Befriending Ourselves

Bridge reflected

For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

The Preciousness of Remembering

When I was a child Little Tasha 4and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.

Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.

I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.

When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.

When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.

The Gift of Christmas Giving

Laura Dodge's Christmas windowOne of my fond Christmas memories is of my dad sitting by our living room fireplace wrapping and addressing his Christmas gifts to his workers and others with whom he had a working relationship. He was a horticulturalist and his company was on the North Shore where there were many fine estates and special gardens. He was good at designing views and helping the owners of the estates and their caretakers maintain their trees and shrubs.

His gifts ranged from cartons of cigarettes to bottles of whiskey and included neckties and other smaller items of clothing. Some were for the gardeners of the estates, some for those who worked under his supervision. His men and their foreman got the more expensive gifts. Each one was carefully wrapped and labeled. When I grew old enough to help him I delighted in doing so. All things having to do with Christmas have always been special to me.

Many years ago, on the advice of a spiritual teacher, I began cultivating an attitude of gratitude. This practice has since become much more popular, featured in books and by Oprah, on Facebook groups and on a variety of other sites. There is even a lovely, inspiring site devoted to the expression of gratitude called Gratitude.org. It features all sorts of good news together with thoughtful comments and teachings, as well as poetry.

As Stephen and I drove home after delivering the last plate of Christmas gift cookies, I thought how grateful I was to have an opportunity to acknowledge as my dad did, the kindness of those who had been of help. My token plates of cookies seem a small return for all that these people have done for us, yet they are at least a tangible offering on the alter of my gratitude.

Also, since I was a small child I have been the recipient of much for which I am grateful now, even though at the time I was not aware of the benefit. When I have the opportunity to do so, I acknowledge in my heart those who have been kind to me in the past as well as in the present. Some of them have passed out of my life and some have simply passed away. I remember them with gratitude and say a prayer for their happiness wherever they may be.

Thanksgiving is a fine time to be aware of that for which we are grateful, yet Christmas is my opportunity to express that gratitude in a tangible way to those whose generosity I hope to acknowledge. My life would not be what it is without the help I have received along the ways Those who have in the past, those in the present and even those in the future deserve my thanks as well as whatever I can do to pay it forward in gratitude for those who are too far for me to bring them cookies.

 

Giving Love at Christmas

Love for Christmas Giving

My mother wasn’t much for cooking, though she considered it her duty to serve us good, nourishing food. I don’t remember her ever baking anything sweet. She didn’t care for desserts; she considered them unnecessary and fattening. When I was old enough for her to trust me in the kitchen, she encouraged me to bake simple items like brownies or other easy recipes. Unlike her I truly enjoyed cooking and was happy to make what she permitted me to.

Once I had a family to bake for I broadened my repertoire and learned to make pies and cakes as well as cookies. However cookies were my favorite to make because they went farther. I used to count and divide up the cookies and each child knew what they could have. Because I was home with the children anyway, it was fun to try different recipes. Eventually I created a small Cookie Cookbook with my favorites that I still use today.

Although my family is grown and I no longer bake cookies regularly, every Christmas I make up several batches and create plates to give people who have been helpful or kind to Stephen and me in the past year. The newspaper delivery people who bring the newspaper to our floor, the ladies of the library where we take advantage of their services all year long, the fine gentlemen of the garage where we take our car for repairs and upkeep, and a few others I want to acknowledge for their kindness.

Favorite cookie recipes I usually make include my Disappearing Caramel Brownies, Jiffy Jam Delights, and Unexpected Company Bars, all reliable and relatively easy to make recipes. This time of year there are cookie recipes everywhere to be found, and while these are my personal favorites for giving, those with more time and energy than yours truly might make cut out cookies to decorate or even more fancy treats. If you want one of my recipes, please let me know which, and I will email it. To my way of thinking however one wishes to express love is valid. Spending time on a gift is one of my favorite ways.

While feeding people is one of the ways I use to express my love, I also appreciate recipes that take less rather than more time, yet still provide delicious tasting healthy food. I also collect recipes from others when they have something unique and special to share. Sometimes they even write them out for me. I have loose leaf notebook where I keep these, along with others. Within its plastic sheeted pages are pressed their treasured, handwritten pieces of paper.

The following recipe wasn’t written out by my late friend because it was so simple. Avocado and Grapefruit salad requires one grapefruit and one avocado per two people, so if you are serving a family you need to double or triple, depending. Think kind thoughts as you peel and section grapefruit, removing membrane and preserving juice. Cut in half, remove seed and section one avocado into slices. Combine all, add a tablespoon or two of a good tasting olive oil, stir well, chill slightly, and serve with love for the holidays or at any time at all.

 

Giving Thanks is not just for Thanksgiving.

Deb's party food 2When I was growing up we usually said grace only at Thanksgiving, Christmas or on other very special occasions. I don’t remember any special discussion of gratitude in my family. God was often presented as a punitive figure, rather like my dad—as in or God will punish you for that, see if He doesn’t, and “Just wait until I tell your father what you did…” The church I grew up with emphasized being sorry for one’s sins and saying prayers for the protection and preservation of my family and myself. All that changed when I was in my mid thirties and I learned about the virtue of gratitude and its importance for a happy life.

I began giving thanks on a daily basis after a phone conversation with a wise older friend. She told me that rather than complain about what I thought I was lacking, I needed to be grateful for what I did have: good food to eat, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, warm clothes to wear, and so on. She reminded me how important it was to give thanks for the simple yet necessary blessings most take for granted. I believed her. Now these many years later, I am very grateful to her. An attitude of gratitude leads to true happiness.

When we focus on whatever there is in our lives that brings happiness, healing, kindness or friendship we are emphasizing that aspect in our lives. When we complain about our difficulties we are focusing on our lacks and our problems, most of which we can do little to nothing about. There is no happiness in dwelling on our misfortunes. When we do emphasize what is good in our lives it seems magically to increase. Giving thanks for that which we have as well as that which we do not have is an important key to a good life.

Gratitude for the bounty in our lives has been the theme of harvest celebrations throughout the ages. The Pilgrims did not host the first Thanksgiving ever, just their first one here in this country. Giving thanks to a higher power is common to nearly every religious or spiritual path. Most have some kind of ceremony to honor the powers that be that provide them with support and sustenance. After all, if the rains do not fall or the sun does not shine our food will not grow. Not a gardener myself, I know how grateful I am to the market and the farmstand that provide me with good, fresh food.

More than anything else I am grateful for the love that has come to me over the years. I have been extremely fortunate in the people I have met and with whom I have had the opportunity to interact. My friends, past, present and even future are important to me. I am thankful for each and every one. While some of those for one reason or another have vanished from my life, the experience of their past love remains to bless me with its warmth and the joyful memories of our happy times together. I am grateful for that good and for the dear ones still in my life.

Triskadeckaphilia or Phobia, You Choose

My DeskMythology has fascinated me ever since I first encountered it in school. Until I discovered Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces I was not conversant with much more of it than the Norse myths and those of Greece and Rome. I highly recommend this very special book to anyone who enjoys folk and fairy tale as well as learning more about the myths we all grew up with. The stories and tales of the heroes and heroines of yore are part of our cultural heritage and an important key to how we behave. Among the tales are also smaller, more prevalent myths embodied in our superstitions.

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Growing up, how many sidewalks did I hop and skip along to avoid their seams and cracks? Ladders? Never walked under them though I didn’t know why then. Pick up a penny? Well of course! How about Friday the 13th? Make you nervous? Not me, I always liked both the number and the day. Stephen and I used to give a party any time it came up on the calendar. We called it a celebration of the Triskadeckaphilia Society: Lovers of the number thirteen.

In the seventh grade I wrote a paper on the origins of superstitions. Always fascinated by superstitions, I have been reading and studying them for a long time. Certain societies and groups are more superstitious than others. For instance, the Irish used to clothe their baby boys in dresses so they would not be stolen away by the fairies. They also felt it was bad luck to praise a child. The Italians, as well as numerous other nationalities have strong feelings about the “evil eye.” They may make a gesture called a “fig” to ward it off. Eastern countries, among others have amulets one can wear or hang in one’s home. You may have seen one, a hand, called the Hand of Fatima.

While it might make sense not to walk under a ladder, another reason is that a leaning ladder forms a triangle, symbol of the trinity. Walking through it is a sign of disrespect, bringing bad luck. From the Internet I discovered that this superstition and a good many others actually date back to ancient Egypt, where the triangle was also considered a sacred symbol. I was surprised to discover a good many of our common superstitions actually date back that far.

Other common superstitions originated in Greece and Rome. Whether we subscribe to any given belief or not it seems as though these are an important part of every culture and incorporated into the human psyche. We may believe we are beyond such superstitions nonsense, or is it really non sense? Often the so called superstition was logical behavior. Touching wood for instance, to invoke good fortune was thought to insure the help of the spirits residing in the trees the wood came from. Do you throw salt over your shoulder if you accidentally spill it? Say “God bless you when someone sneezes? Many do, and why not? A little extra insurance never hurts.

Making My Own Music

A musician by avocation, from the time I was a young child I was usually involved in some kind of music making. I’ve always loved to sing, and I can remember singing to my mother when I was quite small. At my grade school, weekly music classes the teacher played the piano as we sang British folk songs and music from Gilbert and Sullivan, typed and collected into a loose leaf notebook. Later the same teacher gave me private piano lessons. These ended after two years for two reasons: I found the practice songs to be boring and my mother, an amateur musician and child prodigy on the violin, disliked my fumbling attempts at learning the piano. She didn’t even like it when I played around on the piano keys, making my own music for myself. She would scold me for “making noise” as she called what I thought of as music.

Later I sang in various choruses at various schools and then in my church choir. To my delight one year my then husband bought me a guitar for my birthday. I began teaching myself to play. There followed a number of years playing and singing in coffee house, at hootenannies, and then professionally for parties and special occasions. I even volunteered at the local hospital, playing for the patients every week or so. My mother seemed pleased that I was following in the family musical tradition. Encouraged by her, and a poet by inclination I began to write my own songs. The melodies were simple, reminiscent of the many folk songs and hymns I had sung over the years.

Although I enjoyed playing the guitar, from the time I was a young child the idea of playing the harp had attracted me. However the many strings of the large harps looked difficult compared to the guitar and surely transporting one would be a nightmare. Then I injured my shoulder and because of the position required for me to play it, had to retire my guitar. After reading many articles on the importance of keeping the older brain alive, and disliking the recommended suggestion to do crossword puzzles, I decided to try a smaller folk harp. Searching the internet I discovered a lap harp with a playable nineteen strings and purchased it from the maker along with a book to learn from.

I spent a respectable amount of time teaching myself the initial songs and techniques. As I advanced, the lessons became increasingly difficult. I realized I was losing interest in playing. I felt frustrated and began to neglect my harp, even allowing it to get out of tune. My mother’s former diatribes from the days I used to play on the piano rather than practice my lessons had come back to haunt me. Then one day I realized I didn’t have to play actual songs, I could do ass I liked. I could just enjoy myself, making musical sounds; I could play for fun. I began to do that. Spontaneous tunes emerged in my head and then from my fingers. Now playing my harp has become a treat and the music I make from my heart has become a daily joy.