Tag Archives: Landmark Education

New Year’s Eve

This time of year has been hard for me. Not 2016 in particular but beginning with Christmas through New Year’s Eve. I usually breathe a sigh of relief when all this is over.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a family–children, I mean–and am not in the majority, i.e., in a heterosexual couple, “normal,” if you will. I’ve been an Other most of my life. In the ’70s and ’80s I reveled in it, demonstrating and proclaiming words like liberation and patriarchy. In the ’90s I bought my first house with another woman. We were a couple for seven years and remain friends to this day. No kids, though, just a dog and two cats. I felt welcome in my neighborhood Northside, the up and coming urban and gritty gayborhood.

Now I’m retired and live on a road that used to be country (there’s a horse and a cow half a mile away!) but is turning suburban. I love my acre and creek and privacy among the trees. I live alone if you don’t count two dogs and two cats.

Yet I make it a point to invite women writer friends to my backyard deck. We toast our imagination and friendship and this is good. They are consciously chosen family, many of them. We share deep reflections and cry and laugh together. Some of us are crafting poems, others hope to write a Great American Novel. I love facilitating these classes and getting to know them so well.

It is morning on New Year’s Eve. What is it about it that so often has filled me with dread? I think it was those early years of drinking and drug experimenting. Being at parties with strangers. For much of my life I have known I felt separate. In recent decades I have worked on this: through Landmark Education, through zen meditation, through Siddha Yoga. Connection had become my mantra.

And this is good. I have chosen to focus on what unites us as people rather than separates. Certainly 2017 will not be easy with a President I abhor. I am disheartened to say the least. But a few relatives I love voted for DT and I still love them. Who said politics is ever easy? Who said life and loving comes easy?

This evening I will spend quietly in front of my fireplace with a new love who came to me in the spring. We have had a tough beginning, parting and coming back together. I do not take a moment for granted! I feel loved and this is the best wish I could wish for on New Year’s Eve.

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today would have been my mother’s birthday

Irene Shirley died March 18, 2007. Today would be her birthday — indeed, it is her birthday still, at least to her three daughters. We have already texted one another, remembering. I lit a candle and some incense.

I found myself going through scrapbooks of photos. Granted, most of them were me as a child or young adult but, hey, just who took most of the photos, saved them, then gave them to me? Mom. Since I was the first born, I have tons of pictures, even a baby book!

I found the pictures Mom gave me after our trip to the San Francisco Bay area after her husband (my step father) died. So glad we did that! We traveled as two adults. She had never flown before so our roles changed slightly; she had to accept me as an adult as I booked our flights, made reservations, and served as self-appointed tour guide.

Was she happy? I mean, throughout her life? Some of the time, I’m sure. Will this be the year I learn, truly learn, that I am not her confidant, I am responsible only for my own happiness? I believe Mom was sad much of her life. My opinion is that she chose poorly regarding husbands. Three of them (one much later, when I was an adult). But that’s not my business now. My biological father and mother’s divorce when I was three became a shadow theme of my life. Thank god/dess for Landmark Education! This organizations’s seminars helped me see some patterns that had remained hidden for decades. I had taken her side. I believed relationships didn’t last, in fact, they were painful and not worth it. I might have been to blame; after, all, I was the oldest — shouldn’t I have known better, whatever was wrong in our family? I knew her story about dreaming of going to art school in Chicago but instead attending Miami University to become an elementary school teacher like her adopted mother Katie. She became pregnant with me at 20 and the rest is 1950’s “Leave it to Beaver” facade, the dysfunction lying just below the surface.

I’ve been working on a memoir. Surely mom will be in the acknowledgments. I loved her. I still do, maybe more than ever. There’ve been a few times when I’m in the yard among flowers that I almost hear her voice, feel her contentment. Lately the wind chimes I gave her (which came back to me after her passing) have been especially noisy out on the deck.

The Geography of Bliss

I recently finished reading Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss. The subtitle explains more: “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” Of course, the word ‘bliss’ caught my attention right away. His idea of traveling the world to discern what differences culture, religion, and expectations make intrigued me. After all, this NPR Correspondent would pay the plane fare and do the traveling for us!

He discovered geography does make a difference. Moldova and Qatar I couldn’t wait to get out of (those chapters, that is). Moldovans were, according to the World Database of Happiness, the unhappiest on the planet [yes, there really is such a database: Ruut Veenhoven in The Netherlands]. The people Weiner talked to in this former Soviet Republic claimed it was lack of money that made them unhappy. I couldn’t wait to get through reading that chapter, it brought me down so much. Money wasn’t the main factor at all: the Persian Gulf’s Qatar, where most are rich because their country sits on the world’s third largest reserve of natural gas, disproved that myth about money. Qataris, the author maintains, “possess a strange mix of arrogance and insecurity. What they crave, most of all, is validation.” Their position within the tribe matters more than money or education. Although tribes can be nurturing, it seemed in this “gilded sandbox” that in spite of all their money, Qataris were not happy.

Although I enjoyed being transported back to India (“where happiness and misery live side-by-side”), my favorite learnings were from Bhutan and Thailand. Weiner’s lesson from Thailand was mai pen lai which translates to “never mind.” This lighthearted “don’t worry be happy” encourages one to just let go rather than go insane holding on to an impossible situation. Bhutan’s culture of crazy wisdom, he says, made him lose his bearings “and when that happens a crack forms in your armor. A crack large enough, if you’re lucky, to let in a few shafts of light.” The author meets with a Buddhist Rinpoche who tells him we must be ready for the moment we “cease to exist.” Compassion is what really matters. After all, as the Rinpoche tells him, “You see, everything is a dream. Nothing is real. You will realize that one day.” Then the Rinpoche laughed and returned to his chanting. Weiner’s summary on Bhutan? “In America, few people are happy, but everyone talks about happiness constantly. In Bhutan, most people are happy, but no one talks about it.”

Back in 1973, Bhutan’s King Wangchuk created for his nation the concept of Gross National Happiness. A Bhutanese hotel owner described it this way: GNH means “knowing your limitations; knowing how much is enough.” With Gross National Happiness the official policy of the government of Bhutan, “every decision . . . is viewed through this prism. Will this action we’re about to take increase or decrease the overall happiness of the people?” The U.S. has its Gross Domestic Product, the sum of all goods and services a nation produces. Weiner wisely perceives that our GDP measures oil spills, prison population, the sale of assault rifles and prescription drugs — all these contribute to The Count regardless of merit. He quotes Robert Kennedy as acknowledging that the GDP doesn’t take into account “the beauty of our poetry . . . ,” measuring everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”

This book makes you think — deeply. Weeks later, I apply it to my life:

* Paying a mortgage by myself makes me unhappy. But when T lived here and shared the bills (this woman I supposedly loved), I wasn’t happy.
* I tire of driving a half hour each way to the east side of town. Lately, I fantasize about moving. But would my small scale change of geography make me happy?
* “Making” is not a part of happiness. It has to do with allowing, letting in, openness. No matter where I live.
* My delivering Meals on Wheels gives me perspective and a chance to practice compassion. Applied compassion. Although some mornings I grumble about leaving my house to deliver those meals, “my people” always give back more. Something less tangible than a bag of food. Appreciation, sincerity, love.
* Sporadically, I suffer from exhaustion. I literally wear myself out. What a sad phrase that is! Do I forget that “doing” never trumps “being”? One of the main lessons of Landmark Education’s intensive workshop, The Landmark Forum, I learn this over and over again. I am still learning.

It seems that bliss can capture you anywhere: you only need to be awake enough to notice, still enough to be aware, and wise enough to follow it.