Memorial Day At Mountain View Cemetery. The Importance Of Honoring And Remembering The Dead

The Civil War section of the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland

The Civil War section of the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland

Typically on Memorial Day I engage in activities that welcome in the summer.  My family uses the extra day to ready our family cabin for summer visitors, and/or I may attend a neighborhood barbeque. This summer was different.  I stayed home, but then when the Monday holiday dawned and was cloudy and drizzly, my husband and I decided to do something we had never done before. The greyness of the day seemed to dictate that we participate in a somber activity, so we chose to attend Memorial Day services at our local cemetery.  Mountain View cemetery is quite well known in Oakland.  Designed by the designer of Central Park, Frederick Olmsted, Mountain View Cemetery is the final resting place for local luminaries such as Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, Henry Kaiser…and many many more. Veterans from all of the wars are also interred at Mountain View…dating back to the Civil War.  I have always felt that this is a very sacred place, very holy.  I felt this as I sat down for the ceremonies on Memorial Day.

     What I realized, as I listened to members of various branches of the service speak in behalf of soldiers lost in battle, is that the living always owe a debt of gratitude to the dead.  Its not that I glorify war—because I certainly don’t.  I have my own political views on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of particular wars.  However, it seems to me that regardless of anyone’s political view, these soldiers put their lives on the line for what they felt to be a “greater” cause.. There is honor in that, regardless of any judgment about that cause. I was happy to honor all of the soldiers, and felt badly that I had not taken time to do this before.

At the end of the ceremony, one of the Mountain View docents, a wonderful storyteller and newspaper man named Dennis Evanosky gave us a tour of the Civil War section of the Cemetery.  Dennis regaled us with stories about how these Civil War veterans ended up being buried in Oakland.  They had all survived the Civil War and then went on to lead colorful and adventuresome lives, making their way across the country, being involved in local politics, marrying their sweethearts,….and then finally their lives were over..and they are buried here….right beneath where we were standing.

What really impressed me about this storytelling was that Dennis had fired up my imagination…and I was there!  I was imagining the lives of these people and it was real.  He was making it real and alive and teaching all of us the value and the joy of remembering the details in the lives of people long gone.

So what I’m thinking now is that I’m connected to all these people who were brought alive by Dennis.  They are all in some way my ancestors..if not directly then in some way indirectly.  After all did we not share the same air, the same land, the same world?  In short, I would not be the same person in the exact same world as I am right now…if it were not for all of them. They are all part of the same grand tapestry that I am a part of, which actually combines all of our stories into one grand story

So my intention now is to remember to remember each year, as well as throughout the year.  As I take my meditation walks through the beautiful Mountain View gardens, I will think of the stories  of the people who are buried here and feel my connection to all of them.

The Secret to Living Without Anxiety…Its Really Just A Matter Of Mistaken Identity

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

 My earlier blog entitled “Who Are You?” featured the infamous Cheshire Cat of Alice In Wonderland fame. Our feline friend asks a question of Alice that we ask ourselves many times in the course of a lifetime. “Who are we” at the core of our being?  It can be a difficult question  when we are constantly shifting and changing roles in response to changing life circumstances.  I suggested in this earlier blog that as we grow older it becomes increasingly important to spend time getting to know ourselves at a deep level.  It is vital to keep asking  who we are in the midst of the “storm” that is constantly swirling all around us, and within us. We want to have a solid sense of ourselves, I think. The only way I know to really develop a relationship with oneself is to engage in a “reflective” practice, such as meditation, prayer, or journaling.

    So, as I was following my own advice and reflecting upon who I am at this moment in time, an uncomfortable thought seemed to invade my consciousness.  It occurred to me quite suddenly that I often resist quiet contemplation because I don’t in fact really like myself a lot of the time.  I don’t always want to look too deeply for fear of what I might find there. Furthermore, I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I know that the Dali Lama has said he is perplexed at the degree of “self” hatred he sees, particularly in the American character.  As hard and judgmental as we may be in regard to others, according to his “Holiness,” it pales in comparison to how hard we are on ourselves.  So, where does this come from, and what can we do about it?

My particular answer to this question, unsurprisingly, comes from Buddhist thought.  I have recently been re reading some books written by the Zen teacher and Buddhist Monk Cheri Huber.  She runs a monastery in Murphys  California, and also a teaching center in Mountain View, California.  It is Cheri’s view that negative self image is laid down very early in our childhood as we are being socialized and “conditioned” by well meaning adults. We are taught to “be this” but “not that.” “suppress this” but “express” that.  We are mostly socialized with simple behaviorism, and this method, if you think about it is pretty negatively tinged.  Consider, for example, the mother, yelling across the public swimming pool at her children in order to “control” them. ”No no…you are swimming too far!  Be carefull  of the deep end!   It’s dangerous out there! Help your brother!  No! No! No!…don’t fight!  Does this not sound familiar?  By the time we reach adulthood, those “adult” voices are the voices in our own head, telling us who to be, how to act, who we are, who we are not.  I love what Cheri Huber says about our internalized “voices”.  Her view is that we are all in a constant state of internal dialog with these different voices.  We have the “mean voice”, the “compassionate voice”, the “critical voice”.  The dialog is unrelenting, and our “mean voice “is often louder than the rest.  It is Cheri’s view that these voices are best viewed as existing outside of our “true self”.  They are talking to us….but they are not us.  We identify the voices as us, but they are not.  She calls it a case of “mistaken identity”.  The inner work of discerning the voices and starting a new inner conversation based on compassion, empathy, and patience, is the crux of Cheri’s Self Acceptance practice.  Cheri argues that when we can turn our attention to the voices of  self love and self acceptance, we can turn down the volume on self hate.  We can let “Life be in charge” as we give up our attempt to control anything.

And that… friend….is the secret to ending our anxiety..once and for all



Who Are You? ..The Dilema Of Personal Identity

The cheshire cat

The cheshire cat

“Who are you?” intones the Cheshire cat as he looks down upon Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale “Alice In Wonderland”.  Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole and had a series of adventures.  She was at first very large, and then she became very small.  Who indeed is she? She has lost herself in a strange new world.

Perhaps we are all a bit like Alice, as we fall down our own individualized “rabbit holes” and ponder who and where we are, and how we got here.  The reality is that our identities are always shifting and changing as we shed old roles and assume new ones, virtually all the time.  We grow up, grow old, get divorced, watch children leave home…and the list goes on.  It can be challenging to retain a stable sense of ourselves in the midst of all of this change as we are constantly asked to define ourselves in new ways. So…I ask again…who are you?

This is not, I think, a trivial question…but rather an existential crisis of identity that we are all engaged in all the time.  Underneath our many roles…wife, mother, daughter, student,  there has to be an essential “me-ness” that allows us to actually recognize ourselves.  Consider, for example, that many years ago my five year old daughter was very distraught after a haircut.  “Mommmy….I hate it!…she wailed”. “I don’t look like myself!”  Wow…already an identity crisis! Inevitably none of us will have a life that looks the same over time…and we certainly won’t look the same. Our life will not be the same physically, interpersonally, or geographically.  We may long for a time gone by, but we can’t re-create it

The essence of this constant crisis of identity is perhaps that, in spite of the storm that is raging all around us all the time, we must somehow retain a “felt” sense of ourselves.  We want to be able to say, “Yes, that is me”.  I know who I am at my center. The “calm” at the center of our “storm” is our solid, non negotiable “core” self.  But how do we keep that center solid?

The only way I can think of to do this is to constantly check in with ourselves, and just simply ask the question: “Who am I now?”  “What do I stand for?”  “What is important to me”  The relationship of the self to itself becomes ever more important as we age, I think.  The world around us changes at rocket speed, it seems to me, but we don’t need to.  Self recognition ensures we won’t get lost as the world becomes “curiouser and curiouser”, to quote Lewis Carroll, again.

You can do your “check in” in a number of ways, such as prayer, meditation, journaling….anything that is a “contemplative” practice…anything that forces you to slow down and relflect.. This is a cheap and easy practice, but incredibly rewarding.  Just focus on one central question:  “Who are You?”…Don’t you really wanna know?

Integrating The Shadow..A Path to Wholeness



I’ve had a series of   disturbing dreams lately.  When I wake up my heart is beating fast,stockvault-yin-yang-grunge-cycle133826 and only slows down after I do a “reality check”.  “Thank god that was only a dream”, I tell myself.  I certainly don’t want to dwell on the content.  Nevertheless, as my morning progresses I’m still left with this lingering feeling of anxiety, fear, shame, or disgust…usually some combination of these uncomfortable feelings.  Added to this, I feel a sense of failure because I’m actually trying to do dreamwork again.  I meet with a dream group for the purpose of dream interpretation, but I’ve yet to present a dream. I have created this “bind” for myself where I am afraid of the content of my unconscious, even as I profess to invite it to reveal itself.

What I do know, however, is that recurring “bad” dreams occur because our unconscious is trying to send a message through to us.  The message is usually about something we need to attend to. The dreams will continue to occur, and in fact may broadcast louder until we pay attention to the message.  This, I believe is the psyche reaching toward wholeness and growth.  In dreams the language of the message is symbolic.  So, for example, a symbol of death may appear in a dream.  It may actually mean I need to let something die in my life.  Perhaps I’m maintaining a relationship that no longer serves.  Maybe I need to let a “role” I have assumed, or a burden I have carried, die off.  The death needs to occur to allow for new life to emerge.  Letting this aspect of myself die is a good thing for my inner growth, but my awake and conscious self may be afraid that if I change I will no longer be accepted…or even loved.  It feels risky.  This is where the “shadow” comes in.  Basically, I believe that by the time we all reach adulthood we are socialized by our families and the culture to only identify with, or “own”, if you will, certain aspects of ourselves.   Other parts, we may learn, are “bad”, or in my case “unladylike”.  Being human, we are of course going to feel these “bad” things anyway, but we quickly learn to “disown” that which people will not love us for.  These aspects get shoved down into our “shadow”, where they are largely unconscious.  We can glimpse our shadow selves when we find we are reacting strongly and judgmentally to the things other people do.  Strong reactions are often, although not always,  a “projection.”…that is  to say, we may attribute to others that which we cannot see in ourselves.

I think we also get to see our shadow selves emerge in dreams.  When we invite ourselves to remember dreams, the shadow self demands to be seen, heard, and felt. I think my strong reaction to remembering my dream had to do with some “shadow” material that was trying to come though.

I also believe that if we make room for the “shadow” self, and give it a “place at the table” so to speak, we can begin to integrate those less comfortable parts of ourselves. Bringing these parts into the “light”, so to speak, we will find that they are not so scarry…..Its when they remain in the dark that they continue to have unmanageable power over us.

Ok….now I’ve said it…I’ve committed…Bring it on shadow! I’m ready for you now





The “Gift” of Anxiety…a new way to look at our moments of great anguish

Your Anxiety Can Transform Into a Beautiful Gift

Your Anxiety Can Transform Into a Beautiful Gift

This article about, “The Gift Of Anxiety” was amazingly insightful about a new way to look at anxiety. In so many instances, our tendency is to try to find ways to wipe out the symptoms of anxiety…that is we try to just “make it go away”. We do this by “talking ourselves” out of the anguish we feel, or we might take some kind of  medication.  This is a “quick fix”  “band-aid” approach. In the short run, it works,  but it is not really effective in the long run.  The core issue that created the anxiety is not addressed. Instead of this reaction , in this article it is suggested that we actually look more closely at what we are anxious about.  We can tell how important this core issue is, by the strength of our reaction.  In a panic attack, for example, we feel as though we are going to die.  Therefore the panic attack has come in response to something has happened to us that is particularily difficult..something that may have happened to us a number of times in our life.  Perhaps a core issue of ours has been ignited.  We need to then look at this issue more closely.  A way to really operationalize this is to start a contemplative practice, such as a mindfulness meditation practice, for example.  Also helpful is journaling, or starting a dream journal and getting some help with analyzing your dreams. The key insight in this article is that we look at our anxiety as a gift, not as a curse.  The anxiety is a “wake up” call, to listen to ourselves in a very deep and deliberate way.  The work is hard…but the payoff is enormous.