Mindfulness is noticing the grip in my stomach after my husband said, “Something’s going on with your email. I haven’t gotten your blog post in my email for the last two weeks.” I was thinking he probably just hadn’t read his emails. (If you’re really mindful, you notice the thought and then move on.)

So I checked my Mail Chimp program, which automatically notifies blog subscribers every time I write a new post. Mindfulness is noticing the sick feeling when the statistics page revealed that half of my email notifications had bounced. Two weeks in a row. Mindfulness is noticing a combination of relief and irritation that hubby was right. (If you’re really mindful, you notice them and then move on.)

Links on the stats page led me to a Yahoo help page. By studying it through a magnifying glass and my reading glasses at the same time, I learned my emails had been “bounced due to policy reasons.” What policy? 550-5.7.1 DMARC policy. Oh. Of course. Mindfulness is noticing the exact second and precise spot on my left eyebrow when and where a headache twanged into existence. (If you’re really mindful, you noticie the twang and then move on.)

I returned to Mail Chimp for the translation. Yahoo would not send my emails because the sender’s (that was me) email address was yahoo.com but the sender’s mail server was not yahoo. (that was Mail Chimp.) I needed to create a brand new email account. Mindfulness is noticing how I wanted to run screaming from the room. You feel it, don’t you? (If you’re really mindful, you notice the headache and the pressure of the stifled sceam, pop a couple of aspirin, and then move on.)

So, I set up the new email account dawn@dawndowney.com. Gosh, it was easy.

So, if you haven’t heard from me for a couple of weeks, scroll down to "Chicagoland" and "Cure for the Common Cold."

Mindfulness is noticing my muscles relax as the aspirin kicks in.

 
 
A CNN series, Chicagoland, documented the challenges of a principal at an inner city high school, who worked to keep her students alive and out of jail. Despite her best efforts, one of her favorite young men, call him Tony, ended up behind bars. She visited him regularly, tutored him through his GED, pushed for his early release. When the prison gate closed behind him and he spotted her in the parking lot, he ran to her––a child again, wrapped in a mothers embrace, his face lit with affection, innocence and optimism. I knew he’d make it.

She moved him into a halfway house. A mentor arranged a job interview and planned to drive him there. But Tony neglected to set his alarm clock. He missed the interview and dissappeared from the halfway house. His story line ened with him back in jail, charged with robbery.

Why? I needed to blame someone. And the logical choice was Tony. He wasted all those opportunities to transform his life. Why couldn’t he manage to set an alarm clock?

Ramesh said man acts according to his nature. Everyone is created with a set of characteristics. Life expresses through us according to those characteristics. If life were to have expressed through him as a boy who made his way out of the ghetto, he would have had the thought, I need to set my alarm. Instead, life expressed as a Tony who would spend more time in jail.

I live in my own Chicagoland, stuck in situations I should have powered through by force of self-discipline, blaming myself for failure to transform.

But no … there’s no one to blame. Tony and I are innocent.

 
 
Sick again. I do a lot of thinking when my body aches too much to do any doing. I think in many languages.

Guilt. Being sick is irresponsible. I should have taken more vitamin C. Or drunk more green tea. Or socialized more frequently, to toughen up my immune system.

Disaster. This stupid cold will probably linger for a month. I’ll end up with pneumonia. I’ll miss too many trips to the Y and gain fifty pounds and have to buy bigger clothes and go broke from the expense.

Chakra. Colds always begin in my throat. Fifth chakra. Obviously, I have trouble speaking my truth.

New Age. Why do I keep creating dis-ease in my body?

As sore throat competed with coughing fits, I crumpled onto my husband’s shoulder in a soggy heap. He patted my head. “Sorry you feel bad, Honey. It’ll be okay.” (He speaks Sweetheart.)

He tucked me into bed.

Shoot. I’m miserable anyway, so I might as well feel miserable on behalf of everybody else who’s got the sniffles, too. I breathed in the misery of all the world’s cold sufferers and breathed out good health and clear nasal passages for these fellow sickies. Breathed in their misery, breathed out good health. Ahh. Now you’re talking.

 
 
With ten minutes to evacuate after the children were safely in the car, author Terra Trevor grabbed the photo albums. During every fire season since, she’s lived with the question, “What should I save?”  

Carelessly, I sometimes wish for fire. I fantasize about sacrificing the house in one great immolation that will finally free me from clutter. Expired grocery lists clone themselves inside my purse. Journals (I’ll glean them for inspiration next week) are stacked on top of a thesaurus I meant to sell to the used book store. I plow through a closet stuffed with jeans that no longer fit, searching for the single pair that does. Week after week, I make a pilgrimage to the Salvation Army to cart off boxes filled with last year’s fantasies.

What should I save? Rubbish clutters my mind as well as the closets. I awaken to the same old resentments. They compete with outdated judgments for the limited space in my consciousness. My personal fire season begins with each new sunrise. Incineration threatens my past, but I refuse to evacuate. Flames licking at my heels, I rush to save treasures. I need that anger I’ve hoarded for a dozen years. It keeps me warm at night. And one day, I’ll dust off the guilt I felt when my closest friendship ended. Guilt is good to have around. And why did I fail to return my brother’s call last night? I’ll hang on to that––second-guessing always comes in handy.  

What should I save? I salvage artifacts from the house-on-fire that is yesterday and drag them to the imaginary safety that tomorrow promises. For a change, just once, let the house burn down, all its contents consumed. Let the breeze cool my face, as I stand in the ashes, empty-handed.
 
 

  1. Since there’s not enough money today, there won’t be enough tomorrow.
  2. There’s not enough money today.
  3. One Oreo will satisfy me.
  4. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
  5. I might make a mistake.
  6. Health is better than illness.
  7. Peace equals happiness.
 

Jealousy

03/06/2014

4 Comments

 
My entrepreneurial pal Dawn Moore sells chic must-have goodies to enhance your living space.  

When an upscale lifestyle magazine featured her Los Angeles home, it was a 16-page full-color spread of my Jealousy. The green-eyed monster drooled all over her Ming porcelain. It hunkered down on her French settee. What is a settee, anyway? I plunged elbow deep into the horse manure of my envy in order to recover my previous affection.

I emailed her a cheery congratulations.

She responded immediately. "BTW," she said. "I love your blog."

Ohhh. My words were her treasures, perhaps displayed on her turn-of-the-century Rococo game table. Elegantly back-lit, because after all, she has exquisite taste.
 
 
While visiting a Trappist monastery for a weekend retreat into the silence, I was pleased to learn that a walking trail began just beyond the front door. Along the initial half-mile of the path, monks had planted shoulder-high crosses made of tree limbs, to represent the Stations of the Cross. A wooden sign was nailed into each cross, identifying an aspect of Christ’s suffering along His march to crucifixion. Catholic faithful walked the Stations as a spiritual pilgrimage.

For me, they represented a contemplative stroll through Ozark Forest and a challenge to my irrational fear of getting lost, the latter deepening as I aged. I envied friends who sensed God’s love while hiking in the woods.

I passed Station I: Judgement. The trail ran alongside a gorge, a creek meandering at the bottom. II: Carries. I followed the gentle slope downhill. III: Falls Down. I bored the location of an uprooted tree into my memory, hoping it would help me find the way back––as if crosses planted three yards apart were insufficient signposts. The trail bottomed out where the creek trickled over it. VII: Falls Again.

I started toward a bench just ahead, when my knees began to tremble. I wasn’t even lost, but my knees didn’t care. I'd hit an invisible wall at the edge of my comfort zone. Anxiety would turn to panic. It always did. To hell with contemplative strolling. In my haste to retreat, I nearly crashed into Station X: Gamble.

I risked three more steps. The bench within reach, yet my terrified feet refused to close the gap.

Ashamed, I raced back toward the monastery. Irrational fear, Dawn. You should have stuck it out. Rested, panting, at Sation V, which I hadn’t noticed on the way down: Compassion. I traced each letter with my fingertip, the painted wood cool and smooth to the touch.

Tomorrow I’ll walk a little further.

 
 
Cancer had shrunk Mother’s sweater-girl figure until she was a speck in her king-sized bed. Magazines she could no longer read lay scattered around her. Her sketchpad topped a stack of books on the floor. Brass figurines crowded her nightstand: Lord Ganesha on his throne, Shiva and Shakti intertwined and Buddha touching the earth. Her earrings hung from a cork board leaning behind them. Next to it, a bottle of Chanel #5.

When a hospital bed replaced her California king, she looked exposed and temporary, lying in the center of a stripped-down room.

She liked to sit in a rocking chair in the living room, until fatigue overcame her. I helped her back to bed, sliding backward in my sock feet as she shuffled forward facing me. She held my hands like a baby learning to walk. A muffled moan, buried deep in her throat, punctuated each scuff of her feet. We stopped to rest, alone in the house, toe-to-toe in the grief-shrouded hallway.

I searched her Natalie Wood eyes for the woman who’d waited up for teenaged me to come home from dates. For the woman who’d lived in swashes of color: pink lipstick, turquoise jewelry, violet dresses. For the woman who’d painted our dining room red.

She looked right back. Unflinching attention replaced the morphine stare. I was startled for a beat. And then I leaned toward her, careful to maintain our fragile balance, yet longing to close the space between us. Remnants of our past––harsh words and good intentions––drifted away on our mingled breath. Her gaze drew me in, cradled me halfway between this world and the next.

No longer daughter.

No longer Mother.

Men wearing dark suits wheeled her out of the house, through the living room where my family had gathered, past the rocking chair where Dad sat weeping. I curled up in the hospital bed, tucking her blankets under my chin. Eternity sung me to sleep and Chanel #5 wafted through my dreams.
 
 
I lingered with friends outside the metaphysical bookstore, after our meditation class. We puzzled about how to sustain the sense of connection that had permeated our past hour in the silence. An unshaven man wearing stained trousers, wrinkled shirt, and a baseball cap strolled toward us, singing. His good cheer was contagious, the perfect complement to my aspirations of inclusion.

“Hi,” I said.

He stopped. “How are you young women this fine evening? Would you have any spare change?”

We reached into our wallets, each placing coins into his hand.

“Much appreciated. Let me sing you a song.”

The suggestion embarrassed me. Ick, you don’t have to do tricks for the money.

He launched into a solo that resembled an out-of-tune violin. It turned into an incomprehensible monologue. He wagged his finger in our faces. "G*&@#d people, think they own the f*&^g world …"

I nodded in faux sympathy. Truth be told, I had expected him to perform a trick for the money. I’d expected him to disappear.

He stormed off in full rant, then stopped, turned around, and tipped his hat. “I’m going to get a beer, thanks to you ladies.”

Now I may have suspected he’d spend the money on liquor, but he wasn’t supposed to say it. I wanted to snatch back my seventy-five cents. It had strings attached. I’d paid that panhandler to leave me alone, so I could remain safe in my spiritual bubble.

Kindness is a privilege for the giver, not a gift to the recipient. It doesn’t expect the beneficiary to be polite, stop drinking, or move along. It does not anticipate future benefits or recall that it gave at the office.

Because I still do those things, I have much to learn. Thank goodness the bodhisattvas of the street will continue to approach me with their alms bowls.

 

Winter

02/06/2014

3 Comments

 
Well past sunrise, time to get up. I brushed my teeth, mint tingling my taste buds. And then I paused at the bedroom window to reconsider my commitment to the day.

Storms had buried our patio under white powder and sculpted hoary mounds atop planters. The skeleton of a rose bush danced in the wind. Our deck umbrella hung in frozen folds impervious to the bluster that had overturned Ben’s hammock. It seemed impossible anyone had ever rested there. Birches stretched peeling spines toward heaven, as their branches reached out across the yard, abandoned by robins, sparrows, cardinals, and jays. I mourned the absence of their morning chatter.

I slumped back to bed, but winter stalked me there, too, robbing me of sleep. Like a cold breath down my neck, an air current from the furnace sneaked under the blankets. I wrapped covers around me tight as a mummy; still, I shivered. The comforter offered no comfort.