Mindfulness: Can You Be Here Now?

To continue my train of thought from my last post, I choose to believe that we humans are uniquely supplied with a brain and conscience so that we might go beyond our reptilian or primal brain. Yes, we must maintain our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. But I know we can be so much more!

A part of my learning at Naropa University in Boulder, was the study of higher levels of consciousness, most notably with Ken Wilber. There I learned of the research into what can happen in the human mind when we are able to shut off the constant thinking, wondering and worrying, reaching beyond this primal state of mind.

Buddhist monks have shown us that we can achieve an infinitely expanded true self through deep meditation. This is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, which focuses on being liberated from one’s insignificant self consciousness to attain a higher state of being, thereby reaching an “infinitely expanded true self”.

The Buddha taught that consciousness is “like a stream of water” with different layers or levels. Mind consciousness is the first level, using up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” brain that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. The brain is only two percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.

We can economize this energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.– Lion’s Roar

As strange as it may seem, my own trauma brain injury in 2008, helped me to access this higher level of consciousness more easily. Partially because I don’t have the energy to think and worry as much as I used to, I can simply slip into a state of mindfulness as I choose. Call it what you will, this is a great relief! I tire quickly with too much interaction or “thinking” and then I give up and just live in the present.

I have also found living close to nature to be quite mind liberating. City life kept me in a constant, often unconscious, state of anxiety and vigilance. It took me a few years of living away from cities and most other people to relax that vigilant mind state and just be here now. Sometimes I may still feel sudden city anxiety, but I quickly recognize it as not needed and let it go.

To learn more about all of this, I can highly recommend the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar and this particular article called: “The Four Layers of Consciousness”

How many parents miss out on knowing their adult children well?

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately…

I see now that my own parents never bothered to get to know me as an adult. Perhaps they thought mistakenly that they knew me as their child, even though they barely knew me through adolescence. And the sad part is, now it is too late.

I know now that my Dad, who died this past March, did not know me at all. He thought I was not-so-smart, a very bad planner and certainly not ambitious. As it turns out his idea of ambition and mine were just quite different. Most unfortunately, my Dad, the well-known Colorado botanist, never appreciated my interest and skill with native plants. Mike overheard him comment in….

… my beginner garden back in March of 2018, “This is just going to be a bunch of weeds!”

He thought I had no idea what a native plant was, or how to grow them. Little did he know that I was already planning with Mike the terraced hardscaping of this slanted slope, and what would grow best here in terms of water needs, critters, etc. Yes, a few of my experiments have not worked out, but overall…

I am quite proud of the product of Mike, John Carter and my own burgeoning efforts! (June 2019)

And as far as my other ambitions go, I have always refused to see myself as a loser. My brother John and I are the first Carter generation of what I now call “spiritual seekers.” Making lots of money and receiving accolades from many was never in the plan.

Finding eventual spiritual peace with Self, others & nature was the plan.

Mom and me in 1985

This past Christmas with my mother was a revelation to me. As she slowly recedes into dementia, I now see she will never “know” me either. I am still her “little Laura Lee,” her youngest daughter. She loves to look at pictures of us together when I was a baby, her last one.

This leaves me wondering how often it is that parents invest the time to truly know how their kids turned out. Is it a fear that their children didn’t turn out so well, that keeps them from asking? Are they afraid it will seem too intrusive, like an invasion of privacy? Or do they just prefer not knowing.

Please don’t assume that you already know your child completely and stifle your impulse to truly know them on a deeper level while you are still around. Don’t assume you know them intimately. Ask them open ended questions like:

“What are you searching for in your life? What means the most to you right now?”

Winter Solstice 2020

Tomorrow, Monday the 21st will be the darkest day of our year. This is the day with the fewest hours of daylight, marking the start of astronomical winter. After this solstice, days will begin getting longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin word sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun appears to stand still. The seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.

The Winter Solstice in Human History

The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.

In the midst of gathering darkness, light becomes ever more valued…

The winter solstice was immensely important, because the Ancient ones were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.

For me, this Winter Solstice has even more meaning, following one of the worst years in American history. This Solstice gives me hope that next year will be so much better in so many important ways! 🙂

Photos of building passive solar in Colorado in the winter: Deck the roof, not the halls!

My intuition told me to go back and look at some previous photos from six years ago, when we were building our passive solar home in the foothills of southern Colorado. Sure enough, December 17th six years ago was the day we put decking on our roof.

Unless you’ve built something yourself, you may not appreciate the idea of “drying in” your structure, but this is major, especially in the middle of winter in Colorado.

I remember when we drove up here, there were workmen all over the top of our house in very cold weather, working their asses off! Our contractor brought all his friends over to work on a Saturday to get this done. What was amazing was how comfortable they all seemed up on that roof! A snow storm came in later that day…

But the roof got covered and we were halfway to being dried in.

We got so excited about the smallest progress back then, after taking five months just to get approval from the county and our slab poured properly for passive solar heating! They forgot the insulation for the slab at first, but Mike got on them for that!

The windows came next! It was finally looking & feeling like a home!

But there were still a million more details to work out…

but we got her done and moved in on the first of August 2015.

Then we rested while staring out at our spectacular view, for months, none stop! We cannot get enough of this even years later. The silence is magnificent!

Crisis or opportunity? How do we convert our breakdowns into breakthroughs?

Watching the news these days fills me with sadness. I feel like the witness to the worst misfortunes that have befallen this country in my lifetime. Job loss, poverty, hunger, terrible health losses and death, not to mention the worst economy perhaps ever. This is truly a terrible crisis for everyone involved. I do feel badly for those who feel no hope as this year comes to a close. Those of us who now live on Social Security and Medicare are so fortune that we have survived our own crises and lived this long.

When I look back over my own life, I remember when I lost a job, then ran out of unemployment checks, my fears of losing my home and the depression that ensued. This was not so many years ago for me. This was my life in 2004. I remember crying with the counselor at the state employment office, my desperation was that great. Since then I have lost my health to an unidentified problem with my lungs. Mike also almost lost his home when Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) dominated his life in his mid-30s. He had to move out and rent his home so he would not lose it. I would not wish these kinds of crises on anybody. Mike and I do know that hopeless, sinking feeling personally. That is why we give to charities for the hungry and homeless.

What I did when disaster struck was sit down and consider how I would now find a way to land on my feet and avoid future misfortunes. Mike and I feel we both learned a lot from our own crises, things like how to protect our assets, ask for help and find strength inside that we did not know we had. We also learned not to be critical when bad things happen to others. In other words, we learned compassion in place of harsh judgment. We never could have imagined that these crises would happen to us, but they did, so the first goal is to not be too critical of ourselves. We now know that compassion must begin at home and then expand outward to those around us. Judging those who suffer does nothing to help them problem solve. Although it may seem harsh, the Chinese were correct when they combined the characters “danger” and “opportunity” in their word for crisis.

What is this difficult situation teaching me? What opportunities are presented right now for me to benefit from?

If you live through the crisis, you must then struggle to find the opportunity that may be well-hidden in your terrible misfortune. In every crisis there is a message. This is nature’s way of forcing change into our lives. What old structures or ways of thinking need to be reviewed? What bad habits can go so that we can try something different and better? Sometimes life crises require some serious soul searching and surgery to cut out the worst assumptions we have made about ourselves. This can lead to psychological reframing of our problems.

For me, my midlife crisis (divorce, job loss, career loss) led to a brutal analysis of what I needed most in my life to make it worth living. I decided that love was my greatest need and highest priority, and I would need to make some major changes in my heart and mindset to make that happen. I would also need to learn to listen carefully to my intuition, the wisdom inside that had been accumulating for decades. Why had my culture taught me not to listen and believe in these messages? Once I started to listen to them, they came through even more clearly and I followed them. This process led me to a positive career change and love.

Eventually I would appreciate my crisis, because without it I would have never changed so much. Today I’m so glad I got divorced and lost my job. Only then was I ready to accept love and embrace a whole new way of living and loving. I heard the message of my crisis and saw the opportunity within it. Is it time for you to do the same?

I am a trained psychotherapist and have written a few books about how this process works…

A New Thanksgiving Gratitude Challenge!

I have been making Thanksgiving dinner for so many friends and family for most of the past fifty years of my life. It usually turns into a bit of a stress-fest trying to get everything done and on the table at the same time. When it’s time to make the gravy I am usually at wit’s end and exhausted! I guess I should add I am very controlling and bossy in the kitchen…

So last night Mike laid down this challenge to me: Let him do it all. He has done it before, before he met me, he reassured me. This blew my mind as I started taking it in fully. Could I let go of that much control? Could I trust him to do it right? This all blew my mind, because it showed me exactly what a control freak I still am. Did I trust Mike to do it well and do it “right?”

Of course, we do need to take into consideration that I am now on oxygen fulltime and even then sometimes short of breath. Since I first saw it, I have related too well to that new anti-smoking ad about starting in October if you are in charge of fixing Thanksgiving dinner this year. I have to admit it made me laugh because that was me! And no, I never did smoke, just crappy lungs, which no MDs so far can figure out.

As it turns out, I cannot turn the whole affair over to Mike, but he will be doing most of the work. I feel I need to make my cornbread dressing and the pie. Funny how we slowly give up control, and only when it becomes almost impossible to do it all yourself!

Now for one of my favorite stories about Thanksgiving. When I was in my late 20s I went to Taipei Taiwan to study Chinese language at the Stanford Center. Thanksgiving can be tough in a place where nobody even knows what a pumpkin or a turkey are. Soon after I got there in September, my grandmother died and I could not go home for her funeral. My brother-in-law did something really kind for me that year. He had his grade school kids make me Thanksgiving cards and sent them to me. They were all so cute and welcome, but one of them still comes to my memory every year.

This kid had drawn a turkey and along the bottom he wrote the words:

“I am a turkey too yum yummy yum yum!”

to be sung to the tune of Little Drummer Boy!

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My Thanksgiving is perpetual.” — Henry David Thoreau

Feel Gratitude While You Can!

Today I feel like I am seeing my world with new eyes. I am so glad to wake up this morning in such a beautiful place. In fact, I’m grateful to wake up at all! In a world full of death and grief, I do not find it at all difficult to isolate and wait for better days.

I have a warm, safe home with astounding mountains and cloudscapes outside my door!

On television I hear how difficult these times are for others, how different their lives have become. But when I look at my own life I see bright sun in the morning pouring through my windows, warming my home and my heart. I have plenty of time to enjoy the lovely silence, my avocations and my relationships with my family and friends.

When I see clearly, which is much more often since I got rid of my cataracts, I feel so much gratitude for it all!

Glow with gratitude and see how awe and joy make their home in you.

“Writers & Lovers” by Lily King, a review

Reading a novel is so personal, rather like watching a movie. We all relate to the story in different ways, depending on the various parallels between ourselves, the author’s life and the main character. My new favorite author is Lily King. Her life, her stories and my own life experiences coalesce in many interesting ways.

I already told you about her novel “Euphoria” ten days ago. This week I was lucky enough to be the first one to check out her new book from 2020: “Writers & Lovers” from the La Veta Public Library.

For me, this book is about the complexity and confusion of being an independent woman with goals and a dream, in a world where most are giving up their dreams as unrealistic. The main character, Casey, is a 31 year old writer who is as afraid of risking her dream of being a writer, as she is of falling in love. Along the way she provides what seems like casual, but enduring insights into counseling, dealing with the sudden death of her mother, and the mysteries of love.

Much like myself, Casey’s 31st year is particularly challenging, with the theme of “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” If a woman does not follow the traditional path of marriage and children, what then? What if you are determined to follow your own unique path wherever that leads you?

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go…”  -T.S. Eliot

My 31st year was one of my most difficult. Like a dream, I still remember particularly well one afternoon driving through Denver on I-25, certain that my life had absolutely no meaning, but also certain that I would eventually find out why I was here. I had always dreamt of becoming a writer and yet I did not have the confidence or courage to pursue that dream yet.

Lily King on becoming a writer:

“Then I understood how hard it is to re-create in words what you see and feel in your head.” pg. 270, “Writers & Lovers”

Lily King on counseling:

“You don’t realize how much effort you’ve put into covering things up until you try to dig them out.” pg. 168

Lily King on breaking up:

“I don’t normally have to break up with anyone. Usually they do it for me, or I leave the state or the country. I don’t have to spell it out very often.” (pg. 291)

These quotes all reminded me of my turbulent 30s, and in turn showed me how grateful I am to be past all of that chaos. I am now ensconsed in such a beautiful, comfortable, safe place. Lucky me! Those turbulent times resulted in enduring love & happiness.

What it looks & feels like to be SNOWED IN in the Colorado Foothills west of Walsenburg

As many of you already know, I am pretty obsessed with weather watching! I have been reporting daily precipitation to COCORAHS and the Weather Service since the Fort Collins Spring Creek flood in July 1997.

But last night was a lifetime record for me!

This morning I looked out at 23 inches of snow, and it’s still coming down!

Mike went out at 7 AM to measure it for me…

and get our overflowing rain gauge. Yep, 1.23 inches of precipitation!

Yep, it’s really 25 inches total!

Needless to say, Rasta and I have decided to stay in today…

The storm is over and the Juncos are HUNGRY!

Doo doo doo lookin’ out my back door

How realistic are our memories of early adulthood?

Now to answer the question: Were we always this stupid, from my last post? The answer is, we were much dumber in high school and college. I have medical proof!

I’ve been reading a FASCINATING BOOK called “The Body” by Bill Bryson. So many new and interesting facts about this crazy body we call home. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!

For example, one of his most memorable moments while researching this book, was when an English surgeon peeled back a sliver of skin a millimeter thick from the arm of a cadaver for him and said:

“That is where all your skin color is. That’s all that race is – a sliver of epidermis.”

But the section on the brain was even more interesting! Brains have always interested me. But then when I got a couple brain injuries, I became even more focused on learning more about how they work.

OK, so here’s why we did some really stupid things in our teens and early twenties and now remember them far too fondly:

“The brain takes a long time to form completely. A teenager’s brain is only about 80% finished…[and] a region of the forebrain associated with pleasure, grows its largest size in one’s teenage years. At the same time, the body produces dopamine, the neurotransmitter that conveys pleasure, more than it ever will again.”

I knew before that our frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until our twenties, thus less impulse-control, but I have never heard that our teens and twenties were our best chance to experience extreme pleasure. Now, as we age, do you ever wonder if your memory is playing tricks on you? Could those early memories be real? This finding suggests our memories of the best sex in our life in our teens and twenties could be correct! Who knew?

This explains a lot. Memories can be so uncertain and unclear. They can also be manipulated and change through time. So find ways to enjoy your memories, but don’t count on them all being correct.