Best Efforts

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August 10, 2022- In the midst of the confluence between the first COVID outbreak and the hurricane season, two years ago, I found myself on the floor of a large congregate hurricane shelter, in Alexandria, LA. I had been getting messages about that city, for about two months, so it came as no surprise that the Red Cross sent me there. What was surprising was that I managed to be on the floor, in constant motion, helping a variety of people with sometimes complicated concerns, for up to nine hours-and being able to wind down, getting enough sleep for the next day’s activities. There were no full days of rest allowed, though we did get up to three hours off, on one day of our choice during this two-week period. This was mainly because of the Shelter Manager’s assessment of the situation, which was not all that far off the mark. It was probably the most physically intense event that any of us had worked.

I was given a high rating on performance of duties, for that assignment. Even if that had not been the case, it would not have mattered much. I did my level best and felt that I had. No one else’s opinion really mattered, though the clients, who were mostly lower middle class people, of white, black and Hispanic descent, gave me a hearty thanks. That felt good.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in the fifth chapter of “The Four Agreements”, casts the agreement to do one’s best, across situations and physical states, as the prerequisite to overcoming the failure to keep one’s word, the tendency to take things personally and the making of assumptions. Since the latter three are themselves derived from self-doubt, and are only fed by the negative energy of others, the mindset that one has done one’s best diverts from such self-defeating practices. It sets the stage for a new set of agreements, which are proactive in building a world based on true personal inner peace and positive relationships.

The Universe, almost in keeping with the spirit that welled up in me, after I read that chapter, provided work for tomorrow, three substitute assignments for next week and a social gathering, across the state, on Saturday evening. The respite of about ten days has been sufficient and it will be reaffirming to be back in service.

Now, I need to put the trash out.

Assumptions

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August 9, 2022- There is a family with whom my relationship has been touch and go, over the past eleven years. We work towards similar goals, yet there is always a feeling-mostly on my part, that things could be a whole lot better between us.

This, it turns out, is an indicator of my tendency to fill in the blanks with assumptions, which may have scant connection with reality. Most of the people in my life have made assumptions, so I have found this “skill” ingrained in me. Like Nature, human beings abhor a vacuum-especially one of information.

Don Miguel Ruiz comments on this, in the fourth chapter of “The Four Agreements”-noting that assumptions create twice as many problems as they purport to solve. Creating scenarios, with false or incomplete information, has been a waste of time for me, most of the time.

This leads me into the scenarios being devised, to provide false equivalency for the plights of perpetrators, when victims deserve first hearing. Then, there are trolls, whose aim is to discombobulate the masses, by throwing out false accusations about people who, while imperfect, are generally above reproach.

In reading “The Four Agreements”, I again got to thinking, hard, about all the times things have been made worse by jumping to conclusions. With my somewhat stumpy legs, missing the other side has been a considerable consequence. So, there’s another goal-quit assuming the worst, and aim for its opposite.

Impersonal

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August 8, 2022- The masked man snapped, “Don’t be smiling at ME, mister!”, as I went to pass him and his friend, the Feeding Coordinator at a local church, while cleaning up after helping serve a meal for the homeless. The hapless woman introduced us, in hope of de-escalating the matter, then scrunched her face and walked away. Masked Man then got his walking stick and left without another word. My smile was because I felt happy, nothing more.

I am reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements”, before passing it on to a family member, who I think could also benefit from his premises. The agreements discussed are those we make with society, which cloud our judgment and limit our thinking.

The one I read today was regarding taking things personally. Don Miguel correctly, in my view, points out that taking offense at someone’s adverse comments or actions is rooted in self-centeredness. If someone calls me “stupid”, it only works its dark magic if I already doubt my own intelligence. What a person says, or does to, another is really reflective of her/himself, and own issues, rather than of the recipient.

I am quite steady, anymore, through either sunshine or rain. It wasn’t always that way. I could easily come unglued, if someone made negative comments about me or acted as if I were a lesser being. That all gradually came to an end, over the past four years, with the realization of exactly what Don Miguel discusses in this book. What is about me, is how I view myself, independently of anyone else’s input. The crucible was the intrusion into my life of a viciously judgmental individual, for whom the smallest error was grounds for a screaming dressing-down. After being physically injured by the individual,albeit through psychic energy, it came to me that only completely cutting off all contact-which I was so quick to advise others to do, over the course of my career, would guarantee my safety.

That was an extreme case, and my cutting off contact with the individual did not meet with the approval of a few friends, but no matter. My greater task, indeed the greater task of all of us, is to work towards full potential, to develop those attributes that will sustain the soul in the world beyond.

The woman at the church tersely thanked me for having helped, this once, and said “See you…around”. My efforts were at the behest of another friend, who asked me to help there once before. That appearance also ended on a sour note-but that’s another story. I may go back and help, next Monday, just because I believe in the effort being made. If I get the same response as this evening’s, maybe it’ll be better to leave the group to themselves-but at least I will know, it’s not me who has the problem.

Perseverance

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August 7, 2022-

For some, Sunday is a day of rest. Those with an impossibly full plate, still need a break, or at least a nudge in that direction.

Being somewhat in the middle, I took care of a few small tasks, encouraged a loved one who is juggling two very large elephants and took a rain check on visiting other loved ones, who find themselves otherwise occupied today.

Tomorrow will bring its own tasks, all needing perseverance to complete. One thing is for certain; each of us can only do what is within the constraints of time and energy. Tomorrow is not promised to us, yet when it does come, there are things left over which can just as well be accomplished then, as now.

Patience, patience, perseverance.

Carousel of Time

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August 6, 2022- “Do you smoke?”, the gregarious woman asked, referring to the use of cannabis. When I replied in the negative, she said that she thought I should. The fact is, I ended, that my imagination needs no external aid, in going off on tangents. I haven’t used any intoxicants since February, 1981, and while I will socialize with just about anyone, it is not necessary for me to follow their behaviour in lockstep.

I was at the coffee shop of one who is an angel to me, and who has been in a mutually encouraging friendship, for four years. There are many such people in my life, all sent by the Divine, with the understanding that I be an angel to them in return. Some are huggers; others, fist-bumpers; still others are hand shakers or just verbal greeters. The heart connection is what matters most, and all are treasured.

We do all ride together, on what Joni Mitchell calls “the carousel of time”. I don’t quite see myself as a captive on that conveyance, despite what the great poetess exclaims. Nonetheless, it is a joy to find myself, increasingly, in the company of noble beings and to be able to educate those of good heart who face challenges.

The woman mentioned at the beginning of this post allowed that her dependence is perhaps a vestige of the stress under which she lived and worked, in her former place of residence. The environment she’s in now is far more nurturing, and hopefully will relieve her of stress, and that dependence.

The carousel of time does not have to be bumpy, in perpetuity. The new dreams of which Joni sings, in the last verse of the song, are indeed plenty-and there will be more still, “before the last revolving year is through.”

On Behaving Well in Groups

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August 5, 2022- The old friend could not, by all seeming, help himself. The rash of cuss words just flew off his tongue, for no particular reason other than that they came to mind. The women around us ignored the spate of profanity, and seemed to be in their own worlds. I kept my own diction in a socially acceptable framework, though I recognize that it may have been a good idea to gently and firmly ease him out of that pattern of speech.

It has been customary for parents to stress to their children that they must be polite at home, when visiting family, at a House of Worship, and in the neighbourhood. The best of parents have included school, eateries and stores in that regimen. The idea has been to build a good personal code of conduct. Not embarrassing one’s family has been a good deterrent for most, but not all.

In the Baha’i Teachings, and among others whose social consciousness is elevated, the idea of behaving well in groups, because it is a key feature of building a society based on the oneness of mankind, and because it helps build a listening culture, rather than a knee-jerk reacting culture.

I have come a long way, since 1980, in that regard, especially. There were lapses, between then and now, but they were made reparable by the culture of learning from one’s mistakes, by the qualified forgiveness of those I hurt and by the overarching power of said Teachings, which are to be applied personally, with minimal, if any, social pressure-yet have the force of practically reinventing a person, by stressing one’s strengths and letting weaknesses flow out and fade away.

I choose to act as a counterweight to boorish personalities, these days, while remembering all the times when I was one of them-and not wallowing in those memories.

Mitote

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August 4, 2022- Once, there was a skilled teacher of mathematics, who told himself that there was nothing he could do right, anymore-not even teaching mathematics. That man helped me break my fear of math, and got me to understand how relatively simple it all is. I reminded him that what he did for me was certainly true many times over. His own self-talk, perhaps reflecting the criticisms of others, was unfortunate and unnecessary.

Don Miguel Garcia, in “The Four Agreements”, writes of mitote, (mih-TOH-tay), a Toltec word meaning, essentially, the fog of self-deception. It is the same as the Hindu concept of maya, or illusion. I have thought of this quite a bit lately. Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about the liberating feeling one gets, when not “wearing a mask” in the process of trying to impress another person. Fakery is discerned by most people, even by those who want to embrace one’s false image.

For so many years, I bought into the image of myself as less than those around me. The illusion was bolstered by a lack of physical coordination, and was dispelled only through military training and the maturity brought by marriage and fatherhood. With my mitote clearing, life has become more fulfilling-not easier, as that is not the purpose of this life, but infinitely more fulfilling.

There have been those who try to foist their own mitote on me, and on others. I am grateful to have had the strength of discernment, when it came time to deal calmly and firmly with such folks.

Bill Russell

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August 3, 2022- On July 31, one of the greatest professional basketball players to push forward, even when he was tired and feeling out of shape, took his last breath. Bill Russell did not compromise on a good many things. He spoke off the cuff, a good many times, sometimes alienating long-time personal friends and infuriating those who felt “victimized” by his vitriol.

I have been one to look carefully at the anger expressed by people of colour-even when they object to the term “people of colour”. In 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, the reaction of far too many people in my town was, essentially, “good riddance”. At the high school, the next day, the two African-American students were not, to my knowledge, directly threatened, but a small group of male students stood, within earshot of one of the boys, and said what a great day it was for America. Not that many years later, a half-in-jest, half-in-earnest movement was begun to celebrate the life of James Earl Ray, Dr. King’s convicted assassin. It never went far, of course, and Dr. King’s stature has grown, over the years, while few remember Ray, or the doctor who supposedly put a pillow over the reverend’s face, thereby completing the act.

Maybe because I was something of an outlier, or because my personality is given to inclusion of everyone, active racism has made me sick-whether it came from other Whites, Asians reacting to White hubris or any other group exhibiting a sense of superiority. None of us walks on water; none of us is created by other than the Almighty. I have had to acknowledge, and gradually jettison, the racial blind spots and ingrained attitudes that were imparted by those of my elders, and peers, who did not examine their behaviour’s effect on those around them. While not loving them any less, I could not continue to hold those attitudes, or ignore areas where I needed to grow.

Bill Russell might have glared at me, had we ever met, and I may have had a hard time dealing with that, but in the end, his pain-coming from all the way back to his childhood, youth and young adulthood, became my pain, too. I learned from the anger of my fellow soldiers, the guarded indignation of people on the street, here and there, and the righteous chastisement of a beautiful, articulate woman at a Baha’i event, of all places, that “Bring thyself to account each day” meant what it said: Not to wallow in self-pity, not to flagellate oneself, but to acknowledge flaws and grow out of them.

Rest in Power, Mr. William Felton Russell. You were one of the good ones, and one of the greats.

Crashes and Comfort Zones

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August 2, 2022- The woman two seats over from me, at the counter of a local establishment, began telling me about what she said was the worst accident she has handled, in twenty years in the automobile insurance industry. It involved a head-on collision, caused by someone who passed on a double yellow, on a curve, and was driving a luxury vehicle. The driver was from another state. His passenger was killed. The right-way driver has lost the use of his legs, for at least two years.

We agreed that there is a long-standing problem with people leaving their manners behind, when they cross out of their home states-and in some cases, home communities. There have been instances where a driver, culpable in an accident, has argued with police and the other parties’ insurance companies, saying that people should make way when said driver is approaching. You can easily guess how that worked for the guilty party. I was taught that other motorists, and pedestrians, are fellow travelers, and deserve every courtesy that I wish for myself.

Conversely, the other phenomenon the insurance agent has witnessed is the frequency of accidents caused by people within a few miles of their homes. The incident in which Saturn got bumped, on July 7, was caused by a driver who was two miles from home-and was headed there when a red light, and two other vehicles, were in between. My Elantra was once dinged by a woman who was backing up, while looking straight forward, because “this is a routine pick-up and I’ve done this every day for six months.” The same hapless vehicle was t-boned by a truck whose driver was two minutes away from his first landscaping job of the day. I was three minutes away from mine, and needless to say, neither of us worked that day. Had he driven the speed limit and had I looked left and right for ten seconds, instead of five, things would have been different.

As it happened, I made another run up to Bellemont today, to finish a cleaning task, using a power washer. There were no problems with traffic and drivers, as Tuesday is not a high volume day, even in summer. In any case, I tend to follow basic rules of courtesy, and follow laws, whether driving in Prescott or Parrsboro, NS.

The Quiet Moon

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August 1, 2022- Waking this morning to a sunny and quiet Home Base, there was not a whole lot ahead of me for the day. Two routine tasks did end up rewarding my inner peace and patience. There is only Bank of America in our metro area, so depositing my rent check meant standing in line for nearly a half hour. At the laundromat I use, half of the washing machines were out of order, so I put everything in one machine, which was okay, as it was not overloaded. While at the laundry, the 15% chance of rain turned into a forty-minute full on monsoon storm, the power went out twice and there was a cozy crowd watching “Abducted: The Jocelyn Shaker Story”, until the first power outage cut the cable service, right at the predictable “Lifetime” movie’s ending.

For all that, August is looking, initially, to be much quieter than June or July. I had two conflicting activities set for the first half of the month, Both, as it happens, will go on without me-as they, in turn, each conflict with a faith-based meeting that can only take place on Friday mornings. Saturn will get its rear bumper repaired, in the latter part of next week, and that is as far as I have planned for the bulk of the month. Sub calls will likely come, at least a few days this month, and there is a chance of local Red Cross activity-especially if we continue to have an active monsoon. This is the most rain I’ve seen here in several years, and I’ll not complain, as long as there is the balance between wet and dry.

The new moon promises to come in quietly, and to reward patience with sustenance. This will be a month for nurturing my little family, from a distance, and local friendships, in occasional gatherings. It’ll be a fine month to be low key and gather energy for September and October, which will see a somewhat more robust schedule.

Now, we’ll see how long the quietude lasts.