Sunday, November 29, 2009

John O'Donohue

For all of you John O'Donohue fans, I've come across a podcast interview with him, which is even more precious because he died at the way-t0o-early age of 52 early in 2008. The interviewer is Duncan Campbell at Living Dialogues and you can find it by scrolling to podcasts #87 & 88 in the box toward the bottom of the home page.

O'Donohue speaks the same poetry as he writes so these podcasts are a gift. There are many other interesting podcasts available at this site also.

About the image: For the past dozen years, the Christmas season has begun at the Meek household the Sunday after Thanksgiving with the building of gingerbread houses. My friend Emily assembles the basic house from a kit and puts out a ton of icing and candies so people just sit around and decorate, talk, eat and create a unique holiday decoration. After awhile, the kids get restless and start throwing candy and icing and bedlam begins. But everyone knows this is part of the fun so they wear their "icing" clothes and soon adults, kids, dogs and passing photographers are looking a little "snowy."

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Story of We

Yesterday I had an experience that reminded me of something I wrote several years ago. Here it is ...

The Story of We

Once upon a time, not so long ago,
in a land, not so far away,
there were two types of people:
The "We’s" and the "They’s."

The We's were good, pure and predictable.
The They's were a strange and disturbing breed.
Whenever the We's and They's gathered to play,
Squabbles and brouhahas always broke out.

Because of this constant bickering and fighting,
the two groups stopped playing together.
The We's only played with other We's
and the They's only played with other They's.

However, a strange thing began to happen.
Every time the We's went out to play,
they would find someone
they thought was a We
but who turned out to be a They.

It was very upsetting,
but one by one the traitor We's
were sent off to be with the They's.
Until one day there was only one We (Me)
and all of the They's (Them).
Which meant that there was
no one left for the Me to play with.

At the same time on the other side of the land,
another strange thing
was happening with the They's.
One day, the They's woke up and saw themselves
as good, pure and predictable.
"We're good! they shouted. We’re pure!"
"We're We's!" they proclaimed.

So the new-born We's gamboled and played.
Until …
they noticed a few We's
who were acting a little strangely,
playing in a way
that was just a bit disturbing.

Swiftly the We’s took action.
"You're not We’s," they cried.
"You're … why you’re They's!.
Be gone!" the We’s demanded.
And the false We’s slunk away,
sad and lonely.

Each day the We's discovered
more They's in their midst and
quickly sent them away also.
Until one day …
there was only one We (Me)
and all of the They's (Them).
And, once again,
there was no one left for the Me to play with.

This time, however, a wise old woman,
a crone with a face crinkled and kind,
sat down by the lonely Me and listened
as he poured out his sad tale of We's and They's.

"I'll tell you a secret," whispered the crone
as she patted the sobbing Me.
"There are no We's …
and there are no They's.
There are only Me's,
and while each Me is completely different,
we are all Me’s … just like you.

“Each Me is lonely … just like you.
And each Me is looking for a playmate …
just like you.
So why don’t you just play together
as Me’s without trying to make each other
a We or a They?
You would have ever so much more fun.”

The little Me sniffed,
Wiped his little Me-nose on his sleeve,
Then he looked around and suddenly saw
that the playground was filled with Me’s
all wanting to play.

So he ran off to join the fun and
he may be there still
in that magical land of Me’s where
no one worries about who’s a We
or who’s a They.
And no Me is ever lonely
when he wants to play.

About the image: This is my granddaughter Reyna, age 4.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On this day of marking all that we are grateful for, we typically celebrate with a bounteous meal with family and friends ... our tribe. This meal seems to be a tangible act of feeding our hunger, not only for good food but for time with those to whom we "belong" ... a small bridge in time from "isolation to intimacy." In his book Eternal Echoes, Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, John O'Donohue offers us these wise and beautiful words:
"Our hunger to belong is the longing to find a bridge across the distance from isolation to intimacy. Everyone longs for intimacy and dreams of a nest of belonging in which one is embraced, seen and loved. Something within each of us cries out for belonging. We can have all the world has to offer in terms of status, achievement, and possessions. Yet without a sense of belonging it all seems empty and pointless.
May today bring each of us into a greater sense of belonging with our own spirits, our family and friends, and the world around us.

And, Richard, wherever you are, may you feel a true sense of peace and belonging. We love you and miss you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank you, Facebook!

The great question of Facebook seems to be "Is it worth the time and effort?" Connecting with high school chums is a pleasant enough activity although the actual payoff in renewed friendships is spotty at best. And, it's all too true that as people discover its marketing potential, many posts seem to be ill-disguised sales pitches. However, this past week, I've received two messages from Facebook that lift it from a simple, pleasant indulgence to a true gift. The first was from a woman whose friendship I lost almost 25 years ago. After a brief reconnection, we decided to have lunch in two weeks since I will be in her part of the world anyway. With so many years and half a continent between us, I have few expectations of a true renewal of our friendship but it will be fun to meet and exchange stories.

The second message came completely out of the blue from a name I barely recognized as a colleague from a former employment. I was still in my accounting career (which seems like multiple life-times ago) and Bruce was the warehouse person. Day-to-day work issues brought us together frequently and I began to notice his work ethic and intelligence shining beyond "just a warehouse guy." We talked often and I encouraged him to go back to school. Nothing grand, but today, after briefly introducing himself, I received this note: "I am married 30 years and 4 kids. I have a fantastic computer career that I owe to a wonderful person who pulled me out of the warehouse and inspired me."

It reminds me again of the great web of connection we live in and how little we know how much we affect each other. There must be thousands of stories like these that happen on Facebook every day. If we ever manage to change our world to a more peaceful, loving place, it just might be Facebook and it's sisters that facilitate that change.

About the image: Recently I re-watched the movie "Bagdad Cafe" and fell in love with it's haunting soundtrack featuring "Calling You" by Jevetta Steele. As I was driving across country, a friend told me that the real Bagdad Cafe was on Route 66 very close to where I was traveling. So I made a short detour and had breakfast there. It was everything it should have been ... colorful, friendly, good food and a guest book (number #27) filled with comments from around the world. I highly recommend the movie, the song, and the cafe.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fallen Leaf

For those of us of a certain age, today marks a dividing line. On one side was innocence ... a belief in the perfectibility of the world ... and a youthful hubris toward mortality. On the other side was loss of all of the above and a gnawing ache where carefree optimism once resided. November 22 was our generation's first wake-up call that the world was not an entirely safe and rational place. It was the death of a dream. We will never know if JFK would have been a great president; we can only grieve for what might have been.

Today's youth have already been marked by a similar blow to innocence that rocked their, and all of our, confidence in the safety and security of our world. May this day mark a new beginning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hard Words

"My most creative work seems to be on projects where I'm inexper- ienced and uniquely unqualified for the job." -- Paula Sher

If someone asked me to define "artist," I would reply that it is someone who makes art. I would not include in the definition that it is someone with an MFA from a recognized art school or that it was someone whose work is shown by major galleries across the globe or someone who came out of the womb paintbrush clinched tightly in tiny fist.

Wikipedia gives us three definitions:

1. A person who creates art.
2. A person who creates art as an occupation.
3. A person who is skilled at some activity.

And, the Oxford English Dictionary states that the dominant usage is

* One who cultivates one of the fine arts - traditionally the arts presided over by the muses (Calliope - epic poetry, Clio - history, Erato - lyric poetry, Euterpe - music, Melpomene - tragedy, Polyhymnia - sacred poetry, Terpsichore - dance, Thalia - comedy and Urania - astronomy). Notice that none of the muses reigns over painting or the visual arts.

So, if experts old and new, agree in concept with my own definition, why is it that I have such a hard time saying the words, "I am an artist"? The Wikipedia definitions carry a hint when they mention the words "occupation" and "skill." I do not make money with my art so it is not an occupation and, while I am becoming more skilled, I can't yet claim that I am skilled. And OED uses the word "cultivates" as though it's an ongoing process. That works, I am cultivating my art.

This difficulty with self-identification as an artist is not new. I remember being in a workshop years ago and, as part of an exercise, having the workshop leader encourage me (almost forcibly) to say the words. My throat slammed shut; my heart pounded and tears flowed. The words were almost impossible then and they are still hard now. It was almost the same situation twenty years ago when I was trying to become a "writer." It wasn't until I had a contract for my first book that I felt entitled to call myself a writer.

But if I, or anyone else, makes art but never sells it, shouldn't we still be allowed to call ourselves artists? Or is that term reserved only for "professionals?" A friend suggested that I create and use some artist affirmations to strengthen my self-identification as an artist. It sounded like a good idea so I asked several of my artist friends for affirmations that they use and started prowling around the internet to see what other ones I could find. And, I found many keepers:

I am an artist.
My creativity is a divine gift.
I have time to make art.
My art heals wounds, mine and others'.
My art is my gift to myself and the world.
My art is an expression of my gratitude.
My creative work is an expression of truth, love and peace.
My art creates new and joyful connections.
My art expands the world.

The problem that launched this stream of thought came when some of the affirmations claimed "quality" ... such as:

I am a brilliant and creative artist.
I am a truly gifted artist.

I would have no trouble telling you how bad an artist I am but telling myself that I am brilliant, creative or gifted is rather mind boggling. As my blogger friend Louise might say ... it creates a kerfuffle in my mind. I am going to create affirmation cards out of all of the above ... even the truly hard ones ... and we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I'm going to take one small step ...

You may have noticed that I have moved the About Me from the bottom of the blog page to the top and included an Artist Statement ... not quite saying "I am an artist" but almost. And, I will keep in mind Georgia O'Keefe's amazing admission:
"I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I have never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."
I want to do art ... I want to be an artist ... so I am not going to let the fear of saying the words stop me. I am an artist. (emphasis intended)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Letting Go

This summer as I was beginning to pack my stuff for the transition from one life to another, I picked up a book titled Shed Your Stuff; Change Your Life by Julie Morgenstern. I never buy books like that but I was walking through the airport and it almost jumped into my hands, so I read it and began to follow its advice. I got rid of tons of stuff ... literally tons ... stuff that I had been carrying around for years ... stuff that was no longer serving me. In the introduction, the author states:
The theory behind SHED (the process you will learn about in this book) is that by releasing your attachment to obsolete, tangible items in your space and schedule, you will gain the energy, insight and clarity to make decisions about the big stuff. SHEDing creates the space to think; it fortifies your identity and eliminates old, unhealthy belief systems.
I don't know if I can give complete credit to "SHEDing" for the changes that have happened in my life, but I do know that new doors are opening and I feel a deeper sense of peace ... (most of the time ... ;-) ... than I've felt for a long time. But, now as I contemplate how to develop greater "equanimity," I wonder if I also need to shed some of the intangibles I've carried for so long, intangibles that may be weighing me down even more than the 600 tangible pounds of books I let go of this summer.

This morning I let go of the fantasy of resurrecting an old relationship and in dissecting the carcass of that fantasy, I realized that I've been carrying around the belief that I need to live someone else's life ... that somehow I can't or don't deserve to live my own. It's probably the residual from childhood where I was living my parents' life and then from two marriages where I was basically living my husbands' lives. That's a lot of years of fitting my wants, needs and beliefs into a structure mainly created by someone else. For the first time in my life, I'm living in a structure that I created for myself ... a scary, exhilarating, overwhelming at times but ultimately freeing experience. Letting go this morning felt like being a trapeze artist who lets go in mid-air and turns ...

Will I catch the bar coming toward me and swing into new space? Or will I miss and fall into the safety net below? And, is there a safety net below? At this point I don't know but I feel like I've made an important step in shedding this old belief. I will live my own life. I will follow the path that calls to me. I will live MY life to the fullest extent possible.

And it is scary ... I don't know if there is a safety net but I do know that I have dealt with everything that has come my way so far and that I will be able to deal with whatever lays before me. And, just like in the picture above, I don't know where the path leads but I know as soon as I round the corner, I will see a little further and all I have to do is keep moving forward and following the path ... my path. I am on the journey of my life and it might eventually connect to another's path but even if it doesn't, the important thing is that I'm now on my very own path.

Monday, November 16, 2009

When the War Came ...

Today I'm not going to do anything more than quote from Recover Your Joy as it is one of the most powerful messages I've read in a long time. I highly recommend the entire post ... here's an appetizer ... and thank you Louise for this incredible reminder.

From Recover Your Joy:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
Dwight D. Eisenhower [1953]
He was nine when he remembers the war coming for the first time. It was how he said it, "I was nine the first time I remember when the war came."

When the war came.

I had never heard it said that way. I think of men going to war. Of soldiers going off to war, but never of the war coming to me. To my family. My home. My city.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Snow Day

This morning dawned white and cold with even more snow forecast. I tried to back out of the last day of the Miksang workshop but two of my classmates offered me a ride through the snowy morning. And, what a day it turned out to be. A world transformed and a deeper journey into the "fields of perception" ... this time, appropriately enough, snow. As the day warmed, the snow began to melt, creating puddles and another field of perception ... reflections.

It was magical and easy to feel joyous today. The world was clean and bright covered with a soft white blanket and on Pearl Street Mall ordinary objects peeked out of the snow in extraordinary ways. I'm grateful that I let myself be pulled out of the cozy warmth of my house into the shared experience of seeing the world in a fresh way. While the image above would be considered "Miksang" ... based on a "flash of perception" ... the one below would just be considered cute. It wasn't seeing something new, I actually watched him for some time waiting for him to do something interesting.

But how could I not take his picture when he cooperated so well? More results of the day at the Miksang Snow gallery.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


On this the second day of the Miksang workshop, we talked about equanimity ... the art of staying steady when the rest of the world is rocking and rolling. Miksang is a way to develop equanimity as we learn to see without judging, without labeling, simply seeing our perceptions and what "stops" us.

So, on this chilly November day, we bundled up and walked to a neighborhood pond surrounded by weeping willows. The pond was glassy and the reflections stunning. It was easy to fall into the peaceful beauty of the place. Every direction you looked, there were a hundred pictures. And there were layer upon layer to see and attempt to capture ... reflections spreading across the water, leaves scattered across the surface gently held by the surface tension, sticks breaking through the surface creating a calligraphy of stick and reflection, yellow willow branches weeping into the water, and leaves and debris creating a colorful, patterned mosaic floor of the pond.

But, there were also the tennis balls ... dozens of them, maybe even hundreds ... dark, muddy ones, green ones, yellow ones, orange ones ... jarring, incongruous notes in the idyllic setting. But equanimity means seeing things as they are and not judging them, not labeling as beautiful or ugly, so tennis balls belonged just as much as the fallen leaves and wispy reflections. It was so easy to see the beauty and there was so much of it that it was hard to take pictures of the tennis balls. I had to remind myself that the purpose of this exercise was developing equanimity not creating photographs that would be considered beautiful by the world. It wasn't an easy assignment when so much beauty was there just for the snapping. I'm not sure I passed this one either ... it was extremely hard for me to take a picture of the tennis balls.

And, now that I re-read this, there's a LOT of judgment going on in this note ... and actually in the workshop. At our end-of-day slide show where each student shows their images, there is a lot of ooing and ahhing going on by the students and many comments by the instructors as to which images are "miksang," or rich, or lovely, or "ab fab" (absolutely fabulous), or "that should be a print." When you think about it, the very word "miksang" is judgmental since it means "good eye." So, now I'm back to the drawing board ... back to the definition of miksang taken from the website:
‘Good’ here doesn’t mean good as we usually use the word, as in good or bad. Good here means that our mind is uncluttered by preoccupation, relaxed and open. Its innate nature is clear, brilliant, and extremely precise. When steady mind, clear vision and soft heart come together in one single moment, ‘Good Eye’ manifests. It is vision that is inherently pure, unobstructed, unblocked, free of depression, free of aggression, free of interpretation. Free altogether. When we synchronize eye and mind, we abandon all concepts and predispositions and become completely present in the moment. The world becomes a magical display of vivid perception. We can develop the ability to experience and express these experiences precisely through the practice of contemplative photography.
While this definition doesn't mention the word "judgment," in order to "abandon all concepts and predispositions and become completely present in the moment," wouldn't we have to eliminate judgment? More to chew on.

In the meantime, the image at the top was part of the beauty ... the one at the bottom is obviously the ugly duckling tennis balls. More images are at the Miksang Water gallery.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Seeing Sidewalks

Today was the first day of the Miksang Level II workshop (miksang is Tibetan for "good eye"). Miksang is a practice to develop the ability to see things without categorizing and labeling them; to truly see them as they are rather than as the symbolic pictures we have in our mind. If we see a rose, we have a tendency to immediately put it in the category of plant/flower/rose without seeing the individual "roseness" of the specific flower in front of us. It tends to be the same when we are taking pictures ... we take the pictures we've always seen unless something breaks the pattern and helps us see in a new way.

Today we focused on one "field of perception" in order to exhaust our labels and categories and break into new territory. According to our instructor, Michael Wood, by exploring one subject to the point of boredom, if we pushed through that point, we would arrive at a new connection with the subject, a fresh way of seeing it, a place beyond our normal preconceptions and cliched thinking. Our subject for the day: SIDEWALKS.

I was a little apprehensive about spending 2-3 hours shooting sidewalks but headed off through Boulder's Pearl Street Mall on this chilly and dreary November day only to be amazed and delighted at the world I found at my feet. Squatting in an alleyway I found the still life shown here and can only wonder at the story behind it. Every time I bent down I found landscapes in miniature ... canyons, sand stone monuments, beaches, and dry river beds. And what colors ... of course they were sometimes broken bits of glass or discarded chewing gum, but still the colors and lines and shapes were truly amazing. I think I failed the assignment because I never got bored ... but I will also never look at sidewalks in the same way. They may not have the grandeur of the Grand Canyon or the majesty of the Tetons but what an incredible miniature world lies beneath our feet.

It wasn't until I was on my way home that I wondered why we can't look at each other in a miksang way. Why do we see "Muslims" or "Christians" or "Democrats" or "Republicans" or "Lawyers" or "Engineers" when those categories are just abstractions that don't accurately and fully describe any individual. What if we had "miksang people workshops" that would help us break through our preconceived notions and labels about people? Maybe, if we could connect deeply with enough individuals and see them for who they truly are, we could begin to let go of our stereotypes and neatly labeled boxes. Maybe we would begin to accept each other more fully and appreciate our brilliance as well as our imperfections. Maybe we would find ways to be more peaceful with each other.

More Images: If you would like to see more sidewalk images, please go to this gallery.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Poems ... One Message

My best friend from high school married her high school sweetheart and apparently the marriage flourished and recently we've all reconnected on Facebook. Don and I never got to know each other well enough to truly be friends but I liked him even though he was something of an acquired taste ... very bright, creative, witty, somewhat sarcastic and a touch pompous. He could easily overwhelm me in a conversation or debate and still tosses around names, facts and French phrases in a way that makes my head spin.

Don went on to become a minister and the church was central to their lives. Our spiritual journeys took different paths yet I wonder if all of us who sincerely seek wind up at the same place. Today he sent me a message ... a poem from Rob Bell, the Founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. I can imagine that Don was a very powerful minister for even though our connection has been stretched across four decades and now exists on the thinnest of electronic means, he still managed to send me a message that feels like it was written just for me. Of course, I know that it also fits many... if not all ... of us because it is so true and so universal. Every one of us experiences suffering and hurt ... this poem is a powerful reminder to find the art in the agony. Don ends many of his messages with this phrase, "Do not grow weary of well doing." I like that and I truly appreciate this poem from Rob Bell.

We plot, we plan, we assume things are going to go
A certain way and then they don’t and we find ourselves
In a new place, a place we haven’t been before, a place
We never would have imagined on our own,
And so it was difficult and unexpected and maybe even
Tragic and yet it opened us up and freed us to see
Things in a whole new way
Suffering does that—
It hurts,
But it also creates.
How many of the most significant moments in your
Life came not because it all went right, but because
It all fell apart?
It’s strange how there can be art in the agony…

I am taking two online art classes and today a woman I've only met online posted a poem to accompany her beautiful rainy day painting of Venice. The poem is by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, never one of my favorite poets, although I must confess I still thrill to parts of "The Song of Hiawatha" (stanza below). I was struck by the common theme in these poems and wonder at the unique and playful way the Universe delivers its messages.

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldr'ng wall,
But at ev'ry gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary.
My thoughts still cling to the mould'ring Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

About the image: On a cold, rainy day on my recent trip to Asheville, NC, I discovered this accordion player on the streets standing near a big sculture of a flat iron. I was so taken with his face that I posted it on this blog on Oct. 16. His face continued to haunt me and showed up in this painting, "Asheville Moment." The house is Thomas Wolfe's boyhood home and "You Can't Go Home Again" is one of his novels.

The Song of Hiawatha (partial)

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis,

Dark behind it rose the forest,

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,

Rose the firs with cones upon them;

Bright before it beat the water,

Beat the clear and sunny water,

Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Our Veterans

Today is Veteran's Day, a time to remember and honor the service of all the men and women who gave their time, their hearts and, for some, their lives to protect us. Yesterday was the Marine Corps birthday, honoring 234 years of service. It's a poignant time filled with memories, pride and grief for the great web of us who have been touched directly and indirectly by the service of our veterans.

It's good that we have these times to remember the difficult and courageous service our veterans have given us. It's important to honor their service. But, it is also important to remember the high price of international conflict. While we can count the deaths involved with any conflict, it is impossible to calculate the total cost of wounded bodies and minds, broken or damaged homes, and shattered dreams. Perhaps we will never be able to eliminate war but we should know thoroughly the price we pay. We need to never forget so that we never again ask the ultimate service of our men and women without knowing that there is absolutely no other choice.

My first husband served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam so I always try to take time to remember that painful and challenging time. This summer I visited the first Vietnam memorial in Taos. Created by the family of one of the early victims of the Vietnam conflict, Angel Fire Memorial is a hauntingly beautiful and touching place. (pictured) Yesterday a new friend told me about a Memorial Sculpture Garden in Mt. Shasta, CA, created by Vietnam veteran and sculpture artist, Dennis Smith. Although I haven't visited this memorial, the web description states that "The garden was dedicated as a war memorial, but the metal sculptures evoke a powerful sense of striving for peace. Somber, haunting and spiritual, the site has a surreal beauty. Fifty-eight thousand pines, a living memorial to the 58,000 American dead in Vietnam, also grace the site. "

58,000 pines ... 58,000 lives. I thought we would never do it again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Muted Ones

Several years ago I was in a "dream tending" workshop with Dr. Stephen Aizenstat and wound up in a small group activity with some incredibly creative and talented women. What truly amazed me was their hesitancy and insecurity about their own wonderousness. I knew I was tiptoeing around my own creativity and rightfully so ... nothing in my history had even hinted that I had a creative atom in my body. The wonder of poetry had recently shown up in my life but I fluffed it off as a fluke and not a very good one at that. It made sense that I didn't value my creative spirit but why were these other women unable to see their own amazing light? As I grappled with this conundrum, the following poem appeared and gave me courage to take the next step toward my rightful inheritance ... the gift without limits that is given to each of us.

The Muted Ones

We are the muted ones:

Emily, dream painter with her sad-eyed wolf
... longing to run free and wild in the world.
Cynthia, mountain woman, survival woman,
... carrying our mothers into the next generation.
Sara, spirit guide, searching for her voice
... in the dusty bookshelves of our fathers.
Joyce, practical person, confused by the muse
... of poetry who keeps rapping on her shoulder.

Imposters! Showoffs. Upstarts all.
Who gave these women leave to speak?
Who granted them time on life’s creative stage?
Who blessed their art? Certified their words?

No one.

No one said they could speak.
No one told them they could paint.
No one made it ok to dance, to act,
To sing, to weave or to write.

Because the creative force does not ask permission.
The creative spirit does not beg for attention.
It simply shows up and demands its due.
Demands the nectar of courage … truth … action.

Or, it moves on.

Sometime later, I found Jan Phillips book Marry Your Muse and her amazing artist's creed which I think every person should read, perhaps daily, regardless of where their creative spirit leads them ... for creativity is truly part of the inheritance of each of us. We may express it differently ... some as "art", some as service, some as the very life they live but creativity is a gift given to everyone. It is the light within us. Here are Jan's words:

The Artist's Creed
I believe I am worth the time it takes to create whatever I feel called to create.
I believe that my work is worthy of its own space, which is worthy of the name Sacred.
I believe that, when I enter this space, I have the right to work in silence, uninterrupted, for as long as I choose.
I believe that the moment I open myself to the gifts of the Muse, I open myself to the Source of All Creation and become One with the Mother of Life Itself.
I believe that my work is joyful, useful, and constantly changing, flowing through me like a river with no beginning and no end.
I believe that what it is I am called to do will make itself known when I have made myself ready.
I believe that the time I spend creating my art is as precious as the time I spend giving to others.
I believe that what truly matters in the making of art is not what the final piece looks like or sounds like, not what it is worth or not worth, but what newness gets added to the universe in the process of the piece itself becoming.
I believe that I am not alone in my attempts to create, and that once I begin the work, settle into the strangeness, the words will take shape, the form find life, and the spirit take flight.
I believe that as the Muse gives to me, so does she deserve from me: faith, mindfulness and enduring commitment.
-- Jan Phillips, from "Marry Your Muse"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Freedom and Mobiles

After delving into the depths of loneliness, it seems only fair to pay tribute to freedom.

Yesterday I was supposed to do many things ... but I didn't. Walking to the store for vitamins, I wound up at Pizza Hut in the midst of a girls' hockey team celebrating their win. Starting to work on a new online class, I wandered into a blog that led me to another blog that led me to T.S. Eliot reading "The Hollow Men." Writing about loneliness for my blog sent me off to find a picture from Belize that took me down a rabbit hole of emotion where I stayed until it had run its course. For the past several months I've felt like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, wings still weak and wet, gradually flapping them dry and making short little forays around my life, looking for the boundaries. Now, as my wings become stronger, I find there are no walls, no fences, no restraints ... so I flit from one bright flower to another.

However, I am still just a butterfly, a small insect exploring the world so all the natural boundaries are mine ... I cannot plant the flowers, I must find them. I cannot build a nest, I must shelter under a leaf. I cannot pull a U-Haul so I travel light. But, within the range of my capabilities, I am free. And what a self-indulgent treasure that freedom seems. After a life of alarm clocks, deadlines, compromises, budgets, trade-offs and following the rules, doing what I want, when I want and how I want is almost decadent. It is almost too rich, like eating a box of chocolates at one sitting and I can feel the pendulum reaching the end of its arc, ready to move back into the more moderate territory of commitment, partnership and compromise.

I'm sure a time will come when I will also trade metaphors ... rather than penduluming between freedom and commitment, perhaps I'll choose as my model the mobile which holds many things in perfect balance and harmony. When I am strong enough, I may be able to balance freedom and commitment and take on a schedule or deadline or a project requiring more than a few hours to complete. But, for now, I'm perfectly happy to be free to flit, tasting the nectar offered by life in the wild.

Yet it's probably good to listen to these wise words from Peter Coyote:
"The idea of absolute freedom is fiction. It's based on the idea of an independent self. But, in fact, there's no such thing. There's no self without other people. There's no self without sunlight. There's no self without dew. And water. And bees to pollinate the food we eat....So the idea of behaving in a way that doesn't acknowledge those reciprocal relationships is not really freedom, it's indulgence."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Loneliness ... the Grit of the Soul

John O'Donohue in Anam Cara quotes a friend as saying , "loneliness is a black burnt hole, but if you close it up, you close out so much that can be beautiful for you as well."

In an poll, most people surveyed report feeling lonely, especially during the holiday season when only 14% report that they do not feel lonely. If you google loneliness, you find a hundred versions of advice that boils down to "Snap out of it! Get a dog, volunteer, play soft music, exercise, turn on the lights, or invite someone to the movies." Seldom do you find anyone talking about the benefits of loneliness.

But perhaps for our soul, loneliness is like the irritant that stimulates the formation of a pearl in an oyster. Contrary to popular opinion, most pearls are not formed around stray bits of sand, but rather from internal irritants such as particles of food that get lodged in the oyster's tissue and eventually become the pearl sack. Layer after layer of nacre cover this irritant until a luminous pearl is formed. Loneliness is our internal irritant, born at the moment we leave our mother's womb and with us until we draw our last breath. We are each individuals, alone and unique in the world, and with this comes loneliness. But, it is this very loneliness that leads us out into the world, that makes us yearn for relationship with others, that stimulates our desire for understanding ourselves and our compassion for others. Loneliness leads us more fully into the human experience and into a more profound connection with our spirit.

We can distract ourselves from the feelings of loneliness but they are always there under the surface of our busyness and socialness. Maybe, rather than thinking about loneliness as something to be banished or avoided, at least occasionally, we should allow it in and listen to it as a voice from our soul. Out of that darkness, that lonely place deep within, we may hear a new voice calling us deeper and deeper into the world. And if we can understand and befriend our own loneliness, we may find a new freedom to be more completely who we are and to truly appreciate each of our companions on this lonely journey through life.
“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.” -- Thomas Wolfe
About this image: Not long after my husband died, I tried to escape the grief by going off on a kayaking trip to Belize with my friend Lynne. It was a beautiful and distracting trip but it rained a lot and this was the view from my cabin. There was something about that solitary chair facing an empty sea, where no one ever sat, that focused all my loneliness into a sharp, biting pain in my chest. For me, this image will always be the essence of loneliness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


This morning I discovered something new ... a "blog carnival" where bloggers are invited to write something on their blogs and then link it to the "carnival." The one I discovered, focused on the word "remember", was started by Peter Pollock (Blog: Rediscovering the Church). I thought for a few moments about writing something for the carnival but nothing came so I put it away. But, as often happens, the thought kept working its way through my brain until I caught the thread. What I wanted to remember was how big the world is and how interconnected we all are. What I remember now is how I forgot this.

Three years ago when my husband died from prostate cancer, my world as I knew it ended. Not only was the center of my world gone, but in the years of illness prior to his death my consulting work was put aside so my business was almost non-existent.

While I knew it was foolhardy, when an opportunity came to escape from my world and enter a different one, I jumped at it and settled into a small, safe place, disconnected from almost everything and everyone. I didn't write; I didn't work; I didn't talk to many people; I didn't go places. I did a little gardening; I tried a lot of new recipes; and I made some art. For two years, I hibernated and who knows how long I would have lived in that state if I hadn't been rudely kicked out by the growing reality that the relationship I thought would be happily ever after truly could not endure.

I have ranted and railed and thrown my tantrums but gradually I've looked around and realized that life is giving me exactly what I said I wanted. For years I had asked for more time ... time to do art, write and think about life. I tried several times to disentangle myself from my business ... a business I had loved but gradually knew I had to let go of but did not know how to cut the tie. By the time my husband died, there was so little business left that it was easy to walk away ... and what I got in return was time, beautiful, unstructured time that was mine to spend however I wanted.

After spending two years in a conversational desert, what I really wanted to do was talk ... about life, relationships, spirit, art and a thousand other things. I began drowning my friends, old and new, with my story, my feelings and my spiraling thoughts about what to do with my life. It didn't take long before I could feel myself wearing out the patience of my friends so I started a blog, thinking no one would ever read it anyway but I could pour my endless stream of words into a container and let them sit there.

But the world is big and it is truly interconnected and gradually I started to attract ... and be attracted by ... other bloggers ... people on a similar journey, people who also wanted to talk and explore the world through words and images. And, slowly I began to remember that I am part of that web of life. My words may be small and unimportant but they touch the web and it vibrates, if even just a little. When I feel disconnected and alone, I can remember that it is impossible to be disconnected or alone. We are always part of the Creative Spirit that put us here. We are always part of life's web. And, even if we never meet face-to-face, we meet in spirit and we are all companions on the journey.

As I have slowly remembered that I am part of this web, I also remember Maya Angelou's words: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." And, I give thanks for the technology that creates this electronic universe where we can share our untold stories and I give thanks for the people who share their stories and the ones who are willing to listen to mine.

And, a special thank you Peter for creating a wonderful topic ... and to whomever originally thought up the delightful idea of having "blog carnivals."

Note about the image: On a trip to California this summer, I discovered a small rock shop and fell into a conversation with the store owner who told me about buying a box of uncleaned amber. When he began to clean it, he found a piece that contained a perfect milkweed seed that was approximately 19 million years old. I couldn't afford to buy the piece (and it wasn't actually for sale) so I took a photo of it and continued to wonder how something as fragile as a milkweed seed could be so perfectly captured in amber. Later, in the magical space of Photoshop, that amber egg came together with a dead tree from Sedona and a very live hawk from a walk in one of the green spaces of Lafayette, CO. I call it Ancient Wisdom 2 since it's part of a series.

Peaceful Legacies

I have been thinking a lot about the purpose of this last stage of life and asking everyone prowling around in this territory what they think about it. Developmental theories around childhood and the various phases of adulthood are pretty well laid out but they seem to stop about middle age. We don't seem to have much understanding about what our task is for the final act in the theater of life. It was interesting to find that my book club's pick for this month turned out to be Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. It is the story of a guy in the middle of his life who gets tricked into taking a road trip across the country with a monk who may or may not be the Buddha reincarnated. It's a humorous book about the journey ... both the actual one and the spiritual one.

The book only lightly deals with death but at the end of the book, the thought suddenly occurred to me that perhaps our final task is making peace. And this is not a trivial task for after a life-time of mistakes, wrong paths and false moments (as well as all the good stuff we've done along the way), there is much peace to be made ... with loved ones we've hurt, friends we've neglected, material things that took up much of our time and energy. But, perhaps the biggest challenge is to make peace with ourselves and the reality that this gift of life comes with an expiration date. Perhaps our final success is if we can peacefully face the end of this life's physical existence.

At this stage of life, we begin to accept that some of our dreams will never become reality ... did I really want to be an opera singer? ... and that doesn't make us a failure, it simply means that other things were, and continue to be, more important. We can begin to make peace with the choices we've made and start to let go of our attachment to this world and everything we've gathered along the way ... information, wisdom, material goods. We can create our legacy by making sure that all of these things are passed on to the people who will most value them and use them wisely. We can spread our love as far as it can go and we can choose to be peaceful in all our endeavors and interactions. This does not mean, of course, that we stop living, learning and moving in the direction of our dreams. As long as we have breath, we can be moving into new spaces ... but we can do it peacefully without the striving that often marked our earlier efforts.

When I decided to start this blog, the title "Peaceful Legacies" came to me but I wasn't quite sure why I was so drawn to it. Perhaps it's just now revealing itself to me as the answer to my question. Perhaps leaving a legacy of peace is my task during the rest of my time here. It makes me feel deeply peaceful to think that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thoughts on Love

Some time ago, I started a new relation- ship. It was one of those fairy tale stories ... we had known each other since we were babies, raised as step-cousins, and stayed connected through school, marriages, deaths, divorces and all of life’s ups and downs. I thought, I think we both thought, it would lead to “happily ever after” ... it lasted two years and the ending left me numb and bewildered about what happened.

This morning I came across the initial, long emails where we explored the possibility of living our lives together. I knew we had lots of differences so I asked for a sharing of our fears and how we would overcome our differences. The emails were filled with confidence and love ... by communicating and loving each other, we would overcome the differences. So, we jumped in with both feet.

I had been wondering a lot about how I got into the relationship when the pitfalls were so clear from the beginning. Finding these emails eased a bit of the judgment I was feeling toward myself. I did hear the warning bells but we talked about them and thought we could work through them. I took a chance on love and I’m not sure that’s ever a wrong thing.

The error, I think now, was that both of us let our loneliness and life-long connection cloud our ability to see the reality of who we actually are as people, a reality that quickly became apparent in the every day reality of living together. We projected onto each other the fantasy of what we wanted in our lives and when reality started to tear through the fantasy, we both wound up hurt and disappointed. Then, rather than focusing on our common bonds and using those to weave a stronger relationship, we focused on our differences and pulled the fabric apart until it was in such tatters that it could never be whole again.

I keep trying to find the lesson in all of this. It has made me doubt my ability to see the reality of another person. How can I avoid projecting my self and my fantasy onto others? How can I know when they are projecting their fantasy onto me?

Perhaps part of the answer is understanding that the beginning of any new friendship or relationship is almost pure projection and fantasy. I see myself in you and feel like I’m falling in love. Perhaps it’s only when I begin to understand you as a real human, brilliant and flawed, separate from me, that I can truly choose to love you.

Until then, I’m only loving myself. So, perhaps, the big lesson in all of this is to learn to love myself more fully ... enough that I wouldn’t need to project myself onto someone else in order to fall in love. John O’Donohue says in Anam Cara:
"A friend is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free the wild possibiities within you."
Can I befriend myself enough to free the wild possibilities within? And, by doing that, can I become more available to love the true person within each of my friends? I can, at least, keep trying.