Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018 Intention: A Year of Wonder and Celebration

In 2009, I was introduced to an Irish philosopher whose words and thoughts shook my foundation. I fell in love immediately and wanted to go spend time listening to and learning from him, only to be devastated when I learned that John O’Donohue had died only a year earlier. However, he left behind him incredible words in books like Anam Cara (soul friend) and Beauty: the Invisible Embrace which continue to inspire and enlighten us.

One of my favorite thoughts from this incredible teacher is:
" ... the human heart is never completely born.  It is being birthed in every experience of your life.  Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you."
-- John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, p 26
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Now, as I contemplate 2018, I’ve been introduced to another spiritual philosopher whom I can only meet through his words. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author of Man Is Not Alone, God in Search of Man, The Sabbath, and The Prophets, died in 1972, but left behind a huge legacy of thought and inspiration. 

My introduction to him came in a Facebook post from a friend which included the thought of “radical amazement.” Herschel said:

"Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

Rabbi Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
 That thought shook me and I went off to Googleland to find out more about this man and his thoughts and found that he was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. He was also an active participant in the Civil Rights movement. Here are a few more of his thoughts:
“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.”

“The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.”

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions.”

“The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song."
Normally, I only choose one word for the year to come, however, as I move deeper into this final stage of life, I feel completely free to choose two and have chosen wonder and celebration. My goal for 2018 will be to walk in wonder and sing a song of celebration for all the great gifts I’ve been given and for everything that comes my way. 

And, one final thought from Rabbi Heschel:
"The meaning of life is to live life as if it were a work of art.”
 The photo of the child at the beginning of this post was taken during a sunny afternoon musical festival in the park in Nevada City, CA. Her expression haunted me and finally, with the help of a rainy morning oil slick rainbow, turned into this piece of art: Child of Wonder.
Child of Wonder

Monday, December 25, 2017

Rumi brings me coal and a hidden gift in my stocking

Rumi Card Deck Book
On this bright Christmas morning, my Rumi deck caught my eye and I decided to seek its advice. Sometime around 2000, I purchased Rumi: The Card and Book Pack, Meditation, Inspiration, & Self-Discovery and started to use it to connect to my inner consciousness.

THE COAL: Over the years, I’ve called on the wisdom of this deck often, and almost always in times of crisis. It doesn’t always give me the answer I want … such as this morning’s “warning” card received when I asked for an answer about the trip to Oaxaca I’m planning. It’s a simple trip and my biggest question is whether to go for 2 or 3 weeks.

I was shocked by the card I received, to the point of wanting to put it back and draw another card. But, that’s not quite the point, huh? Here’s the card which works in conjunction with the book which gives the rest of the message.
Warning Card

Warning Card: The Carnal soul’s food is seeds of evil; Sow them and they grow and grow irresistibly.
Book addition: You are in danger of making very bad choices which will damage your life.

That’s pretty harsh for what seems like a simple decision. Perhaps, there are other things going on in my life that it is warning me about? As my thinking branched out to other decisions that are calling to me, one possibility came into focus as one that might contain hazards.

Warning cards are included in the Rumi deck, according to the author, in order to:
“make us all as alert as possible to the shifting currents of Fate and to the hidden motivations of others, which, if we do not attend to them, can destroy us.

“No warning is final. Fate always gives us hints before it strikes. If we learn the Art of Attention, then we do the best we can for ourselves to secure our growth.”

The author quotes Rumi on attention:

Attend to the warnings that will come,
Do not expose what you are and have to destruction,
Remember how frail you are,
Who are less than a straw.

It reminds me of a time, years ago, when my husband and I semi-retired and had to pick up our own COBRA medical insurance (to the tune of about $2,000 per month). We thought we would just put that money in the bank and self-insure since we were both healthy and our income had plummeted drastically when Richard’s company closed.

We consulted Rumi and the card was a loud and forceful “No!” Therefore, we kept paying our insurance premiums, and several months later, Richard was diagnosed with prostate cancer and the medical bills over the three years prior to his death were around $500,000!

THE GIFT: So, in addition to thinking about all the decisions in my life right now, I decided to write this blog post, and, in that writing, I wondered how long I have been using this deck. I went to the copyright page and discovered that the author, Eryk Hanut, is one of my Facebook friends! I don’t know how or when we connected on Facebook but I’ve often admired his posts and it felt like a gift of connection, and a reinforcing of the need to rethink the decisions currently in process. 
So, thank you Eryk for the gift of ancient wisdom and thank you Rumi for the gift, and the coal that comes with greater attention to the outer and inner wisdom!

Other posts about Rumi:

In 2011, I launched a month-long celebration of Rumi poetry as read by Coleman Barks. If you haven’t heard Barks reading Rumi, I highly recommend dipping into the Rumi page above.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Developing Generosity Intelligence

Sunset Egret on Lake Chapala by Joyce Wycoff
Here in the part of Mexico where I live, two cultures rub shoulders with each other, creating sometimes friction and sometimes greater awareness. A story came across Facebook about a family who had moved here and had been helped and befriended by their Mexican neighbors. It was the holiday season and the woman who was new to Mexico wanted to give her new friends a gift to repay all their kindnesses but was unsure what would be appropriate so she asked a Facebook forum for advice.

Accordingly, she received a lot of suggestions, many conflicting with each other. Some said money while others suggested that might be condescending, inappropriate, and also revealed an assumption that all Mexicans are poor. Some said cake or cookies, to which others responded with concerns about health and dietary restrictions. Some said clothes or holiday food items such hams and those, too, received mixed responses. 
Life insists on growing.

Only one responder suggested trying to figure out what the family might need, a suggestion which triggered my own thoughts about generosity. Is it more about what we have that we can share … or more about what the other person needs? I’m reminded of John Surowiecki’s intriguing comment, "Of the various kinds of intelligence, generosity is the first.”

Perhaps knowing how to be generous is an intelligence we can develop. Learning what someone else needs or would appreciate takes time and love enough to care about their lives and their concerns. Generosity isn’t about balancing the scorecard … she was really kind to me so I want to give her something. Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert states that we can never actually repay kindness, we can only continue, forever and sincerely, to say thank you.

It reminds me of one dark night when I experienced such kindness that I desperately wanted to repay it. I was hopelessly lost In San Cristóbal de las Casas with a frustrated, Spanish-only-speaking taxi driver who was about to bolt at any moment. No one could have been more surprised than I when, out of the darkness, came a woman dressed totally in white: long white tunic sashed with a white braided belt, wearing a white turban. She approached us and, in perfect English, asked, “May I help you?” 

I don't know why.
Her name was Blanca and, that night at least, she was an angel who went out of her way to guide me to my destination. When I found out she lived in the neighborhood, I invited her to lunch. I wanted to somehow repay her, but I’m sure it wasn’t the price of the meal that she appreciated as much as it was the time we spent together, sharing our life stories, getting to know each other. She, too, was new to the area and we both needed a friend. I continue to this day to say "thank you" for her kindness. I wound up spending almost four months in San Cristóbal and her generous kindness seemed to be a glow that lit the entire trip.

As for the woman who started this train of thought, I didn’t respond to the Facebook thread at the time because I didn’t have any bright ideas about what would be appropriate and valued. If I could respond now, however, I think it would be one word: time. Most of us newbies here in Mexico truly value the time we spend with local people who share their lives and culture with us. Perhaps we forget that sharing our own time and friendship could be a gift to them, also. 

Spending time with someone may be the one thing they truly want. As Kahlil Gibran says, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

A friend of mine recently found a small bag of dog treats tied up with a bow in her mailbox. It was from a neighbor she had never met and accompanying it was a note that stated: “Just wanted to say hello and send a little treat for your best friend that I see in the window — he/she makes my day when I drive by.  Happy New Year! All the best in your move.” An inexpensive gift wrapped in loving kindness and showing great generosity intelligence about the recipient.

Generosity intelligence seems to be a key-and-lock kind of thing where what can be given finds an opening that results in both hearts being opened a little wider. Sometimes the greatest need is money, as in the great natural catastrophes where homes and lives are lost. More often, where people’s basic needs are already met, generosity takes more creativity. What is that person hungry for, and what can you give that might feed her or his spirit?
Just because it's so beautiful.

More thoughts on Generosity:

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

True generosity is an offering; given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations. Time and love are the most valuable possession you can share.
-- Suzy Orman

“Every sunrise is an invitation for us to arise and brighten someone's day.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway

“You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
― Debbie Macomber, One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity

Friday, December 15, 2017

Sandpaper Travel ... from nameless streets to stromatolites

Staying between Cenote Esmeralda & Cenote de la Bruja
Sometimes, our preferences become our necessities … we need Starbucks coffee, soft chairs, firm beds and just the right pillow. We need non-dairy, gluten-free, organic, non-gmo, free range, hermetically sealed ... all with Himalayan salt. And, of course, we, especially me, need wifi, 37 iPhone apps, a well-stocked Kindle. and GPS with the latest maps. (I have an auto-correct friend who is having a mini-stroke reading this, insisting that the “especially me” above should be “especially I.” She’s right, of course, but don’t tell her … it goes to her head.) 
    So many colors.
  • I am in the small village of Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico, close to the border of Belize (think incredible water, cenotes, Mayan history, and pirates). On our first day here, my traveling companion and I are dropped off at the local mercado where we could stock up on veggies and fruits, and left alone to find our way back home. 
  •  I am directionally challenged but I had a map, neatly labeled with street numbers and names, so I was only a little concerned. After realizing that I had the map upside down, we set off in the direction of the lake and the plaza. However, (there’s always a "however" in travel stories), it didn’t take long to realize that the map was labeled, but the streets weren’t. And my perfect-Spanish queries about whether this was Calle 9 or Calle 7 met with blank stares. Maybe my Spanish wasn’t so perfect.
Some really nice wall art here in Bacalar.
Travel has a way of sandpapering away our comfort zones, leaving us raw, open, and often resistant to the unfamiliar sights and sounds of a new environment. We look around, jarred by what we see, yearning for what we don’t see, uncertain, not knowing where to go or even how to get there. All the competencies we’ve so carefully gathered through the years circle the drain regressing us to a dependency somewhat like childhood. 
Manati Restaurant & Art Gallery
  • Finally, we happened upon Manati, a restaurant/art gallery which our host had recommended, and situated ourselves into a charming palapa, listening to overly loud music. I have found that when I’m in a raw state of agitation, almost all music is overly loud, however, it does seem that Mexico loves high-volume music with a heavy, droning beat. I thought it was just Mexico, until I recently listened to some current American music and it also seemed to have that same volume-over-melody-or meaning quality. Am I really as old as this sounds? (Yes, my dear, you are.)
The death of competency.

Adults seldom enjoy feeling foolish and incompetent. That could be one reason why we’re all so angry these days. 
Old, even then.
I remember my early career when I worked as a bookkeeper using one of those old-fashioned, crank adding machines with rows of numbers and a spool of paper spitting out the answer which could then be stapled to the worksheet as backup for when you found an error later, as often happened. 

I was fast and knew that machine backwards and forward. It was the tool of my trade and I was competent and sure-fingered. 
Lake Bacalar, early morning
Little did we know the end of an era was creeping toward us, not only of adding machines, but of that feeling of competency. Around the corner waited things like Lotus 123, WordPerfect, dBase III and eventually Photoshop, software so richly complex that learning to use ten percent of any of them made you a whiz … and left you feeling overwhelmed and incompetent because you didn’t know the other 90%. 
Adults tend to get grumpy when we feel incompetent.
A rolling snack bar
  • I have a friend who is something of a guru with iPhones and under her encouragement, I left my “real” camera at home and only carried my iPhone with me on this trip to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, the Lake of Seven Colors … Lake Bacalar. She recommended that I learn to use Hipstamatic. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted it, and with spotty wifi and cell coverage here, I haven’t replaced it.  So now I also feel completely incompetent photographically … and, admittedly, a little grumpy.
Travel is about experiencing “Not mine.” 

Cenote de la Bruja
A recent article discussed the finding that we are attached to our stuff because we perceive it as being an extension of ourselves, a part of our identity. Stepping into a new country or environment means we’re surrounded by “not me.” It throws us back into childhood where everything was new and different. No wonder kids are a little crazy and often cling to mom and dad for safety and comfort. When we travel, we’re breaking away from the safety of mom and dad all over again. We naturally try to reestablish our comfort zone, heading toward familiar fast food places, sometimes even carrying our favorite pillow with us much like children carry their teddy bears. 
So, why do we travel? What makes us want to leave our comfort zone and walk into a strange neighborhood, climb to a higher altitude, fly to a foreign land? 
Travel is like sandpaper, wearing away the crust of our everyday world, leaving us open to the wonder and surprise of new stories and thoughts, new feelings and understandings of ourselves and the people and world around us. It’s a strange blend of yin and yang: by stripping away our competencies, we are open to wisdom and deeper connection, as well as the joy of discovery. Travel scares us ... and delights us.
Cenote de la Bruja
  • On a tour around the lake, we ask about the cenote known as La Bruja (the witch) and hear stories told to children about how she either drowns them or protects them. The trees along the edge are known as pucte and our guide tells us it means “water loving.” Branches trail into the water looking like witches’ claws. Their bony limbs draw us over the edge of a "bottomless" cavern of crystalline water.
  • A few days ago, I stepped on an ancient being, one of the oldest on our planet. I didn’t mean to harm it; I was just ignorant, thinking it was a rock instead of a living bed of stromatolites. Lake Bacalar hosts one of the biggest colonies of these ancient bacteria and this may be the largest living organism on the planet. It’s one thing to read about the wonders of our planet; it’s something else to step on something that has been here for 3.5 billion years and actually helped create the oxygen that we need to live. Suddenly, I felt connected to this life form which helped create the place where I live. 
That was one of the gifts of this particular trip: feeling more a part of the world because of meeting this ancient being. It makes me feel at once bigger and at the same time smaller, knowing a wee bit more than I did last week AND understanding how immense and ancient the world is and how I comprehend such an infinitesimal bit of it.

As I sit here this morning under a palapa looking out at the sunrise over this calm and beautiful lake, my imagination flips back centuries, seeing Mayans quietly paddling across the water, heading for the gate constructed to allow them to cross the wetlands to the Bay of Chetumal, and then on, perhaps, to a ceremony or trading at Tulum or to the coast where the endless bounty of sea awaits them.
One of the incredible sunrises.

Once again, I realize that traveling is worth having my comfort zone sandpapered away.

Stromatolites: One of the unique members  of the Laguna Bacalar community is the living Giant Stromatolites that represent the earliest life form discovered on Earth. The Laguna’s biogeochemistry has allowed these life forms to flourish in both number and exceptional size. A physical feature is the submarine cenotes (beneath the lake’s surface) that are thought to be the most extensive of any in the world. Ecologically, Laguna Bacalar is a leading indicator of the ecological health of the region and is home to numerous marine species that have adapted to freshwater. Moreover, these microbialites may be the largest known organismal colony on Earth.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The pilgrimage of life is seldom like the movies

Dream Genie
In one of my favorite movies, Jeremiah Johnson, the ancient wisdom keeper Bear Claw Chris Lapp watches the progress of the beautifully ignorant Jeremiah as he deals with the wilderness in his pilgrimage to become a mountain man. After a long series of trials, Bear Claw gives him the ultimate accolade when he says, “You’ve come far, Pilgrim.”

I like the idea of being a pilgrim, of being on a pilgrimage, although that carries with it the idea of a destination. When I think of my journey, a few-days short of seventy-two years, I marvel at how far I’ve come but still wonder where I’m going.

My earliest memories begin in the north woods of Washington … living in a tent. My dad, actually my step-father, my mother having ended her marriage to my birth father shortly after it began, for reasons she would never … or could never … reveal, was a DIY kind of guy. So, as we lived for six months in a large, Army-style tent, he built the garage for the would-be-but-never-actually-happened house. My few memories of that time include seeing grass grow up through the floor and hearing wolves howl when my dad went off to work and left my mother and me to deal with the immense, lonely darkness.

Jeremiah wanted to be a mountain man and he followed that certainty through trials long and challenging, gradually becoming what he imagined. When Bear Claw meets Jeremiah for the last time, he asks, “Were it worth the trouble?” Jeremiah, by now grizzled and worn, mere grunts, “Huh! What trouble?”
Joyce Wycoff, age three

Certainty is easier in movies. 

My own path, or pilgrimage, seems to be more a long series of dead ends, marked by signs saying, “Try something else.” But, at each turn, there was a token, a gift, a learning, something revealed. When I look at the only known professional photo of my childhood, I see that same beautiful ignorance of what lay ahead, of who I would become, am still becoming.

I am grateful for the gift of a long and healthy life which has given me time to peel back so many layers of this endless onion, discovering light and shadows never imagined. 
Writing this in the Mexican village of Ajijic, I'm on my way to Lake Bacalar, known as the Lake of Seven Colors, where a friend and I will stay in an Airbnb home right on the lake ... with two kayaks to explore all seven colors.
I still shiver at the wonder and beauty of it all.  
Lake Bacalar (Photo credit and info)
Behind my garage of a house in those northern woods, there was a filbert orchard with mounds that called to me. My memory of them is that they were tall and I could climb up to the top of them and see forever. I imagine that three-year-old child, trying to see further than her own height would allow, sitting … alone … on those mounds, and wonder what she was thinking and feeling.
I wish I could reach back and tell her that all will be well, that some day she will be in a beautiful, friendly place, where she is often alone, but never lonely. 
About the image: "Dream Genie”

My dreams have been active lately, and, as usual, I wonder from whence they come. Sparks for this image came from a stunning piece of Chihuly glass work seen with a friend at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, another beautiful piece of glass seen in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, and a piece of wall art found here in Ajijic, Mexico. Bits and pieces meld together into one message.

Favorite bits from the movie, Jeremiah Johnson:

Movie Clip: Bear Claw meets Jeremiah

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

That wicked wisp of judgment

Grasping at Smoke
This morning I awoke in a dream 
with a message writing itself 
on the screen of my mind 
in grains of sand. 

I cuddled my warm center
letting the words flow 
in a staccato dance. 
Words and pauses. 
Two words. 
Three words. 
Two words.
No clauses nor modifiers. 

Too short and abrupt, I thought. 
I’ll have to go back later. 
Revise those words 
into more elegant phrases. 
And, with that thought, 
that mere wisp of judgment, 
that moment of logical awareness,
came a breeze 
that scattered the grains,
scrambled the words.

I folded myself into a tighter ball,
repeated the only words still clear,
searched for the source of the flow,
trying to bring it back.

Leaving only the faint tracings 
of a message that might have been.
Leaving me yearning 
for that whispered connection,
Leaving me grasping at smoke. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A bucket list item and a ticking clock

My haul from the book fair
Today I did something I’ve always wanted to do, but never, ever expected to do it in Guadalajara, Mexico. I attended a really big book fair … as a matter of fact, the second largest in the world … right after the one in Frankfurt, Germany. Who knew?

Loved this play on words
700 authors from 41 nations and countless publishing houses spread out through Expo Guadalajara, offering nine days of non-stop presentations, readings, lectures, activities and BOOKS!

Today was the last day.
Click here to watch the ending of one of my favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes.
It reminded me of the "Twilight Zone” episode: Time Enough at Last. Henry Bemis is a henpecked book lover who finds himself blissfully alone with his books after a nuclear war. He is in heaven contemplating endless reading until, in typical "Twilight Zone" manner, he breaks his glasses and is condemned to spend the rest of his life surrounded by books he cannot read.

A friend and I were surrounded by thousands … millions? … of books and a ticking clock. Where to go first? We did our best, as you can see from the first picture, and then made a plan for how to approach this extravaganza next year: multiple days, a nearby hotel room for naps, and más dinero!
Site of the first purchase.
A thousand activities
Lots and lots of people
I don't know why they were here but they seemed to be having fun
I shopped till I dropped.