Meditation Behind the Wheel


I’m taking an internet writing class called “Journaling Through the Chakras.” I’m supposed to begin each writing session with a guided meditation on a particular chakra. So far, I’ve approached the meditations with curiosity and openness, but I can’t help realizing that my best meditations occur behind the wheel of my car.

I love cars; they hold a special place in my heart, and maybe that’s why I can meditate so well in them. I like driving alone, when I can  put my attention to traffic on auto-pilot. I don’t know how I do this. At times, I actually miss my exit, and don’t realize it until I “wake up” and wonder why I am still on the highway, or even wonder what highway I’m on…

I’m a good driver. I don’t understand how I can meditate and still maintain good driving habits, but I can. I do it spontaneously. I’ve been thinking for years that I should get  a computer or a recording device to keep in the car so I can preserve some of the products of my driving meditations. Maybe that wouldn’t work out, after all. Maybe then I’d really forget about the traffic and get myself into trouble.

Maybe the best value of driving meditations is that I cannot capture them at all without risking problems on the highway. They must then sink back into my unconscious where they can ferment until they find openings into my journal or blog or photography or daily activities. By then, though, their character will have changed, and I won’t recognize them transformed. That’s probably OK, too, because what is the purpose of meditation?

It’s not necessarily to craft everything into beautiful words to type on a keyboard and share with whomever happens to land on the page. It’s not even necessary to save for one’s own self as a reminder or an evidence of one’s intangible life. Meditation’s goals are more practical, even worldly. They are all about putting one’s life in balance between physical and emotional, intellectual and spiritual, social and personal. As such, the act of writing out a meditation pulls out only one or two aspects of the experience. We tend to focus upon those aspects that remains conscious.

They call us to attend a need, make something right, develop something that’s already right, or reinforce something that’s been right all along. What about the rest of it, the part we didn’t  write down, the part we couldn’t record? What happens to that? Maybe it’s not important. Some believe it flies out the window.  Some say  it goes underground and works behind the scenes, gently prodding us to respond to unvocalized wisdom. I don’t know. Maybe some flies out and some sticks around incognito.

All I know for sure is that I meditate best behind the wheel, and look forward to it every day.

A Lesson in How to Love a Child


Recently I took my daughter Mai and her three-year-old son to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I poured tea for her and I. My grandson– his nickname is Nooni–  wanted to drink tea, too.

“I want shay!” he demanded. He mixes his languages, sometimes.

Mom told him, “It’s too hot, Habibi.”

“I want shay!” he cried, louder.  Mai continued to dissuade him but he wouldn’t believe her that the tea was hot. In fact, the tea was not particularly hot, and Nooni insisted on his own cup of “shay.”  Finally, she poured him a tiny amount in his own cup, and swished it around a bit. I didn’t object.

We had underestimated the tenderness of tiny mouths. He screamed, threw the tea cup down, then started slapping his mother’s arm. I scolded him for slapping his mom, but Mom did not react. She perceived that he was  expressing his shock and pain not only at the hot tea, but more importantly, at her for not protecting him.

His slaps said, “Mom! Why did you cave in to me? Don’t you know I’m just a three-year-old, and still inexperienced about the world? You have to protect me!”

I felt quite badly then  for not objecting to the tea, and I remembered  occasions on which I had caved in to him and gave him whatever he wanted, because when he cries, my heart also cries. I love to see my grandson happy.

The incident with the tea taught me a lesson about how to make him happy, a lesson I’ll have to keep foremost in my mind. This is a kid who always wants to do whatever the adults do, from drinking tea to driving the car to diving into the deep end of the pool!



Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

Monday, July 19, 2010
Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

My daughter’s doctor called her and her husband to come in for an immediate appointment regarding a prenatal test that indicated something could be wrong with the new baby. She’s at the end of her first trimester. I asked,”If the next tests indicate something wrong, what will you do?”

She replied, in tears, “What can we do? We believe in God, we have to accept what He sends us. What? Are we going to kill a baby?”

When I asked her husband the same question, privately, he gave an entirely different response.

Here I am,  in dead center, as usual, able to understand and agree with both of them.

As a family, we’ve already trod the moral high road. We’ve paid our dues for admission to the tower of special needs, and we’d rather not do it again.

My third daughter has Down Syndrome. Though I did not give birth to her (all my kids are originally “stepkids”)  I know what it feels like to be betrayed by fate, to relish the thought of the arrival of another child, and to be kicked in the heart when that child appears with special needs. Believe me, I know, but my story is another story. The point is that I know how she and her husband feel, and I  understand the moral implications of either decision.

Whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that one can never fully evaluate before the fact. One will never know how the future would have unfolded had the decision been made the opposite way. Therefore, one is caught in  a double betrayal of fate.

I honestly do not know what Islam says about terminating a pregnancy during the first trimester, but I don’t really care, astaghfirullah.
Religion is only one of many factors that will have a bearing upon the outcome of this situation. The best outcome would be that the test was a false positive, and that the baby is perfectly normal.

Life is hard enough under ordinary circumstances. Are we required to hang an additional ball and chain around our necks while we have the means to prevent such a fastening? Oh, yes, I’ve heard about the blessings in raising a child with special needs; I’ve acquired some of them myself, but if I had it to do over, I’d rather pass on this particular blessing.

Nevertheless, if my daughter bares a child with “special needs” (what a euphemism!)  I’ll have to fasten my seat belt on that particular roller coaster all over again. I’ll do it, and I’ll shut up about it. I’m prepared, and I’ll help her.

The Journal

Sunday, July 18, 2010
The Journal, The Wonderful Journal

The Journal is an elegant Windows program for personal journal writing, record keeping, social networking, creative writing, and whatever other purpose you might conjure up. It’s the most versatile, customizable writing program I’ve tried. You can post to your blog directly from it, you can password protect it, you can decorate it, you can insert images, etc… Whatever you can think of, it can do right now, or will do in the next version. David Michael, the programmer, is constantly at work tweaking The Journal, adding new capabilities (just when you think there are no more capabilities to be added) and communicating with Journal users who ask questions, make suggestions, or simply want to tell him how they use The Journal.

I’ve tried several other notable writing programs. I used to like Life Journal, but poor support drove me away.

Blogging tools like Windows Live Writer are useful, but The Journal includes the functions of Live Writer, plus much more.

The Journal is not yet available for Mac, but you could certainly install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp or Parallels, and  then put The Journal on it (which is what I plan to do when I buy my first Mac, one of these days.)

Try it free for forty-five days:

http://www.davidrm.com/

For the record, I am not in any way connected to David Michael, nor do I benefit when someone clicks on the link to The Journal from my blog. I simply love the program and want to endorse it.

Typekit, Anyone?

Has anyone on WordPress gotten the hang of using this tool? I don’t know what is easy about it. Nothing was easier than controlling font appearance the old-fashioned way. I think I’ll continue to do so, if such an antiquarian method is still available on WordPress.

Image Transformation

July 10, 2010

I’ve done several thousands of creative transformations of ordinary photos, but I never get tired of making them.  They live squarely at the center of my metaphorical Riyadh.These days, I am experimenting with combining two or more transformations to make even newer transformations. The following are two creative images I made last year. I don’t even know how they originated, but I’ve recently combined them and played with them to make the image I now use as my blog header.

It won’t last. A few weeks or months from now, I’ll choose another one to use on the header.

Copy (42) of Copy of Italy 2004 007_edited-2

8dfd96767.fa62746a576f7968d862983

Book Review: “A Thousand Spendid Suns” by Khaled Husseini

July 8, 2010

(The metaphorical Riyadh has room for book reviews.)

Anyone familiar with Islam and/or the Middle East will recognize at once that this author knows whereof he writes. He should; he was born and raised in Afghanistan, but has lived in the United States long enough to digest the differences, complexities and contradictions of both worlds.

I wouldn’t have read this book, because I am sick of reading about the poor, downtrodden Middle-Eastern woman. My colleagues, however, are all reading the book, and they practically thrust it upon me. I felt duty-bound to read it and correct whatever misinformation might be pouring forth from the book into their naive minds.

In fact, I was the one who was impressed with the story’s apparent authenticity. Though I’ve never lived in Afghanistan, I know this book could have been a memoir as easily as it is a novel. I won’t go into the plot or the resolution, but I will say that the characters are drawn in all the complexity and irony that marks the human condition beyond its containment within the straightjackets of cultural indoctrination.

I can offer nothing but praise for the book.

The only other thing I added for the benefit of my colleagues was that I’d like to read books about women who are living happily in the Middle East, whose lives are not circumscribed by repressive forces. I know that happy women exist there. I was one of them, and so were my friends. I still have friends who wouldn’t dream of returning to the US to live; they’ve got it too good in Saudi Arabia.

That being said, I do underscore the need to tell the stories of Mariam, Laila, and others like them. Even Rasheed,  ogre that he was, could not have behaved but as he’d been taught to behave from growing up around men who taught him, by example, how to behave.

Tariq, however, as well as Abu Laila, grew up under a different set of values which offer a counterpoint and point of departure for the embodiment of the universal values set forth by all religions.

Novels such as this one are nothing if not an important contribution to the edification of readers who would not otherwise be afforded opportunities to enter into the lives of people like Mariam, Laila, Rasheed and Tariq. This is the kind of novel that can swing the tide of entire populations, and therefore position people for the change that must come before this world can thrive in peace, not only peace between men and women, but between cultures and countries.

My Two Riyadhs

July 7, 2010
It’s the metaphorical Riyadh I need to find.  It’s the place– more spiritual than physical, more emotional than tangible— that will do for me what the actual Riyadh did for me. This is the message of the dreams.
I’ve known it for years. The new dreams, however, are hitting me over the head, because I haven’t honored the original message. The new dreams have taken me back to Riyadh, but have shown me that the actual Riyadh holds no more substance for me.  I must find my metaphorical Riyadh here in the States, because here is where I need to live for now.
I’ve been there before– the metaphorical Riyadh, that is. I was there in 1970, in Texas, when I joined the US Air Force. I was there again, in Denver, CO when I quit the Air Force. Later, I found myself there when I went to college in Milwaukee, WI.
Then came the actual Riyadh years, twelve of them, that carried me over middle age and through sea changes I could have never anticipated.  As my father said to me shortly before he died, “Nothing is forever,” and that includes these current years now in the States, years of ennui after sadness, during which I have to work and live like an ordinary person.
I hope I can live in the Middle East again; my girls and I talk about it. Their husbands are open to the idea.  We all want the children to grow up knowing their Arab heritage.
I’d also like to spend an extended period of time in Italy, perhaps get my Italian citizenship.  My sons-in-law think it’s good to have two passports, in case the situations in one country become uncomfortable, one can go to the other place. There seems to be merit in this idea.
Anyway, if I continue this blog, I will expand its direction.  I will include posts that reflect my time in the metaphorical Riyadh, yet I will not abandon highlighting the years I spent in the actual Riyadh.
I might lose readers this way (those I haven’t lost already due to my year-long hiatus). Successful blogs tend to focus on one aspect of a writer’s life. Readers want to know what to expect.  We’ve all thought about why we blog, and what constitutes a successful blog.
I want to blog about both my Riyadhs, now, the actual and the metaphorical. My criterion for success is one– excellent writing.  No matter what I write about, I’ll write it the best way I know how, and that means I’ll even revise once in awhile!
Continue reading

Return

My blogging break has lasted more than a year. I’m not sure it’s completely over yet, but tonight an urge stirred, an urge to reconnect with my readers, the blog world, and ultimately to an aspect of myself that wants to reemerge.

This blog began as a method to chronicle my Riyadh memories, to keep them alive, share them, and draw inspiration from others who’ve built a few Riyadh memories of their own.

I also needed to explore the series of recurrent dreams I’d had for years– dreams in which I was supposed to return to Riyadh, or tried to return, or needed to return. The dreams always ended in frustration. I’d miss the airplane, or board a wrong one, or forget my passport, or… you get the idea.

During my blogging break, my dreams changed character. They no longer ended in the frustration of my failure to return to Riyadh. In this new series of dreams, I actually did return to Riyadh, but upon arriving, was never able to find my place. No one met me at the airport or took me to where I was supposed to go. I’d wander around, but I’d get lost because the city had continued to grow and develop during my absence, so I did not recognize the landmarks I’d used previously.

Occasionally, I’d find the neighborhood in which I was supposed to live, or the job I was supposed to perform at the hospital, but various factors prevented me from achieving the seamless reintegration I’d expected. Once in awhile, a man (faceless, without distinct identity) would enter the dream and point me in the correct direction, but I was never able to understand him or follow his instructions.

Then, I’d remember that I’d left my daughters behind in the United States, and I wondered why I’d returned to Riyadh without them. I’d feel sad in reverse, so to speak, sad that I’d returned to Riyadh without the pulse of my life which now resides in the States.

I didn’t need psychoanalysis to tell me the meaning of all these recurrent Riyadh dreams. My dream Riyadh symbolized the psychological and spiritual state of mind that prevailed when I lived in the actual Riyadh. For me, Riyadh afforded an atmosphere of exploration, discovery, enlargement, development and transformation, an atmosphere I’ve craved all my life.

The actual Riyadh, with all its restrictions and prohibitions, gave me more freedom than I’ve ever had here in the States. That theme needs further elaboration, perhaps here in my blog.

In May of 1986, during an orientation session for new expats to Saudi Arabia, a psychologist explained Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

He said, “People become expatriates for two reasons. They are either running away from something or running to something.”

Even then, I knew I was running in both directions.