Thursday, October 29, 2009

A World of Friends

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." -- Anais Nin

This quote was sent to me by a new friend and it was like bells ringing when I read it. All day I've thought of the worlds that would have remained unopened to me if it weren't for my friends.

One friend is traveling through the far east with her husband buying incredible jewelry for her store ... an endeavor that not only brings beauty to many women but also helps support women's enterprises around the world. Through her I see parts of the world I'd never see and meet people I would never otherwise meet. One friend inspires me with her passion for the Ozark wilderness she tends daily and with her fiercely loving and protective nature. One octogenarian friend fills me with awe as she cares for her husband of 60-odd years as he struggles with Alzheimer's but still finds ways to feed her creative spirit and win awards in photography contests. Another friend restores fine watches and after looking at the multitude of tiny parts, I'll never look at watches in the same way.

Each friend opens a world within me, not only with their perceptions of the world, their life experiences and the information they share but with the emotional connections they bring to me, each different in their own way but each an important part of the whole. It makes me feel like one of those stickery weeds that has little hooks on the end of each sticker. Perhaps my purpose in life is to make a friend connection to fill each of these hooks ... and if I can fill all of my hooks with friends and each one of my friends fills their hooks and each one of their friends fills their hooks ... well, eventually we would all be truly connected and the world would be a different place.

How simple it could be. If only everyone knew about all the worlds within us which can only be opened by our friends.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Judgment vs. Love

"The more you judge, the less you love."
-- Honore de Balzac

I've been thinking a lot about judgment recently. It was prompted by an incident where a friend judged me mistakenly and harshly and the love that I had felt in our friendship suddenly seemed to vanish. I'm not sure the friendship will survive but I'm trying to keep the door open. This morning I decided to think about judgment and now wonder if I'm being unloving by "judging" judgment. So I turned to google and found ...

The blog of Erik A Fisher, who says that the opposite of love is not hate but judgment. He explains:
Love is an emotion. In its purest form, love is the most powerful emotion that exists. It is the light that shines through all darkness to every corner of our universe. Judgment, on the other hand is devoid of emotion. In its purest form, it is pure logic and is extremely powerful to refute. Judgment can, however, evoke emotions in others, because of the strength or lack of strength in the logic used to support any judgment. However, regardless of the emotions that one feels, judgment is still not an emotion.
• The power of love can draw even the most distant people together. Love traverses race, religion, age, gender, income, political affiliation – there is almost nothing that love cannot draw together. We can see the power of love in the most unlikely of marriages and friendships. Judgment, on the other hand, almost always serves the purpose to separate and categorize. It often contributes to creating hierarchies and divisions in families, neighborhoods, politics, nations and religions. Judgment often justifies war and genocide. Even when it does serve to draw some people together, it still serves to separate others.
• Love often lacks objectivity and in its truest form is unconditional. It neither evaluates nor questions — it just is. The very nature of Judgment is conditional. It requires questions and answers, and while one would hope it is based in truth, it often is not.
Another site listed many passages from various religious texts ... the admonition against judgment seems to be universal. My favorite comes from Buddhism, Sutra of Hui Neng 2:
He who treads the Path in earnest
Sees not the mistakes of the world;
If we find fault with others
We ourselves are also in the wrong.
When other people are in the wrong, we should ignore it,
For it is wrong for us to find fault.
By getting rid of this habit of fault-finding
We cut off a source of defilement.
It seems to me that only by focusing on love can we avoid judging ... only by loving my friend can I avoid also being judgmental. Putting my hurt feelings aside may be hard but I know it is the right thing to do.

But I also wonder if I loved myself enough, perhaps the judgment that came my way could have been deflected. Perhaps I would have been strong enough to not react to the incoming judgment and my feelings would not have been hurt. Perhaps feeling hurt was just a choice.

More to chew on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Life Message 1

In Asheville, I started a new series of paintings based on life messages. This is Life Message I and it was given to me early in my career when I asked a co-worker about the symbols on his ring. He told me they were Hebrew for "This, too, shall pass." The story, according to Wikipedia, goes that Solomon wanted to humble his trusted minister so he sent him off to find a special ring, stating, "It has magic powers. If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy." Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility. Six months later the minister returned with a small gold ring and on it was this inscription. At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

The phrase "This too shall pass" and the associated ring story were made popular by Abraham Lincoln in his 'Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin' on September 30, 1859:
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
Nothing is constant except change which must mean that our best strategy is gratitude for the moment and flexibility for what is headed our way.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Season of Endings

Sometimes it feels like I live in a metaphor. The crisp, fall weather is filled with endings, leaves dropping, grass turning brown, sunflowers now dark, dry shadows of their former bright selves. Today the Universe offers me a new loss to contemplate and I search for the lesson it brings but find only confusion, weariness and bits of broken trust scattered about among the fallen leaves. I can feel myself slipping backwards toward the abyss so I put on my walking shoes and my iPod with its high energy playlist, turn the volume up and head out toward the lake. Where a glorious sunset reminds me that beauty is a constant that heals the wounds left by an inconsistent world.

Gradually I walk off the lethargy and return refreshed convinced that spring will come but, for now, I need to savor this season. I need to weather this winter of endings. I need to remember that we don't always get what we want but we can always appreciate what we're given. And, while some people in my life may not be able to love me as much as I would like, I can continue to love them and learn to love myself unconditionally. And, I can hold fast to my deep conviction that love is the only thing that holds our world together.

I return to John O'Donohue's beautiful call to love:
"In love, you grow and come home to your self. When you learn to love and to let your self be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit. You are warm and sheltered. ... Love begins with paying attention to others, with an act of gracious self-forgetting. This is the condition in which we grow."
So I recommit myself to paying self-forgetting attention to those I love ... and to paying self-remembering attention to my own spirit. I relax into this season of endings knowing that "This, too, shall pass" but the lessons we learn are with us forever. And, I remember a friend's words: "Isn't life interesting~! The paths we choose, the challenges we face, the hardships we endure and the joy of living. They are all connected."

For now, this is enough ... this and remembering that spring always comes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


This is Gabriel Shaffer, an "outsider" artist from Asheville, NC. We visited Gabriel in his home studio and he graciously showed us his work and told us about his process for creating and marketing his art. The current economy has been hard on artists but Gabriel is thriving financially and creatively. He made a remarkable statement as we talked with him:
"I don't worry about selling these pieces because I know they already know where they need to go. They're just waiting for their owners to pick them up."
What if we all had that much confidence in the Universe? What if we knew that our creative efforts were needed and that we were just responsible for creating them for the "owners" who were just waiting to pick them up? It's a very interesting thought.

Outsider Art ... from Wikipedia:

The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], "raw art" or "rough art"), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane-asylum inmates.[1]

While Dubuffet's term is quite specific, the English term "outsider art" is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or Naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.

Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category (an annual Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1992). The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the mainstream "art world," regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.

In 1991, the first and only such organization dedicated to the study, exhibition and promotion of outsider art was formed in Chicago: Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Chicago is often recognized for its concentration of self taught and outsider artists, among them -- Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum, Lee Godie, William Dawson, David Philpot, and Wesley Willis. Intuit maintains a non-profit museum, open to the public, which features exhibitions of art by intuitive, outsider, and self taught artists.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blessed Solitude

Yesterday afternoon, two of my fellow photographers and I headed up the mountain to Lake Lure to capture a little of the fall color. This fall scene was one of our stops ... but it wasn't Lake Lure, it was a smallish pond we found on the way. It was charming and we only intended a quick stop but the light got better by the second and we stayed longer than we intended. We finally tore ourselves away and made it to the lake, which was beautiful but actually not as capitivating as this unremarkable pond. Our expectation centered on the extraordinary ... Lake Lure ... but the true gift was found in an ordinary moment.

Later that evening I found this blessing in John O'Donohue's Anam Cara:

A Blessing of Solitude

May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone; that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here; that behind the facade of your life, there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening.
May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

The visual beauty of the fall twilight in these North Carolina hills combined with the reminder of the blessings of solitude made yesterday a very special day.

Friday, October 16, 2009


This young street musician's face stopped me in my tracks. But, I went on ... only to turn around and come back for this photo. Wouldn't you like to know his story and where he's going in life? And, why he chose the accordian to play on the streets of Asheville.


A 7-state craft fair happens to be here in Asheville so I headed off this morning to see it and found that, like most craft fairs, 80% of the crafts are pretty common, 20% is vibrant and exciting and a handful of artists are truly exceptional. (Of course my 20% and someone else's are seldom the same so probably every craftsperson there is part of someone's 20%.) I started to pay particular attention to what called to me and sometimes stopped me in my tracks to see what I could learn about attention ... or at least my attention. Here are some things I found that stopped me...
  • Frames within frames, different treatments of the edges
  • Texture, especially when created by a mixture of media that normally doesn't go together
  • Color, sparkle and anything shiny
  • Oversized or anything bigger than normal ... smaller than normal didn't usually call to me.
  • Themes or a sense of connection to the artist's passion
  • Juxtaposition or surprising combinations ... a series of blue wine bottles with words such as "gratitude," "misery," or "pity" etched onto them with a warning not to open under pressure.
Anyway, my find for the day was Alan Daigre, a woodworker who makes some of the most beautiful chairs I've seen ... and amazingly enough they are exceptionally comfortable. Daigre calls them "rope chairs" (we need to think of a new name for them) and I was fascinated by the thinking behind them so we struck up a conversation. It turns out he was looking for a way to make a chair "universally comfortable" and started with the idea of articulation so that the chair could conform to any body type. He says he went through a lot of failed experiments before getting to the current model and only then did he start working on the aesthetics. As you can see from the picture, the chairs are incredibly lovely and unique. He uses a mix of indigenous Tennessee hardwoods, often from his own property. (You can see more at his website ...

Sign of the Times

The dashboard of my new rental car amazed and amused me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Come October

"All things point home in old October ..." Thomas Wolfe

I am in Asheville, NC, partially for an art workshop and partially as a pilgrimage to my youth. Not that I've ever lived here before but part of me is staked to this ground, permanently embedded in this strange land by the writings of Thomas Wolfe, whom I fell in love with when I was 16. Wolfe himself said, "You can't go home again," but today I visited his boyhood home which he described in Look Homeward, Angel as “the bleak horror of Dixieland ... mean, cramped huddle of brick ... painted a dirty yellow." As I passed through the rooms which are meticulously restored to reflect Wolfe's time there, I wondered why this giant of a man with his avalanche of words and anguish had so captured my youthful spirit.

Perhaps my favorite passage from Look Homeward Angel was ...
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart?
Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent?
Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
And, later I read this quote from him:
“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”
Perhaps I recognized the loneliness of a fellow traveler even before I recognized loneliness as a theme in my life. There is no doubt I was a lonely child but I was also a quiet child lost in the silent world of books ... an unlistened to child whose words and feelings were locked away behind a cheerful demeanor. Maybe Wolfe's freedom to spew words and feelings across the page spoke to my yearnings to do the same. I don't know why he had such an impact on my youth and I don't know why walking through his museum and re-reading the story of his brief life (he died two weeks before his 38th birthday) and his continued struggles with time and loneliness still brings me to tears.

Wolfe's explanation for saying "You can't go home again," was that it doesn't exist except in the murky depths of our memories. Today stirred up those memories and for a little while I did go back to that time when his writings awakened the awareness of my own loneliness and wordlessness. He made me yearn to be a writer and to hear my own voice.

If we are, indeed, the sum of all of our experiences, part of who I am today is because of Thomas Wolfe. And, I wonder, had he lived longer, if he would have found solace from his loneliness. I know that spending time with his words and with my own past made me feel more connected to my own spirit and less lonely.

There Is Hope

Don't miss this one. It's only a minute and a half.

For those of us who have wondered about the next generation, this gives me hope.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Permanent Mirrors

My friend Dolores sent me a book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and for the first hundred pages or so I wondered what she had been smoking. I mean how many novels open with a conversation about Marx and throw in the word "eructation" in the first paragraph just to keep you on your linguistic toes? (No, I didn't know that it meant "belching" when I first saw it.) But, when I finished the book on the plane on my way to Asheville, NC, I did something I've never done before. I turned back to page 1 and began again.

"Hedgehog" is a translated French novel with two most unlikely central characters ... a short, squat middle-aged woman with bunions and a secret passion for art and literature ... and an intellectually gifted pre-teen bent on suicide. Both live in a luxury apartment building in Paris ... Paloma, the pre-teen as a resident, Renee, the older woman as the building's concierge.

We meet Paloma primarily through her journals as she tracks her progress toward her birthday which she has chosen as her "departure" date and one of her early entries includes her challenge to herself to make sure of her decision ...
"So if there is something on the planet that is worth living for, I'd better not miss it, because once you're dead, it's too late for regrets, and if you die by mistake, that is really, really dumb."
As part of this challenge she assembles "profound thoughts" and a journal of the "masterpieces of matter," concluding:
"With the exception of love, friendship and the beauty of Art, I don't see much else that can nurture human life. ... But Art ... if I had more time to live, Art would be my whole life."
Renee tells us her story more directly and both of them weave us through a deepening spiral of thoughts about time, beauty, art and the meaning of life until, toward the end of the book, a new-comer to the building introduces the dramatic tension that takes this book from being an intellectual exercise to a real story that will stay lodged in my memory. One of the book jacket quotes indicates that at least one counselor is prescribing the book to her patients and calls it a "toolbox that one can look into to resolve one's problems."

One of Paloma's "profound thoughts" that I found in the toolbox made me think the book might, indeed, make a good prescription ... a medicine I would voluntarily take:
"We never look beyond our assumptions and, what's worse, we have given up trying to meet others, we just meet ourselves. We don't recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy.

"As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone."

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Moose Is Born

On the front lawn of a house in Twig, MN, a moose was born.

For some reason that makes me feel good about the world. A fiercely protective wild animal felt safe enough to stop in the middle of a neighborhood to have her baby, guard and feed it for a day and then proceed on her way to the woods beyond the town. There is no doubt that there is a lot of chaos and craziness in the world but in one small corner, peace reigned long enough for new life to safely emerge.

I hold onto that picture and feel a glow of hope as I imagine this picture circling the planet, passed from one friend to the next, touching each of us in its own small way, connecting us in a web of caring for life and each other.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Surrender: the Conversation

I used to bemoan the fact that God couldn't just write across the sky whatever she wanted me to do ... why did everything have to be so cryptic and confusing? Then I heard someone say that God speaks through other people so I started listening in a slightly different way. Today I heard someone telling his story and he talked about his need to surrender ... to quit trying to make things happen. They say when things come in threes you should *really* listen and this was the third time recently that I'd heard the variation on this theme ... relax, be ok with not knowing, surrender.

But, I don't want to surrender, relax or not know. I want wrestle this bear to the ground and sit on top of it till it gives me the answer I want. I want to throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the store, holding my breath till I turn blue or until God says, "It's ok, honey, here's your lollipop." I want to make a color-filled Gantt chart with all the little boxes neatly filled in and showing me who's going to do what and when. I want to flip to the back of the book where it says, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." Don't even begin to tell me it's about the journey not the destination ... I've been saying that to myself and other people for a hundred years. I don't want to hear it again. I know it's right; I just don't want to hear it or any of the other cliches about "This, too, shall pass."

And, it's not that I'm sad or unhappy. It's not even that I'm particularly anxious for anything to change ... I'm doing what I want when I want. I have more freedom, time, health and resources than lots of people. I can do almost anything I want, go almost anywhere I want. So, what's the problem, child? Good question. Maybe it's the surrender thing. Surrender means releasing control and I don't want to give up control. I want to be in charge of my life, setting my own course, charting my own destiny. I want to know where I'm going to be next month, next year, in ten years.

Well, guess what, sweetheart, you don't, you won't, you can't. Period. End of statement. There are no guarantees and no previews of coming attractions. You gets what you get. And it's up to you to do with it what brings you joy. Today ... not tomorrow ... today. You are not in control of what comes your way ... you're only in control of what you do with it.

That sounds like surrender.

Hmmmm. But, look around you ... you're in one of the most photogenic places in the world. You're safe and warm and you've got everything you need. Why don't you just relax, quit trying to make things happen and surrender. Why don't you just trust that the Universe will bring you what you need?

What if I don't like what it brings?

That's your choice ... you can rant and rave and rail at the gods ... but wouldn't it be easier to accept whatever it is and learn from the lessons it offers?

(to be continued ... )

Joy Ride Insight #2

When your tank says it's on empty, pay attention. -- Most of us have been there ... you're barreling down the road when the red light starts to glow signaling that you're low on fuel. When it happened to Suzanne and me, we were in the middle of somewhere but we weren't quite sure where. How many miles to the nearest service station? How many miles left on our tank? Did we need to turn around or could we "make it?" After a flurry of maps and rapid calculations, we decided that we could wait for the next major service station but we still spent a rather anxious hour hoping our calculations were right.

We later decided that this was an important insight for life. Since we don't tend to have those convenient little red lights that tell us when our tanks are getting low, we have to pay more attention and create our own little warning signals.

What physical, emotional or spiritual signals tell us when we need refilling? We may recognize when we need food by the hunger we feel, but what signal tells us that we need solitude immediately or that we're running low on beauty? We need to know what it takes to keep our tanks full ... not only the basics of comfort (food, shelter, sleep and so on) but also the things that feed our spirit ... love, solitude, beauty, companionship, creative expression, faith, hope ... whatever it is that brings us joy and that vibrant, incredible feeling of being alive. And, once we know our fuel source, we need to know where to find it when we need it.

We also need to account for different life situations. Some stressful times are like driving through steep mountains, it takes more fuel, more energy, and our tanks are deplenished more rapidly than normal. A friend is dealing with her 94-year-old mother being in rehab after a bad fall resulted in a brain injury. She's running close to empty and doesn't see an easy way to stop and refill her tank as her days are filled with the immediate needs of her mom. Our bodies and our spirits are a little more flexible than the gas tank on a car, but they only stretch so far. Eventually, unless we pay close attention and know how to fill our tanks, we may find ourselves stuck in the middle of an unfamiliar somewhere but not having the energy to go forward or to even turn around and go back to safe ground.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Joy Ride Insight #1

Earlier this year (bb ... before blog), my friend Suzanne and I took a Joy Ride from Tulsa to Coarsegold, CA, where I was going to work for a few weeks. It was a beautiful trip, filled with great conversation, incredible scenery and notable insights. As I flip through my journal, I'm reminded of the trip and these insights so I thought I'd capture some of them here ... in no particular order.

#1 -- You Can't Count on Going Back. Early one morning I was walking around Sedona just absorbing the beauty when I happened onto Oak Creek and the amazing L'Auberge Restaurant which has tables that are practically in the water. They have created little nooks for some of the tables so that you feel like you are part of the landscape. I was charmed by the scene and thought that Suzanne and I should come back for breakfast. I started to walk away when this insight hit so, even though the restaurant wasn't open, I sat down at a table and wrote in my journal with the creek burbling before me and the birds singing at my back. It was definitely a joy moment and I was grateful that I stopped for it.

As it turned out, Suzanne and I did go back for breakfast, but the insight stayed with me. When something calls to us, it's important to honor it, to stop and savor whatever it is that captures our attention, for our attention is our self speaking to us. And, if we don't listen to our own self, who else will? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in my life I have seen something I wanted to explore or experience and I've said, "I'll do that next time." That's probably not a great plan even when we're young, but as time starts to dwindle, "next time" is definitely not a sound strategy.

A few weeks ago, in the Miksang Photography workshop, I heard this insight in a different form ... "When something stops you, stop." Same idea, notice what calls to us and let it speak its piece (perhaps that should be "let it speak its peace"). Giving what captures our attention the time to become fully part of us is a gift that only we can give ourselves.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I don't know

I don't know and it's ok that I don't know.
I don't know and I won't know until I do know.
How simple those words.
How peaceful the feeling that comes with them.

I don't know and it's ok that I don't know.
I don't know and I won't know until I do know.
Freed from the struggle to know,
I relax and quiet gathers all around me.

I don't know and it's ok that I don't know.
I don't know and I won't know until I do know.
The quiet fills all the empty spaces inside and out
While a solitary candle whispers softly into the night.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


This week, Diane and I are focusing our photographic efforts on "pattern" and in a subtle synchronicity I find an echo in my reading from John O'Donohue's "Anam Cara." He states:
"Spirituality is the art of transfiguration. We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any predetermined shape. ... Rather, we need to practise a new art of attention to the inner rhythm of our days and lives.

"It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape.

"If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to your self. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of your self."
This makes me think that trying to be mindful of the pattern my life is forming is more important than charting a course and then willfully staying on track. The rhythm of my days is peaceful, creative and quietly joyful. I am treasuring this new found freedom and solitude, yet I seem to keep focusing on the gap, the lack of a connection with a life-partner because that is the predetermined shape I am most familiar with. But, perhaps, my soul is working with a different map ... a map I've never seen leading to a future I cannot even imagine.

Perhaps I need to relax and rest in the wisdom of my spirit and let the Universe lead me. It sounds so easy but my impatient nature rises up and urges me to take action and it only seems to be after I've taken an action that I recognize my hastiness. Only then can I breathe deeply and remind myself to follow my spirit, not drive it. Maybe if I read the words above often enough, I can re-learn this lesson which has presented itself to me a hundred times in various forms. Some things take longer to learn than others but I want to learn this one. I want to "come easily and naturally home" to my self.

It reminds me of a poem I wrote years ago ... maybe anticipating this very moment.

It’s My Choice

I can let it flow.
I can turn it loose and let it go,
Or, I can work it.

I can push it, pull it, pound it,
Shove it, shape it, turn it inside out,
Or break it. I can work it.

I can form it in my hands
And make it fit my plans.
I can work it!

Or, I can let it go.
Turn it loose and let it flow.

Let it flow ...
Let it flow ...
Let it flow!

Three Stories

"Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories."
-- Mary C. Bateson

This morning two of my new photography friends and I gathered at the local tea house for brunch and shared our stories. And, like most women's stories, they circled around men and our relationships to them. Each story had its own nuances and I learned from each one, including the telling of my own.

One friend has just left a ten-year marriage and is working with a therapist who has her doing some deep introspection about her own life and what she wants for the rest of her life. One exercise required her to make a list of 100 things she likes about herself and one had her list 100 things she wants in a life partner. Her insight into this latter list was that she assumed her husband would have at least 50% of what she was looking for but when she made the list, she found he only had 2%. She, of course, wishes she had made the list before she rushed into marriage in the first place. (I plan on doing both of these exercises ... and more importantly, not to make any quick decisions ... my friends have made me promise to vett any potential life-partners with them first.)

The other friend is engaged to a man she seems to have everything in common with. They have made plans to move to Portland and are remodeling a house there ... but now he is hesitating, not sure that he's ready for marriage. Her life is in limbo as she waits for him to make a decision. How familiar that seems ... to wait for someone else to make a decision that controls the direction of my own life. I resolve to move forward, finding my own path, listening to my own spirit.

And my own story of trying to decide what's right for me and trying to follow the path the Universe seems to be offering me when it's not clearly marked and it's easy to go down side trails. I've recently realized how very blessed my life has been to be married to two wise and caring men who offered me 40 years of unconditional love. It wasn't until I spent a couple of years without that gift that I realized how toxic an unloving relationship can be. Better by far to be single than to be in that type of environment. But, the memory of shared love pulls me into wanting to try again even though I was so very wrong about the last relationship.

In the interest of gathering more information about "who's out there," I recently signed up for eHarmony, the online dating service that focuses on values and interests. The process of signing up is pretty rigorous and required a lot of thought about who I am and what I want from life and a possible life-partner. Since my current life only introduces me to the UPS guy and the fruit-and-vegetable vendor down the block, I decided I need some electronic help in meeting new people. But, the thought of "dating" sends chills down my spine. I never liked it much when I was young and was never very good at it. I'm not sure I will be now but the first round of "matches" turned up people who sound interesting and kind, so who knows? I figure this time of my life is about trying out new things, meeting new people and gaining clarity about what I want.

So, isn't life interesting! And, the adventure continues...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Recovering Lost Love

Sometimes it's only when we look in the shadows that we see the light.

Maybe facebook isn't just a waste of time ... maybe it offers us a way to live a healthier and happier life. As the wave of boomers pushes into retirement with more time to reflect on life, there is a rush to reconnect with friends and loved ones from the past. This may be more than curiosity and an attempt to recapture some of the feelings and joy of youth. It may actually be an important stage of growing older.

George Vaillant, M.D.'s book Aging Well discusses this impulse to recover lost loves and states:
"Thus, when we are old, our lives become the sum of all whom we have loved. It is important not to waste anyone. One task of living out the last half of life is excavating and recovering all of those whom we loved in the first half. ... No one whom we have ever loved is totally lost. That is the blessing, as well as the curse, of memory. Grief hurts, but does not--in the absence of conflict--make us ill. What is more, just as rivers expose buried geologic strata, so may the erosion of living uncover life-saving memories of love, formerly obscured by pain, resentment, or immaturity."
This book is based on the longitudinal Harvard Study of Adult Development and provides examples of people who have become archeologists of their own lives, uncovering and reconnecting with people, or even moments of love, that live within the memories of our early years. Reconnecting with this love seems to increase the sum of our lives and make us healthier mentally and physically in our older years.

I've recently experienced this phenomenon of recovering a lost love. My first husband and I separated on painful terms, the victims, as we know now, of a debilitating disease, the ugly side-effects of prescription steroids and not knowing how to communicate across what seemed like an unbridgeable gap. Thirty years of separation were broken when he reached out to me in my time of loss. What started as a simple email led to a new, somewhat bitter-sweet understanding of what happened between us and the offering to each other of forgiveness and relief from guilt. We recovered the love we felt for each other and that healed our hearts. Love is always a miracle and recovering this lost love is a miracle that has helped temper the other losses that seemed to stack up over the past few years.

This last stage of life is very much about learning to deal with loss. Friends and loved ones will leave us. Youthful vigor will pass away. Perhaps it's only through remembering those we have loved, re-treasuring each moment of love that we have felt, that we can heal the grief that seems to be such a mainstay of this period of life. Perhaps this is the only way to keep our hearts young and supple and capable of giving love even when it seems that so much is being taken away.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Alchemical Pain

A friend recently commented about one of my posts that he wished he could take away my pain. I thought his comment was sweet and appreciated his caring but later thought that I can't wish away or even give away that pain. It has been given to me as a gift, a gift, that had I a choice, I might have refused. But here it is, part of my life ... the fire that is cooking the alchemy within me. Somewhere in this crucible of loss and pain, lead is being turned into gold, or at least I hope it's gold. A poet friend says that each moment has value ... to wish away any moment is to devalue part of our experience of this lifetime.

So, I hold this pain gently in the palm of my hand, knowing that it is magic, that it is creating a miracle I cannot yet see, the miracle of my future. And, I remind myself to be patient with it and with my own impatient, just-tell-me-how-the-story-ends tendencies. The cooking is not done; the lead still untransmuted. I have to wait. The only thing I can do is look for joy to add to the thickening brew. For joy is the catalyst that changes everything.

Yellow wall.
Weathered, scraped, distressed by time,
Rusted, blistered, flaking,
Blues, browns, reds emerging
from the perfect past
Into a color-filled, textured present,
Headed for an unknowable future.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Unseen Burdens

Several years ago I was kayaking on a peaceful alpine lake in the Sierra looking at the cliffs around the lake and the twisted junipers growing out of solid rock when a thought struck me as strongly as if someone had said it out loud: Grow where you're planted. I've had many opportunities in the years since receiving that message to contemplate its meaning and basically have come to believe it simply means to learn the lessons from whatever life brings my way. It's not always easy and sometimes it's even harder to watch those we care for struggle with that message which sounds so simple yet is often so hard to apply.

A young friend of mine is carrying more than her share right now. Unlike many young people, she worked hard to make the right decisions throughout her life. She carefully chose a husband who shared her values around faith and family. They waited for several years before starting their family wanting to make sure their marriage was sound and that they were ready for the responsibility. When the children came, they both worked hard to build an exceptional family life. It always made me happy to be in their presence ... their children were bright, polite and charming and their relationship was loving and mutually respectful. But, things change and people change ... in this case, primarily, her husband changed. Whether through mid-life crisis or simply a re-evaluation of what he needed from life, he recently left the marriage and the family.

After supporting her husband through years of school, my friend decided this year to start her own education so she is now in the midst of a new career as a student and trying to find her way as a single mom, alone for the first time in many years and trying to survive financially. Additionally, she recently lost the grandmother who raised her and who was her primary source of solace and support. Most of us who've been around long enough know that "this too shall pass" and gradually the pain will diminish and in a few years, she will be stronger and perhaps even look back at this time as a positive in her life. But, how does she cope with the pain and betrayal she feels each moment right now? How does she find the energy to go forward with her education, comfort her children who have lost the secure world that once was theirs, and hold onto her faith in such a trying time?

To look at my friend you wouldn't know that she is carrying this burden. She looks "normal." But then, most of us look normal. The burdens we carry aren't worn like tattoos across our skin. Perhaps if they were, we would be more caring and considerate of each other. There are few of us who aren't wounded in some way ... perhaps if we could see the scars and bandages, we could be a little more gentle, a little less callous toward each person we meet. Perhaps each time we meet someone we should silently acknowledge the unseen burdens they are carrying and let our hearts be gentle with them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Seeing Light

Miksang photography (miksang in Tibetan means "good eye") is about new perceptions and seeing the world fresh, without labels and preconceptions. It is also about "stopping when we're stopped." When a perception grabs us and we take the time to appreciate it, explore it and take it in fully, we have, in a small way, honored the world around us and the world within us. To do that means that we have to be fully present with the moment and connect with what stopped us.

Last week my Miksang friend Diane and I were exploring light and it was a challenge for both of us. Everything is light. Every photograph is just a capture of light. So how do you focus on the single element of light when everything is light?

As I was contemplating that question, the black and white checkerboard in this image absolutely stopped me. It called to me from a distance as I walked the streets of Boulder, before I realized that it belonged to one of the most beautiful young women I've ever seen. Why this incredibly gorgeous, young woman was standing on a sidewalk holding a sandwich board, I'll never know. But, I asked her if I could take a picture and she said yes. I was tempted to take a picture of her beautiful face but what had stopped me was the crisp black and white of her pants and as I focused on that I also noticed the long sensuous curve of her shadow.

This photo pleases me because I think it captures a moment of beauty without an obvious label or quick reaction that we might have if it were a more typical photo of a beautiful woman. It is also an honest representation of the perception that stopped me which makes me feel that I am part of the image ... or that it is a part of me ... a small piece of myself that I managed to capture in an image.

I recently made a comment to a friend that I was starting to remember who I am and as I said the words, they sounded odd. It seemed like a strange thing to say ... I didn't know I had forgotten but perhaps these Miksang moments are giving me a way to remember, a way to pull back the pieces of myself that have gone spinning off during these past few years.