She Cans While I Contemplate The Third Noble Truth

My sister and I began emailing every day at the beginning of lockdown. That’s approximately 344 emails to date and we haven’t let up.

I’m not talking a sentence or two. I’m talking paragraphs – five or ten or more – and photos. Seriously.

Our topics run the gamut. Canning – she has a prolific garden and makes it look easy…

We discuss politics – how can you not. And Covid – again, how can you not. But one of the things I most appreciate is her willingness to ‘go there’ with me, and that could be anywhere from musing on the existence of spirit guides to the likelihood of being rescued from a dying earth by aliens.

Yesterday, however, my sister who never complains almost complained. I’d sent her an overview of a project I’m working on and she wrote back: Sherry, I’ve had more time to look at your outline but it’s vague.

My feathers ruffled momentarily, then I realized she probably thought that’s all I had. So I answered…

“Regarding the outline, think of it like this. I have piles and piles of garments in assorted colors for different seasons but I have no hangers so the clothes are heaped on the floor. (The clothes are the content.) Hangers just got delivered.  Now all I have to do is put the clothes on hangers removing the ones I no longer want, sort the colors by season (which are the subject titles and subtitles) and hang them in order in the closet (which is the outline).

“That may be a disorderly way of doing it but that’s my MO.

“Some people start with the outline whether it’s writing a book, giving a speech, planning a course. I don’t. So often inspiration comes in the form of one sentence that intrigues me. So I start the story, or in this case material for a workshop, without much of a notion where it’s going or how it will get there. 

“I don’t like to be confined by convention or an outline that presupposes an outcome. I want my thoughts to have free reign, to respond to prompts from who-knows-where, to sprout and grow in whatever direction they will until I latch onto the idea that makes me passionate about the book or the speech or the workshop. That way I don’t get attached to a predetermined form and try to force my story into it.”

When I wrote that it brought to mind my morning meditation.

I’m not Buddhist but I find the practice of non-attachment, The Third Noble Truth in Buddhist teachings, an interesting one to grapple with. Buddhism suggests that attachment is the root of human suffering. And isn’t it true?! When you want so badly to see a certain outcome from your efforts that you try to force your life into that expectation and then it doesn’t turn out that way, there’s such a feeling of futility, remorse, failure, disappointment, in a word – suffering.

But if we approach everything with curiosity and non-attachment we leave our hearts and minds wide open to be delighted. We then live in alignment with our truest, best self, a self that embraces growth and change and allows us to fluidly adjust to new situations.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to have made that connection.

The non-attachment principle has bothered me for some time – just couldn’t wrap my head around the feeling of chilly disengagement it brought up in me. Now I see it from a completely different perspective, one that liberates rather than withholds. And it never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten my feathers ruffled and felt the need to explain my ‘vague outline’ to my sister who never complains.

All photos taken at The Farm by Gwen Hall.

Do You Remember The ‘Fuller Brush Man’?

After three days of solitary confinement I was teetering on the brink. I don’t even have to say the brink of what because you’ve all been there and YOU KNOW.

As a result of my two rather extensive motorbike adventures, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms to give it a rest. So that’s what I’d been doing for the past sixty-two hours – seeing nobody, hearing nobody, speaking to nobody – I was over it.

There’s a Japanese bakery two miles (3.3 km) from my house, Kakiang Garden & Cafe. Pizza is on their menu and for some reason I’d been craving a deep dive into dairy and carbs. Such an indulgence is justifiable after walking two miles, wouldn’t you agree?

I set out.

Photography doesn’t come naturally. I don’t like the camera between me and what I’m looking at. It’s a degree of separation that feels invasive, like I’m robbed of the intimacy of that moment. On the other hand, I believe the old adage: A picture’s worth a thousand words. So when I want to communicate what I’m experiencing with others, I try to remember to take photos.

It didn’t occur to me there would be much worth sharing on this walk until I happened upon a roofless graffiti gallery and suddenly remembered my phone had a camera.

Within a few steps there was another work of art. This rice field abuts one of the busiest streets in Ubud, Jalan Andong.

So many paddies were left fallow for years while money poured in from tourism. Now they’re being revived and what a feast for the eyes.

Once started, photo ops popped up everywhere. Do you remember door-to-door salesmen? One used to come to our house in the 1950’s. Mom knew the sound of his car and she’d say, “It’s the Fuller Brush Man.” He sold pots, plates, brooms – not brushes – yet I never thought to question why she called him that. So I asked Google, What’s a Fuller Brush Man, and found a fascinating story.

This is the Bali version.

Most of Jl. Andong is a serious shopper’s paradise. Many businesses export their goods but they’re always willing to sell to walk-in customers. I haunted this stretch of roadway when I was buying pieces for my house.

As I strolled past a virtual cornucopia of visual delights, I almost wished I could start the treasure hunt for furnishings all over again.

And then…I arrived.

It was too early for lunch and I’d already eaten breakfast, but there’s always room for dessert. I ordered an avocado coffee. And, yes. It is absolutely as decadent as it looks, avocado blended with ice cream poured over espresso with a squirt of chocolate and another scoop of ice cream. Pure heaven.

For a couple of hours I kept company with my thoughts, scribbled ideas in a notebook, watched butterflies flutter their mating dance, listened to chatter in the kitchen punctuated by frequent laughter, and absorbed the energy of life going on around me.

I still wasn’t in the least hungry, but I’d come for pizza and no way was I leaving without it. I managed to eat one piece. The rest is in my fridge.

More than delicious food, the day refueled me. It smoothed my frayed edges, loosened my knotted muscles, quieted my buzzing nerves. I was reminded that there’s still a world beyond my four walls and it beats with a strong heart.

Just Turn Your Pillow Over

This is Ketut’s helmet. It looms directly in front of my face as we race through the countryside.

When you see the occasional white moon at the bottom of an otherwise spectacular shot, that, too, is Ketut’s helmet.

For example, here…

And again here…

It’s only on steep downward inclines that I can actually see what’s in front of us, which happened several times today.

Wanderlust has bitten hard.

You might have thought after the grueling 170 km (105 mile) journey a week ago I’d have had my fill of the road for a good while. It seems to have worked the opposite.

I love the coastlines of Bali but terraced mountain paddies long ago stole my heart. A motorbike adventure is one of the safest, most gratifying pass times during this era of Covid. Sidemen was calling.

Tell-tale sounds of a damp morning woke me. By time to leave the rain had stopped but serious-looking clouds threatened. We took precautions, suiting up in water-resistant gear.

A friend who’d heard about our trip to Rumah Gemuk let us know she was available for future events. We invited her along and the three of us set out.

For a while we followed a garden that was following an ambulance.

Can you guess what captured the attention of these guys so completely that they totally ignored the road ahead? I have to admit, she was a stunner…

Truck art. I wonder if the driver knows…

Finally the traffic and bustle of village life lay behind us and we started the climb. Soon paddy-magic was everywhere.

In no time we’d reached our destination. Warung Uma Anyar is a local eating spot occupying a lofty perch with a spectacular view of Mount Agung…sometimes.

But not today.

Those same moody morning clouds obscured that majestic mountain. But rolling foothills and surrounding peaks provided a more-than-sufficient visual feast.

And speaking of feasts, this is not your average roadside stand. The presentation, the flavors, the damask tablecloths set a tone in keeping with something much more refined. I love to bring unsuspecting guests here. Our friend made appreciative noises as we settled in for a leisurely afternoon.

Roasted peanuts and spring roll appetizers were followed by heaping plates of local fare and somehow we started talking about dreams. I told them I’d had a very strange experience a few nights ago. I’d awakened around one a.m. with a poem in my head. It was an odd little ditty that I’d never heard before. I grabbed my phone and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget by morning.

Ketut and our friend listened attentively as I rehearsed the words:

  • Lit I a moon so big and bright
  • That all could see it day and night
  • Lit I a sun so faint and small
  • That none could barely see at all

They frowned at me in silence for a few long seconds, then my friend asked, “What does it mean?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Is there more?” Ketut wanted to know. “Maybe there’s more. You should have turned your pillow over so the dream would continue.”

We stared at him, fascinated. “Really, Ketut? That’s what you do? Turn your pillow over then go to sleep and you’re back in the dream?”

“Yes. But only good dreams. For bad dreams, don’t turn your pillow over.”

Breath-defying views, wonderful food, humid warmth with a just-right breeze – a perfect day. But nothing compared to that nugget of Ketut’s folk wisdom that left us howling with laughter.

HOLES

I feel like I’m trying to stitch up the holes in this new reality with old thread. It’s weak. The colors don’t match and it breaks when I pull it tight to close the gap. I have the sense that the holes aren’t meant to be stitched. That this is different cloth designed to expose what’s been ignored and wants to be seen.

It seems the whole of humanity is wearing this same cloth. Some are clawing at it, trying to tear it off. Some are gazing through the holes seeing parts of themselves they’ve never seen before, awakening to new passions with purpose and zeal. Others, like me, are slowly relinquishing the needle and thread and opening our eyes.

I think it’s begun to sink in that what once was will never be again. There’s no going back, and the way ahead is as obscure as San Francisco when the fog rolls in. There’s no new normal – only new.

We have a window of time, right now, to prepare.

At least some of us do. Others are rushing out every day, exhausted and sleep-deprived, to care for the sick. Some are running herd on children who would otherwise be in school, possibly trying to squeeze in a full-time job that also has to be managed from home. Many others have lost jobs and are homeless, struggling to survive.

The rest of us wallow in an abundance of time that arranges itself differently than before. I’ve become accustomed to Bali’s ‘rubber time.’ I’m used to losing track of days. Sometimes entire months go missing. But COVID has brought an additional level of strangeness to the equation. Now there’s an absence of time. We’ve been sucked into a vacuum that feels endless and motivation stagnates.

So when I say we have a window of time to prepare, it’s prudent to ask, ‘Prepare for what?’ No one can answer that question. It’s the HOW that’s important. HOW do we prepare ourselves for the unknown ahead?

Raw material is plentiful. We’re it.

Our minds, bodies, and emotions are ripe for new management. We can’t approach a paradigm shift with old expectations and worn-out patterns. In many cases, even our dreams must be revised or replaced.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past and assess what we want to carry with us into the future and to determine what is excess baggage and has to go. The current chaos is calling us to center and conserve our energy – to form a sea of tranquility in the eye of the hurricane and that’s no easy task.

I’m paying far more attention to intuition than ever before, heeding subtle nudges, seeking to increase awareness and strengthen deeper ways of knowing. By so doing, I’m creating a version of myself that will survive the challenges of this unparalleled time. I’m revising hopes and rewriting responses. I’m seeing that NEVER was yesterday and no longer applies. Options I wouldn’t have considered a week ago are now viable. I’m studying this unfamiliar person with befuddled curiosity.

Under pressure, rigidity breaks. Flexibility bends.

I want to learn this lesson the first time. I know a bit about lessons: if we don’t nail it, the next will strike with force so brutal there may be nothing left to salvage.

This reality that covers us with a strange cloth full of mystifying holes is urging us to take stock of ourselves. To view this as opportunity rather than disaster.

I, too, have lost a dear one to the virus. I’m on the other side of the world from my children and grandchildren and all plans to visit are cancelled for the unforeseeable future. Thankfully, my home here is secure. But there is a deep sense of grief and loss every day.

And yet, another part of me sits in awe at what I’m being allowed to experience in this lifetime and I’m determined to make the most of it.

The Corona Effect – Can you explain it in eight words or less?

Clouds pile up like mounds of gray wool on a shearing floor. Staring into them, half meditating, half daydreaming, I’m reminded my lesson today is presence. Take time. Be in the moment. Feel the breeze. Smell the incense. In the distance, wind chimes clunk their hollowed-out happiness.

And there’s that other sound.

When I first moved to Bali I blew up a hair dryer. It gave me a healthy respect for 230 voltage – a bit different from 110, standard in the US. I assumed the buzzing sound I heard throughout the day, all day, every day, was that powerful current ripping through the tangle of wires festooned overhead.

Several months passed and I was visiting a mountain village. There were no wires yet the humming persisted. I asked a local, “What’s that sound?”

Jangkrik,” he said.

“Electric?” I asked, thinking I’d heard wrong.

He repeated it very slowly, “Jaaaangkriiiik,” opening his mouth long and narrow for the first syllable, then wide and toothy for the second, looking at me in a way that communicated his sympathy for my obvious mental inadequacies.

I had him write the word.

When I got home I typed jangkrik into Google Translate and hooted.

Cicada.

All this time those humming wires of my imagination were simply thousands of little bugs singing their lungs out.

So back to the sights, smells, and sounds of this morning…

I wanted to add cicadas to my opening paragraph and say they sounded like the buzz of overloaded electrical wires. But it dawned on me there might be an actual name for that occurrence.

Google to the rescue – and I kid you not. That high-voltage phenomenon is called the Corona Effect.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. What are the chances I’d google that today, or ever for that matter? But I did, and when I read this part of the definition, I knew why.

Corona discharge from high voltage electric power transmission lines constitutes an economically significant waste of energy…

The corona discharge of this pandemic is:

  • Uncertainty
  • Misinformation
  • Restriction
  • Loss of income
  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Death

Its effect is a significant waste of energy, and managing the reality and the fear around so much negativity requires conservation of resources. The only action that seems to accomplish that is to be fully in the present.

If you were inside my head today, you’d have heard my new mantra:

This is a precious moment of life. Don’t waste it worrying about the future or regretting the past. Engage fully with this moment and be grateful for all that’s good, right here, right now. That’s enough.

Until now my nervous system has been a victim of the Corona Effect, twanging away on overload, leaving me permanently exhausted. Today was different.

I love this teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh –

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While thinking of other things we are barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

Today I washed the dishes to wash the dishes.

You Found Me, Didn’t You…My Long Lost Lover Returns

“Message!” The phone squawks.

I pause journaling and take a look.

His name conjures an instant memory: the dining room of a turn-of-the-century duplex in a sketchier part of downtown Minneapolis. A group of us around a huge table, eating, drinking, laughing. One is the sender of the message. Another is a lawyer. We’re dating. I’m twenty-five and these are my friends.

But I had neither seen nor heard from any of them in over forty years.

The text was one sentence, almost cruel in its brevity, telling me the attorney had died that morning.

Suddenly I wanted to know everything. Had he been ill? Did he suffer? Was he still practicing law? A wife? Children? Was he happy? But I limited my response to, “I’m so sorry. Did he have health issues?”

Throughout the day, memories shadowed me like a visitation of ghosts. Our relationship had been playful, light, steering intentionally away from anything that smacked of responsibility or permanence. Eventually we found others but the friendship endured. He was a caring presence through an exceedingly difficult time in my life.

Then I married and we lost touch.

With a heavy heart, I wondered if I’d hear anything back. Messenger was quiet.

First thing next morning, the reply came with more answers than I’d hoped. He’d bought fifty-five acres near a small town in Wisconsin and built a studio where he could paint. He moved there permanently when he retired. There was no electricity and no phone service – he was ‘off the grid’ as my friend put it.

Then he developed heart problems. A few years ago he’d had a pacemaker put in but it had recently been doing more harm than good. He told the doctors to turn it off. They warned him if they did it wouldn’t be long.

And it wasn’t. He died a week later.

I left the phone and stared out over my garden picturing him, his dark hair and neatly trimmed beard framing electric blue eyes. A butterfly floated past. I’d never seen one like it before. The wings were outlined in black. The centers almost vibrated they were so intensely blue. “Hello, pretty thing,” I said, and watched it dance then flit away.

Curious about the Wisconsin town, I googled it. Around the same time my old lover had retired and moved there, I’d nearly purchased a B&B in Maidenrock, eighteen miles away. Strange coincidence, I thought.

I scrolled though photos that looked like the main street in a Western film.

Then, for no particular reason, I clicked on area parks. There were frozen waterfalls, hills and trees covered with snow. I flipped through the images and suddenly stopped, backed up, and telescoped in for a close-up. There, sitting on a fallen log, was a butterfly identical to the one that had visited my garden just moments before.

I gasped, then shivered as goosebumps peppered my arms. A Wisconsin butterfly…in Bali? The rest of the photos were scenery, not a squirrel, bird, or another butterfly in the bunch. Sadness evaporated.

“You found me, didn’t you?” I chuckled. “On the other side of the world…after all these years…”

Photo credit: Laura Stocker

Shhh #nofilter Do I dare tell the truth?

Usually I post a blog when inspiration strikes which has been happening about once a week for several months now. Ideas flow, words come, and a somewhat cohesive piece of writing materializes.

This week arrived.

I waited. Fished around in my subconscious. Looked at old notes jotted on random scraps of paper. Pulled tarot cards…

The cards had plenty to say, but the messages were personal, nothing anyone else would find interesting.

Today, still at a loss, I took time to reflect on the weeks leading up to 2020. What thoughts circled as I approached my 70th birthday? What questions followed me to Italy? What conflicts arose? What has resolved? What’s still bubbling in the stew-pot?

Relationships. It’s been all about relationships.

I’m a listener, non-confrontational, looking out for the emotional needs of others, rarely revealing my own. My mother’s instructions have dictated my behavior for sixty-nine years: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And this one: If you listen, Sherry, you’ll always have friends. People aren’t really interested in what you have to say.

Double whammy. Ouch! Ouch!

Mom was a product of her upbringing and raised ‘Minnesota Nice’ daughters. I don’t fault her. But approaching the seventh decade of my life, all that listening began to feel like really old news. There was something deceptive about it and the more I watched myself in that role the more disgusted I became.

In my fifties I did a fourteen-month course in grounding meditation. During a one-on-one session with the leader she asked me, What do you want more than nice? I answered, Truth, then went on my merry way being nice.

That element of my identity was obsolete. It needed to be let go and mercifully allowed to die.

Facing the momentous birthday looming ahead, self-loathing bubbled within. Why hadn’t I changed? Why was I still being The Insipid Ms. Nice? What part of myself didn’t I want others to see? Nothing seemed to have more urgency and importance than transparency and honest communication. I craved it with every cell in my body.

I told my daughters I loved them but I was on a truth-telling rampage and I hoped they wouldn’t hate me forever if I actually spoke what I was thinking at times. During a conversation with my youngest a few days later, I was clicking along the old track asking questions, hiding in the shadows, when all at once she said, Mom, stop. Tell me about you.

With her words a layer of my psyche that feared rejection, confronted me.

I saw in a flash that I couldn’t just snap my fingers and, presto change-o, the authentic and honest-to-a-fault Sherry would show up. I committed to doing the work, whatever it took, to stop playing safe and get my skin in the game.

The Universe took note and brought me face-to-face with people who challenged my intentions in the most unique and unexpected ways. There are methods for handling honesty with diplomacy and grace, but like a toddler taking her first wobbly steps, it was a skill-set I hadn’t mastered. And yet, the feeling of embodying my whole self for perhaps the first time ever, helped me see beyond the collateral damages of those first disappointing attempts.

Then I left for Italy.

If ever there was a culture of direct, honest communicators, Italians epitomize it. They’re open about their emotions, state their points clearly, and expect the same in return. What that accomplishes is an atmosphere of relaxed acceptance. You know where you stand and what you say is taken at face value. My visit there couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. I had exceptional role models for exactly the kind of transparent person I hoped to become.

As I returned to Bali, COVID hit hard. That was five months ago. The pandemic hasn’t let up and as physical masks go on, psychological masks come off. People are ground down to their essence. Everyone is living closer to the bone than ever before. It’s bringing out the worst and the best in us but rarely anything lukewarm. Truth is raw and exposed. We’re learning what’s important and who our friends are.

But here’s the thought I want to leave with you.

This is not just a random difficult time. It’s a destined milestone along our soul path. In relationships the other person is not the point. If we’re triggered by them, they’ve poked at a wound and it’s time that wound was opened, scraped clean, and healed. We’ve been given a rare, once-in-a-millennium opportunity to recognize how human we are, to see our warts laid bare, and tend to the business of emotional accountability.

It’s time for truth-telling – especially to ourselves.

Redefining Sanity – What’s Your New Happy?

There’s a lot written these days about preparing for the new normal. Some of it reads like dystopian fiction. Too often it seems to be magical thinking with little or no basis in fact.

Even though we’ve been watching the virus for several months, it’s still raging out of control in many places with no signs of slowing. A vaccine that will be delivered and distributed broadly enough to make a difference is still a fuzzy dream.

As I thought about that this morning I realized the only certainty right now is ongoing uncertainty and the people and activities that used to contribute to my sense of well-being are no longer available.

Everything is up for redefinition – including sanity – including happiness.

If I had experienced my current detours into mental strangeness before the pandemic, I’d have been worried. These days, feeling off-kilter, hopeless, adrift, unmotivated, confused (I could go on) is just the way it sometimes is, and I’ve learned a degree of acceptance and coping skills for the mood shifts that come out of nowhere.

But I don’t like coping. I prefer to thrive, mentally, physically, and emotionally and I realized today that to do that, I need to redefine happy. I’ve been struggling to fit the old ways into a new reality. It can’t be done. It’s like trying to keep an exploding rainbow intact. Bits and pieces of colorful joy break apart, fly everywhere, and disappear. I may grab one or two fractured shards as they zoom past, but that’s a starvation diet and it’s not working.

It boils down to expectations and there are two questions to answer:

1) When have I experienced happiness during corona?

  • I’ve been truly happy when engaged in projects that require physical effort.
  • I’ve been truly happy during Zoom calls with family.
  • I’ve been truly happy riding on the back of Ketut’s motorbike.
  • I’ve been truly happy when getting together with a friend – even sitting six feet apart.
  • I’m content when I’m writing, cooking, reading, walking, daydreaming.
  • I’m content when I have a plan for the day.
  • I’m content when I have something on the calendar to look forward to.
  • I’m content when I’m doing my morning routine.

2) How can I revise my expectations so they fall into line with what’s actually possible?

Things I can no longer expect are:

  • Hugs
  • Trips to see family
  • Group get-togethers
  • Spontaneous social interaction
  • Taking vacations
  • Leaving the house mask-less
  • Bustling streets
  • Restaurants and shops open
  • Feeling safe…

Comparing the two lists, I’m surprised how many things still exist that bring me happiness or contentment. I don’t have to be happy all the time. Contentment is an acceptable state. Hugs and a sense of safety are perhaps the most difficult to do without.

It will go a long way toward my new happy if I can incorporate a few items daily from the first list, and plan my days far enough in advance to feel I have an interesting life to look forward to. I’ll need time to mourn the loss of what isn’t possible. Time to honor what once was but is no more in an intentional way. But after that — theoretically —

I can release the old paradigm and embrace sanity and happiness, redefined.

Fly Your Freak-Flag High

There’s no denying it. The past four months have changed us.

Knowing what we’re all dealing with in some form or another, wouldn’t you think everyone would be a little kinder? A bit more compassionate? Patient? Longsuffering?

What I see isn’t quite like that.

The proverbial rubber, it seems, has hit the road. There’s a don’t-mess-with-me attitude weaving its tentacles into every area of life: friendships, partnerships, work, driving, waiting in line. It’s as though our BS meter is set on high: If you’re not going to level with me, don’t waste my time.

Irritation prickles on the skin – I feel it the instant I wake up – like a racehorse harnessed to a plow.

I’ve been doing things every morning to convince the horse that the plow is a good thing, that plodding instead of galloping makes time for a rich inner life. But in spite of that, too often I say Screw the plow! and mad-dash through the fields with that worthless piece of crap bouncing off every furrow behind me while I’m flying my freak-flag high.

And you know what?

It feels good. It feels good to shock myself, to think something I wouldn’t ordinarily think, say something I wouldn’t ordinarily say (like screw the plow), do things I didn’t do before (like cook), and stop doing things that once defined my life.

That’s the more difficult part to come to terms with – a loss of interest in what once occupied most of my waking hours. It’s like I went into the cocoon as a caterpillar but I haven’t yet emerged. I’m still marinating. The words of the woman who read my astrological chart in March of this year, haunt me. “Even if you thought you knew what was ahead for you, Sherry, you’d be wrong.”

That could apply to any of us and it’s probably the reason we feel a little strange in our own skin. It’s not knowing how to plan, not having a predictable future, not being certain that the virus won’t arrive in our homes on a lettuce leaf or under a fingernail, or wondering if maybe it already has. Things like that mess with the mind.

So here’s my challenge to you…

Fly your freak-flag high. Be the out-of-the-box wild-child you always wanted to be. Embrace whatever random ideas float through your mutinous mind and try them on for size. Trust me, they won’t all fit. But you get to choose.

Suddenly, in the middle of writing this post, I had to stop and actually make a Freak Flag. I don’t do crafts, right? That’s what I mean. Where do these compulsions come from? It took about five minutes to know exactly what I wanted.

Why don’t you make one, too, and let me know what yours says.

What’s Controlling You?

Projection: the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds.

Projection is a bad idea but everyone does it – often. We’re the sum of our experiences. A few we recognize. Others, buried in our subconscious, are all the more damaging because we’re ignorant of them. Our forgotten memories determine how we respond to life.

Here’s an example of projection.

I walk into a café and see someone I know. He looks up and scowls in my direction. I assume he’s reacting to seeing me and I think, “OMG! I’ve just ruined his day. I had no idea he felt that way about me. He hates me.” I do a hasty about-face and exit the café.

The person who looked up just then has a throbbing headache. He notices me and thinks, “I haven’t seen Sherry in ages…” He’s unaware that his pain shows so openly on his face and begins to stand to greet me. As I turn and flee he thinks, “What the…? Why’s she avoiding me? I’m sure she saw me…”

Mine is the only head I can be in – the only thoughts I can access. Anything else is pure imagination. Both of us assumed we knew what the other was thinking. Things like this happen all the time and cause misunderstandings, ruin friendships, parent/child relationships, and marriages.

There’s another way projection can warp our perceptions.

Today I opened my curtains and saw lopped-off branches heaped in the garden.

My heart did a vertical plunge and landed near my feet. I had to muster every ounce of self-control to keep from dashing outside, wrestling Ketut to the ground, and tying his saw-wielding hands behind his back.

Wouldn’t you think by now I’d know he’s a master gardener; that his pruning is essential or the well-groomed landscape would become an impenetrable jungle gobbling up everything in its path?

And yet I have the same visceral response every single time.

After the first surge of adrenaline, I was able to breathe, unclench my fists, retrieve my heart, and appreciate the fact I have a brilliant helper to tend my yard. Granted, for one day after he’s hacked it back it looks like a bad haircut. But thunderheads roll in, rain streams down and in less time than it takes to mourn the loss of the trumpet vine, there are ten new ones covered with flowers.

I’m projecting on Bali my experience growing up in northern Minnesota where a garden, if we were lucky, lasted two months. Buds were holy. Blossoms, revered. A flowering tree was immortalized by hundreds of photos so we could remember through the nine months of winter that life did exist and would return.

On the left, it’s 1965. I’m 15. My younger siblings and I made a snow horse and behind us is the snow fort. Missy, our black lab, never figured out she wasn’t human. On the right it’s 1951. The family’s been out for a walk with Mr. Chips, our collie. Dad took the photo.

That was the past I was stuck in when I looked out my window.

* * *

I define projection as a need to control a situation by basing it on a familiar remembered experience and acting accordingly.

If we can stop at any point before action is taken and ask, Where is this coming from, and honestly assess what might be at the root of our assumptions, how many heartaches would we avoid?

That’s what I managed to do this morning. I stopped before making a seventy-year-old fool of myself thinking I could win any kind of wrestling match with Ketut.

I ditched the bitter Minnesota memories and drew on recent experience where, in Bali, a wildly luscious garden is an everyday fact of life not a mirage that disappears under frigid mounds of white.

I hurried outside, my pores oozing gratitude, and thanked Ketut for being such a magnificent steward of my treasured tropical surroundings. Then I promised to make him famous by featuring him once again in my blog. “And put it on Facebook,” he said, like the true, attention-loving Leo he is.

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