Monday, May 24, 2010

What's it all about? -- The spiral at National Museum of the American Indian

I got a majorly rapid response from NMAI regarding my question about the spiral outside the NMAI that I talked about in my post yesterday. I've pasted the reply below. Pretty cool, huh? Oddly enough, I've actually watched a documentary about Chaco Canyon and how the people who lived there attained incredible understanding about the moon cycles. Very interesting and impressive.
HI Lori
   The spiral you are referring to actually represents the major lunar standstills-periods of extreme daily and monthly moonrise and moonset patterns that occur every 19 years.  It is modeled after the Chaco Canyon’s ancient sundial  that recorded the moon and sun positions at different points of the year. 
  The symbol also shows example of balance throughout our museum’s landscape.  If you noticed our front entrance has sun symbols (because we face the east) and the south entrance where the spiral is shows the moon.  In some Native cultures (i.e. my Quechua ancestors) the sun is a male form and the moon is a female form (Inti-the sun…Killa-the moon).
I hope this helps you out in understanding the many symbols throughout our building. 


What happened while I was gone?!

I leave for 4 days and all of a sudden the Midwest has been miraculously transported to the surface of the sun? I can't believe how hot it is here. Jeez. I got to my car at the airport and it was an oven. I had left a little bottle of lotion in there before going into the airport because I wasn't sure if they'd catch it at security. Apparently, the bottle had melted a little and the top must have exploded off. Luckily, there wasn't lotion squirted all over everything - for some reason. The little plastic covers I have on the top of two of my keys literally melted together. We really only have two seasons here, I guess. Winter and summer. Fall lasts about 2 days and Spring lasts about 2 days so I won't count them. Got to my apartment and it was a sauna. It's cooling down finally. Thank god for air conditioning!! I'm a heat wimp.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Leaving the Capitol

This is my last day in Washington DC -- well, Alexandria, VA. My nephew, Nathan, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. I had a great time. Nathan was thrilled to have his picture taken 100 times with every combination of relatives. We were thrilled not to sit through a 2 hour graduation ceremony. Much more fun to spend time with family and hang out. I got to spend some quality walking (in the rain) and yarn shopping time with Simone (Nathan's lovely partner). Love her!! 
Sorry about all the backlighting in these photos. I plan to spend lots of time learning Photoshop this summer so I'll be able to adjust that kind of thing in the future.

Today, we went to The National Museum of the American Indian. I'd highly recommend it if you're ever in the area. The building itself is beautiful. The whole building is rounded and curved. It looks as if it were a huge rock that the wind had carved away at for ages. Inside and out, there are lots of spirals and circles. Very organic and easy on the eyes. While going through the museum, I found myself aware of moving in circles but not staying still. Many of the sections were curved so that you left in the same place you entered so there was a sense of being back in the same place but with different knowledge and experience. My understanding is that this is a common Indian philosophy and way of seeing the world. It was quite a multidimensional experience.

I learned a lot -- so much information that was sadly lacking in my education; in all of our educations no doubt. I'd have to go several times to really absorb everything there. Representatives of each community curated it's own smaller section. Who knew that there was a cross-tribal community of urban Indians in Chicago? Pretty cool. 

A friend of mine and a faculty member in the American Indian Studies program at UIUC was generous enough to share some of his syllabi with me. I've read most of the way through a book called Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong by Paul Chaat Smith and it was so cool to be at the museum where the author refers to some of the work he and others have done there. The book was overdue at the library and I couldn't renew it but this will get me back in gear to request it again. It's a very funny, honest, direct (in an indirect kind of way) and poignant book. Check it out! You can also go to his home page - PCS - to see how funny he is - he calls the page Fear of a Red Planet. I love the way he humorously touches on the very things Americans struggle with in incorporating American Indians into their concept of the US. He often seems to include Indians themselves in this struggle. I'd love to have dinner and chat with this guy. Seems like a very interesting person.    

Back to NMAI, I learned a little more online about some of the sculptures outside the NMAI building. If you go to Always Becoming you can learn more about some of them and about Nora Naranjo-Morse who is the Santa Clara Pueblo Indian who designed and installed the sculptures pictured below. She has a great website! These three are (from left to right) Mother, Father and Little One.
I'm less certain about the meaning of this spiral. Lisa walked it like a labyrinth. I couldn't find out anything else about it online so I emailed the Museum to learn if it has a particular meaning or if it's more of a general tie-in with the other spiral imagery of the site. I'll let you know what they tell me!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Books, books and more books

Well...yesterday, Geoff and I went through all of our books to decide which ones we would donate or sell and which ones we wanted to keep. And we have a LOT of books:

...and even more books upstairs!! Yet to come: sorting through the ones we want to keep and who gets which books. 

When we initially decided to transition into a different kind of relationship, for some odd reason I was really emotional about going through our books and separating them. I know that was just a metaphor for the separation we were facing but when I thought of the practicalities, the books often seemed the most emotional for me. 

Strangely enough, while yesterday was sad, it wasn't unbearable. I like to think it's because we've done such a good job of engaging in this process in good faith. We communicate directly and clearly, we avoid hurting each other as much as possible, and we trust that the other will be fair. By the time we had to go through the books, we'd resolved a lot of what the books had represented to me before. Because we've addressed things directly, the physical objects in my life no longer have to stand in for emotions.

Most of my adult life, I've lugged almost every book I've ever owned to the next place I live. At this point, though, it feels liberating to lose the burden. Libraries and the internet serve just fine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Despite the Hunger
Alice Walker

the hunger
we cannot
than this:
in a garden
our own.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The second chapter of Full Catastrophe Living addresses the attitude needed to cultivate a mindfulness practice. Kabat-Zinn likens mindfulness to falling asleep. You can't force yourself to fall asleep, right? The more you try to make yourself fall asleep, the harder it becomes. Apparently, mindfulness meditation is the same. The idea is to create the conditions for mindfulness and then let go. 
Kabat-Zinn describes seven "pillars of mindfulness practice." 
  • non-judging - just watch whatever comes up as an observer
  • patience - "why rush through some moments to get to other, 'better' ones? After all, each one is your life at that moment"
  • beginner's mind - "...allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does."
  • trust - in yourself and your feelings; "It is impossible to become like somebody else. Your only hope is to become more fully yourself."
  • non-striving - do not set any goals or desired outcomes for the eight week period
  • acceptance - "remember, now is the only time you have for anything. You have to accept yourself as you are before you can really change."
  • letting go - reminds me of when I fell down once while water skiing -- by instinct, I held on to the tow rope long after I'd lost my balance on the water - it was so painful! As soon as I realized that I needed to let go and then did, I just stopped bouncing along and slowly sank into the lake, no pain, no drama, my life vest held me comfortable up. I wonder if practicing mindfulness is like that life vest. I still haven't learned how to let go of that rope, though. 
Some other keys to developing this practice are to commit to 45 minutes at least 6 days a week. He also writes that people participating need to "kindle a vision of what they really want for themselves." He says this kind of personal vision helps keep you going when you don't feel like practicing or if you get discouraged. I need to think about what my vision is. Right now, a lot of my vision involves seeing myself as someone who is confident, not ashamed of being fully who she is, and not afraid of the future. I'd like to see myself as someone who is more grounded in herself and her own value so that she can soften and be more generous with others.  

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Structure, Yay!!

I've been doing much, much better lately but have been struggling a bit with feeling kind of "stuck" where I am and not knowing how to structure this ambiguous "work" on myself. I'm better, but still having a hard time coping with some of the more difficult aspects of the life changes I'm undergoing. A clinical supervisor once told me that the great thing and the difficult thing about being a therapist is that we're always in therapy. My belief is that I'm a better therapist if I'm willing to do what I ask my clients to do so I'm always working on my own "shit." Well...needless to say, I've had a lot of shit to work on lately.

I'm in a case conference with 4 amazing therapists and was consulting with them about a client or five who are struggling with anxiety and life transitions. My friend and colleague, John, shared some books about mindfulness he's found very helpful. The one he suggested starting with is called Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Went out after work yesterday to get the book. Started reading it this morning and found that Kabat-Zinn suggests an 8 week program for implementing the various tools he introduces here. There are also CD's to assist. I ordered those today!

What I plan to do is to follow the 8-week program and write about it here. Should be interesting. First, I'll read through the first part of the book that describes the techniques while I'm waiting for the CD's to arrive.

The metaphor he uses is that of a sailor working with wind and weather to propel the boat. "When we are able to mobilize our inner resources to face our problems artfully, we find we are usually able to orient ourselves in such a way that we can use the pressure of the problem itself to propel us through it, just as a sailor can position a sail to make the best use of the pressure of the wind to propel the boat."

In the introduction, Kabat-Zinn has already set an inviting, realistic tone. No crazy promises of miracle cures. He says, "In this learning process we assume from the start that as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel." He goes on to say that given this, still "a certain kind of effort and energy on your part will be required." So it can be stressful to do this. We'll see how it goes! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All Graphic Design, All The Time

I'm so tired of doing graphic design exercises!! Given everything that's been going on in my life, I've procrastinated more than usual. Now, I'm having to cram a semester's worth of work into about a week. I'm saturated! I do graphic design in the morning, I do graphic design in the evening, I do graphic design during the day when I should be working. At least I haven't had any graphic design dreams -- yet. Today's the final push, though. I'm so, so excited to have a weekend where I can read, knit, watch tv, nap, paint or do whatever I want because I won't have these exercises to do! Ok. Back to work...