Looking back and thinking forward

Month: January, 2013

Back in time …

Today, at the University bookstore, I joined a long line of students buying books for the spring semester. I waited to purchase two greeting cards. One was for a colleague's birthday, which I was told earlier this morning we would celebrate later in the day. The second, well what can I say, was in preparation for Valentine's Day. As I stood amongst almost thirty students winding in and out of three lanes, I added up the prices of the cards. I thought to myself, "Is it worth waiting the twenty odd minutes or so for such a small purchase?"

My mind immediately began to wander back to 25 years ago. I had just arrived in Buffalo, and was going back to school, at the huge Buffalo University to complete a BA. In order to register for classes, I arrived at the administration building at five o'clock in the morning. A line was already stretching as far as the eye could see, and further. I joined hundreds of young, undergraduate students – me a Mom, 39 years old, a foreigner, an immigrant from a far off land. We sat together drinking coffee, sharing snacks and chatting about our futures. Six hours later, at 11:00 a.m. I finally made it to the front counter to sign up for all my classes. Indeed, twenty five years ago Internet on-line registration did not yet exist. On-line meant something physical, concrete – literally sitting inside a huge, long, diverse line of human beings – a social, community-like experience, and required enormous amounts of patience.

I must have been reminiscing for quite awhile, for before I knew it, I was at the front of the line and paid for the two small greeting cards in my hand.

I walked out of the bookstore onto the path towards my office still lost in thought, back in time.

Blinded by the sun


What is it about vacations that make me anxious until I settle in and then it is time to go? I am able to travel with much more ease all over the world and country when it is for presentations or meetings. And yet, relaxation and pleasure trips are such a challenge for me. Vacations are a change of rhythm and a time to let go of everyday worries and stressors – aren't they? In some ways I feel that expectations are higher when I take a holiday. I feel as if I must know what I want to do each moment, whether it is where to eat, if I want to walk, swim, or just sit and read in the sun. Shouldn't I want to go out and see all sorts of wondrous places and museums rather than sit still and stare for hours at the sea? Sometimes, to ease the pressure, I wait to see what others want to do, and then resent them for not doing what I want! In short, vacations can be nothing short of torture for me. 


So, this vacation I vowed to enjoy myself. And lo and behold, it is coming to pass. Just learning to chill out with the expectations. Who cares what I do? I am leaving stressors and worries behind, and literally going with the flow. And it isn't too difficult after all. I wonder why it took me so long to realize there are no deadlines, or should's, and if I don't want to sight see – so be it! One thing is for sure. I must soak my toes in the ocean each day. My body and soul need that. I don't care when or how it happens, just that it does. For the rest … well, each moment I will allow me to find out what my heart desires. 


Just one more thing. Guilt. Or as one therapist I knew many years ago described it: "The big 'G'!" What do I do with that? For it creeps in at all different times during a really pleasurable vacation. It slips into my brain just when I am letting down my guard as I start to enjoy myself. It comes in the form of worrying about "those poor little kittens back home," or, "how hard the housekeeper woman has to work for so little pay, to clean my bathroom as I decadently lounge about the swimming pool slurping away at mango-passion-fruit type smoothies." Sometimes, guilt makes me weep with gratitude that a poor slob like me is fortunate enough to be enjoying her life as much as I do. "What did I do to deserve such kindness from the Universe?" I wonder pathetically.

Ah – that insidious of all feelings – Guilt!

I look up from writing this post and notice sunshine streaming into our elegant hotel room – diaphonous drapes waving softly with a cool breeze as rays shimmer through the fabric, shedding circular beams on the bed, up to the ceiling, and around the carpet with glorious patterns of light. 


A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Seven year itch

Exercising my writes

Writing as practice. Ten minutes: Go!

Even as I think about writing practice, I feel an excited burning sensation in the pit of my stomach. Writing is important to me. It is all about self expression. Getting out words that I find so difficult to say in person. It reminds me how I really am uncomfortable speaking on the phone. At every turn in the conversation, especially when t is my turn, I feel an urge to say, "Well, it was nice speaking with you. Goodbye." But still I continue the conversation struggling to find words to describe how I am. For I am never sure that anyone is really interested in how I am. Writing practice allows me to speak freely and not worry if anyone is interested in me. Of course, I am delighted when people stop by to read the blog, or anything else I write – like books, papers, or articles. I certainly enjoy acknowledgement. There is no doubt about that. And who doesn't like a bit of attention from time to time? But, the act of writing is something that is just for me and me alone. I am able to speak my mind, discover memories, and share thoughts, that I might not have ready access to when talking face to face with people. Especially people I care about and whose opinion I value. So, while practicing writing can sometimes seem like a chore, it is also always a little exciting for me. My mind goes blank for a moment but the clock is still ticking. I think a little too hard instead of allowing the thoughts to flow through my fingertips for these ten minutes of non-stop writing practice. No need to edit right now. I can do that later. Just let the mind cough it up. All of it. Practice, practice, practice. That's the way I learn to perfect my art. There are months that I travel and present non-stop and by the third or fourth speech I have it down pat. I am able to discover words and even jokes with ease, and the attendees seem to flow with me in the room. I gave up practicing the piano when I moved to America twenty five years ago. I gave up a lot of things back then. Cooking. Not that I was ever a great cook. Singing. I gave up all housewifely-type things except for, perhaps cleaning, and even that I don't do so much any more. Was I never the housewife type? And yet I struggled so hard to perfect that, and always felt I came up short. Academia seemed to fit with me. Activities of the mind are important for me. But then so is spirituality. Or is it philosophy? I would rather spend time thinking about thoughts, ideas, or discovering the subconscious workings of my mind, than cooking or cleaning – or even baking a cake. I used to bake wonderful cakes. Coffee cream with meringue atop a really light, flaky pastry shell. It was always a success and people would applaud me when I brought it out. Cooking was a way I gave my young child love – no question about it. I remember the day I caught him making his own sandwich to take to school. I was mortified. What? He did not need my love any longer? The whole day I dragged myself around work feeling like there was a vacuous hole in my soul, that the lights had gone out, and that my life no longer had meaning. By evening I realized it was because my son could make his own sandwich, his own food. The need to give love through the culinary life fell away. I would have to find a different way to give of myself. And I began to write.

Reflections on my father


Eight years ago at TamarikaMy father sang to me.

It seems odd to me that every January 18th, I wake up with a sensation that something important is happening on this day. It always takes an hour or two, and then I remember that it was my father's birthday. It is one those subconscious things that happen, for usually I have not thought about him for a long time. Just suddenly and suprisingly his birthday comes out into my consciousness, and always is accompanied by a twinge of sadness and nostalgia.

My mother never actually asked me not to love him. Nor did she imply it. When I was a young child, I just assumed, that in order to please her, I had better not show that I loved or admired him. For, she made no attempt to hide her disdain for just about everything about him, including his Sephardic heritage. I took my love for him underground and buried it.

Until he died.

And even then, it was uncomfortable for me to admit it to myself. It would subsequently take years of therapy for me to allow myself to grieve my father's death, and understand the complexity of my relationship with him. Loving the forbidden, and keeping it hidden affected my confusion about loyalties. Not to mention complications about dealing with abhorring the part of me that came from him, which seemed to cause my mother so much pain. 

Scan 2

[Visiting my father in Rhodesia when I was 26]

Nowadays, I find myself wistfully observing my friends and siblings as they care for their aging fathers, and hearing them share openly about complexities of their relationships, and grief that comes with this stage of their lives. I realize how alone I was with regards to my feelings about my father.

In a way I was a little like an only child – only, without the perks and benefits! 

Early this morning, I rummaged through my old photographs trying to find a picture of my father holding me up proudly when I was an infant. It is the only photograph I have of me and him when I was a baby. The image seemed to be clearly waiting to greet me in my brain the moment I awoke. Almost in a panic, searching feverishly amongst my albums and photos, I suddenly stopped and wondered, "Why is it suddenly so urgent for me to find this picture?"

And then I remembered. Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 119.

Arrival? And knowing it for the first time …

My journey began 26 years ago. The details of how it got started are long and complicated, but not for this particular blog post. Suffice it to say that I was at a crossroads and took off in an academic direction, crossing oceans, shifting and changing my path in dramatic ways. There were companions along the way. Some were welcome and others not so much, as is always the case on a long journey. I confronted major cultural shocks and revelations with country, cities, studies, institutions, and people. At times the way felt treacherous and lonely, and at others it was exhilarating and exciting. Every turn I took, brought new adventures in my path, as well as humps, bumps and obstacles. Mostly, though, I was buoyed up and carried along by the kindness of many strangers.

Recently, it was beginning to seem that I had arrived. A fire burned in my belly as I rounded what I thought might be the last corner on the voyage I had begun more than two decades ago. I could almost touch it, even image it – when guards at the gate waved their fingers back and forth in front of my nose. "Not quite yet, lassie," they exclaimed. "We have yet to test your patience, confidence, and fortitude one more time at least. Can you wait for another six weeks or so? Will you?" 

I thought of the many times I had traveled across the country to make presentations at this or that city. When I arrived at the airport, tired and so ready to reach home, the plane was delayed, or even canceled. I would sigh despondently and throw up my hands. Nothing to do but wait. Let go, and breathe deeply. Inevitably, I would be on my way again, and arriving home the mini despairs and frustrations already forgotten. 

And so, I replied silently to the gate-keepers jealously guarding their turf. "I can wait. Of course. This little bump in my path is a bump indeed. In fact, I will sit by the wayside and have a picnic. Some warm fresh multigrain bread and delicious cheese, a bunch of juicy red grapes and a bowl of hot tea. I think I will invite one or two people to join me so that we can joy away the hours together."

As I look back, I realize how important each part of the journey was in developing who I am today. And surely, this waiting game is yet another gift for me, as necessary as all that went before. It reminds me about being in the now, breathing deeply, and letting go. Indeed, it teaches me to have faith, and gives me renewed hope. 

Let's face it, I have waited too long for this part of the way, and arrival seems irrelevant now. Let it take six weeks or more. I have time.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Patterns of behavior

At the top of the 8th

I have written about my "abyss" numerous times over the years [Here; herehere; and here]. This morning I am reminded of a letter my mother wrote to me over a decade ago.

In response to my having written her a loving and admiring letter at the time, she described her own feelings as:

there have been many times in my life that I felt I was standing alone on top of a cold mountain with icy winds roaring around … I am not a morbid person. That is just the way I felt but now your letter has made me feel a warm soft blanket wrapped around me and great security.

I am struck by the difference in metaphors between my mother and I. Hers is atop a cold mountain with icy winds roaring around. Standing high up out there in the open like that seems to me wide and expansive, even courageous. Whereas, my abyss is dark and deep below, quiet, and insidious. The similarities between us being feeling cold and alone. But our expressions of those feelings are different: open, on top, versus hidden below. 

In a way I am always looking for the differences between my mother and I, because there are so many ways I have not wanted to be like her. And yet, as I read what I wrote to her so many years ago, I recognize there is much I am pleased to have inherited from her:

Dear Mom … I thought about how much you have always helped others and how you enjoy life through all your suffering. I see, in myself, pieces of you … my strength, determination. The fact that I help anyone – doesn't matter who they are, where they come from – doesn't matter how much it costs or how risky it will be. That comes from you. My ability to not just accept what someone tells me – but check it out (research it!) – that comes from you … I learned from you that injustice and intolerance is not right. I learned about brutal honesty from you! I learned from you that one could always make things better. Even in my darkest hours, I always find a way out. I learned that from you. Money is no object! I learned that from you. Love of – no not love – passion for music – I learned from you. Passion for drama, I learned from you … You tirelessly search for happiness and find it in beautiful moments, beautiful gardens, … books, movies, with interesting people, and with children. You taught us all to love children – to respect children – and to fight for them. Each of us fights for our children - in our family – in deep, respectful ways. Sometimes the love and fight for our children seems weird – but we all know that our children are the most precious. You taught us all that.

Even though I dramatically fear heights, I think I would prefer to stand atop a mountain, than bury myself below the earth. Perhaps when I finally heave my leg over the rim, and pull myself completely out of the abyss, I will stand on top of a mountain, hopefully without icy winds roaring all around.

And so, I enter my eighth year of blogging. As I look back at so many of my old posts starting with my first blog, Tamarika, and then heading into Mining Nuggets, I do sense a change, a shift within me – an opening up. My mother gave me a typewriter for my sixteenth birthday. What a gift that was, even though recently I wasn't sure whether it was her dream to become an author, or whether she recognized that in me. Whatever it was, I carry it with me now, as yet one more way she and I are similar. One more way to cherish.

Eight years ago at Tamarika: Having fun

Keep on keeping on

Living in the moment slows down my pace. I notice more things more clearly. I begin to focus. I hear noises that would otherwise slip into the background when I am thinking forward or looking back to the past. I hear Mimi or Oscar as they lap, lap, lap water out of the bowl at the far end of my study. I notice a gurgling sound in the pipes as steamy water is pushed up into heating units. I feel my finger tapping on the mouse as I click on and off words that I am typing into the computer. I observe a twinge of pain shooting through my right shoulder blade and sense a burning in my eyes. I start to cough and notice that. Breathing in and out in a deep sigh, I relax into my seat and continue to tap away at the letters on my keyboard. Being in the now takes away all that anxiety of trying to prove myself, and helps me appreciate this very moment I am sitting in. Things that are beyond my control slip into oblivion where they have been all consuming just minutes before. I breathe in one long breath and sigh out an even longer one, and I notice a smile forming on my lips. It feels good. I feel good. I search for that twinge of pain in my right shoulder blade that I experienced a few moments ago, and notice that it has melted away. Eyes are clearer now, burning has subsided. Sitting in the moment reaches deep into my lower rib cage and that area inside my body is massaged and warmed by the slow breathing in and longer sighing out. I regain a sense of being – of my Self that had become invisible and blurred by anxieties, fears and all manner of uncomfortable feelings. I pull myself closer to the top of my abyss that was almost pulling me back to a lower ledge – one that I recognize. I had been there before, and it was dark, cold and lonely. I sigh deeply and the smile on my lips widens. I feel a little giggle of pleasure rolling around inside. Peace in this moment of sitting in the now. The abyss abated. As I lift my head to look around me, the room seems welcoming and full of plants and pictures, knicks and knacks that envelop me with calm. Images of pictures have sharpened into clear focus. I stop typing and stretch my arms up to the ceiling with a large yawn. So much of life is about patiently waiting – about keeping on keeping on.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Burn out …

Peeking out over the top

Climbing out of an abyss takes a long time. It entails tearing and scraping in the dirt. My fingernails become filled with soil from clawing and scratching my way out. At times the way is slippery and steep, and it is easy to slide back down uncontrollably. Then I have to start all over again, sometimes from much further down than I thought. It is frustrating and challenging because mostly it is in the dark. The way is lonely and cold with only the tiniest glimmer of light at the top to guide me. When I find myself sliding backwards down the slippery slopes it fills me with despair and longing. Will I ever find my way out? I become exhausted and sit down low in the hole and wait to catch my breath. And then, from somewhere deep inside I gather strength to begin the treacherous climb again. Often fear rises up and blocks the path. It grips at my heart and bites me behind my eyes. I stop dead in my tracks and breathe deeply in and out, out and in, as Swami Ji taught me so long ago. Quite a few friends and mentors, gurus and counselors have reached their arms down to pull me up. Each time I took their hand, I managed to make it closer and closer to the top.

Lately I realized that I am already peering over it. My hands are holding on to the ledge and with one strong swing of my leg I could hoist myself right over the top and stand on the high ground looking out across the vastness of the land. There is so much light everywhere and it feels warm and safe. These last couple of years I have been shedding much baggage along the way. It had been holding me down, pulling me back again and again into some of the deepest, darkest crevices of my abyss. Sacks loaded with feelings of shame and unworthiness. Bags packed with feelings of marginalization and victimization. But it seems that I have been unloading all these packs, leaving bits and pieces down behind me. As I peer down into the darkness, I can almost see their shapes and forms glistening in the rain. How strange. They are so small now. I wonder why they used to scare me so.

Yesterday, at the end of a phone call with my aged mother, there was a pause. And then she stated intentionally and clearly, in a way I had not heard before. "I love you, Tamar," she said. I told her that I loved her too. Shutting down the phone, I went out for my walk in the cold morning air. The sun shone through the bare trees, and on the remaining clumps of snow out in Carpenter Woods along my way. After about half an hour of walking energetically up Wayne's incline, I realized what she had said, and how taken aback I was when she spoke those words so clearly and unconditionally. Indeed, it was as if I had been waiting for them to be spoken exactly like that for a very long time. And when it happened, it felt just right. It was peaceful. I walked along the road bathed in light. 

Lately, I have made a number of stands for myself. In the past, this would have terrified me, and I would definitely have stumbled and fallen back down into my abyss. This time, though, with each stand, I seemed to approach the opening of the hole I have been in for what seems like all of my life. With my mother's words to me yesterday, I felt like I was pushed almost right out in the open! 

Will 2013 see me actually heave my leg up and over the rim? I wonder. At least now, clearly in front of my eyes, I have an image of what could be. I know what it might feel like – standing tall and strong out in the sunlight looking across the vastness of all the land – a welcomed part of it all, included and belonging, warm and safe. I think I might know what to reach for this time. 

Early education


Well, now I have two kittens in the house and am faced with early education challenges. I find myself confronted with situations that require attitudes and behaviors from me – many, which I suggest or expect from the pre or in-service teachers I instruct or mentor. Naturally I understand that a kitten is not a human child. Or do I?

I wonder.

These little creatures were raised for many weeks in a large cage together, the remaining duo from a litter of six. Mimi is sturdy, strong, and healthy. She is rambunctious and smart, eats voraciously, and constantly is at play with everything she can lay her paws on. Oscar is tiny, tender, gentle and fragile. He seems to wobble as he wanders cautiously through the house. My sister, Sue, described him as wearing his "battle dress" as he slinks around prepared to defend himself at any moment from any in-coming danger, namely his sister, Mimi. She charges him and urges him to rough and tumble, but he refuses and subsides into the background. Often we find him hunkered down next to one of the heating units, and he sleeps, it seems, all day and all night. 

I go in and out of parental panic. Should I intervene on Oscar's behalf? Or discipline dear little Mimi? And what does that mean? "To discipline Mimi." Can one really set boundaries for a cat? For example, what happens when I am out of the house and they learn to live together, which they have done already in their earliest kitten hood within the confines of their cage. At times I adore Mimi as she runs around with her red ball chasing and tumbling with it, and then running towards me with her little bandy legs, carrying the ball in her mouth expecting me to throw it for her to "fetch," again and again. There are times when I experience frustration when she charges her vulnerable, little brother, while understanding, at the very same time, that they have to work out their own dynamics and power structures, as two cats living in the same house.

And there I go again and again – round and round, confused and anxious, not knowing what to do! 

True enough, it surely presses all kinds of personal buttons to see Oscar as the underdog (cat?), a victim to marginalization and working hard to be invisible – out of Mimi's range. I have to admit that I find myself identifying with him. And, on the other hand, that feeling makes me as mad as a hatter. Because I have been working on myself in therapy for years in order not to feel like that. Indeed, I have made a conscious decision to take all kinds of emotional stands for me recently, and no longer feel like a victim. No indeed. Just the opposite. I feel empowered and so much more confident. I realize, too, that dear sweet little Mimi is not the "bad guy (girl?)." Just a little kitty with developmental needs of her own.

And so, I conclude that Oscar's cat behavior, as he works within the power structure of his relationship with sister Mimi, has absolutely nothing to do with who I am, nor how I perceive myself.

Wow! Therapeutic opportunity!

Perhaps finding these two cats was the very thing I needed to remind me about my Self and how I view early education. Which is, that our own emotional development affects how we relate to and interact with children and families.

Plain and simple.

We have an awesome responsibility to work on ourselves psychologically, when we develop relationships with other human beings …

… hm …

… or cats for that matter.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Attention getting