Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Gift of Time

Three years ago I was leading a group on an idea hunt through Seattle when I stumbled upon the Experience Music Project building which was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sculptural quality, the color and sheen of the building just captivated me and I made a mental note to find out more about Frank Gehry, the architect. Last night I watched "The Sketches of Frank Gehry" (directed by his long-time friend Sydney Pollack) and was astounded at Gehry's work and his creative process. At the end of the film, Frank Gehry is visiting one of his buildings and he gently runs his fingertips along the curve of a wall. That's exactly what I want to do ... I want to see and touch each one of his amazing buildings. I want to see the spectrum of colors that ripple across their unique shapes with the changing of the light.

Not having anything else planned for the day, I went to my computer and put together a quick database of the Gehry buildings and where they are ... an idea started forming about a pilgrimage to Gehry's buildings. A lot are in the LA area so I booked tickets for an Angelique Kidjo concert in February (held in the Walt Disney Concert Hall - a Gehry building) and started charting an itinerary to Spain and Germany. It then suddenly occurred to me just how incredible this time is. I've have been whining and groaning about being alone when what I actually have is the complete freedom to follow my whims. For most of my life I have yearned for time. Time to think, learn, do new projects, meditate, or time to have long, rambling conversations with no purpose other than to be connected to another person. Now I have that time. My life has become extremely simple with very few commitments, appointments or other time drains. Most mornings I wake up with a gloriously clean calendar, a blank slate calling me to follow my inclinations and do what I want to do.

What a gift! Even if I don't wind up going to Spain to see the Guggenheim Bilbao, I can if I want to. I have the time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Being Available

This weekend was a gift that reminded me that my job right now is to be available to life and its wide spectrum of joys and sorrows. Perhaps being available is always our job but one that easily gets buried in the rush of everyday life and distractions.

A few weeks ago I saw a small notice in a local paper about the "Boulder Shoot Out," a film contest that gives teams 24 hours to create a 7-minute movie. There was a call for volunteers so I submitted a form and then forgot about it. Last week I got a call from a woman who asked me if I wanted to be a first round judge for the contest. I said yes and then decided that I wanted to be more involved so I showed up at registration Friday night. I didn't have much to do so I wandered around talking to the teams, making sure they had all their paperwork and connecting them to available actors and actresses and anything else I could help with. The teams ranged from young to old, novice to semi-professional. The one thing they all had in common was enthusiasm and excitement. It was infectious.

Saturday night I went back for the check-in. There was a count-down clock and anyone who didn't make it in by the end of the 24 hours was disqualified. Two teams didn't make it ... by seconds. A total of 39 teams turned in films and we judges spent the next several hours reviewing them. Some were pretty bad, some were really amazingly good considering the rules that included only in-camera editing. All of them contained creative sparks of the teams that produced them.

After all of the teams checked in, I walked over to a young camera man who had been filming the shootout activities for a documentary. He had been working hard so I just wanted to say hi and see what he thought about the activities. He decided he had to interview me since I was a judge (something I had been trying to avoid) and we started talking about how much fun the contest looked like and the possibilities of actually being part of the next one. When he found out I was a writer, he suggested that we team up for the Cheyenne ShootOut that will be held next month. By the end of the evening another couple had joined us so I may be on my way to making my first movie ... a thought that makes me chuckle. Like most people who have lived in Southern California, I, too, have an unsold screen play (unsold primarily because it's really pretty bad) and have had fantasies about "making movies." I never thought about making a 7-minute one, but who knows, maybe that's my way of scratching it off my "bucket list."

Or maybe it will turn into something else ... who knows? I just have to stay available to what the Universe brings. I know I can't control what comes my way ... I can only control my reactions to what comes and try to find the joy, lessons and connections available in each moment. Perhaps this is what Rumi meant when he said, "Learn the alchemy true human beings know. The moment you accept what troubles you've been given, the door will open."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Second Chance Story


In a recent post, I wrote about being in Aspen and taking a picture of a man that I later wished I had talked to, a person I felt a connection with but did not take time to actually talk to him. I felt a sense of lost opportunity and a lesson gained about slowing down. Well, it turns out that the universe might be giving me a second chance and that the "six degrees of separation" thing might truly work.

I told my friend Lynne about the experience and showed her the picture. Her brother works in Aspen and his girlfriend has lived there most of her life and knows everyone in Aspen so Lynne sent her the picture and told her the story. Linda recognized the guy but didn't actually know who he was. But, and this is where the coincidences get eerie, she got on a bus a couple of days after getting the picture and there he was. She sat down beside him and showed him the picture which was on her cell phone and he was delighted with it. So, she is now sending me his address so that I can send him a copy of the picture and, perhaps, get to know him as a real person rather than just a quick image for my collection.

That all lost opportunities would have such delightful endings.

About the photo: This is one of the people who inhabit Pearl Street Mall in Boulder soliciting money from shoppers and tourists. This week I'm focusing on light and the way the light hit his hair which was blowing in the wind just stopped me in my tracks. I took one picture from a distance and then moved on just to come back again and take a couple more. He seems like someone who could use a Second Chance Story.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Beginnings

Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk, once said, "Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. If I were once to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life, with its divisions and its clich├ęs, it would be time to call in the undertaker... So, then, this dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me and has certainly, I know, worried others, has helped me in fact to move freely and even gaily with the stream of life."

After my last writing which prompted me to slow down and enjoy this quiet time, this quote of Merton's seems to pull me in a different direction ... perhaps it's ok to be dissatisfied with life. But, Diane Walker in her blog "Contemplative Photography" writes, "Life's not what it's not: it just is what it is. We can spend our time worrying about what it's not; we can even view everything through that lens of disappointment. Or we can accept that what's happening is what's happening; even begin to believe that what's happening is what's supposed to happen -- that all of what challenges us now is a way of preparing us and bringing us to what awaits us next."

These seem like contradictory thoughts ... both true and yet opposed. How do they reconcile? Both seem to agree that life's challenges, our disappointments and losses, are precursors to what comes next. They are our openings for renewal ... our new beginnings. Maybe it isn't as much how we feel about the present moment but whether or not we can stay completely open to it and what it brings. Perhaps that's what Merton means when he says "if he were to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life," it would be time to die. That satisfaction, to him, might be equated to being closed to what might come next. And, yet others of us might be able to accept the difficulties ... or the joys ... of the present moment and know that "this too shall pass" and there will always be new beginnings ... at least until all the new beginnings in this plane are exhausted and the ultimate new beginning begins.

I think this has just twisted my brain and it's time for another cup of tea.

Filling My Cup

When a new friend mentioned a recent time when her "cup was empty," I had an immediate, visceral recognition that my own cup was empty and that I had been trying to deny its emptiness. I had been trying to be positive, optimistic and strong but instead I was just denying my feelings and the realities of my life and the losses I have experienced. Just admitting to myself that I was empty and needed to nourish my spirit lightened the load.

But, now I'm beginning to wonder about my methods of filling my cup. I feel like I've rushed through my entire life trying to get "there," wherever or whatever there was. Now I can feel myself rushing to fill my cup, chasing around, filling up hours, trying to fill my cup from a fire hydrant. This morning I awoke feeling quiet and rested and thought wouldn't it be nice to just sit by a quiet stream and slowly fill my cup or simply place it under a tiny waterfall and let the slow trickle fill it.

Several months ago, I decided that the next 10 years of my life would be the best ones available to me (for reasons of health and energy) and, therefore, they should be GOLDEN. I immediately started thinking about things I wanted to see, places I wanted to go, adventures I wanted to have. The very commitment to having "ten golden years" started feeling like a pressure to succeed or achieve something. This morning the world had shifted a little and now I wonder if "golden" might not include slowly and deliberately doing very little except savoring the moment I'm in.

It's an interesting time of life and I keep wondering where I'm going. I keep wanting to turn to the back of the book to see how it ends even when I know that the book ... the ending ... is still being written. Now the thought strikes me ... maybe I'm already here. Maybe sitting here in the deep quiet of this morning, reflecting on life and spirit is my "there." Maybe instead of rushing around the world looking for new connections and experiences, it's ok to just sit here in this quiet place and connect with my spirit and let whatever parts of the world that want to connect to me come to me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Roots


This afternoon I've been reading Craig Childs' very engaging House of Rain, a travelogue through the world of the Anasazi which offer the promise of "an enthralling revisionist portrait of American prehistory." But, the statement that just grabbed me was Childs' description of his own childhood which included moving every year or two, a description that not only matches my childhood but also my adult years. Childs states: "Migration simply happens to some people. Maybe a restless, spring-loaded gene keeps us on the move, or an alignment of perpetual coincidences pushes us from place to place."

For most of my life I've listened to stories about people who lived in the same house all their lives with a sense of yearning, almost envy. A friend of mine lives in the house her parents lived in, a house she has lived in since she was 12. I can't imagine that much continuity or roots that go that deep. As I sit in a new home in a new state in a new life condition, I suddenly wonder if I'm part of that "alignment of perpetual coincidences" that push me from place to place. As much as I like to think I want to settle down and stay in one place, perhaps I am a wanderer. Or maybe, my roots take other forms ... while I move around more than normal, I tend to keep people in my life forever. My friend Judy says I am part of "her people" and she is part of mine. Somehow, there is a tribe of "my people' who are connected even though we're geographically dispersed.

But, the yearning for roots still runs strong and I wonder if I will ever find a place that will be "my place." Or will the "perpetual coincidences" keep pushing me around?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dancing Stars


The wisdom for this morning comes from my refrigerator ... a magnet that says, "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." -- Nietzsche.

So who is this Nietzsche and what does he know about chaos and dancing stars? I vaguely know the name and of him but suddenly I want to know more.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the late 19th century who challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. He believed in life, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to as one of the first existentialist philosophers, Nietzsche's revitalizing philosophy has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries.

Nietzsche was plagued by ill health, misunderstandings and neglect of his writings and quite a lot of chaos in his life. So maybe he does understand dancing stars.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Never Alone

"For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours and ours alone and ours only for a time.

"We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of Earth, my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human soul, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my very own self, I am part of my family.



"There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.
"
-- D.H. Lawrence

Not Telling the Truth

Yesterday I went back to Maroon Bells to try to take a decent photograph of it since I had been unsuccessful the day before. I had toyed with the idea of putting two images together to create a good one but decided that was "cheating."

This morning I was looking for the elevation of the ghost town Ashcroft when I found this image by a "professional" photographer who will remain unnamed. Nice image ... much better than the one I took while I was there ... the one below.


You may notice a pretty dramatic difference, however ... the absence of the dramatic mountain in the background. Yep, photoshop strikes again. And, actually not all that skillfully.

Somehow, just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done. Where are our professional ethics?

Stages of Life

While walking around Maroon Bells, I kept seeing patches of weeds with these feathery white flowers and curled leaves. They were quite beautiful and kept calling to me. Later I tried to find out what they were by asking the rangers but my descriptive powers weren't meshing with their databanks of information. Later, when I was walking around Ashcroft, an old mining ghost town at 9500', I ran into Ben, the resident expert there and asked him if he knew flowers and he said it was one of his specialties. I tried describing my flower to him but he was drawing a blank, too. So, I dug my laptop out of the car and Ben and I poured over photographs of plants and my unknown flower which he immediately recognized as a fireweed in its last stage of seed producing.

He also showed me a picture of it in its early flower stage. A dramatic difference ... both beautiful ... but it's hard to tell that they are both the same plant. Seems to remind me of the stages of life and the beauty that exists in all of them. I actually think the late stage fireweed is the more beautiful ... but perhaps I'm prejudiced!









Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lost Opportunities

Yesterday, after hiking around Maroon Bells for a few hours, I was ready to hike down to a bus pick-up spot and I was looking for the trail head when I spotted an older man quietly sitting and looking at the view. There was something about him that stopped me ... he looked so peaceful and serene. I asked him if I could take a picture of him and he smiled and said yes. So, I took my picture and moved on.

Today it hit me that I missed an opportunity. In my haste to capture every bit of shimmering yellow and make my way down the mountain, I missed an opportunity to meet someone who looked like he had wisdom to share. I missed a connection. I saw that man not as a person but only as an image. Several years ago I wrote a poem about time and how I did not have time to not slow down. Obviously, I have not learned that lesson yet. I know I will never see that man again and that opportunity is irretrievably lost ... but I can keep the lesson he inadvertently taught me once again, and which showed up in this poem:

My Lost Brother

My brother,
I'm sorry I did not stop to talk.
I'm sorry I did not stop to hear your heart.

In my rush to be on my way,
I simply snapped my photo and
added another image to my collection.

I did not see you truly sitting there
willing to share your wisdom,
waiting to explore our connection.

Too late now, I know
that you are my brother and
you held a priceless gift for me.

My brother, while we will never know
our linkage to each other, I promise
to never again rush past an outstretched hand.

MaroonBells

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself of the vast abundance available to me. After the morning visitation from the red fox and watching the colorful launch of the hot air balloons, I then went tramping off to the Maroon Bells (here's a link to some of the incredible images of the bells) which are the most photographed peaks in all of North America. It's hard to take a bad picture of the most photographed peaks in America but, back in my room, I discovered that I had taken about a hundred of them. The day was beautiful with white clouds punctuating the skies and hanging over the Bells. I looked at them and thought, "Ahhh, contrast with the dark reddish color of the peaks." I definitely did not think, "Ewww ... ugly white splotch." But that's what was hanging over the Bells in almost all of my pictures.

I use a really good point-and-shoot camera which has some ability to control exposure but definitely doesn't have the filters, alternative lens or manual adjustments to compensate for the challenge the sky posed. And, I didn't have the skills or even the observation depth to realize what needed to be done. Back in my room, I tried using Photoshop and by dropping a sky from one photo into another, I did come up with an acceptable shot ... but that didn't feel right. I don't mind tweaking a shot but to layer together two photos in order to create one acceptable one wasn't working for me.

The more I looked, the more I realized that I had been so busy looking at the spectacular peaks and reflection in the water, that I hardly noticed the sky ... it was just the backdrop. Of course, it was soon clear that the sky, the backdrop, was a key element of the image. It made me wonder about what elements of my life I'm overlooking or dismissing as backdrop.

This morning I went back to the Bells to see what I could learn. The day was even more overcast than yesterday so the problem hadn't gone away. But it was earlier and the lake was glassy and the reflections fabulous. I tried the normal shots and could see immediately the ugly gray-white blotch above the Bells. But the reflection in the water was lovely so I got rid of the problem by chopping off the tops of the Bells and just let them show up in the water. It's not a "money shot," but it's true to my perception and makes me happy.

It also made me think that we have to do the best we can with what we have. I'm not a professional photographer and I don't have the equipment that would overcome the challenge presented by the Bells. But, by looking at things a different way and using what I had at hand, I found a way to capture beauty and feel the joy that came with that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whining

After whining this morning about the plight of my life (let's see, I'm in Aspen, staying in a lovely hotel room with free internet, a warm comfortable bed, hot shower and a deck overlooking the mountains ... perhaps I need a dose of reality?!) ... anyway, after doing all that whining and navel-gazing I went out to see the balloons launch and immediately met a pair of red fox who played and posed and treated me as if I were just another fellow traveler on their path.

And, then to the balloon grounds where I watched the most spectacularly stunning, jaw-droppingly incredible display of color and form I've ever seen. About 25-balloons slowly and gracefully inflated and drifted toward the perfect azure sky. My camera and I were in ecstasy ... at least until it started to lose its battery juice.

I forgot that I was alone as I absorbed the shimmering color around me. Slowly, it dawned on me that perhaps the only antidote to pain is joy and, more importantly, joy is always available to us. We just have to look around us and see what calls to us. But, it does mean (I say to myself) somehow turning down the volume of the whining long enough to hear the quiet murmur of what we love, what brings us joy, what pulls us into connection with our spirit and makes us no longer feel alone and disconnected.

Maybe it's the turning down the volume of the whining that is the biggest challenge?

Back to google: whine (hwn, wn)
v. whined, whin·ing, whines
v.intr.1. To utter a plaintive, high-pitched, protracted sound, as in pain, fear, supplication, or complaint.
2. To complain or protest in a childish fashion.
3. To produce a sustained noise of relatively high pitch: jet engines whining.

Childish. That leads me to parenting a whining child ... only I'm reading "my whining inner child."

Stop Whining in 4 Easy Steps:


Whining is a habit your child developed over time, and it will take a little time to break it. But, don't despair; you can stop your child's whining habit. Here's how.

1. Notice when she whines and choose your response. Changing the pattern of whining begins when you change how you respond to it.

2. When you notice her whining, call her attention to it. Whining has become an unconscious habit by the time she reaches elementary school. She needs to learn to recognize it first. Some strategies you can try are:
* Purposeful ignoring. You can even say "I'm ignoring you when you use your whiny voice. Try again in your normal voice and I'll pay attention."
* Whine back. Use a bit of humor to cue her to notice her whining by showing what a whiny voice sounds like.
* Stop her immediately when she whines and say, "Do you hear that you are whining? Tell me the same thing in your normal voice."

3. Tone of voice is the hallmark of whining, but the child's reaction to being told 'no' is another component of whining. She needs to learn a new habit to replace whining, so help her learn the right approach to asking for what she wants. Asking politely is an important social skill that you can teach directly. To teach a child to accept 'no' for an answer can be more of a challenge. I like the approach from Common-Sense Parenting. Teach your child to:
* Stop and look at Mom or Dad
* Say "OK"
* Stay calm. Do not argue or whine.
* If you disagree, discuss it later, calmly and in private

4. Reinforce non-whining. Focus on the problem for 2-3 months, and thereafter if the habit creeps back. Notice when she asks politely and when she accepts 'no' for an answer without whining. Praise and reward her to reinforce the new learning. When she does whine, pause, look at her, and call attention to the whining if necessary. Help her think through what she should say and how to practice the new learning. Watch your own whining too, so that social learning doesn't overcome your efforts to break your child's whining habit.

Summary: Notice when I'm whining and have a plan. Call attention to it and stop immediately. Learn a new habit ... breathe, acknowledge it and replace it with a gratitude or a joy. Acknowledge the joy rather than indulge in the whining.

The Joyful Angst of Solitude

Call it joyful. Call it angst. Call it what it really is ... a frightening, overwhelming aloneness ... a howling wolf in the dead of winter trying to chew its own leg free of the steel trap that binds it in the dark night. Its blackness stretches endless before me obliterating everything, blinding me, deafening me with its endless message of pain, loss and abandonment. Translation: It sucks ... big time. After a lifetime of companionship and longing for the joys of solitude, I now have solitude and long for the joys of companionship. Be careful what you wish for.

Rilke says:
"Don't be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. Walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours--that is what you must be able to attain."
I say: Rilke sucks. Yesterday I had lunch in a lovely park filled with families and children and dogs chasing each other in circles. Togetherness, family and friendship surrounded me but did not include me or invite me in. I am on the fringes looking in ... just like the lonely little girl of my childhood, nosed pressed to the screen doors of the neighborhood asking if there were any children there who could come out and play. Now I'm expected to look in the screen doors of my own soul and ask if there is anyone there (here?) who wants to come out? And this is supposed to bring me joy?

I turn to a more modern source and Wikipedia says:
Solitude is a state of seclusion or isolation; i.e., lack of contact with people. It may stem from bad relationships, deliberate choice, contagious disease, disfiguring features, repulsive personal habits, mental illness, or circumstances of employment or situation (see castaway).
Castaway ... that's what I feel like. I've been cast away by death, by rejection, by circumstance. I would like to take my solitude in small doses, thank you very much. A day here, a week there. Not this life sentence of aloneness, not this loneliness that seems to be stalking me through the long night.

Turning to what others say about solitude, I find:
"There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall."
~Colette

"When we cannot bear to be alone, it means we do not properly value the only companion we will have from birth to death - ourselves."
~Eda LeShan

"The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude." ~Voltaire
And, while reading Thoreau on Solitude, I find that he, at least briefly, questioned the value of solitude and wondered if the near "neighborhood of man was not essential to a
serene and healthy life." But he goes on to recognize a pattern in his own thinking, "But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my recovery."

I recognize that "slight insanity" in my own mind. I am the wolf chewing away at my own leg to get free of this dark sense of loneliness ... but I am also the wolf roaming the quiet, moon lit woods called ever forward by sights and sounds of the world of freedom and solitude.

I foresee my own recovery. I foresee a time when I can be "alone without being lonely" as a dear friend who learned this lesson earlier in life describes it. I foresee a time when solitude is more joyful than angst. And, I remind myself to relax and breathe in the joy of each moment. I remind myself to follow Voltaire's advice to create a life of "busy solitude."

Light and Love

I'm in Aspen-Snowmass for the balloon festival and it is a perfect fall day ... bright, saturated blue skies with puffy white clouds, warm sun and cool breezes. Stopped for lunch at Rio Grande Park which had dozens of kids and dogs to watch play across the perfect green grass. After lunch I walked along the trail that led off in a myriad of directions and wound up at the Aspen Art Museum and wandering through the rocks in the John Denver Sanctuary reading lyrics and hearing John's voice in my head.

I was also looking for pictures of "light" since Diane Walker and I are continuing our Miksang photography journey and "light" is the focus this week. I am having trouble with this focus since all photographs are actually images of light. How to separate out just light and follow my intention to see the play of light is the challenge. But light seems to be the topic since I picked up John O'Donohue's Anam Cara which both Diane and I are reading and his focus was on light also. Here are some of his words:
"We are always on a journey from darkness into light. At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother's womb."

"Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other."

"Ultimately, light is the mother of life. Where there is no light, there can be no life. Light is the secret presence of the divine. It keeps life awake."
It was interesting for me to connect these words with my relationship that just ended where our main issue was over light ... his need for dark and for controlling the number of lights on at any one time and my need for light and resistance to being so controlled. There was no light and the relationship had no life. It was a metaphor made manifest and O'Donohue also connects the metaphor of light with love and offers this statement:
"When the human mind began to consider the next greatest mystery to life, the mystery of love, light was also always used as a metaphor for it's power and presence. When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you. Where before there was anonymity, now there is intimacy; where before there was fear, now there is courage; where before in your life there was awkwardness, now there is a rhythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you were jagged, now you are elegant and in rhythm with your self. When love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning."
The synchronicity of reading this message at lunch and then walking into John Denver's sanctuary where his lyrics to "Perhaps Love" are chiseled in stone seemed like life is again chuckling at me or maybe with me. Light and Love ... something to think about.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Below the Surface

Our local Albertson's is closing. It's a lovely store, new, clean, spacious, friendly ... now plastered with 25% off signs that will only get more dramatic as the final day approaches. But, below the shattered glass of the actual store closing, below the rational decision undoubtedly based on hard facts and figures, lie a thousand stories. Single moms and seniors, many without cars, walk to the store. It is part of their support system, their lifeline to food and necessities, part of their social network. Most of the employees will go on to find other jobs eventually but, for one employee who recently lost his wife, the store is his family and he can't stop crying.

It reminds me that below the surface of everyone we know and meet, there is an unseen burden and untold pain and loss. Perhaps just remembering that would make us kinder in our everyday interactions with others. As Jack Kornfeld says, "In the end, it is not the sorrow of the world that matters but our heart's response to it. Compassion is sharing in the beauty of life and in the ocean of tears."

Shadows


This picture calls to me this morning because of what's there and what actually isn't there. The shadow is a passing play of light, an indication that something real exists but in another space. The colorful wall is actually there but largely obscured by the shadow which will soon be gone. What in our lives is real and what is shadow?

Right now a friend is in the hospital dealing with a health condition he has faced his entire adult life. He is strong and vital yet this shadow of disease regularly passes across his life. The shadow isn't him and yet it changes the picture of his life and sometimes obscures the colorful self behind the shadow. What I'm grappling with this morning is how does he ... how do we ... stay connected to our colorful true self when the very solar system we live in casts shadows that distort our lives? How do we determine what is shadow and what is self?

At any one moment, the picture of our lives is part shadow and part solid wall. It seems all too easy to be distracted by the passing shadow, the drama of the ever-shifting reflection of people, things and conditions around us and, thereby, lose touch with the foundation of who we actually are. It reminds me of a time-lapse video of fast-moving traffic in a large city. The shadows of our lives pass so rapidly about us that they become all we see ... the furious motion, the dark, moving shapes, the speeding intangibility. Until we just want to cry, "Stop!" and quietly acknowledge each colorful, solid brick in the reality of our lives.

Today I intend to focus on that wall of colorful bricks of self rather than on the myriad of shadows that have projected themselves across my life in the recent past. I am also reminded that there are many unpainted bricks on that wall and that I can choose new colors and continue to paint those bricks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rust and Sage

My new friend Diane introduced me to the book Anam Cara by John O'Donohue ... it is a beautiful, spiritual book full of Celtic Wisdom and part of what I love about it is the meaning of the title ... "soul friend." It, of course, has a dual meaning including those friends who are connected to our spirits and feed our souls and the idea that we have to be our own soul friend and nourish our own spirits.

This image seems to remind me of the qualities of our friends who become soul friends ... two pieces of fabric with different but complementary colors, different direction and wrinkles yet with a texture that is similar and both pieces sewn together to form a strong and beautiful connection. I am blessed in my life to have friends whom I consider soul friends and who nourish my spirit especially in this time of uncertainty and transition. This morning my friend Judy pulled me through a melt-down and took the time to listen to all the myriad of details that made up the life-confusion I was spinning around in. Judy is a practical person and strong-willed. If I would just listen to her advice, I would be better off but I need to keep explaining the exceptions and extenuating circumstances. I needed to fully explore every wrinkle and nuance and she let me go on till I felt like I had every piece of the puzzle on the table. Then, when she gave me her advice, which probably was the same as she would have given me at the beginning of the conversation, I could hear it ... and accept the wisdom of it.

But, it was only after knowing completely that she saw my color and direction that I could hear the color and direction of her wisdom. Funny how that is ... as if only by emptying my cup of it's cold, bitter brew could I receive the warm, fragrant tea of her friendship. Thanks, Judy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aging Well

We do not expect babies to walk at six months but we do expect them to be toddling around by 18 months. Years of focused research and the practical experience of generations of parents have given us a pretty sound view of the stages of infancy through childhood and into young adulthood. We even understand that mid-life often brings crisis but when it comes to the last stage of life, which the bubble of boomers are now entering, we find ourselves asking "What's it all about?"

As our life expectancy increases, what is the purpose of the 20 or 30 years that stretch beyond child rearing, beyond career, beyond keeping up with the Jones? Now that we finally have time, what do we do with it? And, who are we if we're not our kids, our jobs, our stuff?

A study at Harvard that's been going on for over sixty years may help us answer some of those questions. Documented in the book Aging Well by George Vailant, M.D. (and more briefly in an article in The Atlantic), this study spells out a series of tasks for successful life and I've added questions that relate to each task.

Identity - Who am I? Separating from family and developing a sense of ourselves as individuals.
Intimacy -- Who will I let fully into my heart? Learning to live with another person in an interdependent, committed relationship and expanding the sense of self to include another.
Career Consolidation -- What is my work? Expanding personal identity to assume social identity within the world of work.
Generativity -- How can I help others? Developing the capacity to care enough to give away self and time, especially to the young.
Keeper of the Meaning -- What meaning can I preserve for the future? Taking care of and conserving and preserving our collective culture and institutions.
Integrity -- What is my relationship to spirit? Accepting the cycle of life and sharing the wisdom that a life-time of experience brings.

These tasks are more of a spiral than a linear progression and we keep circling in and out of them as we continue our journey through life. But, the Harvard Study shows that making progress on these tasks aligns with the sense of having a "good life."

Contradiction


"Your solitude will allow your contradictions to emerge with clarity and force. If you remain faithful to this energy, you will gradually come to participate in a harmony that lies deeper than any contradiction. This will give you new courage to engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life."
-- from Anam Cara by John O'Donohue

Anam Cara means "soul friend" and could refer to another person but can also mean befriending our own spirit. Thinking about contradictions and this image prompted the following:

beauty in the muck of the street
soft and vulnerable against the dark
ground of reality
tossed away, tossed around
but still vibrant and alive
calling to the world
calling to me
cherished by the act of observation
captured forever in awareness
safe in the contradiction
of darkness and joy.

The Sound of Solitude


Bell ... a brief blue tinkle awakening the ear.
Gong ... a warm golden vibration resonating through the body.

Wake-up and feel the sounds of solitude playing its melody
Harmonizing with the dance of your new life
Play them softly
Play them loud
Be the player
Be the listener
Be awake
Be aware
Be.

My Cup Is Empty


We are sitting at lunch at Boulder's Pearl Street mall when my new friend Diane says, "Your cup is empty" and the words telegraph through my body and find their mark deep in my heart. And, as tears begin to flow, I realize that I am empty ... broken open, depleted and disconsolate, far from the dyed-in-the wool, rose-colored-glasses, cheerful optimist that I had been.

Three years of loss piled one upon another until I am sitting here in this strange state feeling utterly alone, homeless, rootless, without solid ground to hold onto. I suddenly know that I am an empty vessel and am not completely sure that I am not too broken to ever be filled again. Mary Oliver's words from "The Journey" echo in my mind, "It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones." My path seems confounded and blocked by the fallen branches and stones and perhaps I will never be able to clear them. Sorrow, fear, pain and aloneness envelop me and I'm not sure I have the energy to find my way out. By myself, I feel too weak to grapple with this challenge and I find myself clinging to a past-relationship as if it's my only hope.

And yet, the simple act of admitting that I am empty seems to let me hear a small, new voice that says simply: "Begin, do what brings you joy, take one step at a time and tend your spirit."

What brought me to this place and introduced me to my new friend, who with just four words stripped me bare of my false-front of strength and independence, was a Miksang workshop about seeing in a new way and capturing those new perceptions through photography. Miksang is a Tibetan word that means "good eye" and is as much a meditative practice as a photography technique. We had been using the technique for two days and, as always, the act of taking pictures, capturing small pieces of beauty, was bringing me joy but, in some ways, it felt like layering wallpaper over a wall that had not been washed clean of years of grime and debris. The pain was still swirling an indelible pattern below the surface. Admitting to myself my vulnerability to pain and loss seems like a first step in cleaning that surface. Perhaps now the Miksang practice of awareness and perception, the slowing down and taking each step with intention, will allow the joy of each perception to stick and gradually begin to refill my cup.

I feel a great sense of relief. I have been looking around rather desperately for a project, a mission, a way of serving, in actuality, anything that would distract me from the pain. Now I realize that I am not ready to go out into the world. I have nothing to offer because I am empty. Who I was has drained away and who I will be has not made an appearance. So now I am unformed, uncertain of anything except my emptiness and a willingness to walk toward spirit, a willingness to be filled.

Two Kinds of People




There are two kinds of people in the world ... those who love quotes and those who don't. Over thirty years ago I fell in love with quotes and gradually built up a collection of more than 2,000 quotes that resonated with my spirit. I maintained the quotes in a FileMaker Pro database and as I changed computers regularly moved the quotes and the software to my new PC ... until the day when my new PC did not have a floppy drive and I couldn't easily move the software. My life was in flux then so I let the quotes fall into disuse, although I kept the file tucked safely away. Finally, I found a company that could translate my quote file into a spreadsheet format that I could bring into my new Mac environment ... it was like welcoming many wise, long-lost friends back into my life.

I've been sitting and having tea with my quote friends and Maya Angelou told me this: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." For the past few years my life has been chaotic and filled with loss. Not wanting to dwell on my pain, I stopped writing and many untold stories gathered inside me, until Maya reminded me that not writing can also be an agony. Her words were the last prompt I needed to start this blog which, I hope, will tell the story of my journey back to joy.