Talking to a Wall

One of my father’s favorite things to call people was a “capotosta.” Loosely translated, it means  that someone has a “hard head” and will not listen. Recently, I realized that someone I know might actually be one of these capotostas (and, no, it’s not me). I explained how the conversation  felt to my husband.

The Wall (TW): I have been a wall my whole life. I know what it means to be a wall.
Me: Yes, but they’ve come a long way in construction since you were made.
TW: You can’t fool me! I am a wall, and, therefore, I know more about being a wall than you do.
Me: That may be true. But there have been changes in technologies, materials, and building methods. Surely there must be different kinds of walls being built, don’t you think?
TW: What do you mean “other walls being built”? There is only one thing in the world called a wall. A wall is a wall is a wall.
Me: C’mon, just try a little to open your mind. Do you really think that nothing has changed?
TW: I don’t have a mind. In any case, I am a wall and always will be.
Me: I liked you better when I thought you didn’t talk.

When talking to your favorite capotosta, try to remember that the best thing for you to do is to stop banging your head (or your mind) against that wall. If you want something porous, try a sponge. They’ll soak up just about anything.

Snap Out Of It!

Snap out of it.

Ronny: I love you.
Loretta[slaps him twice] Snap out of it!

Moonstruck (1987)

Ah, if only it were that easy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be awoken from our lifelong reveries with a couple of quick slaps to the face and a command to wake up? I wonder how many of us would willingly stand in front of someone to experience this. I imagine stories  written and movies made about the lengths human beings would go to in order to avoid it. Some would be comic, but many tragic. I write this in the hope that someone reading might find it helpful and avoid their own tragicomedy, comedy, or tragedy.

My therapy session on Friday was one of the more effective hours I have spent talking to someone about my feelings. I stayed on topic talking about a variety of experiences, relationships, and feelings. Neither did I go off on tangents, need to get reeled in, nor leave feeling in as much emotional pain as when I went in. Even with good therapy, that happens sometimes.

Returning home, I continued reading and writing from chapters in the book by Charlotte Kasl called If The Buddha Got Stuck. In the Step III – Pay Attention exercises, I wrote about my core limiting beliefs, behaviors that reflect those beliefs, and the personal costs of these behaviors.  What I wrote about is not new to me. However, the process of writing them down again helped move me from an intensely painful internal realm into an analytical and objective realm. I saw more objectively how I get in my own way and, more importantly, how I could get out.

Just like that, I was out of my head. I was present in a way that I had not felt for some time, at minimum during the last couple of weeks. My mind was clear, thinking was easier, and I was more in touch with my feelings.

I was finally able to tell my husband that I’d been needing a getaway for some time, but had felt unable to share it with him. Guilt over wanting to spend money crushed me. I couldn’t speak it. But now, out from under the shame and guilt, I spoke. I also requested that we spend Saturday exploring in New York together. We journeyed to Governor’s Island via Brooklyn, and had dinner on Atlantic Avenue. On Sunday, I restrung a bracelet, started on a new necklace, unwound a too-short Kumihimo bracelet, and ordered a few needed supplies.

Today, I kept time wasting down, made the bed, fixed lunch and washed the dishes, washed a litter box, and then prepped to come outside to read more from the Buddha book, to write in my journal, and to write my blog post.

Whew! Talk about a productive three days.

This level of productivity occurred because the energy I had been using to ignore how badly I felt was released. Immediately, the things I had been wanting to do came up, and I did them, without any further thinking.

My therapist said that, when I catch my thinking going down a familiar, negative path, I can try to be aware of it happening in order that I may choose another path. I’ve done this acknowledging and choosing before, so I know that it will happen again. Unfortunately, I can’t always keep the best lessons I have learned in mind. I forget them, and, in doing so, have to learn them all over again. One of these days, I hope that they stick.


The punch you don’t see coming

Walking Towards The Bear

“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less.
One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”
Norman Mailer

I received an email newsletter from Tama Kieves, author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love and Inspired and Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work, with this quote at the end of a story about how she had to walk past a bear while hiking in the words.

And I thought: What is my bear? What is the thing in my life that scares me most of all? For me, it has been the same thing as long as I can remember: Wanting to please others, I restrict myself. In my head, I have equated things I do with other people, their reactions, and their anger.

But is that really true?

The Buddha says the way to end suffering is not to be attached to anything. Let feelings and situations come and go. Don’t cling. Experience it and then release it. The Buddha would tell me not to be attached to what other people do. Just live my life, and let other people do what they are going to do.

I’m not into a lot of New Age woo. I try to have an open mind. If there are things that don’t ring true with me, I set them aside. If there’s too much of that, then I toss the book. One book I did not toss was The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. The one I need to work on the most is this: Don’t take things personally.

That can be difficult when you want to maintain a relationship that is important to you, and you have spent your life interpreting things personally. However, to continue taking things personally moves me in the direction of dying a little bit. I feel hollow inside and unable to move forward based on things I can do nothing about.

Can I make someone see another point of view? No. Can I make someone talk to me? No. Can I help someone change themselves to be more trusting, more open, and to forgive so that I can have a deeper relationship with them? No. I have no control over a lot of things that other people do, but the fact is that, somewhere deep inside, I do believe it.

And that’s a major problem.

The bear won’t overwhelm me. The bear will threaten and roar, and then leave me in the wilderness by myself. I will be alone, vulnerable, and afraid. The bear stalks me like this every day of my life.

I am taking steps to try and free myself from the idea of the bear. The bear isn’t necessarily fear or terror. The bear is what we make it.

And, as Tama Kieves says in her newsletter, the only way out of our conundrum is to walk past the bear towards freedom.

Saying Good-Bye … Again

Four days ago, I got word from one of my four first cousins that my father’s brother had been taken to the emergency room. My Zio (the word for uncle in Italian) Luigi had gone to sleep the evening before and could not be woken from his slumber.  Later that day, I heard that he’d been moved into hospice and that he wasn’t expected to live longer than one day.

My husband, mother, and I drove to the hospice to say our good-byes. My aunt, Zio’s sons, their wives, and his grandchildren were there. My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew joined us to say our respects. My Zio’s breathing was labored, and he was using an oxygen mask. The similarity in his looks to my father during his last days was striking and unnerving.  Around 8:45pm, seven months to the day that my dad passed away, my uncle stopped breathing, surrounded by his family.

We attended both sittings of the wake yesterday. Near the end of the second sitting, each of my cousins stood up and spoke about my uncle’s legacy as a husband, father, and grandfather. Their stories told of a man who worked hard and was hard, but also of a man who loved and supported his family financially and emotionally. One cousin invited his 10 year old son up to say something about his Nonno (grandfather, Italian).

I’d watched my little cousin during the second wake. He went up to my uncle’s casket several times on his own. My husband overhead him ask another cousin’s wife questions about the state of his Nonno and other questions about death and dying. He got up to the front and said, “I love my Nonno, and I’m gonna miss him.” He stood there briefly with a frown on his face, burst into tears, and ran to his father.

My mother and I, along with others, burst into tears. It’s one thing to be sad. It’s quite another to watch a beloved grandchild lose it, his heart pouring out for everyone to see, and to keep a straight face. I can never do that. And I’m glad that I can’t. If I could, I would not have gotten the chance to see my cousin’s children interact and play and grieve openly. They reminded me both of the joy and of the loss that I was feeling.

This morning, we attended mass. We drove out to the cemetery in the funeral procession. It amazes me that people do not know the rules about funeral processions and the prohibitions against breaking them up. I really think New York State needs to put out PSA’s that alert people to the rules. It’s really frustrating. That and hearses that speed to the cemetery. Keep in check! People are following!

A priest said a brief mass, invited attendees to sprinkle holy water on the casket, and then my uncle’s casket into his mausoleum. We drove back home and had lunch at a local restaurant with the rest of my family.

The amount of social interaction required for paying last respects, wakes, mourning, funerals, and family luncheons overwhelms me. Afterwards, I need to hibernate, so I buried myself with reading manga on the couch for 3 hours. I have only gotten up to go for a walk with my husband, and write my blog.

Zio, I hope you’re feeling better than the you have during the last three difficult months that you experienced. I’m glad I got to see you in rehab a couple of weeks ago, but it would have been nice to speak with you one last time. Good-nite, Zio.

Love you.

Buddha Wisdom in Bugs Bunny

Would you like to shoot me now or wait til you get home?
Bugs Bunny to Elmer Fudd

In this Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bugs demonstrates the perfected art of deflection by reframing questions, hooking Daffy Duck’s anger, and then watching Daffy enable his own destruction: Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy Duck at Daffy’s insistence while a self-satisfied Bugs Bunny looks on.

Let’s pretend that Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd are not present. Only you, Bugs Bunny, remain, and you are confronted with a question about how to handle your distressing events. What would your answer be? Would you want to address the situation as it occurs? Or would you wait and push it away, hoping to dealing with whatever problem confronts you? This is not a pedestrian question, but one that the Buddha explored.

Feeling stuck occurs when you perpetually elect going home, but then never arrive. You walk around the same rotary of thinking without ever taking an exit. You retrace your steps to the beginning and then walk the same path, hoping it leads you to another destination.  You try running through the solution, but you are ejected backwards by the invisible fence of your subconscious. Injured and bruise, you get up and scratch your head.

The only way we can ever truly be free of our old habits is to face our problems where we are, or go home and face them there. See your efforts of perpetual avoidance for what they are: an effort to protect yourself. From what? Only you know what it is.  What are you afraid of? Write it down. As Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., writes in her book If the Buddha Got Stuck, “If there’s no story, there’s no fear.” (If you need help charting your fear-filled waters, I highly recommend this book.)

What’s the story of your fears? How do they hold you back? How do you benefit from these bad habits? What is truly at the core of your fear? If you take the time to write down your story and to honestly examine how you got where you are, you might just be able to finally exit out of your unhappy rotary and embark on a new path.

Then, it will no longer be a question of whether to take the shot now or later; it will be about accepting what is, figuring out how to address it, and moving on.

Three Reasons I Blog

Approximately six months ago, I began writing in this blog for a few reasons. Those reasons have not changed much, but I thought it would be good six month post to remind myself exactly why it is I continue to do this. For those readers who have joined along the way, this will help you understand what you might find in this blog.

#1: To Experiment with a Variety of Writing Styles

A well-rounded writer is a better writer, and blogging is its own special kind of writing. I wanted to explore this medium and expand my repertoire. No more would I write only for technical or school-related reasons! Instead, I wrote and continue to write in order to become better at this craft called blogging, and, by extension, with writing itself.

#2: To Write on a Regular Basis

When I first began my blog, I was not doing any other kind of writing. Blogging daily would keep me writing on a regular basis. Writing in my blog would test my ability to write daily, as well as my ability to come up with different topics that both I and you would find interesting. I posted a little reminder in a frame at my desk, “Singers sing. Painters paint. Writers write.”

#3: To Share My Life as Authentically as Possible

I write about topics that personally interest me: cats and volunteering with animals, personal growth and development, meditation, family and relationships. Most importantly, I write to share and possibly connect with others.

Nothing is verboten from my blog. I do not keep secrets, nor do I believe in keeping any. I do not have any topic that I would consider off limits for discussion. Having grown up in a fear-, guilt-, and shame-based household, I have worked as hard as possible to let go of all those feelings in any form. I refuse to take on anyone else’s fear, shame, or guilt as my own. I am against censorship in all its forms, most of all, my own. When I fail, I try to forgive myself and move on.

When that fails, then I write. In my notebook. And in my blog.