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Last week I listened to this episode of Insights at the Edge (transcript also available at the link) where the guest was Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Rabbi Rami was a congregational rabbi for twenty years, and now teaches on being a holy rascal and what he calls "perennial wisdom." Tami, the host, asked him about moving away from Judaism. He describes Judaism as, "It's all about God as a male superpower somewhere," talks about issues with the idea of Jews as the "chosen people," and says that many organized religions treat a service as something to just get through. The whole time I was listening to that, I kept thinking, "That's a really narrow view of Judaism." Then I went to a Saturday morning torah service, and thought, "Oh, now I see what you mean." It felt like we were just doing things to get through them without any time to think about what they meant. Also, I discovered that where I know the Friday night service very well, I knew almost none of the Saturday torah service.

There's another part in the podcast where Rabbi Rami talks about the "house-church movement where people who don't feel comfortable at church are just getting together. They pray something, they read something, and then they just have conversations. ... I think what people were hungry for was conversation," which made me laugh because conversation is the last thing I want out of a religious service. I'm not even all that interested in the teaching part - I have a lot of other avenues in my life for that. The other thing that made me laugh is when he says, "we didn't have a cantor so we had whale song instead—recorded whale songs," because I thought, "You don't need a cantor; just sing!"

The combination of listening to Rabbi Rami's thoughts on Judaism and going to a Saturday morning torah service (with a cantor) really helped me define what I want out of a religious service. First, I want a slow, gentle approach to prayer where you get to really think about and feel what you're praying. This is particularly true for me in a Jewish service because I don't read Hebrew, so I'm always trying to follow along with the transliteration while skimming the English translation to see if there are things I don't want to say. Secondly, I want to sing or chant with other people. We chant in my yoga class, and my yoga teacher has various things she says to get people to not feel embarrassed or weird about it and just chant. I find chanting easy because I grew up Jewish without speaking Hebrew, so for me, singing with other people in a language I don't speak is my idea of collective spiritual practice. Part of what I like about Friday night services versus the Saturday torah service is that we sing a lot of songs I know, and when I started going to services on occasion again, what I wanted was to sing with other Jews. Lucky for me, our current rabbi does a contemplative service one Saturday morning a month that's an hour of chanting and guided meditation. It's really lovely, and I do really feel a connection with the divine during that experience. (I feel a little bit guilty sneaking out after the contemplative service instead of staying for the torah study afterwards, but, again, the conversation/learning part is not the valuable piece to me.)

In February, the rabbi's adult education class was "An Intro to Jewish Angels," so at the February contemplative service, she did a guided meditation with angels that I found really moving. (Also interesting: I had a very clear image of the personification of three of the four of them.) It probably helps if you've already done some chanting and breathing first and pause to breathe into each of these, but here it is as best I can remember it: Close your eyes. Take a few breaths. Now imagine to your right the angel Michael, the one who is like God. You may feel some warmth or see a light. Now imagine to your left the angel Gabriel, the power of God. In front of you, imagine Uriel, the light of God. At your back, imagine Raphael, the healer. Now feel the angels surrounding you in their warmth or in their light. Rest in their light. Now from above, feel the light of God pouring over you like honey.

I really love the divine light guided meditations the rabbi's done at both of the contemplative services I've been to so far. For a secular version of a filling yourself with light meditation, I also recommend Danielle LaPorte's Light Scanning Contemplation (at her site, registration-free Soundcloud version).
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Part 1: I feel scared to talk about how scared I feel for fear that the admission of vulnerability will make me more of a target, for either negative comments or well-meaning dismissal of my fear. I'm a woman, a lesbian, and a Jew. One side of my family is Jewish. The vast majority of my friends are women, queer people, people of color, and/or people with ongoing health issues that require care. I feel terrified about what will happen to us, to other vulnerable populations, to our country, to the world in the next year, four years, however many decades the next president's nominees sit on the Supreme Court.

Part 2: A prayer for the new year and always:

May our hearts be open.
May we be thankful.
May we choose love over hate, kindness over contempt, compassion over fear.
May we choose creation over destruction, peace over war, hope over despair.
May we choose the liberation of all over power for the few.
May we believe the stories of others and may our stories be believed in turn.
May our wishes for life, health, and happiness extend beyond the borders of our own families, our own communities, our own countries.
May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light.
May our hearts be open.
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For reference, my 2014 goals post is here.

Writing
I talked before about giving up on writing original fic, at least for the time being, which I suppose fulfills my goal for 2014 of deciding whether or not original fic is worth it, even if it wasn't how I was going to make that decision. I did keep writing and writing all the time, and AO3 tells me I posted over 188,000 words of fic in 2014.

Being a Grownup
I put this on my calendar, and then just didn't do it most times. I'm not sure how to get back in the habit of doing being a grownup kind of things, but this isn't working, so I'm deleting reminders from my calendar. I did clean out my closet, but that was the result of having to take everything out of it for some required maintenance and then deciding that I was only going to put the stuff I was actually keeping back.

Spiritual Refreshment
I don't know if this worked for me. I guess I did a bunch of self-reflection while working through the workbook section of The Desire Map.

Make peanut butter more often or buy peanut butter more often.
Giving myself permission to buy peanut butter greatly reduced my anxiety about having enough peanut butter in the house.

Get a massage sometime in the last two weeks of August.
This turned out to be a massage in September, which was lovely.
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You may remember that one of my intentions for this year was some sort of spiritual refreshment. I want to be able to talk about that, and also it's an area where I feel very sensitive and vulnerable, and where it would be really easy for other people to unintentionally hurt my feelings. There are two things I want out of talking about it: (a) the opportunity to talk it out and (b) nonjudgmental listening. So first of all, I'm posting to LJ instead of emailing people about it because if no one responds to my LJ post I won't be upset where I would feel ignored if no one responded to that kind of email. Secondly, I'm going to change my usual if you write a comment I will reply to it approach to comments for these kinds of posts. If you want to empathize, ask questions, tell me about your experience, acknowledge the reality of my feelings, that would be awesome and I would love to have conversations with you! If your comment tells me I'm wrong about what I think or feel about my own experience or tells me what I should do when I haven't asked for advice, I'm not going to reply to it. That might seem like a lot of verbiage, but I think I need to be clear about my expectations and boundaries around this.

In a case of when the student is ready the teacher will appear (or the student will notice the teacher, since I have read one of her previous books), I followed a link to Danielle LaPorte's website, read almost all of her posts, and then bought her most recent book, The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul (I promise I'll make a post about the book itself when I'm done with it). I've read my way through the theory part, and am just started in on the desire mapping process/workbook part of the book. (Note: she has a whole book club associated with the book; if anyone else wants to also read it and do an online book club, I would totally be into that.) The basic premise of the book is that you figure out how you want to feel (what she calls your core desired feelings) and then build goals that will help you feel that way.

The workbook section of the book starts with what she calls "soul limber": a bunch of prompts designed to "loosen some of the calcification from your intellect and get you closer to your heart." The first one is, "I crave," and I wrote down "ATTENTION." I then spent the next few days getting the weirdest feedback on fic, which reminded me that sometimes when you ask the universe for something, you get it. So then I started thinking very loudly, "Okay, universe, when I said 'attention,' what I really meant was 'positive attention.'"

Maybe a month or so ago, I was doing yoga, and I thought to myself, "All I want is for someone to pay attention and listen to me," and then burst into tears because it's such a fierce wish, and such a deep one. (Also in my list for the "I crave" prompt: "to be heard.") I have a hard time untangling how much of that is a response to junior high trauma and how much of it is a basic human wish to be seen and heard. I listened to this interview with Danielle about desire mapping, and she talks about how some people look at how they want to feel and say that it comes from a wound, and her response to that is, "So what?" Even if it comes from a wounded place, it's still something you genuinely want to feel. I really like that framing, and particularly the way it says it's okay to want to feel however you want to feel.

So back to wanting attention. There's an episode of The Simpsons where Bart jumps around the room saying, "Pay attention to me!" I think it's supposed to be a joke about his attention-seeking behavior and how he can't stand for Lisa to be the center of attention even once, but I think about that scene a lot because I feel that way a lot. My want for attention often feels needy, greedy, and desperate. (Which is probably related to the cultural idea that attention-seeking is a bad thing, which means that wanting attention that much is also bad. Or maybe there's something there where I don't quite feel worthy of more of it.) I really like Gretchen Rubin's happiness commandment of "spend out," and that's what I've been trying to do: when I'm feeling ignored or not paid attention to, I spend out by paying attention to other people, or when I'm feeling not exactly unloved but not as loved as I want to in the moment, I spend out by sending someone else a love note (emailed or on paper). What's harder is to ask for attention. I've done it sometimes, mostly on Twitter, but I try to save it for those times when I'm having a really bad day and really, really need the support. I don't know if this a good strategy in that it does get me some attention when I'm feeling icky or a not good enough one in that I could get that need for attention filled more often if I just asked for it. The scary part is: what if I ask for it and no one gives it to me?
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I had a hard time coming up with goals this year, which I think is a good thing; it means things are pretty good and there aren't major changes I need to make to my life.

Writing
As usual, making writing goals is an iffy proposition since I end up writing things I never would have imagined at the beginning of the year. My main goal is to just keep writing all the time. I didn't write much while I was editing Danny goes to college, and then when I gave myself permission to write whatever I wanted without guilt for the last two weeks of the year, I found that I'd really missed it. In terms of specific goals, I've decided this is going to be my test year for whether or not original fic is worth it, which means I am selling book two and working only very slowly on book three. (What I really need to do is reframe working on book three in a way that it doesn't leave me with low-level anxiety all the time.)

Being a Grownup
There are a lot of being a grownup sorts of things I've let slide (like cooking more often, cleaning out my closet, tracking my spending) because I don't want to take the time to do them when I could be reading fic or refreshing Tumblr or whatever. I'm putting two hours every other Saturday afternoon on my calendar for this. I may or may not use the whole two hours, but Google will email me a calendar reminder, and then I won't let myself delete the reminder until I do whatever I need to do. Also, putting it on Saturday means if I don't do it, I still have Sunday before I get back to work week, do not want to do this kind of thing days.

Spiritual Refreshment
There was a time a few years ago when I was so filled with love and compassion, when my heart was so open. I worked in a place that was specifically strength-based, and where the training program I worked for moved to including emotional intelligence training in all of our curriculum during the time I worked there. Later, I worked in a place that was not supportive or strength-based, and I found that it was a lot harder to hold on to that open, loving heart I wanted to cultivate. I want to get back to that place where I was full of love. I liked it way more than the times when I feel more bitterness, pettiness, and meanness. This is less a goal and more an intention, because I don't know what getting back to that might look like, but I know that if I name it as an intention, I'll notice or find something that's right for me.

Make peanut butter more often or buy peanut butter more often.
This might seem like a strange goal, but I eat a lot of peanut butter, and one of the minor annoyances of my life is getting down to the last rice cake's worth of peanut butter at a time of the week when I just don't want to spend the time making more. Since I started making my own peanut butter, I always feel a little guilty when I buy it (and also store-bought is not as good or as salty as homemade), but I think it's worth it to not be annoyed by getting close to running out.

Get a massage sometime in the last two weeks of August.
I have a really hard time with August, and I think something that will (a) be relaxing and (b) involve touch during a time when my yoga class is on break and I don't get hugs might help.
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A friend quoted Pema Chodron at me and said Chodron was one of her favorite writers on Buddhism. I'd never heard of her, which led to two things: my mother bought me a copy of the issue of Shambhala Sun with Chodron on the cover, and I checked out The Pema Chodron Collection from the library. The book is actually three of Chodron's books in one volume. I skimmed through bits of the first two and they didn't catch my interest, but the third, When Things Fall Apart, did. I did enjoy it, and I think reading some of it on Thanksgiving helped me enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I also kept thinking about something Gretchen Rubin often says: that she often learns more from one person's idiosyncratic story than from more general advice.
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I started this post early this morning, before I even went to work. Today was a busy - and constantly busy - day, and I loved having this post to come back to at lunch and this evening. So although this is a post of three things that are making me happy, the post itself is a bonus fourth.

Christian Kane's The House Rules
Okay, I know this came out in December, but I just bought it yesterday. I couldn't listen to it and write at the same time because I just wanted to grin and sing along, so I listened to it on my walk this morning. (Thing I don't think I've mentioned here yet: four of my amazing friends went in together and bought me a tiny, red iPod! So now I start my day thinking of them and listening to music on my morning walk.) I'm pretty delighted by it.

Chris's gender politics are interesting as always: he makes a distinction on "Callin' All Country Women" between "uptown girls" and "country women," which is perhaps not the best presentation of "uptown girls," but very interesting in that I read this post, in which the comments discuss the way women aren't referred to as "women" this week. (He himself is a "country boy" in the lyrics.) "American Made" refers to women as everything from "women" to "girls" to "beauties" to "ladies," depending on the fit with the lyric - although he does refer to "my girl."

He also does a pretty straight up cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" - the only lyric he changed was from "checkout girl" to "checkout boy," which was jarring the first time I heard it but not the second. (His tweet wondering what Tracy thinks of his cover is what prompted me to finally go buy the album.) It's an interesting choice, and I think it works well.

The most interesting thing about my emotional reaction is that I wish I'd bought the CD + digital download version. I didn't because I thought, "Of course I don't need a CD," but it turns out that when it comes to Chris, that does actually matter to me. Strange! I do have an unused Amazon gift card, so maybe I'll use part of it to get the actual CD.

Rosemary Clement-Moore's The Splendor Falls
The last book I read was bad. Really, really bad. (I'm writing an unrec post for [livejournal.com profile] romoerotic. I require a lot of words to describe how bad it was and why.) Anything else would probably look good in comparison, but The Splendor Falls is genuinely excellent. It has a compelling first-person narrator, an interesting plot, and the word "collarbone." (Those of you who don't follow me on Twitter may not realize that the use of the word "clavicle" has reached epidemic proportions. There are, of course, appropriate situations for the word "clavicle," but next time you write it, think about your intent. Are you providing a clinical listing of body parts for an anatomy test or trying to give your reader a sense of the beauty and sensuality of the human body? If it's the first, by all means do use "clavicle." If it's the second, switch to "collarbone." We'll all be a lot happier. [If you really feel the need to use "clavicle," I would be totally down with a Brendon/Spencer college AU where Spencer's studying anatomy by using the technical terms for all of Brendon's body parts as he touches/kisses them.]) Every time I start reading, I don't want to stop.

My Inspirational Desk
Between yoga and Sean Van Vleet's obsession with Steven Pressfield, which he has then passed on to several of my friends, I can't escape the concept of resistance. I finally bought white index cards so I could write "No resistance. Just let it be easy." on the back of one. It's more a paraphrase of something my yoga teacher said than it is a Pressfield reference (I've tried to read The War of Art twice, but haven't managed to finish it), but it's absolutely helpful writing advice. Monday's reading at yoga was the first four lines of this. I almost didn't catch anything else she said because I found "Empty yourself of everything" to be so powerful. I now have that on an index card on the other side of my monitor. (I didn't estimate well, so it's not centered and the letters squish together at the end. I'm trying to figure out if I can empty myself of the need for it to be right or if I just need to rewrite it.)

I was so pleased with my index cards last night (I'm thinking about doing a whole series of handwritten cards of things I find inspirational so I can shuffle them and let the hand of fate choose what I need in the moment when I need inspiration), and then I looked at the few other things on my desk, and realized that they are also keeping me in touch with good things. I have a heart-shaped petrified wood paperweight that I got from my belly dance class when I quit my last job to write, which reminds me both of my commitment to writing and the support of others. The cable for my iPod, which reminds me of the people who gave it to me, lies in a slight curve to my right. And then there's a small, wooden whale, which I bought at the woodworking place in Ghirardelli Square on a work trip. Something about its puppy dog expression called to me, even though I don't like puppies and have left my dolphin and whale obsession in my past. Part of one of its flippers has broken off, so it lists a bit, but the wood is as smooth as ever.
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  • Health insurance paid almost entirely by my employer.

  • On my way home from yoga yesterday, I heard "Party In The USA" followed by "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." If you've never listened carefully to "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," you should. It's hilarious, and only becomes more so when you remember that Brendon and Spencer sang a bit of it on their SayNow.

  • My yoga teacher's reading yesterday unintentionally (I think) echoed one of my favorite Passover teachings: "And you shall teach you child: It is because of what God did for me when I went out of Egypt."

  • Having an amazing group of women who will encourage and support my goals, even when they're as simple as going to bed at 9:30 every night this week.

  • The giant box of goodies from [livejournal.com profile] lakeeffectgirl that was waiting on my porch when I came home for lunch.
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A year or more ago, I stumbled onto Daniel Radosh's blog, probably because of his New Yorker Anti-Caption Contest. He also frequently posts on such things as media self-censorship, celebrity deaths, and Christian teen girl pop groups. I've been thinking about reading his book for a while, and I finally got a copy via interlibrary loan. The book is Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, and I couldn't put it down.

I found the music chapters to be the strongest, but I'm not sure how much of that is the fact that he writes about Christian music a lot and how much of it is that the last six months have been a time of music for me. The second strongest parts of the book that deal with Christian books. It was in that section that I was reminded of "Why do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?" by Thom Parham, and then I realized that I'd gotten to that article via one of Radosh's blog posts.

Radosh eventually concludes, which parts of his book made me think, which means he successfully took us there, "Personally, I'm not sure how successful it really is in leading people to Christ, but I can attest that it's a very successful method for generating positive feelings about Christians" - an interesting contrast to Gandhi's "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

The most moving portraits he draws of people are people who are Christians trying to be like Christ. I found Aaron Weiss, the frontman of Christian band mewithoutYou, particularly compelling: "That's why more than anything else, I come back to God being merciful, and I say, 'Thank you, that I don't have to be perfect.' I don't have to figure everything out. I can strive to be perfect, and insomuch as I fall short, I just walk humbly and say, 'I'm sorry, please forgive me, please guide me to a better place.'" "Deep down I think we all have this suspicion that really none of this makes sense. I mean, honestly, come on! Nothing matters! There's no God. But there's also this small point of hope or of faith or of purpose or meaning - I guess love is the best way for me to put it. It transcends any of the material or scientific or philosophical doubts about our existence, but those doubts seem so much larger, so we have to keep them confined. My guess is, to actually open the Bible and read what it says is to force yourself to come face-to-face with those doubts. Like: Do I really believe this? It's easier to just show up once a week at a building and have somebody tell you what you need to hear." Love: yes. That's what matters. I'm all for that. I'm all for love, all for living a life of love.

In another chapter, Radosh talks about meeting the guy who plays Bibleman: "R.T. asked if he could pray for me, which didn't surprise me. And then he prayed that my book would help Christians see some hard truths about themselves, even if it hurt. Which I hadn't expected at all."

I found the book as a whole entertaining, well-written, and thought-provoking. If I'd written this entry as I read, I'd be able to recreate some of that thought for you. As it is, I can't seem to corral my thoughts very well. So instead, let me just pull out four bits I found interesting.

First, he includes the Jonas Brothers under the category of Contemporary Christian Music, which I found interesting. I've been listening to them for the last couple of weeks, and I would never pick their music out as Christian, even though I know they themselves are evangelical Christians - and I'm usually pretty good at sniffing out the evangelical origins of things.

Secondly, in the chapter on Christian rave, or the preferred term of "DJ-led worship," he visits an electronic dance music (EDM) event: "But the performers pressed on, and it occurred to me that if they were proselytizing for anything it was EDM - trying to win over Fall Out Boy fans to the one true faith."

Thirdly, the book also has a connecting website Get Rapture Ready! where Radosh has media of much of the things he talks about in the book. Interestingly, I found the actual media far less compelling than Radosh's discussions and descriptions. (Also, I found it fascinating that he includes a link to the video for Fall Out Boy's "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race" in the associated media for the rave chapter.)

Fourthly, he talks about the way a lot of Christian pop culture creators can get away with less than great art because just the fact that it's Christian is going to be enough for much of the audience, even if it's not very good. But what Radosh misses is that this only makes Christians like other groups. How many times have I had someone tell me a movie is good only to watch it and grumble, yet again, "Having gay and lesbian characters doesn't necessarily make a movie worth watching"?

If you're reading my LJ, you're probably interested in pop culture, and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in pop culture - or evangelical Christianity in the US, or even just good writing.
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Note: I contemplated putting this behind an lj-cut for those of you reading at work. But then I thought about all of the other things I've said without putting them behind an lj-cut and didn't (and, quite frankly, if I were putting the entry behind a cut, the title should really go there too). If you regularly read at work and I'm causing trouble for you, let me know and I'll be a bit more liberal with the lj-cuts. Also, if you're reading this because we used to work together or you're a member of my family and I told you about my blog, then, uh, this might not be the entry you want to start with.

There are a lot of great things about my yoga class, but my absolute favorite part is yoga nidra (deep relaxation). We lie down in savasana, flat on our backs, arms and legs away from our bodies. When it's anything less than full summer, I pull on my socks and drape my blanket over me to keep me warm. Our teacher tells us that she's there and it's safe to relax. Then she guides us through tensing and relaxing each part of our bodies, then bringing our mind to each part and suggesting more relaxation, then relaxing our mind, then our breath (or possibly breath then mind; I'm usually under by that point), and then everything is quiet for about four minutes. At the end of the four minutes, she brings us back out by having us bring our attention to our breath, to our mind (or possibly mind then breath; the opposite of before), to our bodies, and finally back to the room.

A couple of months ago, I was having trouble with yoga nidra. I just couldn't let go into it. So I started giving myself a visual to work towards: "Lindsey looks gone, just...gone," which is from [livejournal.com profile] idyll's "The Hollow," a really hot Gunn/Lindsey BDSM hooker AU. In context:
"Shit, Lindsey," Gunn chokes, and Lindsey's head lifts, just enough so that Gunn can see his eyes. "Shit," he says again, because Lindsey looks gone, just...gone and usually Gunn can only get him to look like that after an hour of working him hard.
The image worked for me, and I could let myself go into that idea of being gone, just...gone, and after a while, yoga nidra was easy again, and I didn't need to work toward it.

A while after I'd settled back into my regular ease with yoga nidra, I read Deviations: Domination by Chris Owen and Jodi Payne (you may remember when I read the first one). In chapter 4, Tobias puts Noah in a sling, blindfolds and gags him, reassures him he'll still be there, and talks at him and touches him until he's deep inside himself, then just watches, moving the flogger to make sure there's sound to ground Noah, and then brings Noah back up with increasingly firmer touches and finally his voice.

***

When I was in college, one of my friends was in a newly-formed a cappella group which performed in a concert with a number of other a cappella groups who were not the big-name a cappella groups on campus. (Question for those of you who went to college elsewhere in the country: are college a cappella groups big all over, or is it mainly an East Coast thing?) One of the other groups was a Christian group. I don't remember what song it was, but one of their songs made me think: being a Christian (at least from the general evangelical perspective) is like being a sub; the idea in both cases is to give control of yourself over to someone else, whether that someone is Jesus or a dom. At the time, I thought it was a good perspective on why both Christianity and BDSM fascinated me without being anything I wanted to do: I'm a control freak, and the idea of giving up that control to someone else freaks me out.

At WisCon last year (2007), one woman in the BDSM panel mentioned, almost as an aside, that she likes to use Donne's "Batter my heart" (which I posted here) as a morning-after poem. I really, really, really wanted to ask the panel attendees about the connection between Christianity ("Batter my heart" is addressed, after all, to "three-person'd God") and BDSM, but I just wasn't comfortable enough. This entry is what I've been thinking about that sent me looking for both the text of "Batter my heart" and commentary thereon. Rambuss is the only one who even came close to what I wanted out of it. Most of the commentary Rambuss cites, as well as what he has to say, points out that the poet is asking to be ravished by God ("a trinitarian gang bang," Rambuss calls it), but I haven't been able to google up much of anything relating it to the power exchange of BDSM (at least nothing more than a passing remark).

***

I told [livejournal.com profile] norwich36 that I was into the sinking into subspace thing, and she sent me to "A Nice Friendly Game," which didn't work for me at all. My instinctive reaction was, "But he says no!" And I don't want people to say no. Because it's the consent that gets to me, the saying yes, the surrender.

The other thing that doesn't work for me is that Clark doesn't get it. He doesn't know what's going on. (You could make an interesting case for the story having some issues of questionable consent.) And maybe this is what I'm trying to get to here. What I think I'm getting at is the intent. I like intentional sinking in, where everyone knows (or is learning) what's going on. It's the soul reaching for God, not out or up, but in. "Inner peace is with us always," we say in our closing meditation in yoga, and it's hard to remember. Maybe what I'm after when I look for those sinking into subspace moments in a story is anything that provides that reminder.

***

The bit I've been fretting about with this entry is this, which I put after the paragraph about a cappella groups, but it breaks the flow, and I'm not sure I want it out there for the world, and I can't bear to leave it out: [Except. Except that I love yoga nidra. Except that one of the most relaxing things about going to [livejournal.com profile] allegram and [livejournal.com profile] dedalvs's wedding was that I wasn't really responsible for anything for the whole weekend - I didn't even have transportation of my own and so someone else always made sure I could get to where I needed to be. Except that what I find so hot about BDSM fic is the consent, the giving over of control.] I get that part of this (and my extremely detailed fantasy life where I'm a writer and my partner works) is that I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life and not having a job is scary and part of me wants someone to come along and make everything okay because being an adult is hard. Part of it, though, is that I always say that I'm a control freak and that while I've gotten much, much better about not trying to control other people, I still need to be in control of myself. And maybe what this is is my inner voice trying to tell me that I'm wrong about that, that if I just let go and surrender to God or the universe or the Tao or whatever you want to call it, and let it take care of me, then everything will be okay. The universe works exactly as it should.

Elizabeth Gilbert talked to her inner voice, and it said, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS!!!!!!!!!!!!" I wonder what my inner voice will tell me if I can let go and listen to it.
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A couple of Fridays ago, I read an article on the Yoga Journal website about surrendering to the will of the universe. She talks about trying to write a yoga article and finally said to the universe or whatever's out there, "If you want this to happen, you'll have to do it, because I can't," and then she could do it.

So I thought, okay. When i was doing yoga that day, I thought out to the universe, "If you want me to be a writer, you have to help me."

Less than twenty-four hours later, someone messaged me on Facebook because she's starting a local writing critique group. I thought I'd damn well better do it. I went to the meet-n-greet that Sunday, and sent in a piece for the meeting the next week.

Because I'd thought about putting it out there, I thought I'd get a head start on my February nonfiction reading and check out Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life? After I got the invite to join the writing group, I thought I would just dive into it without waiting for a new month. That Tuesday, on the plane, I got to Joe Olchefske's story. He asks, "Where is my generation?" Po says, "Waiting for the pain that opens up its heart." He earlier said, "Joe Olchefske cracked open." I not only thought, but wrote in my one-sentence journal, "I don't want to wait for pain to crack my heart open. I want my heart to be opened without the pain."

On Wednesday, one hour of our meeting was devoted to "stage presence/improv" with an acting teacher. She had us drop our jaws, breathe all the way down into our bellies, and look each other in the eye. She told us to open our hearts. She told us to lead from the heart. I've spent a lot of years not crying in public, so I didn't. I teared up, and when we broke for lunch, I had to take a break from the group and meditate by the fountain.

Asking is powerful. I forget because I don't ask for things that often, and I never ask the universe or God or whatever for them. I've said before that I think of prayer as meditation not supplication. I've always thought there was something not quite right about asking God for things. I've been thinking of what Marianne Williamson says, that "our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." Who am I, I wonder, to ask God for anything? Even now that I've asked and been answered, I can't attrribute it to God. It's the universe, I keep thinking that's answered me.
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When I settled in to meditate one day the weekend before last, I had the sudden something - thought? sensation? memory? - of someone laying a red blanket over me. My thought process went something like this: "You're only thinking of that because when we meditate in class, it's after yoga nidra (deep relaxation), so you have your (red) yoga blanket draped over your lap. This is why I'll never have a mystical experience. I'll just explain it away as something rational. I just read something about how you can't desire mystical experiences." And then I reminded myself to let go of all the thoughts and focused back on my mantra. And then I forgot about it. I only remembered that night when I went to bed and was lying under my warm, fuzzy, and, yes, red blanket. And then I thought, "Did that really happen, or did I just imagine the whole thing?" So. Mystical experience? Random firing of neurons? Memories brought on by cold? I don't know.
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A friend (ex-friend? He seems to have dropped out of their tai chi circle.) of my mom's, J, has a pizza party every Christmas Eve. He makes a bunch of crust and sauce, and has bowls full of toppings. You tell him what you want on a pizza, and he'll make it for you. His wife, C, makes a huge batch of Christmas cookies with a Jewish friend of hers, and so there are lots of dessert options too.

Last year, when I said I was a vegetarian and so wanted something with no meat and no shrimp, I explained why I became a vegetarian: I stopped eating meat because I didn't eat it very often and I felt physically unwell when I did, so instead of eating it more often (which probably also would have taken care of that as my body adjusted to it), I stopped eating it altogether. At first, I was still eating fish, but then I thought about it and realized that if I feel guilty when I accidentally kill a bug, then I certainly can't continue to eat fish.

C asked me, "Are you a Buddhist?"

I've been thinking about that question ever since. When I was in college, a member of Di-Phi gave a speech about Sylvia Boorstein's That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, and I've been remembering that, too. So in August, I checked it out from the library.

There were some really nice things in the book, and three that have stuck in my head: Her chapter on the holocaust was so moving it left me crying at the lunch table. She talks about getting permission to pray, and realizing she doesn't have to pray strictly inside the liturgy, which had me mentally singing prayers for days. She talks about an experience sitting behind some chatty older women in synagogue, and turning to a loving practice instead of annoyance; I find myself repeating "I love you, eighty-year-old women" in my head to remind myself to love humanity in all its forms.

What I hoped to find but didn't is the answer to my biggest question about being Buddhist and Jewish: How do you reconcile Buddhism's First Noble Truth, that life is inherently suffering, with Judaism's absolute joy in the experience of living?

I'm not sure if the answer is that they're not going to reconcile for me or if the answer is that I don't know enough about Buddhism.
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First, let me say that I have no intention of dying anytime soon, and it isn't thoughts of mortality that have me thinking about this.

I've started reading Leo Babauta's zen habits recently. A couple of weeks ago, I read his post on The Key to Dying Happy. I was reading his list of what he wants people to say about him when he dies, and it sparked a quick list of my own:
  • She was happy.
  • She was peaceful, and at peace.
  • She was kind.
  • She made a positive difference in the world.
I didn't sit and think or brainstorm to come up with these; I just read his list, and words popped into my head: happy, peace, kind, positive difference.

Happy
As I've said before, I'm doing pretty well with this one. It's not perfect, of course. There are days when I'm filled with joy and days when I'm cranky. For the most part, however, I'm happy.

Peaceful, and At Peace
This might seem redundant at first, but it's two different sides of the word: "at peace" is the internal state, and "peaceful" is how it manifests in the world. Some days this is easier than others, and at peace is much easier than peaceful. I found that sometime last month, meditation suddenly became a lot easier for me, which helps.

Kind
This one surprised me. Like I said, I didn't concentrate on thinking about any of these; they just popped into my head. This is also the absolute hardest one for me. I don't think of myself as kind at all, and I find it especially difficult to be kind with my mother and my officemate. Any suggestions for kindness thoughts/practice/improvement would be greatly appreciated.

Positive Difference in the World
About two years ago, my work went through an emotional intelligence (EQ) training of trainers. One of the pieces of the Six Seconds EQ model is "pursue noble goals." A noble goal has five parts: not complete in your lifetime, pointed outward, integrating, gets you out of bed, and collaborative.

The exercise of creating a noble goal is the one piece of our EQ training that has (consciously; who knows what's going on in my subconscious and unconscious minds) made the most difference in my life. My noble goal is tikkun olam with intent and joy. Tikkun olam is usually interpreted as healing or repairing the world, and often manifests itself in Jewish communities as social action. My favorite interpretation of tikkun olam is that the work of creation is not complete until we have completed our part in it. I like that this makes us partners with God.

I tell you all of this because this last thing I want you to be able to say about me when I die ties well into my noble goal, which also means I wasn't too surprised about wanting to make a positive difference.
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If you ever have a chance to watch one of Dewitt Jones' videos, jump on it! I'm privileged in that we have copies of two of them - Focus Your Vision and Celebrate What's Right With The World - at work. I've seen Focus Your Vision three times now, and it's so powerful that it still makes me tear up and fills me with inspiration.

We're working on creating a vision for part of the agency I work for, so my last viewing of Focus Your Vision was just a couple of weeks ago. It sparked a thought about my favorite prayer. When I think of prayer, I don't think of the Shema (Shema yisra'el adonai eloheynu adonai echad/Listen, Israel: the eternal is our God, the eternal one alone.), which the prayer in Judaism. Instead, my thought is of the first part of the Amidah, another central prayer. Our congregation now does the whole Amidah silently, but we used to sing the first part, Hebrew and English, and this is what I think of when I think of prayer (with the last English word pluralized, because it doesn't scan in the singular):
Adonai sefatai tiftach, ufi yagid tehilatecha.
Open my lips, beloved one, and let my mouth declare your praises.
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Immigration - Europe
There's some discussion going on in [livejournal.com profile] brandonbriscoe's journal about multiculturalism and Muslim immigration into Europe. Be forewarned that if you're reading this journal, Brandon's political beliefs are probably quite a ways to the right of yours; however, he can write. I met him when he was working on his BA in journalism and mass communications; after that he went to law school, and he's now in seminary in New Orleans. For fannish content, you should definitely read his account of having brunch with Jim Caviezel and you can see a picture of him with his good friend Maddy Curley, who will be one of the gymnasts in Stick It, which you've seen me excited about before.

Immigration - US
All I can think of every time I see all the news about the immigration debate and legislation is the Indigo Girls:
They say we be looking for illegal immigrants
Can we check your car
I say you know itÂ’s funny
I think we were on the same boat back in 1694
The Politics of Fashion I
I was in a session at the conference, and there were two African American women sitting next to each other, both wearing animal print clothing, which made me think about the implications of marketing animal prints to African American women.

The Politics of Fashion II
It occurred to me to wonder what actual transgendered folks think about the fetishization of crossdressing in fan fic. It's sensationalized in the media--think of all the tranny hookers on SVU and other Law & Order shows--but fan fic takes it that extra step into fetishland. Is it better because we're letting people crossdress and be sexy rather than freakish, or worse because we're implying that elements of transgendered identity are only sexual, or neither better nor worse but rather just another part of the spectrum of one-dimensional portrayals of transgendered people?

Out of Egypt
Passover begins this week, which makes it a good time to pull out my favorite teaching from the Haggadah, and possibly from Judaism as a whole. What surprised me about this when I went to look it up after being disappointed by Prince of Egypt is that it's from the Talmud, making it commentary and not scripture.
Our rabbis taught: When the Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. God silenced them and said, "My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?"

All too often our political debate vilifies the other side, and it's important to remember that the Egyptians, or whomever the oppressors of your story may be, are also God's creatures.
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Jerry Spinelli. Surely I'm not the only person around who ever read Jerry Spinelli's School Daze series (Report to the Principal's Office, Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole?, Do the Funky Pickle, and Picklemania). However, I may be the only one for whom Salem Jane Brownmiller serves as the prototype for Hermione.

Already half the kids had taken a step backward, edging for the bus. No one spoke until Salem Brownmiller raised her hand. "Yes, I have a question." Forty-seven students groaned. Salem looked up from her notebook, in which she had been writing the entire time.
--Jerry Spinelli, Picklemania

Tuck Everlasting. My mother and I saw Tuck Everlasting yesterday. The movie has all the style you should expect from a Disney-produced version of a period novel, but it has no emotional impact. I'm now waiting for next weekend and 8 Mile.

Religion/Philosophy. "I'm trying to explain it in order so it'll make sense. Look, hoodoo isn't sticking pins into an apple. Hoodoo is all the energy and attention you bring to what you do. Everything you do. The work of your hands, done with all your attention, becomes a container full of energy that you can transfer to somebody else. Baking bread is hoodoo work. So's putting in a garden. Or fixing an amplifier, or teaching someone else to. If you do it right, with your whole head, and an awareness of where it came from, and where it's going when it leaves you. The process it's part of. And you have to be concentrating on moving energy, not money."

"Then this is a hobby business?"

"There's a difference," she said with exaggerated patience, "between getting money for what you do, and doing it for money. If you don't do it for love, or because you think it needs doing, get out and let somebody else do it. If nobody else does it, maybe that means it shouldn't be done."
--Emma Bull, Bone Dance

Writing. I'm still writing. Although I seem to be working on only one thing at the moment, I still have ideas for others. And so, the fourth version of the list. )

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Ruth Sadelle Alderson

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