Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The deep green welcomeness of Love

A musician friend of mine has given me two Elvis Costello CD's, one jazz and one bluegrass (!) and I woke up this morning with the last bluegrass song in my head.

It's called Changing Partners, it's a waltz, and it seems at first hearing to be a very common ordinary sort of country waltz with a sort of common ordinary romantic theme. And, in fact, I find his voice a little grating in the upper registers.

But there's this one low note he hits repeatedly as he sings the song, and the vibrato of it seems to resonate with the core of my heart. It has a deep green welcomeness to it that's a bit like that breathless kick I used to get reading romance novels, when the hero finally kisses the girl at the end of the book.

Which means that somehow Elvis Costello -- yes, the same Elvis who sang "I write the book" all those years ago -- becomes, for the duration of that note, "McDreamy," awakening that longing for connection that I suspect lies deep in each and every one of us.

We humans, of course, tend to take that feeling and project it onto other humans, hoping to vibrate together at that invisible core of being and then being disappointed at the... well... humanness of the partners we choose. But what if the story told in these lyrics is really the story of our lives? What if we are propelled by the dance of life from the arms of God, and the patterns of the dance move us through a series of partners -- places, people, jobs -- until, at the end, we dance back into the arms of God?

If that were true, than the resonance of that low note, and the way it is so in tune with the beating of my heart, could be the memory of that One true love, recurring throughout this song/dance/life of ours -- in the eyes of a beloved, in the fragrance of the forest, in the rhythm of the water and the caress of a summer breeze -- reminding me of that one true Love and calling me back into that final waltz.

I know. A lot of foolishness to put into a simple country and western song. But when I came to my computer I opened I-tunes and played the song: it was a beautiful way to start the day.

We were dancing together
To a dreamy melody
When they called out, "Change partners"
And you waltzed away from me

Now my arms feel so empty
As I gaze around the floor
And I'll keep on changing partners
Till I hold you once more

Though we danced for one moment
And too soon we had to part
In that wonderful moment
Something happened to my heart

So I'll keep changing partners
Till you're in my arms again
Oh my darling, I may never
Change partners again.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To each of us you reveal yourself differently

This image really sang to me this morning; I'm not quite sure why, as it took a long time to find it.

I'm thinking it's the balance of it that calls to me, the equality between light and dark, the punch of the yellow and blue against the subtle grays and browns, the alternating pull of the upper and lower diagonals, the fog in the background and the way it sets off the clarity of the foreground...

But there's also a balance between the calm peacefulness and the watchful readiness of it: you know that at some point people will be using these boats, but at the moment they are just waiting.

I can write all these things, attempting to analyze the pull the image has for me, but the truth of the matter is that ultimately it's a mystery, and always a bit difficult to understand why one day I might love this image and another day I might pass it by altogether; why one person might want to buy it, and another might walk by without even registering it. And for some reason that makes me think of the Rilke poem I read this morning:

You are the future,
the red sky before sunrise
over the fields of time.

You are the cock's crow when night is done,
you are the dew and the bells of matins,
maiden, stranger, mother, death.

You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days --
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew.

You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken.
To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
to the ship as coastline, to the shore as a ship.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke, from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Have compassion, will travel

This morning I headed off to church, worrying a little that the friend I'd offended earlier in the week might still be carrying some anger, not knowing how all that would play out.

And I realized as I drove that for some reason there is a part of me that assumes whatever sins I commit are unforgiveable -- pretty curious, given my faith and my almost-25-year marriage to the forgivingest man alive. So somewhere in my past -- and I can probably trace it to my mom -- I got the message that if I screw up I will be cut off forever from the person I offended.

Something tells me that there's something in me that believes that's true of God as well; that if I screw up, I'll be out of favor and punished heartily. Which goes completely against what I thought I believed. Intellectually I get that though there are times I may be foundering, eventually the tides will rise again and I'll be floating free again, ready to sail. But apparently that belief isn't fully planted in me -- which probably explains why I'm not more accepting of myself.

My husband sent me a link to Wired magazine yesterday -- it was an article about how people hear differently out of their left ears than their right ears -- and on the site there was another link to an article, also in Wired, about how people who are more compassionate with themselves have higher self-esteem.

So now I'm thinking maybe I need to do some more work in that arena.

How about you?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

When the need for peace and the need for drama collide

This piece of art is from a T-shirt I created to be hung on a clothesline in the lobby of our local theater in connection with our performance of Eve Ensler's play, The Vagina Monologues. I post it here this morning, not because it's great art, but rather because it represents a desired outcome, a longing for resolution for a difficult situation that arose earlier this week because of something I wrote in this blog.

And it's a struggle to stay present with the feelings that arise in me in response to the situation; to know the wounding -- on both sides -- and still to see the flower that could emerge out of this freshly tilled earth. For two days now I've been stuck on a page in Eckhart Tolle's New Earth that is entitled, "Do you want peace or drama?" Here's what he has to say:

"You want peace. There is no one who does not want peace. Yet there is something else in you that wants the drama, wants the conflict. You may not be able to feel it at this moment. You may have to wait for a situation or even just a thought that triggers a reaction in you: someone accusing you of this or that, not acknowledging you, encroaching on your territory, questioning the way you do things, an argument about money...

Can you then feel the enormous surge of force moving through you, the fear, perhaps being masked by anger or hostility? Can you hear your own voice becoming harsh or shrill, or louder and a few octaves lower? Can you be aware of your mind racing to defend its position, justify, attack, blame? In other words, can you awaken at that moment of unconsciousness? Can you feel that there is something in you that is at war, something that feels threatened and wants to survive at all cost, that needs the drama in order to assert its identity as the victorious character within that theatrical production? Can you feel there is something in you that would rather be right than at peace?"

When the ego is at war, says Tolle, you need to know that it is no more than an illusion that is fighting to survive. Step outside that surge of righteous indignation; try to see the other's point of view; try to remember that you two are one, and this flame is just the ego asserting itself again. There is more to us -- so much more -- than ego, but its red heat can mask the cooler, deeper, connected parts of us very effectively, and there are times when it's truly a challenge to cool the flames.

I felt stuck, reading this Tolle piece; tired of fighting to stay calm and centered, tired of patting all my anxious, shamed, and guilty voices on the back and reassuring them, tired of holding the leashes of the dogs of righteousness, all barking that I did nothing wrong... tired of trying to hold together all this fragmentation. So I decided to read something else, and, sifting through the pile of books that waits for me each morning, I decided to return to Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours, and opened it to find this healing poem:

I am a city by the sea
sinking into a toxic tide.
I am strange to myself, as though someone unknown
had poisoned my mother as she carried me.

It's here in all the pieces of my shame
that now I find myself again.
I yearn to belong to something, to be contained
in an all-embracing mind that sees me
as a single thing.
I yearn to be held
in the great hands of your heart --
oh let them take me now.

Into them I place these fragments, my life.
and you, God -- spend them however you want.

This poem was balm to my wounded soul, and all I can say is, "Amen."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Got the blues? Time to choose... what?

Like many adults of my generation, I have wandered onto Facebook at the invitation of my children. And, like many others who have wandered onto Facebook, I have found it an opportunity to reconnect with some very special people from my path.

One of those people, a dear friend from over 25 years ago, has been catching me up on his life story, and this morning we were discussing the obstacles that have fallen into his path this week.

I made some passing comment about blessing the obstacles, and he responded by telling me that there were also doors opening for him that he hadn't anticipated, and then concluded with this pithy statement about the choices that he'd be needing to make: "Life is short, we need to do what we love and what nourishes our faith, hope, and love."

I'm not sure I have anything to add to that today -- that's pretty much how we need to assess all those decisions life throws at us -- so I think I'll just stop here.

Thank you, David!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wisdom in unexpected places

You've heard the familiar axioms:

Things are seldom what they seem.
Clothes make the man.
You can't judge a book by its cover.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

... and my favorite Thoreau quotation: beware of any enterprise requiring new clothes!

Any one of these could serve as a caption for this photo. The problem with using photographs to tell a story is that different people have different associations with different images, and the story you thought you were telling might not be the story people hear. Part of the challenge of staying in the "wide-mind" I mentioned yesterday is to watch and listen without making assumptions.

For example: my husband, who is not the burly press-worker he appears to be in this picture (nor are either of the other men; these are costumes and a set), is a big fan of the TV show, 2 1/2 Men -- as am I. We watch it regularly, laugh at it often, and sincerely enjoy the writing and acting we see there. But last night I happened to notice a white screen, appearing just at the end of the show, and I paused the DVD player to read it.

That white screen is called a vanity card; it's a frame that the producer puts up to announce his name and production company. But Chuck Lorre, who produces 2 1/2 Men and Big Bang Theory (another favorite of ours) puts a lot more than his name and company on the card. And, in fact, there is a website where the (often hysterically funny and occasionally banned) content of all the cards is stored. Which is a good thing, because I have one to share with you today -- and who would have thought so much valuable philosophy could be stored in a sitcom about an inveterate womanizer and his brother the chiropractor?


When I was in the shower this morning, I thought: If we assume a
Big Bang beginning of the universe, then every molecule, every
atom, every proton, every electron, every quark, every
wavelength, every vibration, every multi-dimensional string,
every everything that makes up everything else shares an
ineffable property of pre-Bang Oneness. Assuming that, then every
everything is always moving in one of two directions: either away
from that primordial state, or returning towards it. We feel
these quantum movements. Moving away is experienced as
loneliness, fear, anger and despair. Returning is experienced as
one or more of the infinite variations and gradations of what we
call love. Now, while some might say that equating the miracle of
human feelings to the meandering of sub-atomic bric-a-brac robs
them of their mystery, the truth is quite the opposite.
Connecting our fundamental experience of life to the great
mystery of existence ties us to the eternal within our every
waking moment. We are not separate. We are made of the same stuff
that existed at the beginning and will exist at the end.
Therefore, the question we must each ask ourselves is simple: "In
what direction am I moving today - towards oneness, or away from

I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, as I am spending my day writing about the African concept of Ubuntu, I can't think of a more succinct way to describe it. So watch out for those assumptions -- there can be wisdom everywhere: you just need to stay open to it! And don't forget to ask yourself that all-important question: what direction am I moving today - towards oneness, or away from it?"

... and, just as a PS, here's some advice from
Patti Digh, the author of Life is a Verb (courtesy of the Reverent Irreverence blog):

Say yes
Be generous.
Speak up.
Love more.
Trust yourself.
Slow down.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stepping through the MINE fields

On Monday I went to pick up my work from an art festival on the other side of the water. When I got to the exhibit, I headed to the back room where the unsold art is carefully stored in numbered bins, handed in my receipt, duly signed for my work, and wandered over to the appropriate bins to pick it up.

My piece was easy to see, as it was late in the day and most of the other work had already been picked up. But there were volunteers in the room whose job it was to do that FOR us, and even though I could see my piece the woman insisted on blocking me and heading to the wrong bin; I had to redirect her -- and then the woman had trouble getting it out of the bin because it was so big.

The experience definitely left a bad taste in my mouth -- as had my experience dropping the pieces off, when the process seemed equally awkward -- all the moreso because the piece, which was very bright and abstract, stuck out like a sore thumb in rooms full of more traditional art. But as I'm thinking back on it now, I'm thinking this was another case of the word MY getting in the way -- on both sides. For the volunteers, it was about MY JOB -- which was to make sure no one left with a painting other than their own -- and for me it was about MY PHOTOGRAPH: I could see it, it was mine, why couldn't I take it?

And now I'm wondering, what is it about this word MY (and now I can see one of my children snatching a toy from the other, saying loudly, MINE!) that makes it become such a battleground? Lest you think I am just speaking as an objective observer, I hasten to say I bumped up against this particular landmine -- or should I say MINE field? -- again yesterday in a conversation with a friend who is laying out an online exhibit for which I am the curator. She had designed the opening screen with the image I was thinking might be the winning image, and there was some -- take a deep breath now -- MUSTARD color in her design!

Boom! went the first landMINE: This is MY first exhibit, and I don't want the color MUSTARD anywhere NEAR it. Boom! went the second landMINE: I'm sorry, she said, but it is MY job to lay out the exhibit. Boom! Boom! Ouch! And there we were, in a face-off, and I was carrying the past with me like a flag; a castoff mustard-colored shirt my mom had given me as a birthday present years ago waving all its ugliness in the breeze.

Two artists arguing over color? A recipe for disaster! It could have been war -- but it wasn't. Not that we weren't both anxious and sensitive -- we were. But my friend is a master at "wide-mind" and her friendship means a lot to me, so we stayed present to each other, we listened, we talked, we explored alternatives, we played with the images and described what we saw, and eventually we realized that the differences between what I saw and what she had created were probably monitor-related; it was all quite subtle, after all. What looked garish on my monitor looked quite reasonable on hers, and instead of going ballistic we were able to arrive at another solution altogether -- a solution that, with a bit of intervention that looked to both of us like Spirit, involved a completely different image.

Though I suspect each of us is probably twitching in the aftermath, we are using our beaks to sooth our own ruffled feathers and breathe rather than to peck each other's eyes out. And we were able, thanks to a friendship that's been building for a while and PILES of mutual respect, to survive the confrontation with the friendship intact and an end product that is no longer MINE or HERS but OURS.

It's not always easy to get from MINE to OURS. Sometimes it takes confrontation, and honesty, and piles and piles of courage to walk into the MINEfields without carrying a loaded shotgun. But I think if we can just understand that anytime the word MY creeps in it's the ego talking, not the Truth that lies at the heart of us, and learn to step lightly, we have an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with that universal truth that lies at the heart of us all.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the friends over the years -- and especially my husband -- who have had the courage to confront me when I allowed MY to get in the way of US. And since sometimes, despite all my efforts, I still land in minefields -- this blog can sometimes be a stellar example of that -- I will add, as a postscript, my apologies for all the times, especially today, when I made the mistake of telling any other stories than... well, MINE.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The universal table

One of my classmates sent us all a quote from James Hillman: "How far can our love extend to the broken and ruined parts of ourselves....How far can we build an inner society on the principle of love, allowing a place for everyone?"

She then made this observation: "I have thought of inclusivity and making a place at the table as an external activity. When I think of it internally, it also helps to make sense of what people are talking about when they use the word integration."

I love that idea of a place for everyone, of setting an internal table at which all the various parts of us are welcome and invited to converse. And, of course, the 23rd psalm immediately comes to mind:

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I believe I have explained before that the way this blog works is this: I carry my camera with me in my car, and shoot whatever calls to me, uploading the results to my computer along the way. Then, after my morning meditation I sit down at the computer and sift through my photos to see what calls to me. I then post that photo here on the blog and start to write, to see what rises up when I study it more closely.

So I hadn't intended to put the Hillman quote here today. But when I glanced at this photo, it sang to me, so I posted it. It wasn't until it was mounted on the page that I realized this wasn't just a cute picture of alpacas grazing on a neighbor's farm; it's actually a lovely example of the table the Lord has set for us -- providing the grass for the alpacas, the safety of the fence, and a house for them to sleep in. And they in turn provide for us: not just their charm (love those big brown eyes!) but also their milk and their wool. Surely there IS goodness and mercy in that exchange.

And seeing that I realize that the table that has been set for us is not just a table, but an entire earth, and all of us -- both external people and nations and all those internal voices -- are all provided for. Perhaps our job as unique individuals is to observe, accept, and honor the universality of the table, and to be gracious hosts in whatever way we can, contributing to the feeding and conversation with our own unique thoughts and gifts. And the hardest part may NOT be including and welcoming the people outside you who may have done you harm, but rather the task of including and welcoming "the broken and ruined parts of ourselves."

So I invite you to look at the world that way today, if only for a little while. Find a place at some part of the table that pleases you -- a garden, a park, a beach, a corner of your home, a corner table at your local library, a pew in your church -- and sit for a minute. Invite those broken ruined selves within to sit with you and share, even to speak. Gaze kindly at their pockmarked faces and shabby clothes, touch their withered arms with tenderness, and offer them a bit of respite from their tortured lives: a glass of water, a bite of apple, a listening ear... Who knows: they might be overflowing with poetry.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Afternoon in the garden

Yesterday my friend Anne invited me to join her and several of her musician friends for a solstice party in her always-amazing garden. It was lovely to see Anne again -- it's been a while, and now that she's less church-oriented and I've switched churches our paths rarely cross.

But the sense of connection was as strong as ever, and it was lovely to feel free to wander around her garden snapping pictures, listening to the chatter of female voices, sharing songs and music and... oh, the food! There was chocolate, and raspberries, and sort of crispy curry-flavored kale leaves, several kinds of salad, one of those delicious artichoke parmesan dips with french bread, and I snuck a fresh snow pea and a fresh strawberry while wandering through the garden.

There is something about the colors of a garden that just feeds my soul, and I am grateful for the time I got to spend in the music and the color, despite the rain drops and the occasional challenges posed for me by conversing with total strangers. It's easy to feel fairly steady and reasonably enlightened when your days and activities are simple and predictable, but interactions with strangers have a lot to teach us about who we really are and how we behave under stress.

Oh, dear -- I have to run. But I did want to share this picture, to give you a taste of our lovely afternoon.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Your inner superhero

The plot for our movie yesterday concerned a nerdly guy in a dead-end job who struggles with delusions of grandeur. In thinking about it afterward, I find myself wondering if we don't all -- at some level, anyway -- have delusions of grandeur. There is that piece in each of us that longs to be a superman, to right injustice and triumph over evil. And part of the process of maturing, or becoming civilized, is learning when and how to act on those impulses.

Part of why the hero of this movie was so sort of embarrassingly sad was because he actually believed he could make a difference, even though the rest of his fellow employees completely ignored his efforts on their behalf -- and, in fact, he couldn't even come up with a believable superhero outfit (and we all know clothes make the man, right?).

What if the superhero voice is NOT a voice we should extinguish in ourselves? What if the loss -- or burying -- of that voice coincides with the loss of innocence and hope? And I'm not so much talking here about the part of you that thinks it would be cool to wear lycra suits and fly; I'm more talking about the part of you that still believes it could make the world a better place.

I heard a story Friday night about a man, a physician in his 80's, who has devoted the latter years of his life to making medical texts available -- in appropriate languages -- to health practitioners in developing nations. "See?" said the friend who was telling me this man's story. "It IS possible for one man to make a difference."

Today I had lunch with a friend who went to a memorial service yesterday for a friend who, still in her 40's with two teenagers, passed away after a 9-year struggle with cancer. "There were over 600 people at that service," she said, "this woman touched SO MANY lives: it was amazing." My friend went on to tell me that she'd finally been given a plot in the community garden, and she shared how life-affirming she found being part of that community of gardeners, and working with the soil, and then she told me there's one person in that garden who just grows vegetables, solely for the purpose of sharing them with the local food bank.

Everywhere we look there are superheroes, but their heroism doesn't necessarily come clothed in lycra tights and a cape. For some it is their job to speak up; for others the job is to feed people or provide services, or maybe just to allow people to help them. But for all superheroes there must come a moment of presence, or awareness; a moment when you realize there is a need that you might possibly fill. And then there must be a choice: should I take this on? Do I care? What do I bring to the task? Am I capable? Is this worth my time?

But the most important question, I think, might be... WHY? Why does this call me, why am I drawn to this? Because if the answer is ever along the lines of "because it will make me look good" or "because people will like me" or "because I'll feel better about myself" then you're probably not on the right track. Because those voices all come from the ego, that part of us that so longs to be special, to be different, to be important -- and any results that come from those sorts of efforts are pretty much guaranteed to leave us looking like this poor guy in his sheet cape, his hand-lettered t-shirt, upside down mask and baggy Walmart shorts.

Yes, you may have positioned yourself perfectly against the light, as if you were a god come down to save the situation. But the rest of us can still see the truth, which is made even more glaringly obvious by your actions. Yes, the original impulse may have been admirable. But in the end, all comes to dust: best to find what you were born to do and do it quietly, rather than to find a way to save -- and thereby impress -- the world. I find myself, thinking now about our efforts yesterday, realizing that we bore witness, yet again, to Shakespeare's immortal words in Hamlet:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me.

I'm sure I've told this story before, but I will never forget the time Ray Kroc, the founder of MacDonalds, came to speak to the students at the Tuck School of Business. "What should I do to make the most money?" asked one of the students at the close of his speech. "Whatever you do -- if you want to be successful," replied Kroc, "will probably take lots and lots of hard work, and still there will be no guarantees of success. So do something you love. That way, even if you haven't been successful, you will still have enjoyed your life."

If you find that superhero impulse rising up in you, take a minute; stop and evaluate. Why do I want to do this? What am I REALLY trying to accomplish here? Am I just hoping to succeed at something? Am I just trying to look good? Am I willing to cope with the potential for failure? And am I willing to risk looking like a complete idiot? Or am I doing this because I might honestly enjoy the work?

Don't extinguish your superhero: it could be the voice of hope, of what you were called to do. But be careful: don't let your longing for recognition take over. And the single best indicator of whether you're called to do is probably this: will you just absolutely love what you're doing? Then go for it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Unemployment Benefits

Yesterday at 7pm was the start of the Seattle wing of the 48 hour Film Project, so I was up until midnight last night waiting to hear what my role would be in our local "team juice box" attempt, and then spent another half hour putting together "secretarial clothes" before going to bed.

Of course, by morning, the script had changed... well, perhaps I should explain. Here's how it works: at 7pm on Friday teams are given a common character, dialog line, and prop, and each team draws a genre from a hat. At that point they have 48 hours to make about a 5 minute movie in that genre with the character, dialog line, and prop that was assigned to everyone.

At any rate, the genre we drew was Superhero, so morning found us gathering at the now defunct printing presses for our local paper (economies have forced them to get their printing done elsewhere) to generate a movie about a would-be super hero.

The good news is I did not have to be a secretary after all; I got to be one of the guys running the presses. The good news also includes the fact that they needed more "burly press guys" so my husband was "pressed" into service, and, in fact, got to deliver the opening line of the movie -- which, appropriately enough, given that he was in software testing and security for much of his career, was to shout "ERROR!!!" at the top of his lungs.

The bad news -- if there was any -- was that making movies turns out to be pretty tedious business: you mostly sit around and wait for your shots. And, in this case, we were standing around, as there were no chairs on the press floor. So we would, like this plate on the side of one of the presses, get short runs and then long periods of being stopped. That said, it was an incredible space, fun to photograph, and many of the actors were unfamiliar to me, so I got in some great conversations.

I'm pretty sure my husband enjoyed himself as well -- and I definitely loved having him there. He'd never have gone on a normal weekend; there would always have been some project at work that was keeping him busy. Which is part of the fun of being unemployed -- he's free to follow wherever life takes him -- which is good, because it takes him to some interesting places. Tomorrow, for example, he's going for a lovely long motorcycle ride. Yes, it's Fathers' Day, but his daughters aren't around, and since he's been telling me for years that it was not his job to celebrate Mothers' Day with me, I decided it wasn't My job to celebrate Fathers' Day with him!

Hmm. This is not a particularly spiritual post... which may because I didn't get to meditate this morning, and I'm exhausted from standing around all day (how does that happen?) -- I literally keep dozing off at the keyboard here. But I did want to point out that though unemployment is kind of scary, there are good parts. Who knows -- he might discover a new career as an actor, or an animal handler. But the first step is just simply to explore, to be willing to greet the new opportunities that rise up to meet you. You might even discover you don't miss work at all!

(Now. If we could only figure out a way not to miss the PAYCHECK!)

Friday, June 19, 2009

And God said YES!

This morning I was reading, in Eckhart Tolle's New Earth, about how entangled we can become in our own gifts; how we can mistakenly identify with our appearance, strength, or agility -- and then, of course, when we lose some of that we are gravely shaken. Who am I, if I am no longer athletic or even mobile? Who am I if my once beautiful skin is now covered with age spots?

But of course to deny the physical can be just as egoic as to get caught up in it: pride in self-denial is not so different from pride that expresses itself in purchasing all the latest clothes or weekly visits to a hairdresser.

Somewhere there is a middle ground where we learn to accept ourselves and laugh with God about our foibles. And accepting ourselves can take a lot of forms: we can accept that our bodies are imperfect and learn to live with that, but we can also accept that there is a piece of us that rejoices in decoration. Because the fact is that God doesn't just love our strong and good parts; she adores our weaknesses as well, because they always have so much to teach us.

So I loved it when I finished my meditation and came to my computer to find this wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, sent to me by my Texas friend Cathy. (Cathy is a priest who wore red cowboy boots to her ordination!)

God Says Yes to Me

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

Now that's a great poem: Dang -- I wish I'd written that!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blessed to be a Witness

Last night we had callbacks for Peter Pan, and there were three of us trying out for the roles of Gabby (pirate cook) and Liza (the Darling's maid). The other two women are dear friends of mine who've been in plays with me before, so afterwards the three of us went across the street to San Carlos to share a drink and catch up on what's been going on in our lives.

As we were leaving the bar, the man --whom I did not know -- who sat at the end of the bar greeted each of my friends, but when I passed by he grabbed my wrist and pulled me back to speak with me. I looked at him more closely, to see if I might actually know him, but he still looked unfamiliar to me, so I assumed he was drunk and waited patiently to see what he might have to say.

What he said -- "If you have any more children, bring them in" -- made no sense to me, but I obligingly said, "Sure thing," and he released me and I left. When I got outside I told the other two women what he'd said, and learned that he was the owner of the place (whom I know to be a dear friend of several friends of mine, though obviously I'd never met him). And it was at that point that I realized he was actually complimenting my daughters. San Carlos is a favorite place of ours to eat, so we had taken the girls to dinner while they were both home last weekend. Apparently he had observed -- and obviously approved of -- the girls as they were eating with us. (They have several friends on the wait staff, so there was a lot of camaraderie over dinner).

So it turns out that none of this is quite as creepy-stalky as it seemed initially, and, thinking about it this morning, I felt my heart swell a bit with pride in my girls, who are indeed both growing into lovely gracious souls. But then I pondered what I'd been reading in Eckhart Tolle this morning -- I am still slogging through the stuff on egoic consciousness, Me, and Mine -- and wondered if this was misplaced or inappropriate pride; if this was a purely egoic response.

How, I wondered, did all of that tie in with this image, which I shot on my way home last night as I was pulling into the sandspit? I mean, I was driving, saw this, and literally stopped in my tracks and backed up because it was so gorgeous. And then it hit me, because a Ben Harper song popped into my head:

Some have flown away
And can't be with us here today
Like the hills of my home
Some have crumbled and now are gone
Gather around for today won't come again
Won't come again

I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed to be a witness

I felt truly blessed to have seen the sky reflected in the still lagoon, with my neighbor's sailboat in the foreground. And I thought -- probably in self-defense, but whatever -- that's it! The swell of love I felt about my children was, yes, egoic, but also a swell of gratitude: I feel incredibly blessed by their presence in my life, and love watching them grow, even though growing now means growing away. The truth is that, with the girls as with this sunset, I feel blessed to be a witness.

Which seems, somehow, to work with the concluding lines of the song:

So much sorrow and pain
Still I will not live in vain
Like good questions never asked
Is wisdom wasted on the past
Only by the grace of God go I
Go I

I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed to be a witness

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another rebellious spirit

Yesterday my blogger buddy, Kim, posted a couple of poems from St. Catherine of Siena on her blog. I was thrilled to discover them. Catherine's church in Siena was one of the ones we visited when we were in Italy last fall, and I had forgotten that Catherine was one of the poets featured in Love Poems from God.

We actually visited two churches in Siena: their extraordinary cathedral, huge and magnificent with marble everywhere (see below), and then her home church, the Basilica of San Domenico -- a much less imposing brick edifice where this painting of Catherine and her mummified head (!) are on display (that's the bright spot at the center of the second photo).

So I thought I'd go back and look at her poems again to see if there were any that particularly struck me. The edge of the page was turned down on one, and when I read it I decided there was probably a good reason why the ugly brown church was hers and why the fancy cathedral was instead chock to the gills with the heads of disapproving popes.

"All has been consecrated.
The creatures in the forest know this,
the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know
as does the heart full of love.

Strange a priest would rob us of this knowledge
and then empower himself
with the ability
to make holy
what already was."

I guess Catherine was a bit of a rebel, too!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Peace in a troubled world

Last night was for the birds -- literally. Just as we left the house to walk the dog, the sun was setting and a total of 24 geese had lined up along the edge of the lagoon, resting and preening themselves as the tide rolled in.

Once the pup had pooped I went back into the house for my camera and came back to photograph them in the dying light, watching as the tide rose around their feet. Eventually the land they were sitting on was totally underwater, and at some unheard signal they floated off, paddling idly in a straight line past my kitchen window.

It was a little eerie -- I found myself wondering if they were gearing up for some sort of catastrophe. I know they don't all live here (we only have two families of Canada Geese, one of which has 4 or 5 goslings still in the latter stages of yellow fluffiness) and it's obviously not time to fly south for the winter, so what brought them here? There was a solemnity to their linear paddling, as if they were performing some sort of wake...

But we went to bed without further incident, leaving the windows open because the night was so warm. (Hey, you east coast and midwestern friends: did you know we don't need to use SCREENS out here in the PNW? The first night I spent in Seattle I found that absolutely astonishing (having grown up in the midwest and east with mosquitoes and black flies -- not to mention June bugs and cicadas!))

And then, at about 3:45 am, we were awakened by an angry heron, who circled our house squawking indignantly and continuously for several minutes. Just when we thought he had stopped and we'd rolled over to go back to sleep, he started up again, so finally we gave up, got out of bed, turned on the lights and went downstairs -- my husband to indulge in a bowl of cereal; me to my computer to sort through yesterday's photos. He went back to bed after the cereal, but I wasn't able to sleep again til almost 6.

And now here we are, several hours later, with no geese, no heron, and no natural disaster I'm aware of, just a bit sleepy and cranky. I'm not sure what all those birds were about, but I realized this morning, reading Eckhart Tolle's New Earth, that my reaction last night was very much in tune with what he has to say: "How do you know this is the experience you need?" asks Tolle. And his reply? "Because this is the experience you are having at this moment." For some reason we were supposed to be awake; I have no idea why. But it didn't anger or frighten me -- it just... WAS.

I believe now, at this stage in my life, that there is a rightness to what goes on in our lives, however wrong -- or just odd -- it may feel at the time. And this morning, when we were having our final class on Freeman's Jesus the Teacher Within, the passage that came forward for me when I wanted to summarize what the book meant for me was this one:

Faith is not the dream but the felt conviction that things will eventually work out for the best. Without denying the reality of evil or innocent suffering faith knows that the broken can be repaired, the meaningless can be understood, the wounded can be healed, and even that what is dead in us can be raised to new life. Faith knows that despite all signs to the contrary, and there are many, life has constructive meaning and beneficial purpose. The mystery of life is that even its tragedies and setbacks, its disappointments and failures can serve to awaken and deepen faith.

It seemed a perfect match for the quotes we heard today from Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish thinker, mystic and writer whose letters and diaries, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life under Nazi rule in Amsterdam during the German occupation of World War II. It seemed to me that everything she said was a testament to faith in times of adversity:

"Suffering has always been with us, does it really matter in what form it comes? All that matters is how we bear it and how we fit it into our lives."

"Never give up, never escape, take everything in, and perhaps suffer, that's not too awful either, but never, never give up."

"If one finds the strength to deal with small things, one finds it to deal with the large ones as well."

"One should want to be a balm on many wounds."

"Even if there is only one decent German, they would deserve to be protected from the barbarian rabble, and for that one German's sake one should not pour out one's hatred for the entire people."

"Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning."

I'm hoping neither you nor I has to suffer or see what Hillesum saw and suffered. But if we do, I sincerely hope that our faith holds up, and that we can find in us the compassion which she so beautifully exemplified. And just because I found these, I think I'll close with two final quotes from her:

“Become simple and live simply, not only within yourself but also in your everyday dealings. Don't make ripples all around you, don't try to be interesting, keep your distance, be honest, fight the desire to be thought fascinating by the outside world.”

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

A feline introduction to original sin

A heron decided to hang out just past the end of our deck while I was making spaghetti for our visiting teens, so I abandoned the stove and went outside with my camera to see if I could get that perfect heron shot. Our cat, Alex, was outside, sitting by the hot tub and calmly observing the heron, but when I came out he sauntered over to me and demanded to be picked up.

I suggested he might prefer to go indoors, and opened the door for him, but, no, what he wanted was attention. I tried to ignore him, but he began trying to crawl up the leg of my jeans. Disentangling him from the fabric, I snuck around the corner, moving closer to the heron, and focused again. Alex tried to climb my leg again and meowed a couple of times, but I was still trying to get that perfect shot --

-- which means my telephoto was fully extended when Alex got so frustrated he decided to abandon my side and chase the heron away. By the time I could retract the lens enough to get them both he had jumped off the deck and the heron had squawked and flown off to the nearest log in a huff. Clearly the cat was offended that my attention was elsewhere: he felt strongly that his need for a hug should come before my need for a photo, and he took immediate steps to remedy the situation when it wasn't going his way.

This fairly primitive and selfish response for punishment and revenge seems quite natural (if irritating) in a cat; it's not so different from the child who hits her brother if she thinks her brother is getting the lion's share of maternal attention. It is this behavior that school and parents try to correct over time in an attempt to "civilize" our children, to make them more productive and cooperative members of society.

And, of course, it is this intention -- to counteract selfish and thoughtless choices -- which often lies behind religious and spiritual impulses. Unfortunately, although a number of spiritual teachings tell us to let go of fear, greed, and the desire for power, those teachings tend to be unsuccessful because fear, greed and desire do not lie at the root of the problematic dysfunction.

The problem, according to Eckhart Tolle, is that, "Trying to become a good or better human being sounds like a commendable and high-minded thing to do, yet it is an endeavor you cannot ultimately succeed in unless there is a shift in consciousness. This is because it is still part of the same dysfunction, a more subtle and rarefied form of self-enhancement, of desire for more and a strengthening of one's conceptual identity, one's self-image."

The problem, the fundamental dysfunction, is that we all carry a strong attachment to the ego, and it is the ego -- not that universally connected Self, the real Being that lies at the heart of each of us -- that is so desperately attached to what IS; that fears destruction and loss; that believes they can be avoided by acquiring more things and more power.

I am thinking of all of this now because of a situation that is about to flare up in my little community: a couple from Florida, who are only here in the summertime, are about to tear down the little A-frame cabin they bought a few years back and build "their dream home" -- which is apparently a three-story home with a two-story attached garage. This dream home will be built out to the edges of the existing lot, and is pretty much guaranteed to remove a great deal of light and block the views for their fulltime next-door neighbors to the east, who are horrified and depressed at the thought of the impending construction (due to start in less than a month).

The neighbors on the west side of the disappearing A-frame are weekenders from Seattle, who are already fighting legal battles with importunate neighbors to THEIR west, so we're all anticipating that some of the nastiness is going to get worse, and efforts will be made on both sides of the conflict to recruit sympathetic supporters. And, of course, it doesn't help that the Floridians have a rather east-coast style, more confrontational than their more passive-agressive northwest neighbors: it's easy for this to degenerate into yet another religious war, a we-they situation where one side is CLEARLY right and the other CLEARLY wrong.

At the heart of all these battles, of course, is not just the usual distaste for change, but also that key word from the egoic consciousness: MY. This is MY dream house; you are blocking MY view; you are driving across MY lawn; your fence is making it hard to access MY driveway. I have been wondering how we as neighbors might defuse some of this situation, but I realize that though I have been thinking about it as OUR neighborhood and wondering how to get folks to consider each others rights and needs, what I'm really worried about is the impact on MY neighborhood, and whether I will find MYself forced to take sides or get involved somehow in the conflict.

It is this "MY" word that lies at the root of what Christians call Original Sin -- not so different from the Buddhist contention that it is desire that lies at the root of suffering. And I'm not sure what it would take to overcome that catlike impulse toward revenge and punishment in the face of thwarted desire. What I do know is that exhortations to "do the right thing" will probably fall on deaf ears; that somehow "I" and "my" needs to move to "we" and "our" -- and I can only begin to imagine how to achieve that sort of massive transformation. All I know is that ignoring the situation won't work: eventually one cat or the other is going to take steps to drive away that which interferes with their wishes.

The most important step I can take toward peace, I suspect -- and since resolution is unlikely, peace, I suspect, is the most we can hope for -- will be for me NOT to take sides, to continue to respect and appreciate all the parties involved, not to demonize anyone, and to hold up a vision of "WE" and "US" that will allow for movement toward a sense of connectedness. It's a small step, and doesn't obviously fix anything. But, like a mustard seed, it does contain within it a huge potential for growth. And I guess that's all we can ask.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Symbols of Enlightenment

Yesterday I had to take the ferry into Edmonds to drop off some artwork for the annual Edmonds Art Festival. I always take along a book for ferry rides, but I finished my book on the way over so had nothing to read on the way back.

On a whim, I decided to listen to one of my Eckhart Tolle CDs (I have the ones from his Findhorn presentation, Stillness Speaks, always in my car). It turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear -- all about the futility of getting too caught up in forms, in past and future worries -- and I decided it must be time to read Tolle's wonderful book, A New Earth, again.

So this morning I began re-reading New Earth, and this time -- unlike the last time I read the book -- I took the time to read the introduction. I've known for a while now that Tolle has a unique appreciation for art and beauty: it was he who said "The purpose of all great art is to serve as a portal to the sacred." But I was reminded of that at another level this morning, when I was reading what Tolle had to say about the flowering of human consciousness.

He begins by talking about the first flower, and then says, "flowers would come to play an essential part in the evolution of consciousness of another species. Humans would increasingly be drawn to and fascinated by them. As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were most likely the first thing they came to value that had no utilitarian purpose for them, that is to say, was not linked in some way to survival. They provided inspiration to countless artists, poets, and mystics...

Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature. The first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. The feelings of joy and love are intrinsically connected to that recognition. Without our fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless. ...we could look upon flowers as the enlightenment of plants."

I had never really considered before that flowers were a major shift of presentation from their original plant forms -- nor had I thought of them as symbols of enlightenment. But now I see why it is that I've been so drawn to photographing them these last few weeks, and why I've played with this particular image several times, trying to get it more balanced, and why the light -- which is what I thought was imperfect about this image -- so needs to be there. Everytime I tried to remove some of the light by introducing other colors or other images the picture lost its appeal for me. Now I see that my job is to just accept the image as it is: it's another gentle reminder that I don't always know what's best, or even what's important, and that I need to step back and accept what is given to me in this moment, appreciate it for what it is and not always try to change it.

Ah. Another brief moment of enlightenment. And then today's Rumi poem arrived from Spirituality and Practice, and it seemed to fit right in:

If ten lamps are present in one place,
each differs in form from another;
yet you can't distinguish whose radiance is whose
when you focus on the light.
In the field of spirit there is no division;
no individuals exist.
Sweet is the oneness of the Friend with His friends.
Catch hold of spirit.
Help this headstrong self disintegrate;
that beneath it you may discover unity,
like a buried treasure.

[Rumi, Mathnawi I, 678-683]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sniffing out the possibilities

Last night we attended another event as part of the Art of Collecting Art series put on by our local gallery. On this visit we were introduced to two collections -- the wife's collection of artist books, and the husband's collection of theatrical memorabilia -- while enjoying a third: the art they collect together as a couple.

It was all quite inspiring -- particularly the artist books (see links here and here), which are SO amazingly inventive -- and it made me feel that there is another potential dimension to my work that has so far remained largely unexplored; some other way to combine words and images that involves literal layers; things cut and stacked to create a depth of meaning that somehow further enhances the already rich intersection of language and art; a further paring down of words that will reduce them to their essence, so that they become a kind of spice for this ongoing feast of images.

But then, of course, another voice kicks in and sneers at me for thinking about embarking on something new when I haven't yet finished my current project, and reminds me that I haven't the patience or knowledge to embark on something so incredibly elaborate. "Who ARE you?" I want to yell back at that voice, "and why are you such a party pooper?"

We are, like these fabulous works of art, wonderfully layered and complex beings, full of ideas and restraints, fears and longings, steps forward and steps back -- and somehow it's that mix that makes it both so difficult and so satisfying to stay on the spiritual path. The more we listen -- and come to understand -- the promptings of self, and hope, of fear, and Spirit, the more each step on the path begins to carry an awareness of the possibility of wonder: what worlds might open up if I move THIS way? What depths of exploration might emerge if I peer down THERE? And what might I lose forever if I agree that those things could be true?

There are gates and possibilities everywhere, and sometimes dogs on the other side. Will they be friendly? Will I be able to back out without losing my shirt if they are not? Sometimes it's okay just to notice, and to wait; to be aware without leaping in; to take time to sniff around at the possibilities without running off to the art store and investing in a plethora of new materials. In art, and in spiritual matters -- as in war -- discretion is often the better part of valor.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bathed in Light

Back in 1992, when I was studying at what was then known as The Diocesan School of Theology, we were invited -- as part of a course on Anglican history -- to participate in imaginary debates between renowned Anglican theologians.

As a long-time mystery lover, I was a HUGE fan of Dorothy Sayers (she still reigns as my favorite mystery writer of all time) and I had always been intrigued by the fact that she was also well-known for her treatises on Anglican spirituality. So I volunteered to be Dorothy Sayers in one of these imaginary debates.

She was known to be a large, rather mannish woman, so I arrived at the debate dressed in one of my husband's suits, with a white button-down oxford-cloth shirt, a tie, an old felt fedora, and a pillow stuffed under the shirt to add some girth. I remember sitting down between the two men who were to debate with me -- we had discussed our topics (and dress) beforehand -- and I remember my voice dropped in an odd way, as if it were coming out of my chest, and I felt sort of... bigger... and that's all I remember. I don't remember what I said, or even what her theology was: all I know is that afterwards my classmates told me it was as if I had channeled Dorothy Sayers and she spoke through me. And if I stop for a second and think about it, I can still remember the odd sensation I had at the time of being sort of ... filled.

I had never been on stage at that point in my life (with the exception of one brief role as the spirit of death in a seventh grade version of Snow White), and it wasn't until some 10 years later that I began taking roles in local theater productions, so it wasn't that I was acting, or had any acting experience. And, though I am an adequate performer, I can safely say that I have never been that fully immersed in a performance since that odd experience back in 1992.

But last night I went to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at our local theater, and what I saw was a whole stage full of performers who were as completely taken over by their characters as I had been by Dorothy Sayers. It was absolutely awe-inspiring, breathtaking, amazing, and I -- who have been on a theatrical hiatus since I dropped out of Once Upon a Mattress for my dying cat last fall -- finally "got" that good theater can be so much more than actors and costumes and stage sets and egos and memorizing and stage fright and makeup and all the other bits and pieces that make up the theater experience.

Good theater can break an audience -- and an actor -- wide open, help them see in a new way, experience in a new way, think in a new way -- even breathe as if from someone else's chest; awakening a unique awareness of what it might be like to be living someone else's life. Good theater, I now see, is so much more than entertainment: it is a unique opportunity to spill compassion into the souls of unsuspecting viewers. And I felt, last night, watching these perfectly ordinary men -- many of whom are friends of mine -- as awestruck by the depth of their performances as this statue of St. Francis, from a wall in Assisi. It was almost like watching God: for that brief period, it felt like we were bathed in light.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the taking and the making

Yesterday my neighbor had a friend visiting who was a photographer, so they went to the Gallery to see my unexpected dog shots, and then invited me over for a glass of wine. I mentioned in passing that I didn't normally photograph dogs, and the photographer asked what I DID like to shoot.

I had to stop and think about that. What DO I shoot? My neighbor expressed surprise that I didn't immediately say "boats," but the fact is it's been quite a while since I photographed a boat.

When I asked the photographer the same question she replied very clearly that she was a street photographer, capturing urban scenes, and eventually I had to say that perhaps I, too, am a street photographer -- it's just that my streets are rural roads and waterways.

Obviously I'm still thinking about this this morning. And I think that the reason I love photography so much is that this is one of the places in my life where I can't really answer that "What do you shoot" question. The reason photography works for me is that I gave up trying to predict or anticipate or plan for what to shoot: it's mostly about keeping the camera with me and trying to be present in the moment, to see the possibilities around me and be attuned enough to act on them.

The photographer asked if I was self-taught, and I told her I'd taken a weeklong workshop (I think that was back in 1998) where I learned a lot of fundamentals of composition. But what I realize this morning, thinking about all this, is that there is one lesson the workshop instructor drilled into us that may just not have taken with me. He was very clear on this: REAL photographers don't just TAKE pictures -- they MAKE pictures: they control the camera, the composition, the lighting, the color, the focus, the aperture, the exposure, the print...

I don't think I just take pictures -- there's clearly more to it than that. But I don't make pictures either. Perhaps what I do is I FIND pictures, and pass them on to you. But the only way I can find is by looking, and by seeing. And to really do that well I have to set aside a lot of pre-conceived notions about what I'm supposed to find, what I'm supposed to see, and what I'm supposed to shoot. This may be one of those places where I get to practice the yielding thing I mention yesterday. But there's another voice in me that's sneering a little when I say that. "What are you -- a hippie? If it feels good, do it? Go with the flow? What a bunch of hooey!"

Don't you just love all those little voices? What complex creatures we are! Because the fact is we need them all for balance, and there IS a part of me that makes pictures -- at least, opportunities for pictures. Take this one, for example. Years ago, while driving through the Skagit Valley, I passed this house -- I think the two flowering trees in front were smaller then, or maybe it was winter? But what I remember is that there were two bright yellow rubber rainsuits hanging out on the front porch and everything else was pretty gray and colorless.

I didn't have the camera with me at the time, but every time I've passed that house since then I look to see: are those yellow suits there? Is there ANY laundry there? When we came back from Orcas a couple of weekends ago I passed the house again and decided to just stop and photograph the house, even without the yellow suits. And I like the resulting image -- which (I think) looks better in black and white than it did in color.

So I guess the answer is still that I find pictures. And then I take them. And then I make something of them. And because the images I find, and the taking and the making all help me to become a more attentive person, somehow the making of them is also in some way the making of me. I like to think that's what happens when we do what we love.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Notes on Yielding...

This photo, like the ones from both blogs yesterday, is also from the ferry waiting line. I suppose you could ask why I was spending that time photographing flowers instead of talking with my daughter, but -- well, it's like this:

1. My husband was in the car, too, so it was a three-way conversation.

2. My daughter is also a photographer -- in fact, she's majoring in it -- and, OMG she showed me some of her most recent work yesterday and it was AMAZING: Gorgeous black and white hand-developed photos. Anyway, it does mean that she understands that impulse to capture things "on film."

3. ...and the part of my brain that takes pictures feels very separate from the part of my brain that talks, so it actually wasn't that hard to do both at the same time.

In fact, I suspect that one reason I like this series of photos so much is that my thinking brain was busy talking with her, and quite disengaged from the photo process. So as I was letting the camera pass over the flowers and looking for images, I wasn't being at all analytical, I was just shooting whatever felt yummy.

This picture, for me, definitely falls in the yummy category. I think that if I had been thinking I would not have shot it: it's very busy, it doesn't have a clear center of interest, and no matter which way I rotate it it always looks like I shot it from some other angle. But I still find it -- after the fact -- extraordinarily pleasing. So whatever part of me was shooting saw something my conscious brain pretty much misses altogether.

Which is something we humans keep forgetting: that there is Something -- maybe something in us, or something beyond us -- that knows more than we do. Our egos have this amazing need to control everything, but if we can set them aside once in a while there is SO much more out there to be learned and expressed.

Which is why my reading today in Tolbert McCarroll's book (Notes from the Song of Life) is so perfect: the chapter/lesson is entitled Yield. I could give you the whole piece -- it's not very long -- but I need to leave soon to catch a ferry, so I'll just give you a few bits:

"You are always planning and organizing the future. When thing go contrary to your master plan you stiffen and resist. Be careful. In a high wind only pliant things will survive. The rigid tree will break off. The tree that yields to the storm never loses its connection with the ground which links it to all other forms of life.

...To yield is not to avoid...to yield is to meet the onslaught, to realize that any pain comes from your own desires, to remove the wall of separateness between you and your troubles, to dance with the onslaught, to open your arms and to use the power that is hurtling toward you.

Often when you stop protecting yourself you will find that your great problem was in reality a great opportunity. The usual price of admission to a new leevel of living is your self-will. If you stop writing your own ticket you may find there is one already waiting for you.

...Every time you strive to have your own way you bring discord into your life. Once you start striving there is no end to it. Others will strive with you. Nothing will go right. You will have no peace.

...You spend much time in worrying about little things, in deciding between this and that. Be more accepting of what is sent to you. Do not attempt to form life into your shape. Conform to your home, the earth. Then you will know your place, and your heart will be light."

And when today's Rumi poem arrived, I knew this was what I was supposed to write about --

Except for dying, no other skill avails with God, O artful schemer.
One Divine favor is better than a hundred kinds of personal effort:
such exertion is in danger from a hundred kinds of mischief.

Rumi, Mathnawi VI, 3837-3842

Well -- gotta run! Have a rich, colorful -- and yielding -- day!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Releasing those unexpected blues

Our younger daughter flew home from college yesterday, so we took flowers with us when we picked her up from the airport. We just missed the 5:30 ferry back to Bainbridge, so I whiled away the time waiting for the 6:20 trying out my camera's supermacro lens (did I remember to thank my friend Barbara who explained how it worked?) on the flowers we'd brought.

Don't you love the cat's eyes in this picture? It's funny -- I've never liked this particular flower all that much (I'm not all that partial to yellow and orange, though my daughter seems to enjoy them) but it sure was fun to photograph -- who knew there were also blues in there!

But of course there are blues everywhere -- we just don't always see them. I learned just this week from a painter friend that there was a time when only the wealthiest painters could afford to use blue pigment in their paintings, because the only blue available was from ground up lapis lazuli, and bitterly expensive. I wonder if that's why we think of life in the old days as somewhat colorless -- rather like life in the 30's must have been black and white, because all those old movies are black and white? It doesn't mean the skies weren't blue -- it just means they weren't able to depict them that way.

For some reason this makes me think of an unfortunate interaction I had with my daughter this morning. She has loved college this year, and I knew leaving would be hard. So I asked in a phone conversation a few weeks back if she was having trouble with all the farewell conversations, all the last things that she was doing with all these dear friends she has acquired. And she explained it was just too depressing to look at things that way, so she was ignoring the fact that everything was coming to an end.

I suggested at the time that it might make more sense to let the sadness emerge in little bits and deal with it on the spot so it didn't all pile up at the end, but she just couldn't face it. So of course, now that she's safe at home, the combined pressure of all those unacknowledged goodbyes grew unbearable, and this morning she became -- as she often does after a leavetaking -- an emotional volcano, exploding suddenly and spewing all that pentup angst (which, of course, having been allowed to ferment so long, has a rather venomous toxic quality) all over both her parents. Those blues were in there, you see, and, unacknowledged, they had gone through the sort of purple grape stage and emerged as a rather violent red.

Maybe that's why I whined about the color change on Image and Spirit -- it went from white to red yesterday -- and it actually made me anxious: how would all my blues and greens and purples look on that red background? Fortunately the blog's owner had encouraged me to speak up if I had concerns, so I did, and she sweetly explained that for HER red is a CELEBRATORY color, and she had changed to red in celebration of my joining the blog. But then she even MORE sweetly changed the colors for me! And though I feel a little guilty about having whined, I'm SO GLAD it's not red anymore.

See? I let my blues out when they happened instead of letting them fester, and she was so nice about it! And now -- having spent much of my day worrying about how to defuse a situation in my neighborhood -- I see that that's probably the best way to do it. Be honest, let the blues out a little at a time, and then maybe they won't turn into a volcano that annihilates us all.

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Iris Blessing

For the last few days I've been wrestling with a bit of wanderlust, so this morning I thought I'd stop dreaming of the images I could get if I were traveling and just go out in the dune grass and photograph some of the volunteer flowers that have sprung up.

This year the beach roses -- which have always been white, and smile at me from beyond the kitchen window -- have decided to add a red rose bush which is really quite lovely. And I caught sight of a single magenta lupine out by the golden chain tree.

But it was the white iris, dripping with dew, that called to me today: I love the lacy purity of it, the graceful arc of its dancing petals, the icy play of light around the edges, the dark allure of its depths... It's a very girly flower, sort of the ballerina I always longed to be, I think, but unhampered by the gracelessness and flat feet that plagued me as a child.

And as I say that, I realize that some part of me believes that this, this glorious lacy perfection, is how God perceives us; it's the purity of what we were before we were born, the grace of what we're called to be, the angel that guides us along the way, and the promise of joy that lies beneath the aging bodies and the crankiness and the stubborn efforts to control and all the other sort of tarnished bits of our lives.

And now I see that our Rumi poem for this morning's lesson from Spirituality and Practice is about transformation:

Come, arise from the depths of your heart!
You are alive and born of the living.
O lovely one, aren't you suffocated
by this narrow tomb?
You are the Joseph of the time, the bright sun:
arise from this prison and show your face!

[Rumi, Mathnawi II, 3132-3135]

Yes, the pure white iris in me is feeling a bit suffocated by the limitations of body and mind. I need to tap into it, open to it, give it a chance to come out and breathe. Time to go meditate again!