Glamour, Ideals, and the Acorn May 2023

   Long ago I had a very important dream; it seemed to show me the big task of my life.  I dreamt that I was riding smoothly on a silent sailboat; I, a boy of about 12 at the back of the boat and two handsome young men at the front of the boat.  One had black hair and one had blonde hair, maybe both around age 28.  At some point without knowing how, I knew the two young men intended to kill me.  So silently I slipped into the water.  I, the dreamer,  felt alarmed because I know a sailboat has a deep keel underneath to keep it upright:  I feared for the boy.  But I saw him come up and swim toward the shore – with a deep cut in his back.  The two young men dove in and swam after him.  I saw him run up on the shore into a big brick building and disappear.

   As I thought about this dream over time, I came to this basic analysis:  the two handsome young men represented:  Glamour and Ideals.  These could kill the boy.  He ran into an institution to hide and find a way to escape.

   “Glamour “ is not so hard for me to see as dangerous:  people pretending to be something they are not,  more than they are; values like amassing money, looking beautiful, that lead to no true strength or health or maturity.

   It took me longer to see the dangers in “Ideals”.  Examples of Ideals:  love everyone equally,  sacrifice yourself for the good of others or the Whole,  push yourself to accomplish all that’s in you,  don’t be lazy, don’t be selfish.

   An Ideal can be as full of “ego” and disease as a glamour, it can be just a way to feel important by some cultural standard.  A “Hero.”  Good girls and good boys are judged by different ideals – maybe good girls are quiet, helpful, self-sacrificing, long- suffering in silence, “pretty/cute”,  kind.  Good boys are brave in dangerous situations, should make decisions quickly – and accurately!  should not cry when hurt,  etc.  These ideals may put a person in contrast to whatever truth they feel inside themself! 

Ideals can crush the real.  The ideal should beckon the real, with no judgment.  Ideals should be suggestions. The ideal should lure the real with carrots like “expansion,”  “increase in creative influence,”  increase in energy and life force.”  Good things one COULD do.

   My life has been very limited – I should say “directed” – by a curvature in my lower back.  Because it’s fairly hidden, many times my choices have been misunderstood by others because they cannot see what I’m dealing with.  But this has led to a freedom from “How I Look To Others”.  i.e. Glamour!  Looking good is just not possible for me; I’m lucky if I can look normal! So as I matured, my back problem has freed me from the grips of “Glamour!”

   Living by Ideals has also turned out to be too much for me. I’ve usually found that Ideals have to be balanced by appropriateness, by wisdom, by many values opposite the ideal.  I’ve had to learn an inner guidance that sets my own unique course, sometimes aiming towards an ideal and sometimes seeming in rebellion to them. 

I often feel like the direction of my life is “down” – down to some little acorn inside me, just the true center of what is possible in this particular life.  “Enough”:  I am enough, imperfect, always  growing and learning.  I feel the most powerful when I stand neither in looking good nor in being good.  Being truthful is the most powerful place to stand.

Why Journal

Salty Snipppit   November 14, 2020      

   Something is happening across the street as I pass my wide living room window.  I stop in surprise.  Large golden-orange leaves scintillating in the morning sun are fluttering down, scattering with the wind, tumbling off across the grass.   They look like big colorful sparkling snowflakes!   I cannot move on but must sit down and watch this show of miniature fireworks. On my neighbors’ roof there’s a circle of leaves spiraling around as if they’re dancing and laughing together!  I cannot not-smile while watching all this.

   The German Protestant in me whispers desperately “Get back to work!”  But the real and wise me sits facing the window, breathing with a deep smile as I enjoy this final awesome autumn performance.

    Now the air is calm, only a few flutters happening.  The sun cranks up a notch and the low bushes by my window wave back at the sun.  The shadows of the great trees intensify and then fade, lengthen and shorten as the sun plays on this ever-changing scene.

   “Dead falling leaves” are often a metaphor for what we no longer need in our lives, but dead scintillating colorful leaves, dancing away – there’s a different spin!  Treasures!  Not to be tossed thoughtlessly but to be released with awareness and gratitude.

   This real-life metaphor says “Stop!  Say thank you.”  Journaling is one way to do this, to be aware of all experience as gift.  Every one of these forms/moments fed my life, made me bigger, as every leaf fed the tree. I may not have liked them all equally, but they all fed and made me into what I am. The Earth takes them back, making them food for other life. The Sun and Wind leave me free like a sleeping tree, soon to grow more and new and bigger.  The Sun and Wind and Earth continue to shine on us all, with love and joy and peace and beauty.

Buchenwald is Everywhere

Salty Snippet October 2020

I introduce to you Jacques Lusseyran and Jeremy Regard, who have come to live in me through Jacques’ writings.   In his autobiography And There Was Light  (Parabola, Jacques tells how he was blinded as a child, lived a rich and normal life until the Nazis entered Paris, and in January of 1944 at the age of 19 he was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp because of his work in the Resistance.  He also wrote a collection of essays, Against the Pollution of the I, and it is one of these powerful sharings I’d like to briefly describe for you.

    Jeremy Regard, known in the camp as “Socrates,” was a welder from a mountain village.  A small older man, Jacques heard of him and expected he must be highly intelligent, wise, or saintly, given the awe with which people spoke of him.  When Jacques finally encountered Jeremy, he was astounded to sense that Jeremy wasn’t really a thinker:  he told stories.  Jeremy walked through this barracks of a thousand men living where four hundred would have been crowded, men terrified, furious, confused, desperate, and Jeremy was calm and genuinely present with himself and with you.  He actually exuded joy!  To be near him “brings you back to yourself when you are about to disappear.”

   He was a Christian Scientist but never expounded on ideas.  In fact, Jeremy said many of these men would die from ideas.  Jacques saw this happen, especially those who thought they were in hell.

 Jeremy’s view was so different.  He was not a dreamer.  “The rest of us were dreamers: we dreamed of women, of children, of houses…We weren’t at Buchenwald.  We didn’t want anything to do with Buchenwald.”  …”His eyes were solidly fixed on all our miseries and he did not blink.” Nor did he have the air of a hero. 

   As Jacques tried to see with Jeremy’s eyes, he gradually saw that “Buchenwald was not unique…also that our camp was not in Germany…Buchenwald was in each of us.”  It was anywhere and everywhere when people live with a willingness to succumb to fear and to stop living fully where they are.

   Jeremy found joy in Buchenwald!  To be with him was to feel it inexplicably rise up inside one’s self again. “The joy of being alive in this moment, in the next, each time we became aware of it.  The joy of feeling the lives of others, of some others at least, against us, in the dark of night.” 

   Jacques:  “What I call supernatural in him was the break with habits.. of judgment which make us call any adversity “unhappiness” or “evil.””  Judgments which make us angry, complaining, feeling entitled to something better.  He had chosen to stand in “that which does not depend on any circumstance.”

Jacques ends this sharing by suggesting we all “put memory in quarantine.”  (a poignant turn of expression for us today!)  Images and ideas we hold onto of things that are not present now, judgments of comparison, standing in the past – these pull us out of the joy still possible anywhere.  However, a memory that nourishes, strengthens us to be present here – such as an inspiring person – this type of memory increases our presence now, allows the joy of being alive to arise anywhere.  Just as Buchenwald can arise in us anywhere if we choose the view of being deprived.

                                      -1999, Parabola Books, New York. “Poetry in Buchenwald” is another marvelous essay there of how sharing poetry helped people survive.  His autobiography is magnificent.  He was one of a very small number who survived Buchenwald – blind!  He actually survived because he was blind.  He learned that he received guidance all the time as long as he didn’t cloud his knowings with “anger, fear, or competition”!   -Marti Matthews

Taking a Break from Life:  Meditation versus Dissociation

    Recently on Facebook,afriend posed an interesting question:  What is the difference between meditation and dissociation?  I find this intriguing.  Here in a nutshell is my answer:  The difference is “Presence.” 

First, what is meant by these two words: meditation and dissociation?

Re:  “dissociation”,   the dictionary describesitas “disunion,” and then “In psychiatry: the splitting off of certain mental processes from the main body of consciousness; to disunite, to separate.”  From the Thesaurus:  “detach, alienate, estrange, divorce, dismember, uncouple….The opposite of dissociate is to fasten, join, unite, tie, combine”. 

     In my general experience, I’d say the word points to various serious and less-serious ways that we separate our conscious awareness from things we don’t want to feel.  This could be small, short, and healthy, such as taking a nap after thinking too intensely, playing a game of solitaire to clear one’s mind,  going for a walk to calm  down.  In trying to calm down, one is present, aware, and consciously trying to change what is going on inside.  While taking these short breaks, one could probably still be consciously in control yet relaxed.  

    Dissociation becomes very different, actually opposite to meditation, the more the conscious mind is stifled. Using alcohol to free oneself from conscious inhibitions, using drugs to numb unpleasant feelings in order to feel good, or using imagination to quiet judgment. pretending to be someone one is not – these are dangerous precisely because we choose to stop being in control and are not accepting ourself.  Our real self is silenced.  Yet, we will be responsible for what our bodies do while our awareness is not functioning.

   In serious dissociation, we are not present.  We’ve checked out.  We’re letting our car drive itself, and we abandon taking care of ourself.

     For “meditation”,  the definitions from dictionaries are generally not up-to-date with the way people use the word today, or even in religions of the past.  The dictionaries generally describe it as examining something deliberately, “ruminating” as a cow chews its cud; it can include the idea of intending to get something specific out of the meditative work.  The Jesuits have recommended meditating on the life of Christ to become more like him.  Hindus have traditionally used Mantras, repeating certain words, to deepen spiritual growth.  Many today might use an affirmation over and over.  Dr. Coue’s “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” is a famous one.

    Buddhists have brought to the West practices for emptying the mind, to quiet the chatter of the  monkey-mind in our head.  Breathing techniques, or just watching one’s thoughts go by while neither entertaining them nor resisting them, have become popular practices.  In emptying, one does not silence our hurting or confused feelings but one is aware without judgment.  The best meditation I’ve found for undesirable feelings is a method called “Focusing” where we stay in our center and embrace all parts, seeking to know better each voice in our head by listening to their concerns. 

     There is a third and interesting form of meditation consciously practiced by Quakers and intuitively practiced by all “artists”.  This is quieting the monkey-mind in order to receive guidance or inspiration, waiting for enlightenment from Something greater than one’s rational mind.   Friends take meditation a step further than Buddhism, believing that we are each guided by Higher Power, called by a variety of names: God, Spirit, the Christ Within, The Light within, The Seed, The Source of our Lives, The Inner Guide, Which cares about creation and is available to guide us.  Non-Quakers might call this power The Holy Spirit, or Guardian Angels, or The Muse. 

     In Quaker silence and often in artistic work, the purpose of emptying and waiting is to be available to hear inspiration.  Friends carry this further by consciously meditating together.  They await inspiration either for the individual or for the group or for any person in the group. They call meditation “worship” because there is a Presence Which Unifies All added to the group and to the individual.

    Though all these approaches seem different, the one thing meditations have in common is AWARENESS, or PRESENCE.  Sometimes it’s very hard to stay present with ourselves; we’d like to run away!  This may simply be because we’re afraid of making mistakes! We’re tempted to chill out rather than risk going forward in life, unsure of ourselves.  Thinking and reading on letting go of perfectionism and idealism will give us more courage to move forward as best we can and not get stuck on “mistakes.”  Meditating on the naturalness of mistakes will strengthen a person immensely!

    Choosing what our brains or emotions are doing is within our power.  It could be said that this is exactly what defines us as humans!  We are not our brains; we USE our brains. WE are PRESENCES, temporarily in bodies!                                        😊 Marti Matthews

Getting Un-Stuck

Salty Snippet November 2023   “Getting Un-Blocked”

     Sometimes we feel we can’t move forward, like a brick wall is in front of us.  Writers and artists often feel this, but even daily life projects can bring us to a standstill.  Actually,  if we stay in this state, the standstill becomes down-hill, our spirit gets discouraged, we lack enthusiasm for life, we’re standing still but sinking deeper and deeper into dangerous muck!

I recently got un-stuck and can feel the enormous difference, the lightening of my spirit, the energy to move forward now with enthusiasm!   How did I do it?

    First, I got myself to close a door that I’ve been reluctant to close for quite awhile. I resigned from a group I love, but for a long time the signs have been that I cannot continue participating in this group. Actually, the door itself closed before I acknowledged it.  It isn’t physically possible to participate anymore!  Even emotionally,  attached as I am to the people,  the group isn’t giving me enough food-for-the-spirit to sustain my needs.  So, I finally bit the bullet and sent in my letter of resignation.  What a lightening I felt! I felt the release of truthfulness.   Even the group probably could see the writing on the wall for me before I sent the letter.  But there was something about my accepting that “this is finished” that opened up energy in me.

Here are a couple quotes that helped me:

Helen Keller:   “When one door of happiness closes, another one opens:  but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

And then, off an inspirational card:

     You will discover new oceans

    when you allow yourself to lose sight of the shore.

I don’t know why closing a door is so essential for a new element to enter our lives, but it just seems so.  Often, we must FIRST close the door behind us before we can see the new path!

Then,  I took a babystep towards something I wanted to pursue but felt I didn’t know how to get it going.  The desire in me:  To form a new support group for my own serious memoir writing.  I couldn’t see how to begin, but finally just called another interested person and asked if we could brainstorm together on this.  It worked!   I felt energy building just by talking about what I want to do and receiving ideas from  another! 

   Then – the next step appears.  As is often the case,  a project can’t necessarily be seen in its final structure from the beginning.  One just has to take a step in the direction we want to go,  towards what we want.  It almost seems like making a statement to the Powers of the Universe which then attracts more guidance and energy toward that desire.

   Maybe one more valuable quote:  When you think you don’t know what to decide about something,  say to yourself

 “I DO know what is the best thing to do here.  I DO know…and then follow what you see. 

Or – just change something!  Change anything!  Change the order of your doing this before that: this will shake up the energy.    Best wishes for changing something!

A Welcome Doormat

August 2023

     I picked up the old popsicle stick on my desk and it began to speak to me: “Don’t forget this large learning,” the stick said. “You still haven’t quite got it!”

   A memory came alive: a weekend workshop connected with trying to save my 15-year-old stepdaughter who had gotten caught in drugs, sex, etc.  (a story in itself).  Families of teens with similar problems were learning principles and attitudes that the young people were being taught in their program.  We’d been together now for two days doing various activities; some participants had stepped forward willing to lead things, others had contributed valuably, or quietly.   We now somewhat knew each other. 

   For this activity we stood in a large circle, about 100 people.  The setting of the game was that we are on a sinking ship – There is only one lifeboat!  Only seven of us can be saved!  WHO SHOULD BE CHOSEN FOR THE LIFEBOAT?  We were each given 7 popsicle sticks, and one-by-one we went around the circle and gave out our seven sticks to whomever we felt most important to save.  In the end, then, those with the most sticks stood forward as the ones to step into the lifeboat.  I had 3:  – my son, my daughter-in-law and someone else had given me my ticket for life.  But, of course, it wasn’t enough.

   Then, the game leader asked us the most important question of the game:

How many of you gave yourself a popsicle stick?

I had not; hardly anyone had!

“Do you not value your own life?  Do you not believe you have something important yet to give?” the leader asked.

   I’ve kept the three popsicle sticks and this valuable lesson for 25 years.  Today they came rising to the top of my thoughts. 

   I was preparing for a visit from a dear friend at 1:00.  When 1:00 arrived, she texted me that the friend of her morning visit was more needy of her counseling than she had anticipated, she couldn’t get to my house until 3:00.  At first, I said “Okay,” though my day had already been planned around her visit and now had to be re-arranged again.  I had other urgent work to attend to.  Suddenly something arose in me with the power of an unexpected storm: I politely texted her my regrets: “We will have to meet some other time.”  That felt right to me in my body!  And I enthusiastically lit into the project I really wanted to work on.

   I felt energized. I was choosing to act from inside my own creative center rather than bending-this-way-and-that to accommodate the needs of others. I felt powerful, and was affirming for myself that what comes from inside me is valuable.   I usually live by the image of a sailboat, cooperating with “Life” as it comes to me.  But now I felt like I was rowing – and I loved it!  I love feeling strong and on my way!  Yes, watching the wind and the waves but directing my boat with my own muscles, low enough in this self-directed boat that the wind cannot affect my direction as easily.  Sailboats are beautiful but delicate; they require alertness but not much human power.  One is less sure in a sailboat regarding where one is going to arrive. 

    I’ve learned to pay attention to my guts when I make decisions.  The wrong/less-healthy decision causes stress.  The best decision – whether it’s for me first or someone else first – the best decision leaves me in peace.  One excellent word of advice I heard about decision-making is to say to myself “I DO know the best decision. Yes, I do know.” And then – see it.

    Echoes of cultural ideals can still haunt me.  The word “selfish” scares me!  This judgment that choosing my own needs first over others makes me a bad person confuses the idea of equality and of who is responsible for what.  Am I my brother’s keeper?  Or is my brother the first one responsible for himself?  Am I obliged by the word “love” to rescue every drowning person?  I do care about every drowning person!  But I think now I understand the word “compassion.”  I used to think that word was an excuse for spiritual people to sit and meditate while doing nothing to actually help. Now after years of trying to help others and sacrificing myself, I see differently.  I CANNOT HELP EVERYONE!  There are people I seem called by life to be present with.  But even for them, they have much to do for themselves!  Generally, helping others involves watching attentively and offering just the minimum needed for a person to succeed for themselves.  Each of us is the first line of responsibility for the life we’ve been given. ”Rescuing” is not necessarily love and compassion.    And who will rescue the rescuer whose attention and values are not on their own life? 

    I’ve mentioned this before in my writings:  it appears to me that the current major religions of the world are all designed for the spiritual needs of men.  They all call us toward ever greater unselfishness as we grow older.   Even the image of a hero is of a person risking self for the well-being of others.  For me as a woman, I feel that everything in life taught me to think of the needs of others from the time I was very little.  And giving birth, most of all! To bring a completely helpless life into the world through my own body and suffering: Nature created this method to teach women unselfish love for the wellbeing of life.  “Being kind” comes second nature to me, and I believe this reality fits for many women and some men.  But little boys are often encouraged – even pushed – to get out there on their own and make a path. Cooperation and thinking of others first are not what will get a man ahead:  pushing through the crowd to the top is the first goal. Then, as a man matures, he begins to think more carefully and value his place in an egalitarian way.  We need our religions to help us think through what real love looks like all along. To love one’s neighbor as one’s self requires FIRST that one loves oneself!  If we let others walk all over us, then – would we do that to others

   Perhaps it’s the hardest thing in the world to observe someone we love choosing poorly for themselves, at least what seems to us making poor choices.  To respect that the other owns their life like one owns a house – this is their property, and I can affect it only if they ask or allow me to touch it. To watch the house of a loved one tumbling down is terrible!  But we must respect the ownership of others, what they value, what they want, what they choose.  We are all here learning and learning more, by our own choices.

   Sometimes I’ve observed that when I put the needs of others first, I’m actually avoiding my own life!  To take up my life and make it beautiful – Why not?  What a loss to the world if I don’t!  Yes, I belong in that lifeboat as much as anyone else and I am going to ROW that lifeboat!  You will see me land and leave my footprints behind me, as I go on living and exploring in the Universe.  

There IS Warm Pink Soup!  And – there IS Goodness!


Salty Snippet April 2023

The weather had been cold and wet, with a dark heaviness over the world all day.  I tried to fall asleep, but only negative feelings came up no matter what I thought about.  A yard of dandelions turning to seed, all lying flat and ugly against the wet grass – my responsibility.  The War in Ukraine going on and on and on.  There’d been bad news for someone I cared about.  Long list of people who’d been shot today or recently.  Unfinished projects all over my house. “Stuff” everywhere – endless too-much stuff.  Aches and pains in my aging body. I could not find something positive to land on and enable me to relax. 

   Finally, I found it!  I always remember my surprise and complete pleasure when I was visiting in Sweden and was served warm pink fruit soup.  Small amounts of dried fruits were the contents, tapioca was the soft base, and all was colored clear pink and served warm.  I’d never experienced anything so heavenly.  I’ve often remembered that amazing experience – how soothing it had felt to me.  So now as I surveyed my world of experience looking for a positive something to grab onto, I found the memory of warm pink soup brought a smile to my spirit and even my body.

    Here a friend reminds me of the currently popular Danish word “hygge” (pronounced hoo ga):

“1. The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. 

2.  To create well-being.  Connection and warmth.    3.  A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other.       4.  Celebrating the everyday.”

                               [from the description of Danish slippers called Glerups]

Danish slippers, Swedish fruit soup, those Scandinavians know ways to take care of their weary spirits!  I began to feel better as I lay in bed holding that memory of warm pink soup; I felt I was floating in it.    

    Then I thought to add another good thing – “Goodness!”  A person came to my mind; she is “Goodness” walking around; she lives the spirit of warm pink soup!  I’m not sure how to define this well.  It’s not that this person never gets upset: she could get very angry at people who hurt animals and little children.  But she always glows with a calm, slow, warmth.  She took in greyhound dogs who would have been “put to sleep” after running all their lives for human pleasure; she took them in and gave them the loving retirement they deserved.  She had a reliable humility, was open to correction, yet faced life with  responsibility and courage, both gentle and strong.

   I began to search through my memories of other people I’ve known in my many years of living.  I would say most people I call friends are all good people!  To many friends I would add complimentary clarifying adjectives; to only a few could I apply the sole label of “Goodness.”   I double-checked this.  Surely X or Y, people I love and respect, could deserve this title?  No, the word belonged to a select few.  Perhaps it is a combination of humility and courage that combines into something like “reliable and peaceful integrity.”  These people have a quiet but always-present radiance.

    With that handful of people who are “Goodness” added to the bodily memory of warm pink soup – I began to feel a sense of safety return about “life”.  I kept repeating “Warm pink soup really does exist, and so does Goodness!.” I repeated the names of the people who radiated this spirit. My body felt safe in the world again and I fell blissfully asleep.                             -Marti Matthews, April 18, 2023

How To Improve Your Luck

 Salty Snippet,  July 2022   

  My favorite version of Solitaire requires two decks of cards and is a bit more complicated than the ordinary game, but it feels like a sharp person can win more easily.  I play this to clear my mind and calm my nerves while I attend to working with the luck of the draw.

   The luck of the draw has been speaking to me recently.  Usually I just wait and see what comes up and  deal with that – and then I helplessly win or lose.  But Something Inside has suggested that I be a bit more assertive if I want to win: I could SAY what is needed right now, if “we” want to win. 

   What is this feeling of “we??”  It’s the Something Inside that seems to always accompany me in my life. The very quiet little voice offering a helpful thought; it’s even quieter than Jimminy Cricket on someone’s shoulder.  Here It is, suggesting that I might suggest what would be helpful for “us” to win. 

   So I began to do that:  I’d scan the situation and say “We could really use an Ace of Spades right now.”  Or a six of hearts, whatever.  To my surprise, whatever I suggest very often comes up immediately or shortly!  It feels like I have a partner who will help me, but will not lead:  I must do the leading, I must want to win, and I must take the responsibility to say what’s needed right now for success.

   This, of course, is spilling over into other parts of my life where I tend to be passive. “That’s just the way it is for me,”  I think.  “I never X,” “I always Y,”  “It seems to be my Destiny.”  I see there are some givens in my life that must be part of my Destiny – the family, time period, location in which I was born; my body with its gifts and its limitations; and surprising life influences that come along.  But I also see choices I’ve made, both passive and active, which have influenced the course of the river of my life.  Things don’t just always “happen.”  Many times, I have not spoken up; many other times I’ve spoken or acted unwisely.

   My experience as a parent, plus my observations of Nature Itself, tell me that The Source of All Life –  Whatever It is –  surely wants Its creations to thrive and grow and to feel good.  That we will “die” is also a given, but “thriving” is the creative thrust that brings us out into life and always carries us forward.  In all situations we all try to find a next step that will feel like thriving, like something good and successful for ourselves on which another step might be taken.  Now, finally, late in life I realize that I can say what’s needed.  I don’t even have to beg!  I just have to be sharp, and then be responsible and say it, and be willing to accept the help that comes.  Help isn’t always exactly as I thought it would be, but Help comes – when I’m sharp and willing.