Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Women without borders

Listen to this post:

I am a lump, undefined by strict boundaries. As such, you'd think I'd be loose, sloppy and carefree. Not wound tight as I am.

I've always had this propensity, but motherhood let the border patrol completely off duty. I wanted to give my kids everything. I have since learned that philosophy only works when they're infants. You, really, can not spoil a baby. A toddler or teen is a different matter.

As I opened the door for my daughters, however, I forgot to close it at all. And it catches up with me: first physically, then emotionally. I know I am not alone in this so-called condition. I believe it's particularly found among women, though not exclusively, and very much so in mothers, always called to nurture.

There was a time not so very long ago that I thought God was calling me to be open ... to everything. And I was. I found I had little time for myself and no structure or even discipline, save for my regular exercise. I understand that discernment is necessary in all matters, not just some. We're not created to be open 24/7, though some of us lack the necessary protection. I've had that conversation with a friend, who also happens to have fibromyalgia and be male. He says his therapist is always telling him to acquire those filters. We laugh because we have no idea how, nor did we realize we were missing them.

I'm even sensitive to the always-open agenda of technology and don't know where my cell phone is half of the time. I already feel on call, I don't need to actually be. A few years ago, my niece experienced a bout of poor sleep. Then she confessed to sleeping with her phone and checking it at night when it vibrated with a new text message. No wonder she was tired; she was always at attention. That taught me a valuable lesson. Even e-mail, facebook and texts have that effect on me. I am learning to impose my terms.

 I LOVE voice mail. Just because it is convenient for someone to call, it is not necessarily so for me. I am the only one in my house that answers or listens to messages from our land line and they all just wait for me to jump when it rings. "I'm busy and will get to it later," I say. "If you're so interested, why don't you answer?" They never do. A new friend recently wondered why I had not answered her cell call. "Did you leave a message?" I asked. "No," she replied, "I thought you'd know it was me." An older friend had to explain to her how and why I unattach myself.

I really need to learn how to unattach myself from actual people and requests when solicited. My fear is that if I don't respond, they will think less of me – even when I'm not up for helping. Something else tells me that they'd totally understand if I explained. Sometimes I'd just like to say no and not feel obligated to explain. Would that work?

• Where, exactly, are my boundaries?
• How have they shifted over the years?
• Is it time for a recheck and/or reshifting?
• How much of my identity is wrapped up in how I respond to others' needs?
• How can I detach myself from that persona and discern where God is calling, not necessarily other people?

I'm the once brightly wrapped gift,
paper ripped off and crumpled,
box flattened

and yet I lay there
at attention to give

knowing I am unwrapped and
crumpled and, really,
incapable of giving right now

how can I pick myself up
and out of view,
saving my gifts only
for when I can rightly give –
with love and energy

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Voices of ego

Listen to this post:

A week or so ago, the message at Quaker meeting centered around which voice we hear when we are worshipping. I thought it was a provocative topic. Last night, I watched the movie The Soloist about a musical prodigy and former Julliard student, who ended up homeless in LA playing a two-stringed violin. He is also schizophrenic. Lately, I have been wondering about all of the voices in my head.

Where is the line between Divinity, humanity and madness?

I am also slowly reading Eckhart Tolle's Stillness Speaks, focusing, most recently, on that nature knows how to be, a lesson for we humans with the constantly churning thought patterns. Exactly where is the balance between using our brains, while not letting them control us? I imagine the control compunction resides in the ego. I often hear the "you should," "you aren't," and "do more" voices that I am consciously attempting to, if not shut down, quell to some degree.

It was interesting hearing the voices from the movie, The Soloist. They almost sounded real and I think that is the point.

"I'll protect you from their eyes and ears.
They're listening to you. They can hear your thoughts, Nathaniel. I can hear your thoughts. 
I can still see you. Run, you'll never get out. There's no hiding.
Nathaniel, you've never been here. I'm here now. You never have been; you never will be.
My voice is all there is, Nathaniel. Follow my voice. Run away from these people."


One woman in The Soloist, living in a shelter, says she's not sure she wants the voices in her head quieted because, sometimes, they calm her and medicating them away might also remove that.

The person delivering the Quaker message talked about the political voice, the social voice and the others which may call us.

Either we have an entirely schizophrenic society, which may be possible due to cultural over stimulation, or our thoughts are too much in charge. So, just how do we pinpoint these voices/thoughts and discern the real from the unreal, the sacred from the demonic, the sane from the insane, the path from the detour?

For me, stillness and silence are the antidote. When I am overstimulated and busy, it's hard to hear my own voice let alone what Quakers call the "still small voice within," a name for God. Often stilling my body then calms my mind and I reach the zone ... a sweet place where I am aware of the present, but transported to safety, quiet and calm. A resting place for mind, body and spirit. For me, it happens in worship, meditation, when I am painting or journaling, walking a labyrinth, after yoga or swimming when I am still. My mind must be unengaged. It's almost like I am outside myself, detached and merely observing, dreamlike. No matter the length of the still trance, I feel rested as if my entire being totally relaxed into something safe.

• What voices do I hear?
• How do I discern the divine from the rest?
• How does stillness change that?
• How can I achieve stillness?
• How can I balance a controlling brain with stillness on a regular basis?

OMG you didn't get that done,
forgot about this and ...

I am learning this is
my ego talking

not me

busying myself in
unawareness cranks
the chatter dial up

breathing, slowing
being in nature

turns the volume off

and I remember

who I am ...
what's important

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The faucet's always running

Listen to this post:

Though I adore her, I have to disagree with Tina Turner. Love is not an emotion, not even second hand.
Love is the Ultimate Truth. It's the medium in which we are created, fostered, live, die, transition and transform. It is the constant. Love is above emotion; it's what feeds our souls, makes us soar, dream and do the impossible.

We don't often experience love as truth. Arguably because, as humans, it's almost impossible to love unconditionally. Although my children have taught me much about Ultimate Truth.

I felt it live, real and close up yesterday, staring into the intensely gentle eyes of my shamanic counselor. I blinked and looked away a few times because it was so powerful, yet I didn't want to break the spell. It completely filled me: every nook and cranny, every ache and pain, every empty and lonely spot.

"Look into my left eye," Gary said. I gazed at his one eye.
"No my left," he chuckled. Know I would trust this man with my life and do anything he suggested. He has brought me back to my life many times.
So I complied, at first without my glasses, looking at the fuzzy darkened circle directly across from me. Everything else melted, though I was bodily aware of being there. The facet was on full force streaming into the middle of my chest and quickly dissipating toward all of my wounds, like warm, healing helium infiltrating my mind, body and spirit.
I remembered who I was ... fully.
We broke and Gary said sometimes it's so much that it's scary. To me, it more consuming, merely requiring TOTAL surrender.
We practiced a second time with my glasses. I experienced the same, except with more visual clarity. I think I preferred the blurry edges because my heart came forward faster.

Gary recently spent five days in Hawaii one-on-one with spiritual teacher Ram Dass and I noticed the change, though Gary always provides whatever I need even when I don't know or haven't learned it yet. I suspect that is where he was taught the eye-gazing-feel-real-Love practice.

I had been collecting pieces of this constant entity all week:

In days at the hospital being with my mother and observing her patience, the gentle care she received as well as how she accepted it. And again Monday evening when I met a close friend in the ER of the same hospital [thought I'd gotten at least a one-day hiatus from this place], who inspired the staff with her happiness while her heart raced through the roof. "I'm an angel of God," she told them. They believed her. She's closer to God than anyone I know. Never mind that's she's unemployed and has no health insurance. Love transcends those barriers.

And through the transportation of music at Friday's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra last concert with Maestro Paavo Jarvi. The notes just move through that man unlike anything I've ever experienced. His body is an instrument itself. One violinist threw her entire being into the performance and I wondered how exhausted she'd be after. All of the musicians did ... probably following their leaders example. That, however, was secondary to the energy and power of the music. Creation and a collectedness made tangible. That was echoed two nights ago at my seventh-graders' band concert. The focus and delight of the budding musicians was every bit as powerful as the professionals.

I feel like my cup runneth over this week – even in the midst of seemingly nonstop caregiving and the not-so-conducive institutional atmosphere of the hospital.

I am beginning to believe the faucet is always running whenever I need a drink.

• How would I describe my experience of pure love?
• What happens when I have?
• What other kinds are there?
• When have I felt like the conduit?
• How am I able to give and receive?

the little trickles
were thrilling, filling
and healing

I almost missed them,
save for the spark

but the rush of the
BIG gush was almost
too much

asking of me
only one thing:

yes, I answer

Monday, May 16, 2011

Climbing back into life

Listen to this post:

What if life is ALL there is? That we don't own life, but are life?

Reading Eckhart Tolle's Stillness Speaks bring me here.

What if it's not something to be used up and gotten through. But something to savor, enjoy, revel in and discover your essence NOW and just be it. No projections. Who and how would we be then?

I would be creating beauty, nurture, love and peace in the world and myself. I would be as compassionate with those that have more than I do as I am already with those that have the same or less.

I would not let myself feel inferior, rage into self doubt or deprive myself of joy and the worldly tools to get there.

I would have ONE system. not a spiritual one AND a secular one. Not an inner one AND an outer one. Not an unmasked one AND a masked one. Not a true me AND a social me.

I would understand that I can and should use the material world to enhance the spiritual one, recognizing that I am the bridge between.

I would see every experience through the eyes of love and wisdom instead of drowning in isolation and defeat.

I would learn to take the harsh realities as moments of spiritual growth and transformation.

I wouldn't judge those moments or my response, but accept them as a part of the process of living.

I would see that living fully is constant change. I would become more fluid and soften into that current.

I would know I am the current. A part that must intimately know and show itself to others in the current, bumping up against, encouraging and nurturing them to do the same. So that we would all shine together as one.

Can you image the power and intensity of that?

I am wondering if that's what life is all about.

• In what dualities do I live?
• What vision of oneness can I create?
• How much energy do I expend being something other than my true self?
• What if I focused that energy on being me?
• What if we all did?

we climbed out fresh and new
open, vulnerable, willing and loving

the more time we spent in this foreign place,
the more it molded us

we forgot our origins, replacing
the sense of connection with isolation

working hard at being our own person,
separate, distinct and removed

we walked sleeping through life
swayed by what lay on the surface

until that thing in us
called out, demanding
we pay attention

sometimes it was pain,
discontent or just plain lonliness

we were created to be connected
and that urge will propel us

back into the flow of life,
just being

being where we belong with each other

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Running amok as myself

Listen to this post:

I am tired of stumbling through growing pains. The kind that happens as I move from one stage of myself to the next. It seems like a constant process these days: layers peel off, wounds rise to the surface demanding attention, examination delivers new insight, I feel positive about my direction and then it starts all over again. In the long run, I know [or at least I tell myself] this is all good and leading somewhere. Otherwise, I'm not certain I could stand any more of this shedding, cleansing and rebirthing. It's exhausting work. So, in the midst of this, I cynically and not too seriously scribbled down what I thought could be the opening of an autobiography [you know, for when I'm known and remembering when ...] written now. Here goes:


Ima Mess. A new moniker to name my persisting condition. It's just too much work, too much energy expended to pretend.

I really can't think I'm alone in this charade. At Monday night's neighborhood book club, we discussed whether any of us has hidden behind stereotypes. Easy talk about politicians, sales people and celebrities. Yet, I pushed the "us" button, hungry to understand if there were any universality to my current state of mind.

One brave soul volunteered her occasional jaunt into invisibility, attributing it to many moves during childhood, creating a constant "new-kid" syndrome.

There were gasps at the revelatory question that escaped from my lips: "Don't we all feel like that?"

Apparently NOT, the awkward silence responded. Some discussion of the difference between introverts and extroverts ensued and it dawned on me that, actually, it does not occur to everyone. A JOLT.


That's as far as I've gotten it on paper. Maybe that's all it will ever be, but the mother of all questions remains: "How many people show – consistently – who they really are to the world?"

I've been reading about inner selves and social selves, the tension, how to create balance, when to let your inner self out and how to effectively use your social self. All I really, really want to do is let my inner self, probably a child, run amok with no worries. Just let it happen. My pastoral counselor says my age gives me permission to become even weirder. I think he's saying the same thing.

My sleep has been deeper lately; I know because am dreaming. Dreams laced with messages that are freeing me from the yoke of how I see myself, the patterns I have inherited and social conditioning. They're providing the same message, which reminds me of a verse that flew out of my pen and onto the paper several years ago for my youngest, but that seems to be especially useful right now:

Be MORE of who you are.
Not less or who anyone else says you are.
Listen deeply, inside, to know who you are. 
Not outside.
Listen to your heart.
To me.
To love.
Love is always the answer.
Live in love.
Respond in love.
Act in love.

• How much energy do I expend trying to be somebody?
• Who is that somebody, exactly?
• How has it felt when I have been able to let myself out?
• Who serves as an example of that for me?
• Is invisibility any better than being someone else?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Line between faith and lunacy

Listen to this post:

Wednesday was an inspiring day and I mean inspiring. As in INSPIRATIONAL ... when the pieces of the puzzle begin to form a pattern you recognize, instead of the usual lunacy.

A close friend cautioned that it's not lunacy, but rather faith I have exhibited. Faith, I shirked. “You keep going even when you don't know where it leads," she said, “like how courage is doing something even when you are afraid.”  Hummmmm; the meaning is still trickling in.

Lunacy or faith?
• When I began journaling 12 years ago even though I was the journalist who never journaled. 
• When I added a visual journal.
• When I understood there was truth to be shared. Widely shared.
• When I shipped it in purple wrapping to Oprah, with postcard follow-ups, finally screwing the courage to call. “We don’t accept unsolicited materials,” the flat voice answered, triggering a flash of stacks of unopened packages like the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It wasn’t ready yet, I now know.

• When I queried a handful of New York literary agents, almost neglecting one because of her reputation for not responding. I heard back in three minutes:
Dear Cathy, I'll read a section (attach it) but I have to declare I just took on a very similar work which may directly conflict with this work.
I complied and was gently deflated with:
Dear Cathy, thank you, but I feel certain, now that I've read this material, that there is a direct conflict. I'd try another agent who handles spiritual or send it … directly.
It wasn’t ready yet, I now know.

• When I met with a top spirituality editor, who praised the writing and the art, but said to re-focus and re-submit to the agent.

It wasn’t ready yet, I now know.

When, after a good re-packaging, I did:
 Dear Cathy Barney, Many thanks for contacting me about your revised proposal. I would be pleased to take a look. Attach the proposal and chapters which are ready to review.
Dear Cathy, since the proposal is the selling tool, I'll wait and when you have the proposal ready send it.
Dear Cathy Rose Barney,
Many thanks for sending your proposal which I have now read. With so many projects on the market with this theme (in particular FINDING YOUR OWN NORTH STAR) I don't think I will be successful with it. I thank you for the privilege of reading your work.
And when I asked what she would recommend:
It needs to have a special unique message.
I was crushed. Reading those e-mails now, I see they weren’t as stern and severe as I had initially believed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Your red balloon awaits

Last night, I found and watched one of my all-time favorite childhood movies, Le Ballon Rouge [The Red Balloon], on Netflix. I remembered it from a Kugla-Fran-and-Ollie CBS Children's Film Festival episode.

Set in mid 1950s Paris, the half-hour almost non-verbal film traces the adventures of a young boy who "happens" upon a luscious and tempting giant red balloon. It's unlike normal balloons in that it's wider, rounder, redder, shinier and is just waiting for this particular boy. Of course, he's smitten and immediately takes the rein. He knows it's his. As he approaches school, he asks someone in the street to hold it while he's in class. He needn't have bothered because the balloon waits for the boy and is always within his reach when it desires to be. It hovers around the second story when the boy's nanny whisks it out the window. It's ready for him mornings when he goes to school and again when it lets out. It comes when he calls. Obviously, it instills envy in other boys who try and fail to collect the balloon. As it mysteriously eludes them, the boys' resolve intensifies. Eventually, they capture the balloon and tether it to a rock. The boy to whom the balloon belongs spies it over a garden fence and wonders why it doesn't come when he calls. He discovers it's chained and undoes the lashing. Too late he the opens the gate and finds the boys pelting it with rocks. One hits the balloon and it begins to shrink, turning warty and dull. Just as it exhausts its next-to-last wind, an unkind leg squashes the thing into the ground. The small boy is left alone to mourn. The cameras pan to locations throughout Paris where dozens of balloons of all colors escape from children, vendors and shops, collecting and flying to land just within the lone boy's grasp. He ties them around himself and they lift him away.

I was so moved last night at the metaphor of the red balloon being our biggest dream or deepest desire. It waits for us until we are ready, when we can find it. It is our dream and no one else's. People can and do make fun of it, envy it, and try to banish it, yet they can't seem to separate us from our red balloon. It is always with us, hovering nearby if we are engaged otherwise. It lifts us, amuses us and totally engages us. We follow it willingly.

Then, some day, someone does manage to deflate it. We are devastated, alone and grieving. And yet, that's not the end. If we're patient, a new dream emerges, one even grander, bigger and more encompassing. One we could never have imagined. It lifts us off the ground and transports us somewhere else. Somewhere dreams are possible.

But only if we pay attention and see it waiting or us.

• What's my red balloon?
• How did I find it waiting for me?
• How have I had to protect it?
• How have I been faithful in following it?
• What has grown up out of a red balloon that has burst?

one day, you just notice it
never mind that it has been hatching, forming and waiting
until you were ready

it's just there, clear as day
glinting and glistening to the point
you can't ignore it.

the only action is to claim it 
proudly, boldly and with
everything you have

trust where it will take you

Le Ballon Rouge highlights: