” (in the broad sense of that word) I can experience joy and exhilaration, and from that place, discover my own version of grounding and rooting myself into a life that feels meaningful. I think society has things mixed up and backwards most of the time, and this passage makes me ponder if escape can be what brings us home.

purpose: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 2 of 3

“I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing and I believed in it. I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing closer to authentic,” (Kimball 158). 

Ah, the power of who we think we are. When this gets called into question it can be very uncomfortable. I  love this concept of a gap closing, and outer actions beginning to reflect inner reality. I think this is applicable to many of us, farmers or not, as is the concept of focusing on the ground. There is the physical ground, and then there is the inner grounding, the feeling of centeredness that gives us clarity and purpose. Farming isn’t for everyone but I would like to believe that there is something for every one of us that brings us “closer to authentic.”

In the case of Kristin Kimball, she was somewhat thrown into it by luck and circumstance. A part of me thinks that is unusual, and that most of us have to look for and work for it. But maybe we are all thrown into it, and it’s just a matter of realizing what is going on–that our opportunity to merge our inner and outer lives has arrived, and we can either take it or risk letting it pass. Kimball could have walked away from the man the was in love with and the farm she was starting to build so many times. She thinks about it many times throughout the book. But she doesn’t. She sticks with it even when it is hard. I admire this. I await the closing of the gap. I hope I will know it when I see it.

consumerism: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 1 of 3

I just finished reading The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball and as is the case when I finish a good book, I have so many thoughts and I am bursting to share them. I certainly recommend the book, and if you would like to read summaries and reviews, there are many. However, I feel more in the mood to reflect than review.

Adjusting to a sudden change in lifestyle, from city life to farm life, Kristin Kimball writes, “The last old habit to fall away was shopping. I could feel the need to shop building up in me during the week, like an itch. I’m not talking about shopping for clothes, or shoes, or any of the other recreational kinds of shopping people generally do. I mean only the oddly comforting experience of flowing past shiny new merchandise, the everyday exchange of money for goods. In the city, most of the landscape is made up of objects for sale, and it’s nearly impossible to leave your apartment without buying something–a newspaper, a cup of coffee, a bright bunch of Korean market flowers. When I went for days without buying anything, without setting eyes on commerce, without even starting the car to burn up some gas, I felt an achy withdrawal.” (Kimball 156).

When I read this passage my first thought was that Kimball was so honest to share this longing to shop. To me, it isn’t the most appealing quality, and it is just one of so many strikingly honest confessions that she makes in the book. But my second thought was realizing how I completely have this too. And since reading the passage I’ve been conscious of it more than ever. Specifically because I am having a challenging time right now, there is a constant capitalist rhetoric repeating in my mind that if I just buy the right thing I will start to feel better. This is made much worse by the fact that I work in a bookstore. Sometimes when I am cleaning and organizing the self-help, religion, spirituality, and poetry sections I begin to observe the inner conversation in my brain:

“Maybe if I buy that book and read it I will break through my depression.”

“Get it from the library.”

“But what if I want to write notes in the margins or underline my favorite passages or dog-ear a life-changing page.”

“Get it from the library first, if you even end up reading it at all and really do love it so much, you can always go back and buy it.”

“But I want the copy that gives me such a life-changing transcendental experience to be the copy that is mine, that I own.”

“Just get it from the goddam library.”

Or something like that. We have been told so many times, over and over again, that money and material goods will make us happy. I can know in my heart and soul that this is not true, and yet I still wrestle with the constant message that we just don’t have enough, and that if we did have enough, we would be enough. This is one of the core tenants of consumerism and capitalism, connecting our quality of life with the things we purchase. I know it’s not real, and yet every time I work at the bookstore I usually find a book that I fixate on for most of the shift. Leaving work and not buying the book feels unsatisfying and disappointing and an emptiness is certainly there, but halfway through my walk home I usually forget all about it. Wanting to heal is real. Buying things to make it happen isn’t.

Taking stock of all the changes my life has abruptly undergone in the last year and a half, I can certainly relate to Kimball’s “old habits that fall away.” Some of them needed to leave. Some of them I want back, and I need back, and I am working to get back. But the big thing for me is noticing. The fact that I have been observing my desire to fix my problems by buying books, and that I have not been buying them, has been challenging but also made me aware that I am not my thoughts, nor problems. I don’t know what I am, but I know I am glad not to be my “achy withdrawal.”