Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not a pretty picture

Yesterday I sat down to play with more of my metal images, but after some time this was apparently the best I could do. For some reason both these pictures looked like books to me, so I created a book with the first and then set it on the background of the second.

It looked awfully boring -- though I liked the colors -- so I added the flower to give it some life. And woke up this morning thinking, "well, that one sucked!" and wondering if the exciting ride of the last few weeks, with all its amazing artistic creations, had come to an end; if my creative juices have dried up and I'll never reach my goal of creating 12 of these unusual metal goddesses that have been appearing.

It wasn't until I was sitting in meditation -- well, since it wasn't "a good one" this morning, let's say just sitting and thinking -- that I realized: well, duh! Of course you did a book! Because my husband and I spent the weekend moving books around, lifting, carrying, stacking in boxes, buying and moving a new bookcase -- the last few days have been all about finding space for and accommodating books.

In the end -- and this is the sequel to that fit of anger I had about the boxes in the living room -- the new bookcase went into my office, and filled up with all the books in our bedroom shelves that were mine, thereby leaving room in those shelves for all his latest acquisitions. But I suspect that this image is not just about that, but about the fact that now both of our backs are out.

We cope differently with this problem. But the fact is that both of us have been in pain for the last few days, and though we're not snapping at each other simple tasks like walking the dog and emptying the dishwasher have become more challenging, our energy levels are low, and it's not surprising that creativity suffers as well.

I'm thinking my art was trying to tell me that this whole book thing is, well, not a pretty picture: the pain isn't pretty, the acquisitiveness it symbolizes isn't pretty, our mutual lack of energy makes life flat and frustrating, and the flower is probably there because I'm trying to find a blessing in it all. Because what it feels like is that we're being punished for having the books in the first place.

And now we have to go take down an exhibit -- always a physically demanding activity. I'm skipping pilates class this morning, and just hoping my ibuprofen will kick in before we get to the hospital where the pictures are currently hanging.


Okay, I'll stop whining now.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Awakening the questions

I learned an intriguing statistic this morning. Though I'd heard it before, and it even kind of makes sense, I found it nonetheless disturbing.

Of the questions asked in a classroom, over 80% come from the students in second grade. It gets progressively lower, until, by the time you're in college, only 3% of the questions asked in the classroom come from the students.

I was, as a child, one of the world's great questioners; I was always curious -- so much so, in fact, that it drove my 2rd grade teacher crazy. So to keep me occupied and out of her hair, she gave me a poetry project, and whenever I had finished my classwork my job was to either read and copy poems, to illustrate poems, or to write them.

Fortunately, though my mom tended to throw things away, she kept the booklet that emerged from this process, so I still have the priceless works I created, including this charming response to a class field trip which took us to see big IBM computers:

Brun-n-n Flash!
Watch the red lights dash!
Flash Brun-n-n!
Watch the answers run!

I was one of the lucky ones, with teachers who found creative ways to keep me occupied, and parents who didn't work TOO hard to stifle my questions. So when I got to college, I was still a questioner -- and it wasn't the teachers who burned that out of me, it was the other students. I was, you see, desperate for approval. And it was clear that the way you got approval from the other students in my classes was to keep your mouth shut and act like you already knew everything.

And slowly, between those more subtle messages and the more direct ones I got from so-called friends -- messages like, "Diane, you could be so pretty if you just didn't smile so much" and my personal favorite, "Yes, other men are faithful to their wives. But they're not married to YOU."


Yes, I shut down for a big long period in my life. But before you blame those who gave me the messages, I ask that you notice this: I am the one who chose to listen. I am the one who chose to shut down. And before you applaud my wonderful husband for creating an environment in which the real me now thrives, I ask that you notice this: I am the one who saw beyond his surface curmudgeonliness to the kind accepting soul that lay beneath. I am the one who somehow knew I needed his big open heart around if I were to open my own.

The fact is that both credit and blame are far too easy to assign. And the truth is that life is much more complicated than that. And the very things that may seem like curses at the time may turn into blessings at some later date, just as what looks like love may devolve into hate, and what looks like fate may devolve into misfortune. We cannot spend our time whining about -- or missing -- the tragedies or glories of the past, any more than we can predict or control the future.

All we really have is now. And if I chose, yesterday evening, to turn a bit of junkyard trash into a needle threaded with feathers, and though I wondered what the point was, managed to stay on track and finish, who's to say that the next morning I might not meet someone and learn her life has shifted because she read the story of a designer who went from creating graphics to stitching up butterflies?

I can't know where these images are taking me. I can only follow my instincts, one step at a time, and trust that bit by bit the questions are being awakened again within me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sit, and be refreshed

Clouds draw the water up
to become rain;

the ocean takes the river
back into itself.

What this means is
we often need to be refreshed.

Rumi, A Year with Rumi (March 29)

Yesterday's decision to go off the computer was partially prompted by the determination to get work done around the house. But it was also inspired by Anne LeClaire's wonderful book, Listening Below the Noise. And though going off the computer isn't quite the same as adopting silence, there are certain similarities that seem appropriate as we move into Holy Week.

Did you enjoy your Palm Sunday? I did, though I didn't go to church. I thought about it, but I've realized, reading this book, that part of the value of my morning rituals -- the coffee and reading, the meditation and blogging -- lies in the silence of those activities. Taking a break on Sundays to go to the 8 am service isn't really taking a break from silence, because that service is very meditative, and flows beautifully out of the silence I leave behind when I walk through those tall doors.

But Palm Sunday... well, Palm Sunday is all about celebration. I knew the later service would be crowded and noisy, and found myself worrying that that kind of energy would spill over into the early service. Realizing I was already deep into the thoughtful silence of Holy Week, I just elected not to step out of it. Staying home, though it wasn't completely quiet, and we got a lot of work done, was nonetheless a peaceful time, a time to share and reconnect. I thought of palm leaves and processions, of Palm Sundays past, including a particularly memorable one in Venice, and sat instead in my meditation chair, and breathed.

The blessings in the choices we made were many: spaces that have been cluttered for months -- including my living room -- are now clear, and books and memories that have been buried for years had a chance to resurface. I had no idea my home was so full of sacred texts! The Tao, Sufi tales, Buddhist inspirations, books by Rumi, Nouwen, Thomas Moore and Kathleen Morris -- I'll be fed for years on what turned up in a day.

In another month or so we'll have kids moving back in with us, with all the detritus that that brings, so I will greatly treasure the peaceful spaces we were able to create yesterday, for as long as they last. And now I'm thinking this might not be a bad rule to follow more regularly: Computer-Free Sundays come with a gift best expressed by LeClaire's husband after she'd been doing Silent Mondays for a while.

"You know," he said, "when you started this whole business I didn't like it... He turned toward me. "I just wanted to tell you...After a while, your silent days have taught me something I needed to learn."

"What's that?"

He smiled. "Most things just aren't that important."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Computer-free Sunday

This is my living room, and this is the view from my meditation chair. It's a lovely peaceful space, inhabited by some of my favorite things.

But this morning -- as has been true for the last couple of weeks, the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes was that pile of boxes. And I found, when I closed my eyes, that they were infuriating me.

I asked my husband yesterday to get them out of the living room, so I knew they were bothering me. But now I know why -- it's because that's what I see before I meditate. So the first part of my meditation period was disrupted with furious imaginings of things I could do to make him get them out of the space.

Fortunately, in the silence, I began to hear -- and listen for -- some saner voices, that said "What is it that you're annoyed with in yourself that is making you project all this fury onto him? If you're annoyed with the time HE spends on the computer -- well, what about you?" And so I have decided to make a uni-lateral decision to make this a computer-free Sunday. With luck, it will be the first of many; I can always write the day's post the night before. And there's no email so important it can't wait until Monday. And maybe I can at least clean up the messes around the house that I have made -- and model behavior so he can do the same.

We'll see. The best-laid plans of mice and men, says Robert Burns, "gang oft a-gley." But I think it's time I put my money where my mouth is. As long as he's still abed, I'll do a poem. But then I'm done for the day. Really. It's my addiction as much as it is his.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A song of silence

You are song, a wished-for song.
Go through the ear to the center,

where sky is, where wind,

where silent knowing.

Put seeds and cover them.

Blades will sprout

where you do your work.

Rumi, A Year with Rumi (March 27)

This morning I began reading Listening Below the Noise, a book by Anne LeClaire about "The Transformative Power of Silence." Describing her first experience of a 24-hour period of silence, she says, "My writing flowed effortlessly. As I thought about this, I wondered if the energy that was normally dissipated in speech was going instead into my work.

I had never before really thought about the physical toll that ordinary conversation extracts. I hadn't considered how fragmented attention shatters focus. Now I was experiencing complete focus as if for the first time... Is this what happens when, even in the face of resistance, we follow our heart's desires? And what is the cost if we don't

I find myself wondering about that question now, as, having overslept, I try to write this blog with the radio going in the kitchen and frequent interruptions from the dog, the cats, and my husband. It's very hard to concentrate, and that's at least partly my fault; I got caught up playing with this image (another shot of the ferry floor, much altered) when I should probably have been focusing instead on my writing. Normally I do the photo work in the afternoon and evening, but yesterday didn't work that way, so now I see why the routine I've set up works so well for me -- and how much I can lose when I have to drift away from it; it is as if I have lost my song.

So, thinking back to today's Rumi poem, I can see that it's all very well to put seeds and cover them. But we need to be thoughtful about where the seeds come from; they need to emerge, not from the ear, but from the center; from that silent knowing. And now, of course, what I'm hearing in my head is that old Simon and Garfunkel tune, the Sounds of Silence:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools", said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls"
And whispered in the sounds of silence

Hmmm. Is this some neon god I've made?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A day without the internet

Our internet went down yesterday afternoon; it always surprises me, how disoriented I can get when it's not working. But perhaps I'd have been disoriented anyway; it seems odd now, not to start the day with a post for the Gospel of Thomas. But that blog has come to its end...

Not that I didn't enjoy just playing with images last night, or sitting in our favorite coffee shop with my husband this morning, eating croissants, drinking my double short decaf breve' and checking my email. But I couldn't blog at the coffee shop cuz all the photos I've been exploring lately live on my REAL computer.

I had a lovely day in spite of missing you all: I spent yesterday evening turning this picture into the image above, and then this morning I did another pass through my admission essay for Antioch and finally tackled the long-overdue re-design of my resume. The redesign moves away from the old chronological style and starts with something called "core accomplishments;" it was really surprising to discover that some of those accomplishments have happened in the 14 years since my corporate employment ended!

I feel a little foolish now for assuming that was a rather vast wasteland of nothingness, since I had no paycheck to show for it. And the resume is SO much more fun to read now; no wonder no one wanted to hire me from the previous version...

I took the 2:05 ferry into the city (yes, there will be more ferry floor pictures to share!) to take down my Contemplative Photographer's Alphabet from the cathedral : ( (I did at least photograph the exhibit before I dismantled it). Sad to see it go back into boxes, but the Clerk of the Works gave me the name of someone I can contact at the cathedral in Phoenix; maybe I can show it there. The good news is that the books I took to the cathedral bookshop sold, so I have a little check in my purse to reimburse me for those.

After taking down my exhibit I spent the rest of the afternoon with my friend Barbara, sharing photographic tricks (I now have a 6 foot roll of mylar to play with; wait til you see THOSE images!). And we had a FABULOUS dinner at a little place in Capitol Hill called the Thomas Street Bistro. I highly recommend it, if you're ever in Seattle; it's tiny, the owner is a sweetheart, and the food is absolutely to die for.

So now I'm home, and the internet has returned; time to page through the piles of email. And now you know why I blog in the morning: because by evening my head is full of what I've been DOING instead of what I've been BEING -- and it's not nearly so interesting! Thanks for bearing with me; I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A doggie visitation...

Somehow an oil spill -- an iridescent patch I photographed on the ferry floor yesterday -- turned into this curious little image last night.

I don't know what it looks like to you, but to me it's a combination of an angel and our old springer spaniel, Sockeye, who died of sudden-onset spleen cancer back in the year 2000.

What's weird is the first two times I downloaded the photo to this blog, it got corrupted in transit -- not too seriously, but still not right: a lighter rectangle in a lower corner, and then, the second time, his crown was shifted to the right a bit. I've never had something like that happen before.

But then, I've never had a week like this before, either -- my inbox has been full of tragedies: not just my own friend's death, but other notes have shared news of a student dead of a heroin overdose at my daughter's school, a grandson killed skateboarding, a daughter diagnosed with cancer, a sweet young dog having to be put down because of skin cancer...

We know there are tragedies happening all the time, all over the globe. But I'm not sure I've ever seen so much, so close, in so short a period of time -- and all the victims so young. It's a bit like the piling up of earthquakes -- first Haiti, then Chile, then a little one in California... one begins to feel anxious at such times, wondering what tragedy will befall us next, and, worse still, wondering if there is some sort of multiplicative effect happening.

However goofy this image may be, I think what I want to say about it is that I am grateful for the healing power of art. I remember, years ago, when my mother-in-law was struggling with brain cancer, she told me she had decided to stop painting. We were standing in the desert, having wandered off from the Arizona resort where we were holding a last family reunion, and I had picked up an intriguing piece of what looked like driftwood (what on earth was it doing in the desert?) And I remember turning to her and asking, "How can you hope to get through this if you DON'T paint?"

She did, actually, paint one more picture before she died -- three blue jays on a wire, suspended in a field of blue; it hangs on the wall in my father-in-law's house, above his dining room table. And it is my favorite of all the works she did over the years.

I don't know: I think most of us become mute in the face of death and disease; we certainly know of children who lose the power of speech after witnessing horrific events. So perhaps art -- even at its simplest and most childish -- can be our body's way of expressing fears and hopes too fragile even for words. Are there angels? I don't know. But sometimes the thought of them -- even if they started life as dogs -- offers a grain of reassurance.

May angels -- doggie or otherwise -- bring comfort to all those near and dear to me who grieve today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leftover wantings: which are still real?

Have you ever noticed that whenever the future beckons, the past has a way of rising up to make itself heard? Perhaps it's just because when the time has come for a shift, we have a habit of looking back for answers to all those key questions that guide us forward:

What do -- or did -- I love?
Of all the things I've done in life, which were the most satisfying?
Where do I feel most at home?
What do I long for most?
Where have I been most understood or appreciated, and why?
What opportunities that I didn't follow up on before could be arising for me now?
Where is home, and why? Do those things/people still matter to the person I am now?

I'm thinking of these questions now because of something I read in Transitions this morning:

"As children, we may have been told that we were selfish or that we were never satisfied with what we got. Or perhaps we were told that we only thought we knew what we wanted. Or else the simple pain of disappointment grew too great as our wants were disregarded time after time, and we learned to protect ourselves by blocking off an awareness of our wantings."

Does any of this sound familiar to you? And what do we do with that part of us that has learned to be ashamed of wanting?

I have to run -- a busy day ahead -- but I wanted to put this out there for you to think about. And this photo, by the way, is of Vermont in September. One of my favorite times and places to be...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sweet recollection

As we move into the final days of Lent, with Palm Sunday looming on the horizon, some part of me feels like hunkering down for the storm ahead and another part of me cannot resist the allure of spring; the cherry trees still blooming, the daffodils everywhere, the light that greets me now when I awake, and the birdsongs that provide theme and counterpoint to my meditations.

There is an intensity to this time of overlap, when endings and beginnings coincide -- just as there is at dawn and at dusk, when light and darkness begin trading places and we find ourselves floating somewhere in between. We photographers love to shoot at the beginning and the end of day, precisely because of that ephemeral confusion between dark and light, as the shadows grow longer and the colors more intense before fading altogether.

As I spent yesterday grieving the loss of my friend, this is the image that emerged -- which tells me that death, too, is one of those times when ending and beginning coincide, and everything is more intense. There is the sense that something -- could it be darkness? -- is falling, and something else is rising into the light; a feeling of being underwater, and finding it hard to breathe...

We cannot deny the sense of loss, and yet we rejoice in the end of pain. For those who loved, there is that dreadful emptiness, but lurking somewhere deep beneath, might there be new opportunities waiting to be born? What might a life look like with that piece gone? What opening has been created for new joy to arise? How can we, in honoring the lost one's gifts, find new gifts planted and ready to bloom?

A grieving father happened upon the poem I wrote earlier this week, about singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to my daughter, and sent me this kind note:

"It’s been a number of years since I lost my son, and by and large, I have but warm memories of him. But sometimes, out of the blue, I read see or hear something (like your poem) - and the pain is like a knife wound… and the tears come. It is a bittersweet thing, because with the sorrow comes the profound sense of love I feel for him — still. These days, the tears subside quickly, and I am left with just sweet recollection."

We cannot deny, shortcut, or circumvent the magnitude of the losses we endure. But with time, I hope, the bitter memories take on the sweet fragrances of spring. Perhaps then we can rejoice in the presence that was -- and find it blooming in our hearts, as love.

Monday, March 22, 2010

In loving memory...

I just learned this morning that my dear friend Lynnette, who had been my children's teacher when we lived on Shaw Island, finally succumbed to her liver cancer last week.

I'm very glad I had a chance to visit with her before she left us, and to see her radiant spirit one last time. But I confess I'm devastated. How odd we humans are, that even knowing death is inevitable, even seeing it in a face, we are so shocked when it arrives to carry off those we love.

I had intended to write today about the difference between disillusionment and disenchantment (a fascinating study I discovered in Transitions), or perhaps about faithfulness, which is this week's prompt at the one word at a time blog carnival; or maybe even both.

But instead I think I'll just stop here and allow myself to grieve... perhaps this is why I found myself writing two extra blogposts yesterday, so I could be free this morning just to feel. Perhaps these will be my subjects tomorrow; who knows. Til then, I leave you with the image that surfaced this morning -- from my junkyard visit last week. I suspect it's here to remind me that beauty can still be found when usefulness is gone and disintegration begins.

She was an amazing woman, and I loved her dearly, both for our friendship and for the incredible gift of learning she gave my children; my heart goes out to her husband, whose faithful care of her these last couple of years has been a truly beautiful thing to see.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spirituality is not for sissies

As I mentioned back in February, I've begun singing with the Community Singers, a group of people who sing at nursing homes and retirement centers around the island. This afternoon, for the second Sunday in a row, we sang at the island's Rehab Center.

Most of the folks in our audience at the Rehab Center -- unlike those at the retirement centers, where everyone's still pretty active and alert -- are extremely elderly. Almost all are in wheelchairs, and there are two dear sweet little ladies who spend their time all hunched over and clutching their stuffed animals. One has a black and white stuffed cat, and the other a tan teddy bear; I itch to photograph them every time I go.

But today there was a different woman there, in a more complicated wheelchair than usual, with special features and a headrest. Like the other women, she was quite old -- over 90, I feel certain -- but also quite emaciated. She was already in place and dozing when I arrived, but after a song or two an equally elderly man walked in, sporting what looked like a black eye, and pulled up a chair to sit beside her.

He murmured something in her ear, and she lifted her head off her chest. He gave her his hand, and she brought it to her lips, then held it against her cheek. He scooted his chair closer to her, but the wheelchair didn't allow him to wrap an arm around her and leave it there, so he leaned over, gave her a long hug, and spent the rest of the concert with his hand in hers and his feet draped around hers. Eventually the two of them dozed off, though he would occasionally wake at the end of a song and clap.

It seemed painfully clear that they were husband and wife, separated by whatever has laid her low -- a car accident, perhaps? (given his black eye, relative mobility, and obvious non-residence) -- and that they were missing each other's presence terribly. All of us who were singing were moved to tears by the tenderness of their gestures, and one or two of the other inmates stared for a while before returning to their customary hunched positions.

Our leader -- I suspect in response to the couple before us -- elected to sing the song "Today": you know the one: "Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I'll taste your strawberries and drink your sweet wine..." And before singing he said, turning to the audience, "How does that go? Yesterday is but a memory, and tomorrow's a dream, but today is a gift: that's why they call it the present." Yes, it's trite, but also very sweet. And it reminded me, too, of a sermon I'd heard earlier in the morning, about the passage where Mary anoints Jesus' feet with oil and wipes them with her hair, and Judas objects, saying she should have sold the oil and used the money to feed the poor.

Jesus says to leave her be, "For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” I've always found this verse a little confusing, but today our priest helped me see that it's about the value of being present to what IS-- sort of like some folks I knew when I was younger who spent all their time out volunteering for various causes but then were rude or abusive to -- and certainly uninvolved with -- their own children.

I'm a member of the spirituality and practice group on Facebook, and I came home from singing to find that they had posted this question:

"Real faith means holding ourselves open to the unconditional mystery which we encounter in every sphere of our life which cannot be compressed in any formula." (Martin Buber) Do the widespread mysteries of life bother or exhilarate you? Has your spirituality made you more accepting of the unknown or wary of it?

There were 15 responses to the question, all basically saying "accepting," though some admitted they were also wary. Which intrigued me, because accepting is so obviously the "right" answer: more spiritual should mean trusting more -- not just in God, but in life and in others. But I'm not sure -- and this is, I confess, something I tend to flagellate myself about -- I am more accepting.

It's true, that when surprises happen, I can talk myself down from the autonomic nervous response; I get that everything bad that happens usually comes with a gift. It's also true that I'm getting better at dealing with life from the "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" perspective. But the fact is that my spirituality -- and the connections it has brought to me over the years -- has also taught me that life can offer up some pretty terrifying stuff; I can no longer trust that simply by believing in God I will be spared from disaster. And though I've learned to love more, that has also made me more vulnerable to loss. So although I'm better at remaining present to the glory of what is here and now, there is at the same time a more intense consciousness of that possibility of loss that seems to parallel that appreciation.

Which is why today's passage was so appropriate: because Mary was anointing Jesus' feet with the oil used to anoint the bodies of the dead, in anticipation of his imminent departure. So there is for her, in the very appreciation of now, an awareness of not-now; an honoring of the separation to come. In a sense, their past history, that present moment, and the future's promised endings all come together in that one moment as her hair spills out over his feet and the scent of that exotic oil fills the room -- in the same way they came together in that moment at the rehab center as I watched the husband's legs entwine around his wife's feet.

If we are truly here, now, then past, present and future have a way of joining into one, just as acceptance and wariness join into one. It's a bit like one of those games where you have to walk around blindfolded: we find ourselves deeply attuned to the moment, and all our senses are heightened, partly just so we can be fully aware of where we are, but partly also out of fear of tripping over one of the many obstacles that we know are in the room. Yes, it's got an element of fun, but...

It's a beautiful -- and terrifying -- moment. And the more fully I comprehend the magnitude of that moment, the more intense both the wariness and the acceptance become. Spirituality -- like growing old (as the poster in my physical therapist's office says) -- is not for sissies.

(PS: this image, since I suspect you're wondering, began with a brace on a ferry wall.)

What is dying to be reborn?

A Short Testament
by Anne Porter

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I've destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.

This is the poem that appears on the front cover of our bulletin this Lent, and week after week it never fails to move me. Today what I love most are those last two lines, and so I went looking for an image to put with the poem so I could share it with you.

The first candidate was far prettier than this image: beautiful shiny bare maroon branches, with green plants and purple flowers behind them (Lupin, I believe -- which I adore). But this one stirred me in the same way the poem moves me, with a sharp arrow to the heart, and so I used it instead.

Because I've been thinking quite a bit, this last day or so, about the impact of images. My blogger buddy Maureen sent me a link to a photo contest which "seeks photographs or photographic-based work to project for one hour during the exhibition, after which the work must never again be shown to the public, reproduced, or sold."

The more I think about it, the more fascinating this concept has become. I began by going through my work to see what might be worth looking at for an hour (not much — not many of us have the patience to stare at ANYthing for an hour). But then, for the few images that might conceivably meet that criteria, I have to decide if I'm be willing to let go of them and never see or show them again. The idea of not selling them is not a problem, as I don't sell all that much. But would I be willing (since most photos that fall into this category have either already been sold or have accompanied one of my blogs) to pull it off the website?

There are a lot of factors operating here. There's the loyalty factor: I don't want to deprive the audience I know and love of something just so it can be shared with some other unknown audience. And there's the vulnerability factor: is there really ANYTHING I have shot which merits that kind of attention? Some part of me wants to share an incredibly peaceful image; one which will lull the viewer into a softened, receptive state. But there's another part of me -- the part that is still hanging on to a few pairs of beloved jeans that no longer fit -- that thinks, "but wait, this might come in handy someday!"

But the process -- and I still haven't decided what I'll do -- has been a wonderful opportunity to assess the impact of my images and assess what kinds of impact I most want to achieve, not just for the contest, but here, on the blogs, and in the other exhibits in which I participate. And those are really good questions for ANY artist to ask from time to time in her career.

I'm still reading William Bridges' book on Transitions, and yesterday it said there were two questions to ask yourself during a transition: what are you giving up -- or what is ending -- and what is waiting in the wings for you to take on. I'm finding the questions -- particularly the first one -- very challenging, and started to blog about this yesterday, but wasn't quite sure where to go with it (which is why you got Rumi instead). But the questions don't go away, of course. What AM I ready to die to? Or, as it's been worded off and on for the last several weeks, the perfect question to ask on this, the first day of Spring: "What is dying to be reborn?"

I still don't have the answer. But I still think it's a question that deserves to be asked -- and pondered. And this way of searching through images provides as good -- and safe -- a hook as any. What am I willing to give up? What has come to the end of its anointed hour, and may now be set aside? And what is there within me that is dying for that kind of intense attention; whose turn has come?

Guess I get to keep pondering...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Being born into color

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.


Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You are covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side. Die,

and be quiet.
Quietness is the surest sign

that you have died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

-- Rumi, A Year With Rumi, (March 22)

I got to spend some time on the ferry again yesterday, and since it was mid-day and lightly loaded, there was a lot more ferry floor exposed than usual, so I went out with my camera to play.

I don't really know why this image emerged as it did, but it seems to go nicely with this Rumi poem, so I think I'll let them stand here together to see if one illuminates the other. Certainly there is a sense of invitation, a road to be followed, and it seems to lead through a splash of darkness -- or perhaps that is the thick cloud?

At any rate, I like both the speechless full moon and the idea of being born into color; that's how a really good meditation feels. So I share this, and wish you blessings on your weekend!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The fish are jumping

It was a beautiful day here yesterday, and my husband went off to Seattle to have lunch with an old friend, so I treated myself to a visit to one of my favorite places on the island, a sort of junkyard-like spot in the woods beside one of our marinas.

I've been working on a new project lately, exploring what happens when I "play' with images of old surfaces -- mostly metal -- that have been marked by rust, or moss, or mold. So I was excited to go and look at the junkyard with new eyes, just focusing on the surfaces rather than the items themselves, or their patterns.

It was a disappointing visit at one level: it seems clear that yet another island institution is being cleared away and cleaned up: lots of the "stuff" that used to be there (and this is a marine junkyard, not a garbage dump or a car junkyard, so the "stuff" is really fascinating and often hard to identify -- I once took a photo of something that looked like a vagina but turned out to be the top of a keel) has been taken away; a lot of the brush has been cut back, and there are new-looking trucks there, clearly intending to carry away more stuff.

But some of my favorite pieces were still on hand -- including a giant rusty water tank you'll be seeing more of -- and there were some new textures to explore that I hadn't noticed before. So I shot a bunch of images, knowing it might all be carted away before I had a chance to come back. And then I drove home, sat on my deck in the sun for a while to brighten up my mood, and came to my computer to play. SO MUCH FUN!

This one, which I call "Come Spawning Time" (a play on the wonderful song, "Come Harvest Time") was just the mold and scrapes and rust on the side of a dumpster, but when I intensified the color it looked to me a bit like a salmon leaping the waves to come home; even has that sort of battered look those old fish get when they struggle back up the stream for the last time.

Which, if you think about it, is another metaphor for that theme that keeps recurring this Lent: What is Dying to be Reborn? Yes, we are a family in transition; yes, our relationships are all transitioning; and, yes, it's been a bit of a struggle to be true to ourselves while allowing our roles in the family to evolve -- and we're not out of the woods yet. But we're getting better at being present to the struggle, at adjusting to the rhythms of the waves, at keeping our heads above water and allowing our energy levels to rise and fall without getting too critical; at watching our reactions to one another and accepting that they mean more about what's going on inside than what's going on in the room or some fatal flaw in the other person.

By now it's old hat to quote that old Chinese saying about crisis being another word for opportunity. But if we can approach this crazy ride as an adventure rather than a chore, the journey might be less like The Grapes of Wrath (which I saw performed last night at our local theater) and more like Marjorie Flack's delightful children's classic, The Story About Ping. I suppose that could be wishful thinking, but -- hey! A girl can dream!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A different trip

In February of 2006, my friend Alice and I set off with our two daughters on a trip through Washington, Oregon, and California in search of a college our girls could attend together.

She brought along a CD of Vusi Mahlasela for us to listen to as we drove, and what I remember most about the trip (other than UC Santa Cruz, which we all adored, despite the rain) was driving through the fertile valleys of California on a dreary rainy afternoon, past endlessly beautiful landscapes, shooting them through the windows of the car and the gray and the rain, knowing the images would be hopelessly flawed and would never capture the true glory of the landscape.

This is one of those images, and I love it for all the things it says to me about that trip, and about possibility and yearning: it's yet another of life's examples of this truth: that listening to our yearnings (in this case, the desperate yearning to shoot despite the conditions) may actually give more powerful results than getting what we thought we wanted. I'm frankly not sure a sunny day's drive in the same spot with my GOOD camera would give me anything like what I got in that February rain with the cheap point'n'shoot I dragged along on that excursion.

I mention this partly because my friend Joyce returned to the blogging scene this morning after what has felt like a long absence with news about her job status that's really exciting to hear. And the fact that she got there by following her yearnings, not her intentions, is what got me started on this post. But mostly these questions arise because I got word last night that this image was one of 71 selected from a field of 2400 to be exhibited in the Minneapolis Photo Center's exhibit on Landscapes. I was ecstatic when I got the news -- but then, as I began filling out all the forms, I realized that just putting the image (which will have to be small because of the various factors that influenced its origin) in the exhibit will cost me quite a bit, even without factoring in what it cost to enter the contest in the first place. Since they get a 40% commission, I'll have to raise the price quite a bit to cover costs -- so much so that it may be more money than anyone will wish to spend on such a small image.

These are the economic realities I face any time I enter an exhibit, of course -- and they're worse when the galleries take their usual 50%. But it does make me question -- exactly how much is this honor worth to me? And more importantly, how much is the honor of showing and selling EVER worth to me? If I'm in it for the money, this is not the career to be in; that's for certain. And if I'm in it for the visibility, well, that's a long slow climb for sure.

Which is why it's good to remember the insight I had a few years back: that I shoot because of what my camera has to tell me about myself and the world. And I blog as a way to share those insights, and that's really enough. Those parts of me that care about money and recognition will need to take their baggage elsewhere, on some other trip. Because this one has another destination in mind entirely.

We may be riding in a broken-down beater of a car -- or Alice's comfy Subaru -- and we may not be exactly sure what that other destination will be -- or where our daughters will end up. But I promise you words of encouragement and laughter along the way, and some occasional music to lighten the grays -- and thank you for joining me. And just let me add: hats off to Alice, whose caring heart still comes through when I need her most!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

learning and unlearning

Though we moved a lot when I was young, I essentially grew up in the eastern half of the U.S. Which means I grew up knowing that the tides came and went like clockwork, you could always find your way out of the forest by knowing the moss grows on the north side of the tree, and that grass is always green in the summer and brown in the winter.

So it was shocking, when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, to learn that none of these things were true in my new environment. Here the tides are irregular, with the higher tides occurring during the day in winter, and the lower tides during the day in summer. The moss grows ALL OVER the trees -- and (as you see here) is particularly lush in springtime -- and grass -- unless you water it, tends to be brown in the summer and then grow green again in the winter rains.

Encouraged by a friend for whom the book was a life-changer, I am continuing to read Transitions, and I was particularly struck this morning by this passage:

"The force of life's two great developmental shifts fans out over the course of a lifetime: The first involves an end to old dependencies and the establishment of the person as a separate social entity; the second involves movement beyond that separateness to something more complex, to a deeper sense of interrelatedness. The middle third of life is characterized by a mixture of these two influences."

Which means, of course, that a lot of things we worked hard to learn when we were growing up -- as part of the separation process -- we spend our latter years unlearning as we move toward a greater understanding of our connectedness with all that is. And now I'm wondering if the process of unlearning and discarding might not be easier for those of us who have already had the ground beneath our feet shaken and stirred. If those truths we thought of as facts growing up -- simple things, like moss growing on the north side of trees, or more complex things, like "my father loves me and is an honorable man" -- are turned upside down by events in our lives, it becomes easier for us to question the other assumptions of our youth.

Perhaps that explains why someone like my father-in-law, who married and moved shortly after college and has remained in the same town for the last 60 years, persists in sending me ridiculous and occasionally offensive diatribes against the democrats and Obama. (The most recent was a photograph of Jimmy Carter with a blurb underneath saying, "Finally, I won't be the worst president in US history!") To me, whatever mistakes he may have been making, Obama represents an attempt to move toward a more global understanding of unity. But of course the idea of unity would be terribly threatening to anyone who has spent a lifetime establishing a sense of tribalness, and separation.

The next step in the book is to look at the event or events surrounding or defining what we think of as the end of childhood, and to examine how those events and the issues around them might be mirrored later on in life as we move back toward unity. Which should be interesting -- and I'm also intrigued by the idea that these two opposing movements are BOTH occurring in that middle third of life: it helps make sense of a lot of the challenges we face in those middle years.

More opportunities to explore and understand -- and it's all good!

PS: Just to clarify: Despite our political differences, my father-in-law loves me dearly and is a truly honorable man; it was my own father whose choices in the latter years of his life turned my world upside down and forced me to question all my childhood assumptions. It was a very difficult time, but I see now -- again -- that it was all good.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Looking into the flames

There's something deeply satisfying about these pieces I've been concocting. This one is constructed entirely of rusty parts of boats; I'm suspecting it has something to do with that phrase that emerged in yesterday's post, "dying to be reborn."

I like thinking that there is beauty lurking in what is old and used, and that it can be melted and reformed into something that has grace, and liveliness. Which may be why this morning's book was something called Transitions. I picked up the book a while ago, back when my husband first lost his job, but then I never opened it.

Looking at this image now, and seeing what I chose to read today, I think my art is telling me that the time has come to take a look at all the fires of change that are surging beneath the surface here -- there is a growing sense of intensity, and some part of me wants to embrace and encourage that without getting burned.

I'd like to think that's a noble effort: to arm myself that I may proceed bravely into the fire and learn what needs to be learned. But I also know that that desire comes out of a deep need for control.

The book asks an important question pretty early on: "Looking back over your ending experiences, what can you say about your own style of bringing situations to a close? Is it abrupt and designed to deny the impact of the change, or is it so slow and gradual that it is hard to see that anything important is happening? Do you tend to be active or passive in these terminal situations? That is, is it your initiative that brings things to term or do events just happen to you? Some people learn early to cultivate a subtle sort of receptivity to coincidence, or they become skilled at covertly inviting other people to act upon them when change is in the wind. These people are characterized by a kind of blamelessness in regard to endings. They had no choice, they seem to say. The situation was beyond their control."

My own personal style in such matters -- and I'm not particularly proud of it -- is to keep my head in the sand for a long time, and then, at some point, some part of me gets kicked awake and starts loudly keeping score: "He did that terrible thing... How many more times will you let that happen?... This is awful... How could they do that?..." You get the drift. I stop seeing the value in the situation and start tallying bad points, knowing that at some point the cumulative effect will propel me out the door.

Because I am also the leaver, the one who brings things to term, I never leave without first making certain I can justify my departure: I definitely have a little of the long-suffering victim thing going -- and I suspect some of that, however messy the situation I leave, is of my own creation. So why am I looking at this now? Perhaps because I got a little close to those flames again, a few weeks back, and I am determined to take responsibility without demonizing.

The good news is that when we take time to look into the flames, to examine our own methods and motives and question the accusations of evil that we so loudly hurl onto those around us -- or the boss from hell, or the federal government, or Al-qaeda -- wherever your particular hurling ground lives -- it can teach us a lot about our deepest wants and fears. Which, after all, is how I ended up figuring out that I wanted to go to grad school: I realized that the fury I was expressing elsewhere was fueled by a deep longing inside me to complete a path I'd wanted to begin years ago.

Which doesn't mean I don't still blow hot and cold on the decision. But it does mean I'm listening, and watching, and trying to proceed carefully and consciously forward.

It's all good...

Monday, March 15, 2010

The taste of today

The taste of today is not that of yesterday.
A pot boils over.
A watchman calls down the ladder,

Did you hear the commotion last night

from the seventh level?

Saturn turns to Venus and tells her

to play the strings more gently.
Taurus milk runs red. Leo slinks from the sky.

Strange signs, because of a word

that comes from the soul

to help us escape from speaking and concepts.
I answer the nightwatchman,

You will have to assign meanings
for these ominous events.

I have been set free from the hunt,

the catching and the being caught
to rest in these dregs
of flood residue, pure and empty.

-- Rumi, March 14, A Year with Rumi

I seem to be working on a new series now: this is the second piece in it, which emerged yesterday. I can't begin to tell you how much fun it is, opening these images, playing, and seeing where it takes me. Here's how this one started life:

So, given the earthy quality of this work (I mean, yes, I get that it's abstract, but there's clear embodiment going on) I should not have been surprised when I was awakened at 4 am after dreaming that an intruder, not necessarily unfriendly, but dressed in a black peacoat and black watch-cap, came into our room and sat briefly on the edge of our bed.

It wasn't the dream that awoke me, but an odd jingling sound, as if someone had bumped against my bedside lamp, the chain of which holds the spirit doll I made last month. I awakened, startled, and actually went downstairs to check that there was no-one in the house. It seemed unlikely, as the dog was sleeping quietly, but I checked anyway.

And then, this morning, I finished reading the Robert Bly book on the shadow, and spent most of my meditation wondering if the central act of centering prayer -- that of releasing the thoughts and returning to the depths -- might not have an unfortunate side effect, of disengaging from life itself, from the boiling pots and commotion, the ominousness and the dregs. Perhaps I could see the spirit dolls, and these new works of art, as "a word that comes from the soul, to help us escape from speaking and concepts."

Back on land, seated at my computer, I am reassuring myself that it's okay, that the releasing is what allows this new work to emerge; that I have not been running away from life but am actually learning to engage. But some part of me wants to run outside and get my fingers in the dirt -- or stay at the bottom of my meditation river, wiggling toes in the mud.

Hmm. It must be Spring! Or perhaps it's just the Ides of March, and something is Dying to be -- not Born, but Reborn...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

From unity to forward movement

I don't actually know what this thing is; I found it in a sort of marine junkyard on the island, and just loved the play of light and shadow on it.

When I see stuff like this, some part of me stops because it is curious: what was that? What could it have been originally used for? How might it be useful now?

But another part of me is simply drawn to the light and the texture, the shapes and the colors, imagining a photo of it blown up large and hanging on a wall, perhaps in a long hallway with a lot of reflections and glass... Unfortunately the first part has a way of shaming the second part: What? You don't know what this is? Though intellectually I believe it is enough to drink in the glory of color and light without naming what I see, some other part of me calls that "pretty woo-woo."

Issues like these have a way of temporarily paralyzing me. I think it's because, having been the only child of an artist mother and an engineer father, I have an odd mix of right brain and left brain. The mix itself is actually hereditary: while getting his masters in aeronautical engineering my dad took all his electives in English literature, and though my mom was an artist and a classical pianist, she actually majored in science and worked for the government designing airplanes.

The problem -- that which paralyzes -- is not so much the conflicting points of view, but that there was this underlying assumption in my family-- which is true across most of our culture -- that the left brain and its observations are somehow superior to the features and understandings of the right brain. So the right brain becomes a sort of shadow side, an embarrassment, a source of shame. Intuition has no value if it cannot be explained; observation has no value if it cannot be quantified. So the right brain leaps to its conclusions and then has to wait, or even backtrack, looking for reasons so the left brain can claim ownership of the idea.

The Jungians tell us that if we can integrate our shadow side -- whatever that may be -- we will find new reserves of creative energy; that in achieving unity we can also acquire momentum. So I can look at my efforts over the last several years to honor and integrate my right-brained artistic side as perfect preparation for the graduate degree I'm hoping to go for.

I've been an artist and a writer for 13 years now, and many who know me have no idea I was ever anything other than that. So when I mention that I'm applying to grad school they assume it's for something in the arts, or maybe religion, and are universally startled when I say my chosen field is organizational dynamics -- something that has intrigued me all my life.

But I think it's precisely because of this mix between right and left brain, artist and engineer, that this is the field that draws me. Almost from birth I've been serving as a catalyst and communicator between different points of view, able to see different sides and trying to achieve unity and forward movement. By far the majority of my career was spent in the hi-tech industry, finding ways to comprehend complex left-brain solutions and then communicating them using right-brain techniques.

So wouldn't it make sense that I would be interested in working with organizations experiencing that internal struggle; helping them to achieve a certain unity by recognizing and honoring different perspectives; helping them to discover the energy and momentum that comes when you're willing to integrate your organizational shadow, whatever it might be?

But of course that's my left brain talking, attempting to justify a decision -- or at least a discovery -- made long ago. Because the truth is that even in my 20s thinking about organizations, and how they work, and helping them be more effective, just got me jazzed, and it still does. That's a right brain response. Now my left brain is attempting to do the followup work and get the credentials to bring that long buried hope into the light.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The dark also rises

A couple of years ago we went to Naples, a trip arranged by my husband's siblings, and while we were there we decided to visit a monastery that sat at the top of a hill overlooking the city.

We took the funicular to get up to the top, but got off one stop too soon, and found ourselves facing what looked like an endless flight of steps up the steep side of this hill, weaving through a network of homes built into the hillside.

To this day I wish I had photographed the steps when I was standing at the bottom of them -- they really seemed horribly daunting, and the truth is that I collapsed in tears (it was a very hot day) about a third of the way from the top because I just didn't think I could make it. (Not the first time this sort of thing has happened; fortunately my husband deals well with this side of me).

But the only memento I have of that staggering climb -- other than the many photos of the monastery we eventually reached -- is this one photo of a gate we passed on our way up to the top of the hill. And what does that say about me, I wonder, that even though I didn't have the presence of mind to photograph the climb before me, I still noticed this work of art along the way? Looking at it now, I am beginning to see that this photo is a testament to the creative power of the shadow.

I say this primarily because of something I read in Robert Bly's Little Book on the Human Shadow this morning: "Our shadow tends, because our parents urged unselfishness on us, to lie in being greedy or sneaky, wanting fame without deserving it." But, he says a bit later, if we acknowledge/own/accept our shadow, it can give us back the energy that was previously spent repressing it. "It is said that some old Zen people have done so much work on their shadow that they will do greedy things right in front of you and laugh. By showing the greediness directly, in daylight, somehow they bring it out of the world of shadow and into the world of play... When the shadow becomes absorbed the human being loses much of his darkness and becomes light and playful in a new way."

One way to incorporate the shadow, Bly adds, is to express it through art. In this case, that happened somewhat inadvertently, but the fact is that in spite of my feeling overheated and exhausted and upset while climbing those blasted steps, some part of me -- probably the greedy part -- saw (and WANTED) this wonderful gate. And so, for a moment, I was taken completely out of myself, out of my trials and tribulations and frustrations and into enchantment; I was enchanted by this gate; I WANTED it -- and so I stopped to take a picture.

All of which I mention because I want to emphasize that we don't have to associate the darkness of the shadow with evil. Properly channeled and understood, the shadow can be a gift. I'm thinking now of an exercise I wrote about once before in this blog:

The purpose of the exercise was to get us more comfortable with our shadows, and it went something like this:

1. List three positive qualities about yourself
2. List their opposites.
3. List three things you are trying to become.
4. List their opposites.
5. Look at the six opposites -- which are, essentially, your shadow self -- and find positive qualities about each of them.

I'm not quite certain where we were officially supposed to take all that -- it's been over three years since I took this workshop -- but when I look at my notes I see, and remember, that this process was a great revelation for me: I learned that the aspects of my personality which most shame or embarrass me (of which greed is certainly one) actually have value -- particularly in connecting me with the rest of humanity.

And now, today, I see also that, in addition to the fact that learning to accept -- and even love -- my own shadow enables me to be more loving and compassionate toward others, it can also enhance and feed my own creative energies.

Looking at this image again now, after having written this blog post, I see that circle in the upper left, dark against the golden wall, a sort of reverse sunrise. It even has a face -- or at least eyes to see, and you get the distinct sense that there could be someone behind that screen looking out. Something in it says to me, "Do not be afraid." Which probably reflects the messages I was getting from my husband as I sat panting and exhausted on those steps; messages I share with you now:

Don't worry.
I know you can do this.
There's nothing to be afraid of.
What's the worst that can happen?
Take your time.
Take it easy.
I'm here for you; let me help you up.
Just take it one step at a time;
I promise you can do this.

And isn't that, in its own way, the message we long to hear in prayer?

And so I say, amen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A visit with the Gobble-uns

You better mind yer parunts,
an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,

An' churish them 'at loves you,
an' dry the orphant's tear,

An' he'p the pore an' needy ones
'at clusters all about,

Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you

Ef you Don't Watch Out!

-- from "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley

Yesterday a friend who wants to take on a meditation practice wrote to ask about my morning routine. So I gave her the details of my daily ritual: up at 6, feed the animals, reading and coffee, meditation -- the usual drill.

But I suspect there must have been a wee bit of complacency or pride in there somewhere, because this morning that routine went to hell in a handbasket: I overslept, didn't awaken until 7:30, and came down to the kitchen to discover we'd had an ant invasion in the night. Spent the next hour slaughtering the darn things and tracking them to their outside nest, then raining down death and destruction on them and their unhatched young.

By the time I was ready to meditate my husband was up, but my brain was also bouncing around, so instead of being quiet and calm my meditation was disrupted repeatedly -- disgusting images of ant eggs; preparing to do battle if more ants should come; a sort of wry amusement at the contrast between how the morning was supposed to go and how it went (and wondering how I'd write about that); and hearing my husband puttering around.

Somehow, by the time I got to the computer, this old poem -- I don't even remember when I first heard it, but I'm thinking, maybe third grade? -- was playing in my head. And I'm thinking it's there because this morning's departure from routine gave me a chance to visit with the SHOULDS -- those evil demons I've been wrestling with this Lent. Not that the shoulds themselves are goblins -- the shoulds actually have value; they're noble efforts to do the right thing, and in listening to them we can help make the world a better place.

I think the goblins themselves are more about failure: we are our own worst judges, and eat ourselves alive with guilt when we fail to live up to those internal standards. I've been reading Robert Bly's book on the shadow this week, and this morning read his explanation of the power of those goblins:

"We came as infants "trailing clouds of glory," arriving from the farthest reaches of the universe, bringing with us appetites well preserved from our mammal inheritance, spontaneities wonderfully preserved from our 150,000 years of tree life, angers well preserved from our 5,000 years of tribal life -- in short, with our 360-degree radiance -- and we offered this gift to our parents. They didn't want it. They wanted a nice girl or a nice boy... That doesn't mean our parents were wicked; they needed us for something. My mother, as a second generation immigrant, needed my brother and me to help the family look more classy. We do the same thing to our children; it's a part of life on this planet. Our parents rejected who we were before we could talk, so the pain of the rejection is probably stored in some pre-verbal place."

The power of those goblins is precisely that; that they have been planted in some pre-verbal place; very hard to access, and harder still to challenge. If you'll bear with me for a minute, I'm just going to personalize this: The power the goblins continue to hold is somehow connected to my early experiences of my mother's anger. Seeing my now-deceased mother from an adult perspective, I suspect her anger had little to do with me, and more to do with her frustration at being stuck with a colicky little kid when she would have much preferred to be at work designing airplanes. But because I didn't understand WHY she was angry at the time, it felt like anything I might do had the potential to trigger that fury. So the goblins are actually my own creations, put in place to guard and protect me; to keep me from doing anything that Might Make Mama Mad.

So even if my conscious mind gives me permission to delay my meditation period to rain mass destruction on ants, some deeper part of me -- which I created myself to protect me from the terrifying (and, for the pre-verbal child, life-threatening) fury of my mother -- finds fault and questions every decision, looking for a reason to feel guilty; preparing me to look and feel abashed in case my mom should catch me. Some part of me learned early that if I beat her to the punch with an apology, she might be less likely to punish me -- which means, I suspect, that I learned early to apologize just for living.

I think the reason I got an actual glimpse of the goblins today is partly because I'm on the alert (that's my job this Lent) and more because this morning's departure from routine is small, and so these particular goblins are small, and not so scary -- more like gnats to be brushed aside. But given this glimpse I can see that forward progress in any area has always been a bit halting because those pre-verbal demons, who are actually there to protect me from parental disapproval, are always on the lookout for potential failure, checking to be sure I "don't do anything bad." And that anxiety I feel when I make an independent decision without first getting approval from someone -- these guys are the source of that as well.

Whoa. And now some part of me wants to apologize to YOU for dragging out my dirty demons as if they were somehow special and unique to me. But they're not, you know-- we've all got them, it's just that some are bigger and scarier than others. But now that we recognize them -- and comprehend their role, and where they came from, and why -- how do we convince them that their job is done; that they can retire now; that now that we are grown we no longer need their constant messaging?

Something tells me that's the job of a lifetime.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When life happens -- are you there?

I spent my lunch hour yesterday taking headshots of a friend who will be making her directing debut this spring. We had originally planned to do the shooting outside in her garden, but it was cold and she wasn't feeling well, so we shot in her music room instead.

My camera has never been great at indoor work (I still feel guilty about an effort made years ago to shoot a friend's son's Eagle Scout ceremony with a non-digital camera; it was a disaster...) so it was with some trepidation that I accepted this change in plans. And, yes, some of the pictures were out of focus. But she's a beautiful woman, and I know enough now to compensate for the challenges, so I got some truly gorgeous shots. And this one, which was the worst of the out-of-focus ones, shot while she was shifting positions, is actually really cool.

Which is kind of like life -- you know that old John Lennon line: Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans? How often are we so busy moving forward that we don't see where we are? How often does our need for perfection blind us to the beauty of what is?

I found myself talking about this this morning over coffee with a friend -- and then came home to find this wonderful poem in my inbox. So I guess that's my subject for today: enjoy!


I used to worry
about making something big
and important
and beautiful
and necessary

The greatest story ever told
or song ever sung
or line ever drawn
by anyone

So bright
it would shine a light
clear to the other side
of eternity,
and cast a shadow—
my shadow—
until the end of time
or at least as long
as the shadows
that had walked with me
for as long
as I could remember walking.

To pass the time
I lived a life
as best I could,
full of kisses and homework,
faucets and game shows,
glasses and ice cream—
a thousand projects lost
for every lesson learned,
and more recidivism
than you could shake a stick at.
Until one day
(or was it a month?)
when I sat down to rest
(or was I driving?)
and heard the smallest sound
and for once
(or was it just the first time I heard?)
I saw that the light
could be a sound
and a Great Work
as small as a salted peanut
offered up
in the right way.

Which is good
because while Great Works
of the traditional sort
are marvels of time and space,
life offers
far more opportunities
for the sharing of peanuts.

You will, of course,
spend your own days
as you must
for your path is not mine
and your gis yours
to do with
as you will.

But you are everything you need to be
right now
and have everything we need
right there

What that is
or how it will change both of us
when you do
we cannot know.

Only that it will
and you must.

Colleen Wainwright is a writer-speaker-illuminator. You can find more
of her poetry and writing at her website, communicatrix .

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thoughts on Authenticity

My blogger buddy Maureen sent me a a link to a wonderful downloadable book entitled What is Dying to be Born? The book, which features words and art by some wonderful women, was compiled by Lianne Raymond, a life coach and yoga practitioner: you can find the book -- and her blog -- here (Hint: the low-res download is fine, and much faster).

I began reading through the book yesterday evening, and I particularly wanted to share this piece with you today. Written by Brené Brown, it's entitled "The Audacity of Authenticity," and speaks directly to the work I seem to be doing over Lent; getting rid of the "shoulds" and coming to love the real human being that lies beneath.

Like the sheep in this picture, each of us has our matted and scruffy places, both inside and out. But we always have the opportunity to love and accept what is instead of wishing we -- or our lives -- were tidier...

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go
of who we think we’re supposed to be,
and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means:

Cultivating the courage to be imperfect,
to set
and to allow ourselves to be

Exercising the compassion that comes from
that we are all made of strength and
and connected to each other
through a
loving and resilient human spirit; and

Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging

that can only happen when we believe that we are

Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving –
even when it’s hard,
even when we’re
wrestling with the shame and fear
of not being
good enough,
and especially when the joy is so
that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Choosing authenticity is not only an act of courage;
it is an act of resistance.
You’re going to
confuse, piss-off and terrify lots of people –
including yourself.
One minute you'll pray that
the transformation ends
and the next minute
you’ll pray that it never ends.

But, if we want to
engage in our lives from a place of worthiness,
authenticity is not just an option: it's essential.
We have to wake up
every morning and say,
“This is who I am,
this is
my story,
and I am enough.”

Brené Brown Ph.D. is a researcher, professor, and writer.
Her upcoming book is called The Gifts of Imperfection ,
and she blogs at

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Leaving the garden

Our youngest leaves with a friend this morning for a month of camping in the Southwest. Like her parents, she's a bit of a control freak, so she's been preparing for this trip for a while. But there are still enough unknowns ahead to make anticipation scary. So, after a lifetime of carrying her precious Bear-Bear everywhere with her, she's elected to leave him behind, thinking he might be safer at home.

This adds to the stress of the trip, in a way: leaving him behind is a way of acknowledging that "bad stuff" could happen. But knowing he won't be there to comfort her in a crisis is also difficult for her. So it was with interest and some amusement (what ever drove me to pick this book up and open it to this passage, which I don't ever remember reading?) that I read these words in Richard Rohr's Everything Belongs this morning.

"Until we are two or three years of age, we know ourselves primarily in the security of those who hold us and gaze upon us. It's not heard or seen or thought. It's felt...when we first begin to doubt that and move outside of that kinesthetic knowing...we take little things like Teddy Bears... to reassure ourselves that union is truth. ...The child does not want to let go of that kinesthetic knowing. Mom had given her such a primal experience that life is union. There is not infant; there is only infant/mother. It is one reality. When I begin to see myself through other eyes than my mother's, which tell me I'm the beloved, when I see myself through eyes that compare, judge, and dismiss, then the division begins and conscious spirituality/religion is needed."

When I read this, it helps me comprehend the deep impact of the hugs I've been getting this last day or two. We stand together in the hallway, my daughter and I, surrounded by all the detritus of packing, and when we hug there is this deep sense of connection, very physical, right at the heart level. It's always there, with both my girls, but now it seems to be taking on a life of its own, as it always does during periods of major transition.

And if I look at that feeling, step into it, I realize it is the same deep heartfelt sense of connection I feel in meditation at its best; a reminder that God loves us as we love our children, with the same acceptance of the need for separation and the same awareness of longing for union.

"It has to happen," says Rohr. "We have to leave the garden. We can't stay there, letting mother gaze at us [or holding Bear-Bear] forever...It is only important that you have a garden to remember...True religion parts the veil and returns us to the garden and tells us our primal experience was trustworthy. It is, finally, a benevolent universe, and it is on our side. The universe is radical grace. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. Scarcity is not the primary experience, but precisely abundance. Now I can relax and let go."

Yes, there is a garden; there is a place that is safe and real where you have always been loved. We don't always get to stay there: we have lessons to learn and roads to travel. But the garden is always there waiting for us, deep at the root of those heart connections we form and feel over the years.