Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Breaking the rules

When composing a photograph, you always want to be aware of what's moving into or out of the frame -- and this picture breaks a lot of rules.  I have several more traditionally composed images, with the space needle and other sailboats carefully balanced with the rule of thirds.

But I like this one, like the energy of it, in kind of the same way I like the energy and disruption that comes this morning of having my daughter and her friend in the house, getting ready early to catch a ferry and head for the airport -- Peter is heading home to Copenhagen.

Yes, the balance is off, the routine is disrupted, but it's a bit like having puppies in the house: noisy, but fun.  It was fun to watch them take a dip in the icy sound (the sound is always cold, and today is rainy and blustery to boot: fortunately there's a hot tub ready to go when they come out of the water) and then scurry around putting a quick breakfast together.  Peter had decided he wanted to make a pair of canvas knickers/bloomers, so my daughter was helping him with that, too, trying to get all the pieces sized and cut and pinned before he got on the plane so he could sew it up when he got home.  Crazy.

Fortunately I was already done with my walk (my first in the rain, and my first without taking ibuprofen before starting out) and my meditation (which was amazing) so I was awake and had the energy to give the moment.  Lots of energy, in fact; I feel like I've discovered a new energy source within me, and am beginning to understand why it is that my neighbor takes her long daily walks.  Not that I'm there yet, but comprehension is beginning to seep in.

And Jack Kornfield was helpful this morning as well:  I particularly loved this passage in his book, A Path With Heart.  He begins by saying "In all sorts of weather, we steady and deepen our prayer meditation, and discipline, learning how to see with honesty and compassion, how to let go, how to love more deeply," and then goes on to clarify:

"Meditation is very much like training a puppy.  You put the puppy down and say, "Stay."  Does the puppy listen?  It gets up and it runs away.  You sit the puppy back down again. "Stay."  And the puppy runs away over and over again.  Sometimes the puppy jumps up, runs over, and pees in the corner or makes some other mess.  Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes.  In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over again...

Finding it difficult to concentrate, many people respond by forcing their attention on their breath or mantra or prayer with tense irritation and self-judgment, or worse.  Is this the way you would train a puppy?  Does it really help to beat it?  Concentration is never a matter of force or coercion.  You simply pick up the puppy again and return to reconnect with the here and now."

So maybe you should just look for your inner puppy -- and then, in addition to patient discipline, do what comes naturally with puppies: just love him to pieces!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A visit to the healing temple

Today was the fourth day of my morning meditative walk.  I had been reading Jack Kornfield's Path With Heart, and the last thing I read before heading out was something called "A Meditative Visit to a Healing Temple;" a meditation in which you imagine a temple with healing beings in it.

I had found myself picturing Ta Prohm, that hidden temple in the Cambodian jungle, the one taken over by trees and vines.  So when I got to the halfway point in my walk, at the top of the hill, and stood for a minute to catch my breath, I could almost see the Buddha hidden in the branches before me -- and then I looked up, and the moon was directly overhead, above the trees; so beautiful...

I don't seem to actually have the hang of meditating while I'm walking -- mostly my thoughts just wander loosely as I go -- so I thought (since I've been missing the peace of the sitting meditation) I'd just do a sit when I got back home.  And it was truly lovely and peaceful: I think it helps to get all the wandering thoughts out while I walk, so I can just sink into it when I come home to sit...

But still -- now that those quiet moments are behind me -- I have so much on my mind, and so much to share and think about: probably a result of not blogging (well, not a REAL blog anyway) yesterday; I have all this pent-up energy...  So I'll just do what in computer language is called "a random memory dump" -- just a list of what's pouring out.

1.  I got two photos into the abstract exhibit at the Vermont Photoplace Gallery in Montpelier (see link at left).  Yay!  It feels like an affirmation of that direction on my path...

2.  I've published my Goddess book (see link at left), and I'm very excited about it: it turned into a story of sorts, and feels to me both moving and uplifting.  I'm hoping to dedicate part of the sales proceeds to the prevention and cure of breast cancer and am looking for a good organization to do that for, though I don't expect it will actually come to a lot of money.  Blurb publishing is not inexpensive, so I can't really mark the price up all that much -- and I need to be sure to keep some for myself!

3.  My younger daughter is coming home today after her long summer working at camp.  I'm looking forward to seeing her, but I also know this is traditionally a very rough time for her; leaving camp and all the beauty of the woods, the freedom of her days, and the wonderful friends she makes is always very difficult for her -- and this year it may be doubly hard, as she has no idea what she'll be doing next.  Plus all of us are living at home now, including her sister's boyfriend, and we're all here, jobless, all day long.  I think perhaps I'll encourage the girls to start volunteering at Helpline, just to help them stay in touch with the whole "things could be worse" idea...

4.  And finally, my school reading these last few days has kind of been variations around the theme of niceness, the way we as women are taught to be nice, kind, gentle, avoid confrontation, learn to compromise, not make waves -- behaving, or " being have," as my younger daughter used to say, as in "I AM being have, Mommy!"  My reading is reminding me of what a handicap that can be in the workplace -- and at the same time making me wonder what hope there can be in our political system for "nice guys." 

And then, when we ARE "being have" and we get stomped on, there's the inevitable backlash of frustration and anger... Philippe Rosinski, in his wonderful book, Coaching Across Cultures, talks about a woman who was "committed to doing a "perfect" job and had not given herself permission to set boundaries."  He goes on to quote another coach named Cheryl Richardson, who writes "When we allow others to step over our boundaries because we fear confrontation or the consequences of putting our own needs first, we end up feeling angry, frustrated, and resentful."

"You have to give yourself permission to feel angry when your space is violated," says Rosinski.  "It is a vital emotional skill, and it doesn't mean you have to behave aggressively.  Anger is a wake-up call toward self-remembering: to protect yourself, you cannot always be nice to others, acting as they wish.  It should be apparent by now that the two constraining messages, "Be perfect" and "Be nice," tend to result in weak boundaries."

Instead of being perfect, he adds, try for just being effective.  In addition to being nice to others, try taking care of yourself as well.  Do not be afraid to calmly stand up for your rights.

And when it all gets too hard, I recommend a visit to that healing temple in the woods -- the one in your heart, I mean, the one that you can design for yourself.  What does YOUR healing temple look like?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pssst: Pass it on!

Yesterday I received two blog awards from Maureen at Writing Without Paper.   In the spirit of the rules that accompany these symbols of recognition, she was passing on the honors and let me know I was among those on whom she was bestowing the badges.

  Unfortunately five of the bloggers I read just got these awards from Maureen, so I can't give out all 15 that I'm supposed to share, but I'm delighted to pass on the honors to the following:

✭ Glynn at Faith, Fiction, Friends
✭ Kim at Prayers for the Oft-Traveled Road and One Year Here
✭ Karen at Gberger
✭ Robin at the Episcopal Cafe Art Blog and Gramercy Digital Diary
✭ Nancy at Ballyhoo Hobnob Crossroads
✭ Martha at Reflectionary
✭ Anne at Reverent Irreverence
✭ Sunrise Sister at Mind Sieve

The intent in passing on these acknowledgments is simple: to express my admiration and appreciation for your fine and always interesting writing, the time you take to acknowledge and respond to followers' comments, and the community you help create, encourage, and nurture all over the Web.

The "rules", such as they are, follow, as well as images of the badges, which you can "grab" and upload to your own pages, if you like. You may award both accolades to the same group of people or one to one group and the other to a different group, or mix them up; the choice is yours.

The Versatile Blogger Award

► Acknowledge the award and thank and link back to the person bestowing it. A good way to do this is through a post such as this.

► Pass on the award to 15 other bloggers.

► Let the new recipients know you've selected them.


► Share seven things about yourself that your readers or followers might not know. (I allowed myself this option this time. See "Seven Bits" below.)

► Post the badge to your blog.

One Lovely Blog Award

► Acknowledge the award and thank the person who bestowed it. Consider doing so publicly via a post such as this, an e-mail, or a tweet. 

► Pass on the award to 15 other bloggers.

► Let the new recipients know you've selected them.


► Post the image of the badge to your blog. 

Seven RANDOM Bits of Information About Me
1. Even though I don't have cable I LOVE Project Runway.  I watch reruns on Netflix (but never more than once).

2.  I also love Big Bang Theory.

3.  I used to teach quilting at the League of NH Crafts.

4.  My all-time favorite mystery is Dorothy Sayers' book, Gaudy Night.

5.  I have watched the Talking Heads Movie, True Stories, over a hundred times (almost all of them with a small child on my lap).

6.  The first car -- the first ANYTHING -- I ever bought with my husband was a bright red Karmann Ghia, and my heart still leaps whenever I see one on the road.

7.  I learned to program in BASIC at Dartmouth Summer School in 1966.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Maxfield Parrish Morning

I looked out the window this morning as I was drinking my coffee, and we had what my husband likes to call a Maxfield Parrish sky.  Parrish, an artist who painted in the early 1900s, captured the beautiful morning and evening cloud formations you see in Vermont and New Hampshire; great white thunderheads tinged with pink and gold against a dark blue sky...

We don't get thunderstorms here, so it's rare to get those sky formations.  And watching the clouds roll in (in fact, they turned out to be the tip of some sort of front, and now the sky is all solid winter gray) I found myself itching to go back to New England.  Which is a good thing, because my daughter and I will actually be going back to Vermont in about two weeks.

But, given my itch to wander, I decided to do another walking meditation this morning -- again, just down to the end of the street, up to the top of the hill (where I stand a minute to catch my breath, and imagine giant statues of Buddha and Jesus smiling at me from within the trees across the road) and back.  I'm partly doing this because my back is still stiff from my Wednesday Pilates class, partly because I need to lose the last couple of pounds I gained at camp, partly because I'm still reading Jack Kornfield's book, "A Path With Heart" and he's talking this morning about the importance of body awareness, and partly in tribute to my neighbor's daily walk and the loss of their son.

But mostly I'm doing it because my meditations have been kind of shallow lately. I've been easily distracted, not very centered, not very focused.  The main reason I have a designated chair to meditate in is to facilitate that deepening, but that doesn't seem to be helping right now.  So I figure, if I'm not going to be focused anyway, then I might as well be walking; maybe the rhythm will help center me.

Part of the challenge for me in walking meditation is that I deliberately do NOT take my camera.  Which is tricky, because this is a beautiful place: I make a new calendar every year of the photos I take driving up and down my street (I always keep the camera in the car, because you never know what you might see!)  So there I am, walking down the street, and the sky is lit so beautifully, and the clouds are so dark, and the boats are so white against the dark lagoon, and all I can do is look and appreciate.

The tension that creates -- admiring, and not photographing -- reminded me of/taught me/showed me a lot this morning.  It taught me how enchanted -- and easily distracted! -- I am by beauty; how that response is so intense it's actually physical.  It taught me how much I want to share what I see, and how fleeting those moments of perfect light can be.  I began to see how quickly I move from awe to capture, from appreciation to acquisition, and how acquisition is tinged with a need for approval and acceptance.  It taught me how quickly I pass from present into future, from appreciating to imagining.  And now I am trying to love myself in spite of those things; trying to find some value in that way of being while at the same time encouraging myself to stay more present.

By the time I was back home -- an hour or so later, because I stopped to water my neighbor's garden -- the clouds were rolling in and the light was gone.  And so I attempted to recreate it by playing with one of my images from Fort Worden.  There were lots of stops along the way between the original (which you'll see at left, on the poetry blog for today when I get around to writing it) and here, but this one feels like where things were going -- at least for today.  You'll notice -- I just pulled the wounded part of the image right off the page; just didn't want to go there.

The resulting piece has, though none of the definition or art nouveau charm, some of the colors of a Maxfield Parrish painting.  And that will just have to do.

For now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

When the hawk watches

This little hawk, who found his way to our deck the morning before I left for camp, greeted me again this morning when I went out for a meditative walk.

It's something I rarely do -- go out walking in the morning -- but for some reason this morning it felt like the right thing to do, so I decided to spend my meditation time walking instead of sitting, and chose to think of it as a way of supporting my dear friends and neighbors who are in Florida sitting vigil at their son's bedside (she does a meditation walk every day).

About halfway down the street, right where the mailboxes are clustered, I saw the hawk again, sitting on the phone wire, just watching.  So I moved very slowly and quietly, carefully not looking up at him,  and right when I got to the spot below his perch he flew away.

Oh, dear, I thought -- so often birds in my life have been indicators of souls moving on.  So I wasn't too surprised to come home and find a note announcing my neighbors' son had passed away this morning.  But my heart aches for them.

It's been a rough week on our street; three deaths, an emergency operation, and a cancer diagnosis.  And my husband's gone off to Portland to care for a friend who's developed some serious complications with a brain tumor.  At times like this we are all too aware of the fragility of human life -- of all life, really.  There's nothing we can do but hold all of it in our hearts with prayer -- and maybe stop to think: how would I be living differently now, if I knew this week were my last?  Who needs to hear "I love you" or "Thank you" or "I'm sorry I hurt you" today?

Walk quietly, dear friends: the hawk is watching.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A glimpse of wisdom

Yesterday I traveled into Seattle for my weekly coaching triad.  The three of us -- two older women and a 30-something man -- are in a coaching class together, and take turns coaching each other.  Each week one person coaches, one person is the client, and one person observes.  The coaching session lasts 30 to 45 minutes, and then all three share notes on what seemed to work and what didn't.

What's exciting about all this -- aside from the fact that coaching is fun -- is seeing how much improvement there is from one session to the next.  Last night I got to be the observer, which meant I got to see wisdom operating beautifully in both client and coach.  The coach was doing a terrific job of staying in the moment -- a critical aspect of coaching -- and asking some really good questions.  And the client -- encouraged by the coach -- was showing some extraordinary wisdom in examining behavior patterns that were emerging.

My reading in A Path with Heart this morning encourages us to address "the war within" -- all the battles we fight within ourselves in an effort to deny or avoid the various difficulties we fact.  Watching that coaching session gave me a glimpse of a battle I didn't even know I was still fighting.  The client, exhausted after a difficult week of coping with interpersonal issues among friends, was able to see that the exhaustion emerged primarily from a deep-seated desire for a certain sort of personal image: in wanting to look wise, and calm; in wanting to appear helpful and centered, they had insisted on carrying the whole burden of solving the problem on their own shoulders.  And in the process of doing that, they had managed not only to exhaust themselves but also to alienate others who might have shared the burden.

Fortunately the others were able to speak up, new friendships were forged, and new insights emerged.  But I'm wondering -- having heard from many fellow caregiver types how tiring they find their work, and how frustrated they get when surrounded by needy people (who's going to take care of ME?) -- how often we may be the ones responsible for digging that particular hole, precisely because we need to be needed, we want to cultivate that image, to be known as the one who solves the problems.

Back in the day, we used to call that the Messiah Complex, referring to folks who get caught up wanting to save the world.  I had kind of hoped my days of struggling with that were over, but watching last night I see there are still remnants there -- and it's not pretty.  So -- oh goody -- here's another battle waiting to be waged in the war within: how can we let go of our need to be 'the fixer' and accept that it's enough to do what we can and share the burden?  How can we begin -- again -- to remember that sharing the burden is a gift to those around us?  And how can we stay aware enough of ourselves and our motives to notice when what drives our generous behaviors is not genuine compassion but a need to cultivate certain appearances?

It's a challenge, to be sure -- but it's all good.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That feeling of "GRRRRRRR"

How many times a day do you say "I'm sorry"?  If you're like me, these words come out of your mouth with some frequency, and over the years my daughters have made a concerted effort to break me of the habit.

I'd come to see it as a weakness, actually -- almost an apology for living -- and I've assumed for some time that this particular habit of speech was indicative of some deep hole in my psyche.

So it was with relief that I read yesterday, in Deborah Tannen's book  Talking from Nine to Five: Women and Men at Work, that "I'm sorry" is actually a conversational device, used primarily by women, to establish equality in a conversation.  And in fact, the habit of ending a conversational interaction with "Thanks" is a similar device.  Each phrase is part of a broader set of speech patterns acquired growing up which reflect the overall desire of young women to achieve balanced relationships.

While boys are busy establishing one-up-manship, girls are busy finding equal value in one another.  While boys are learning to jockey for position, girls are learning to step back and step down, and invite others to do the same. The problem is that these conversational devices and patterns have expected responses: it's a bit like a tennis game.  A woman who says, "I'm sorry" or "Thanks" can usually expect to hear, "Oh, no -- that was my fault" or "Thank YOU" hit back across the conversational net.  A compliment usually yields a compliment in return.  And a man who says, "I totally aced that" can usually expect to hear, "Oh, no -- my shot was WAY better than yours."

But each of these games has rules that are often unfamiliar to the other team -- Which means that when you mix the genders you can run into unanticipated responses.  A woman who says "I'm sorry" and gets "No problem" as a response is left holding an unexpected bag of guilt and responsibility.  A woman who says a routine "Thanks" to a man and gets "you're welcome" as a response is left feeling strangely indebted, as if she were somehow beholden to the man. And Tannen tells this great story about a woman and man who were returning after giving presentations: The woman compliments the man on his, and then, when she gets no response other than "Thanks," she asks, "and how was mine?" and he proceeds to give her a blow-by-blow description of what was wrong with her work.  Although she found things wrong with his as well, there was no longer an opportunity to address that, and in the end she was left feeling her work was inferior.

And then there's the case of the man who says, "I totally aced that" to a woman.  Instead of, "No, man, I beat you hands down," he's more likely to get "the look," indicating that the woman finds his remark arrogant and self-aggrandizing.  And in all of these situations you might find both parties walking away and shaking their heads.

The important thing to remember -- despite that feeling of "GRRRRRR" that lingers after such interactions, is that it's not that the other person is weak and inferior, or aggressive and arrogant: the problem is a difference in communication styles.

So don't be so hard on yourself!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Path with Heart

 Several years ago, I was in a director-level communications position and really struggling with the politics of the place.  My husband, who was tired of my complaining, heard of a job at Microsoft (where he was working at the time) that we both knew I could do with two hands tied behind my back; I'd spent much of my career in similar positions.

So I blithely said, "Alright, I'll do it.  If I don't get the job, I'll just ... move to the San Juans and write a book!"

It was a joke, really; we both knew I'd get the job.  So I applied.  And they lost the application.  I printed up another and my husband hand-carried it to a friend in HR.  Who lost it again.  But the third time was the charm, and I soon found myself on the phone with a young man, probably half my age, who was interviewing me for the position.

At some point in the conversation, he asked, "If you were in a group with 100 people, where would you like to be positioned in that group?"  I thought about it for a milli-second or two, and then replied, "Number two."

"And why is that?" he asked. 

"I don't need to be number 1," I replied.  "I don't want to be dealing with all the politics: I just want to be the person who gets the job done and makes number 1 look good."

I never heard back from them, and we agreed that it was probably because the young man -- and the company -- were too young to understand the importance of hiring Number Twos.

I've been reading Deborah Tannen's book, Talking from Nine to Five: Women and Men at Work this week, and now I see that in offering to be Number Two I was probably making the same choice I've made repeatedly over the course of my life, the same choice most women -- or at least ones in my age range -- make, which is "not to blow your own horn."  It helps to understand that that is a sort of cultural imperative -- and one that probably needs to be overcome if women are ever to reach parity with men in the corporate world.

But what I also know is that, having lost that opportunity, I began to look more seriously at that joke I had spouted, and eventually I did just that: moved to the islands and wrote a book.  And my life has never been the same again -- and I mean that in a good way!  So why is that?  This morning I began reading Jack Kornfield's classic, A Path with Heart, and in the opening chapter he quotes Don Juan, in his teachings to Carlos Castaneda:

"Look at every path closely and deliberately.  Try it as many times as you think necessary.  Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question...Does this path have a heart?  If it does, the path is good.  If it doesn't, it is of no use."

"Of course!" I thought -- I had chosen the path with heart!

Last night another job came across my desk, and again, I changed my resume and began drafting a cover letter.  But I could feel resistance building in me, and before long it became apparent: this isn't really something I want to do right now.  And now, this morning, I am beginning to understand: I'm looking for a path with heart, and this one isn't it.

Riding the ferry a week or so ago, before I left for camp, I looked out my window and spotted this heart on the floor between the two cars next to me.  Hearts always seem a sort of cheap and easy symbol to me, but I leaned out and took a picture anyway.  And now I see why: something out there was determined to remind me: look for a path with heart.

And though job hunting is becoming a bit of an imperative at this point, I suspect that even though money is the driving force behind the hunt, finding a path with heart is really the most important aspect of this project.  Surely there will be a way for me to do what needs to be done that will also prove to be a path with heart.  I will just have to trust that way will emerge.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Take time to look

This amazing work of art was found lying on a table in one of the craft rooms at the camp.  I ignored it the first day I was there, as it had no pride of place and just looked like a bunch of spatters.

The second day, my daughter discovered it and showed it to me, and suddenly, when I took the time to really look at it,  I saw what a marvel it was.  We were enchanted, and ended up moving it to a back table against the wall so it wouldn't get accidentally wrecked by any of the craft projects going on around it.

I heard her asking the next day if anyone knew who had done it; I never heard if she got a reply.  And the morning I left, I stopped by to retrieve one of my projects, and it was still there in the corner, loose and unclaimed; I find myself wondering if its artist had any idea of its value -- after all, I didn't even notice it the first time I saw it.

Which raises any number of questions about what conveys value.  How much of value is innate, and how much is in presentation? How many of the initial assumptions that we make about an object or person are based on its surroundings? And how often do we take the time to really look at something or someone, to actually notice what they might have to offer?

In my readings for class this morning we are studying cultural attitudes, and one of the subjects addressed was time: Do you view time as scarce, or plentiful?  Monochronic or polychronic?  We've all heard stories of American travelers who get frustrated with how slow things sometimes are in other cultures: that's because in our culture we view time as scarce, something to be carefully spent and saved, to be planned and managed and schedules.  But for other cultures, where time is viewed as plentiful, people tend to take their time, avoid scheduling constraints, "go with the flow."

Though I've lived for many years now on islands, notorious for what we call "Island Time," I've been realizing that I tend to live my life in a hectic forward rush.  That rush seems to be internally constructed for me: I think it's why I prefer to live on an island, and get sort of panicky when I'm in a tightly scheduled situation, trying to catch a plane or finish an important project -- the internal drive magnifies the external pressure, and my heart begins to race.

I also, like most Westerners, tend to operate in polychronic mode, what my computer-engineer husband calls "parallel processing."  I read while I eat, interrupt conversations to answer phone calls, knit during classes and meetings -- and know, at some deep level, that I need to really begin practicing a more sequential, monochronic lifestyle, to "carry one bowl with two hands, not two bowls in one hand."  But a lifetime of patterning makes that a difficult transition; I can't begin to imagine how challenging that will become for our children, having grown up in a world of tweets, texts and cellphones.

I think that's one of the major reasons I was so drawn to the writings of Eckhart Tolle: they felt like a clear invitation to stop, be present and appreciate.  So I invite you today to look around you, notice your surroundings.  See if there's something there you haven't noticed before; some value you've missed; some gift you've never bothered to unwrap.  Try -- if only for a few minutes -- to step off the treadmill you've set for yourself and just breathe.  Take it all in, let it go, and breathe.

Something wonderful is probably waiting there for you, much closer than you realized.  You just need to take time to look.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yes, and...

I'm not normally a fan of red -- except as an accent color -- but I do love this red boat.

And isn't that true of just about everything?  Even the stuff we don't like seems to have its place in the world, its role to play in our lives, its moment to shine.  I might say no to a red dress, or even to painting one red wall in my dining room -- but I can say yes to this red boat.

One of the phrases that keeps coming up in my classes -- and in my improv work as well -- is "Yes, and..."  In improv, our job is to cooperate, to go with the flow, to say yes to whatever happens and run with it.  If you say no, the action stops, and the actors are left staring at one another wondering what to do next.  But if you say "Yes!" and then elaborate, it leads to more possibilities for creativity.

Saying "Yes, and..." in the business world has a similar effect: it acknowledges and affirms the speaker and their reality, and includes them in the promise of what is to come.  In saying "Yes, and..." we agree that their statement is valid and imply that it has relevance to whatever joint outcome we are working toward.

So why is it that we find it so hard to say "Yes, and ..." to life, to our families, to our friends and neighbors, and even to God?  I find it particularly hard to imagine saying "Yes, and..." to my children, but when I can wrap my head around it it seems like life would be much more of an adventure.

"Mommy, Mommy, can I get another Barbie doll?"

"Yes!  And let's buy up EVERY BARBIE DOLL ON THE SHELVES and take them all home and start a Barbie Doll museum because they are all SO DIFFERENT from each other and so INCREDIBLY LIFELIKE!"  is certainly a different way of saying, "Honey, no, you've already got so many Barbies you don't need another one."  And it gives the kids a chance to say, "Oh, mom, that's silly; can't you see they're all the same under their clothes and hair?"

Of course, you might be encouraging a rather flippant attitude in your kids...  Or they might end up feeling like they have to rein you in all the time...

It's a very gray and rainy day today: should I whine about it, and resent that all my plans have had to shift?  Or shall I say, "Yes, and it's a perfect opportunity to finally get around to writing that paper I've been putting off: thank heaven I don't have to water the garden today!"  Saying yes is about adopting a positive attitude toward the inevitable.

It's harder, of course, to say yes to the difficult things: when I see my husband and children playing on the computer or watching TV instead of pursuing job possibilities, it's hard to say, "Yes, and let's spend some money while we're at it!"  But I can say -- have said -- "Yes, I see you are not ready to tackle this but I trust you will eventually.  And in the meantime, how about if I build up a skillset and some connections so maybe I can return to the job market in case you don't."  Yes, in this case, is a way of admitting that your priorities and their priorities may not be the same, and that you will take responsibility for your worldview without attacking them for theirs.

It's harder still to say yes to people who are diametrically opposed to your worldview.  I find it very hard to say yes to the Republicans who are accusing the Democrats of destroying our economy; about the closest I can come is to say, "Yes, and do you see what it is that the Republicans did to set it all up for failure?"  I find it hard to say yes to the fundamentalists who insist that the Bible was written in King James English and gays are an anathema and only those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be saved.  "Yes, and shall we work together to learn how to love our neighbors as ourselves?"  Because really, I need to learn to love them, too...

And then there are the times when we have no choice but to say yes.  I have two friends who have recently had to deal with life-threatening illnesses in their adult children.  And when the call came in the night, they both said "Yes," and dropped their vacation plans, flew to the hospital bedside, and began the painful vigil of prayer and coping that entails.  One child is now out of the ICU and mending, the other is still there, and things are still touch and go.  Do I miss my friends and worry about them and their son?  Yes, and I hold them in my thoughts and prayers, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

"Yes, and..." is pretty radical stuff -- even frightening -- when you think about it.  Because it has to be an admission that you are not in control, that you and your beliefs are not the center of the universe, that everything will not always go your way; even that things could get REALLY BAD.  But "Yes, and..." is a way of saying "It's all good;" a statement of belief that things WILL work out, that compromise IS possible, and that, somehow, as it says in Romans 8:28, "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good."

Believing that, and deciding to say yes, is to adopt an attitude of faith.  Are you ready to do that?  Or are you at least willing to try?  Are you willing to practice saying yes today when you want to say no?

I'm not sure.  Could I at least wait til the sun comes out? Maybe it'll be easier then...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Life on the margins

I spent much of yesterday catching up on the blogosphere, and found this interesting post on Faith, Fiction, Friends.  You should definitely read the post -- it's an excellent one -- but essentially he's talking about a quote from Wendell Berry which he encountered in L.L. Barkat's latest book, God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us.

Berry is speaking about marginal land – land where things don’t easily grow because the soil is poor or eroded or the land doesn’t get much rainfall or is exhausted from overfarming. This is what Berry said:

“It is at the margins that the weaknesses of an enterprise will show first and most dramatically.” 

For writer Glynn Young, this quote was a huge eye-opener, and his open eyes helped to open mine as well.  Like me, Young is a career communications professional: his job in life has been to help communications flow from corporations and organizations out to the constituencies they do -- or could -- serve and, in turn, to help communications flow back into the organizations.

Young's revelation is that communications professionals live at the margins almost by definition.  I'm visualizing it as a sort of osmosis, you know, where the outer edges of a cell become semi-permeable so oxygen can flow from one side to the other.  But of course, when you live on those outer edges, removed from the core of an organization, it's much easier to see the disconnect between what the constituents want and what the organization actually offers; between the organization's declared mission and what it's actually accomplishing.

But my experience has been that when you try to carry that information back to the core you run the risk of some serious shoot-the-messenger behavior.  And, more importantly -- for me, at least -- those margins are a pretty lonely place to live.  You are not safely tucked into the bosom of the organization because you need the distance in order to observe effectively -- and, because of what you observe and then communicate, you are often unwelcome in the corporate bosom.  But you're not really part of the outside world either; the constituency and customers tend to assume that you espouse the goals -- and flaws -- of the organization you serve.

Well, duh!  No wonder those jobs were so uncomfortable for me!

And yet -- in some ways, I feel that I am conditioned to live on the margins; to be that permeable membrane, to understand both sides of the issue, and to communicate in both directions.  But surely there must be another, less painful way to honor my makeup and calling; to serve both sides rather than offending both sides.

I suspect that's why I'm in school: it's a conscious effort to reapply those skills in a less combative environment; to become more involved with service than with selling and spinning.  It feels like Organizational Development and coaching would be a much more productive use of this skillset.

But who knows; time will tell how this plays out.  In the meantime, I'm still loving what I'm learning!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Take time to look

On the day I came back from Orcas, I chose -- as usual -- to take the Edmonds ferry back over to our side of the peninsula, but after waiting in line for a half hour or so we were informed that there had been some sort of power failure with the ferry gate, and were re-directed to the Seattle ferry.

I was a little grumbly about the delay and having to drive through Seattle traffic, especially since I would have to cross the water again to be in the city for a 4pm meeting.  But it was -- as you can see -- a glorious day, and as I pulled into my third ferry line of the day a paraglider was plying its way across the Seattle shoreline, so of course I got my camera out.

What's fun about this picture is that it looks a bit scary -- above and beyond the thrill of flying through the air attached to a small boat!  But actually, if you take time to look closely, you realize that it's all a matter of perspective: in fact, the paraglider is considerably closer to me than he is to the space needle, and is in no danger of getting entangled in those supports.

It's hard, sometimes, to stand by and watch when it looks like a situation may be getting dangerously out of control; harder still to know when to stand by, and when to step in and interfere.  That decision takes discernment, and discernment takes time, a willingness to examine, and a willingness to listen for an indication of how we might be called to respond: often the kneejerk reaction is not the correct one, and can create more harm than good.

I suppose that's the real power of the phrase "kneejerk liberal" -- the assumption being that the liberal in question hasn't really taken the time to evaluate the situation, but has rather leaped to conclusions based on appearances.  It's that leap, of course, that makes it so easy to demonize the "other" -- and it's a leap easily made by people on both sides of the political spectrum -- or the religious spectrum, for that matter.  But the act of looking before we leap; well -- that takes time, and evaluation, and it would be so much simpler if we didn't have to do that!

But Patricia Madson, in my reading this morning from her book, Improv Wisdom, cites an old zen proverb: "Use two hands to carry one thing instead of one hand to carry two things."  If we can just stop trying to parallel process, stop rushing from task to task; if we could just make time to stop and breathe and evaluate,  we might accomplish less, but it's also possible we'd be a bit wiser, and do everything we do more effectively.  "Measure twice, cut once" is the other saying that's relevant here: take the time up front, and you might find you don't actually need to cut at all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In the eye of the storm

You might assume, after yesterday's photos, that this is some bizarre modification of a kayak photo.  But no!  Though it IS a bizarre modification, the original photo was taken on the ferry; it was of some reflections in the hood of a black car with a bit of red blinker-light thrown in.  (Look left for the original: I think I may like it better than this altered version.)

My reading in Patricia Ryan Madson's Improv Wisdom this morning encouraged me to take risks, make mistakes, so I thought -- well, I'll just keep playing with this image til I get something that works for me.

I'm not at all sure this DOES work for me, but I'm liking the way the middle looks like waves and a wee kayak in a bit of a storm...

Was it a mistake to "waste my time" playing with this image, if I'm not pleased with the end result?  Not necessarily -- especially if I learned something from it, or might perhaps be able to use some piece of it somewhere else.  But maybe it's a good exercise just to get me where I need to be: here, and now; back home, at my computer; back into a space I've not inhabited for a while.  Sometimes we need to shift our feet and dance a bit just to get our sea legs back for whatever life we've shifted into or out of.

The best part of the morning has been just slipping back into a familiar routine: making my own coffee and drinking it, sitting in my favorite chair, lighting my Buddha candle and drifting off into centering prayer without fear of interruption...

I loved being at camp, loved living among the trees, loved watching my daughter at work, loved the wee bouquet of flowers brought to me by one of my youngest students, loved not having to cook or be responsible for a few days, loved playing with pastels and yarn and fabric and helping others discover the joy of that.

But it's good to be home, away from the noise and chaos, out of the storm; good to be able to breathe a bit, get back into routine, before whatever storms are yet to come.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It never ceases to amaze me; what the camera sees that I don't see.  Do you see the brand name on that upper yellow kayak?  It's EMOTION.

And how bizarre is that, that this is one of the last pictures I shot before leaving the camp?  I didn't even notice that brand until just now when I opened up the photos...

I would say more, or try to take this somewhere, but I'm REALLY REALLY tired from getting up at 4:15 and driving all day and 4 ferry rides (I had to go back into Seattle this evening to do some class work with my team mates) so I will just stop here and say it was a good week and I learned a lot and I'm glad to be home.

More tomorrow when I have a brain to write with (and a bum that's not quite so tired of sitting...)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Last day

Sitting on my couch this morning, I can see the leaves have begun to turn. All those yellow leaves were green when I arrived at camp – was that only a few days ago? Already the inevitability of departure is beginning to pull at the hearts of both campers and staff, some of whom are doubly torn because some of their friends are needing to leave early, called by the demands of their other lives.

The musicians are practicing farewell songs for the last evening fire; I hear one say to another, “I hope I can get through this one without breaking down,” and my heart aches for him. One of the craft teachers was missing when class started; her co-teacher found her around the corner consoling a tearful camper. Two of the girls in my pastel class spent their time making farewell cards for their counselors and for their favorite teachers, and when the poetry class headed down to the dock for a farewell row, I decided to go pack instead; it’s almost time to me to go as well.

Summer is winding down, and the days are getting shorter – which means I could be down at the docks before sunrise this morning, and could watch as the sun peeked over the mountains and the fog came rolling in. That's how it happens, year after year: the dark begins to rise, change is in the wind, and though we’re mostly aware of the losses, there are always gains as well.

Still – it was hard to contemplate walking to the dock when I was lying safely tucked between flannel sheets in my chilly room. But the book I’ve been reading, Improv Wisdom, posed these questions yesterday: “What is my purpose now?” and “What would not get done if I were not here?” The answer to both those questions was clearly (in my head at least) “photographing the sunrise,” and so I did. It was, despite the chill, and the early hour, and the steep downhill walk on aging knees, definitely worth the trip (see results on the poetry blog, or at left).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wake up to the Gifts

Isn’t this the coolest treehouse ever? I really loved the way it looked in the morning light – which is why I photographed it – but it wasn’t until I looked at the photo on my computer that I saw how mystical the background looks in this picture, especially on the lower right. It looks like the fairy world described so beautifully in the books I read as a child…

I know I’ve said this before, but that is SO what I love about photography – that you think you are taking one picture, and then what you get is so much more than what you anticipated!

My daughter had me working in the camp darkroom this morning – something I haven’t done in over 30 years – and I got to see how that whole gift aspect of photography is doubled when you work in a darkroom. You think you are controlling the process, but even so there are surprises – and not necessarily all good ones; kind of like life, I guess.

Today we replicated a mistake made a few days ago; someone forgot and put her sunglasses down on the developing paper. And though the rest of the print was over-exposed, the part on the glasses developed perfectly, so you could see that part of the photo as if it were reflected in the glasses. So we did that again, using different pairs of sunglasses, different images, and differing development times – it was fun, definitely playful (though it’s hard to be patient and keep agitating the fixer) and full of surprises.

… which is why I have loved playing in the digital darkroom so much, I think. You get the same opportunities for experimentation, but you get instant results AND if they don’t turn out well, you can scrap them without having wasted anything but time. And I suppose electricity, but in the darkroom you waste those things but also fixer and developer and water and paper… but wait, to get a digital print you waste INK and paper… and the cartridges the ink comes in…

Funny. I started this post thinking about how everything is a gift – in the sense that things can be unpredictable, and their very unpredictability is a gift. But there’s more to life’s gifts than that, too: there are so many gifts happening every minute of your day! The couch I’m sitting on was designed by someone and made by someone; its fabric, too, was designed and made by someone. The floor it sits on was installed by someone in a house that was built by someone on land that was owned by someone and cleared by someone.

Someone made and packaged all those chemicals in the darkroom, the jugs we store them in and the trays and sinks we use them in. Someone purchased the chemicals, the trays, the sinks and the enlarger; someone bought the paper and the lightproof box we store it in; someone else chopped the tree and made the paper and packaged it in a lightproof bag.

Everywhere we look we are supported by the gifts and blessings of life: can you see them? Can you see them NOW?

Can you see them NOW?


Well, then: KEEP LOOKING!

As Patricia Ryan Madson says in Improv Wisdom,


• Notice that the glass is half full.
• Treasure the details.
• Who or what is helping you RIGHT NOW?
• Make a point of thanking those with thankless jobs.
• What are you doing to give back?
• Keep the gift moving forward.
• Our smallest actions count.
• Everything we do has the potential to help others.
• Make “thank you” your mantra.

What gifts will you notice today – and who will you thank?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A thousand words in place of a picture

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So here are actually slightly over a thousand, because of a picture I didn't shoot. So I invite you to imagine it, in your mind’s eye – as if these were the olden days, when radio was all we had to bring us other worlds from other minds and places.

You are sitting in a stiff-backed Bavarian-looking yellow chair, on the opposite side of the lodge’s great room from this huge fireplace, in which there is a roaring fire despite the warmth of the evening. The floors and walls are dark wood, burnished by years and design to a deep glow which reflects, not only the fire, but all the candles which have been lit for the occasion (many more than are shown here), and also the white middies of perhaps 150 campers (ages 10 to 15) and staff (mostly former campers, now in their late teens and 20s, like my daughter). Middies, in case you don't remember, are those sort of sailor shirts with the big flap in the back...

The girls (this is Girls Fire night; the boys are all at Boys Fire on the other side of camp) are all seated on the floor, though some of the younger ones are clutching pillows and stuffed animals and will soon be sprawled out, asleep.

The wall to the left of the fireplace wall is all French doors, as is most of the wall behind me; all the doors are open to the night, and a few additional campers are seated on benches just beyond the doorways.

The girls are quiet, and though some of the younger ones are braiding the hair of their counselors, the drama and jockeying for attention that happens when the boys are in the room is mostly gone, and all attention is focused at the front of the room, where, to the right of the fireplace, two young women seated in chairs like mine are reading aloud endless notes, called “boons,” celebrating various good deeds and friendships, notes like this -- “Dear Caroline and Lucy, thank you SO MUCH for talking me into coming back this year: I’ve had a wonderful summer and couldn’t have done it without you! Love, your brown-eyed gypsy” -- and this – “Juniper, you guys have been the best cabin EVER, Love, Amanda”—and even one for me, “Dear Mom, thanks so much for coming and being willing to take on so many different kinds of classes. I love you, Ali.”

Five to ten boons will be read in a row, and then a group of girls – friends, or cabinmates, or once all the counselors stood together in a long line – will stand in front of the fireplace and sing a song or read a poem. Most of the singers are accompanied by guitarists – there are lots of guitar players here – and one girl actually played an elaborate solo – a waltz, Hungarian, I believe – on a standup bass. One group – 5 cabinmates and their counselor — stood at the far right side of the hall, in front of the music room, so one of their group could play the piano, accompanying the others in their performance of “Hey, Jude.”

After every performance there is appreciation, always expressed by hands, not clapping, but rubbing together up and down, quiet, honoring the sacred space of the evening. Sometimes the girls do a quick rendition of “Bravo, Bravo, Bravissimo” if a performance was particularly brave or impressive.

And into this space, at the front of the room, right after my boon is read, steps my daughter, who is here for her 14th summer. She has been a camper since she was eight -- before they raised the minimum age to 10 – and has loved music all her life. She began dancing before she could walk, and though for years she sang in a monotone and her more musical friends made fun of her, she has continued singing in spite of their teasing. Her persistence has paid off, and with time she has broadened her range considerably: though she doesn’t have a lot of confidence about it, she has a lovely voice, and she and her friend Elaine, who plays guitar, perform for us an edited version of a song called Little Lion Man; something about it being "not your fault but mine, And it was your heart on the line…" Very sweet, and I can feel my heart expanding though the words aren’t meant for me but reminisce instead about past relationships and failures.

More boons, more songs, and then Elaine and two other girls (one of whom is my housemate for the week) get up and sing the lullabye from O Brother Where Art Thou“Go to sleep you little baby.” Their voices harmonize perfectly, my heart is full, and at the close of the song one of the young women who has been reading the boons comes to the front of the room, sits before the fire, and talks briefly about tradition, and generations, and how almost every staff member in the room was once a camper just like you, and how she knows that many of those girls who are now campers will someday be staff and counselors, too.

We are dismissed with another song, and as we all rise and head to the front of the room to collect our boons, I find myself surrounded by a quartet of young campers, maybe 11 or 12 years old, all clamoring to know, did I go here when I was a girl? The camp, which has been going since the 20s, boasts many multi-generational families, but ours is not one of them; I never got to go to camp as a child. I’m glad, though, that we were able to send Ali here; it’s been a huge influence in her life – and somehow I suspect that she is the beginning of several more generations to follow, children and grandchildren who will love this camp as much as she did.

It was a lovely evening, and I’m sorry I didn’t bring my camera; I’m not sure what I was thinking, leaving it behind. But she totally understood: somehow, sometimes, we are too much a part of events to step out and photograph them. And who needs a photo; this picture will live in my mind forever.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Back among friends

I remember when we first began to realize we would need to leave the San Juan Islands and move closer to Seattle, I would ride the ferry on one of our many house-hunting trips and think, what will I most hate leaving? What is it that keeps me here?

The first answer was always “the community,” and though in many ways Bainbridge has been very good to us, we all still miss the richness of the island communities we lived in. It’s probably because they are so much more rural; people in small towns – especially ones for whom tourists are a constant intrusion -- are more dependent on one another, I think, and so they are careful to build and honor local connections.

The second answer was “the ferries.” Though we have ferries on Bainbridge, too, they are not quite as essential, they’re much more readily available, and the rides don’t last as long. In the San Juans the ferries are an important lifeline to the larger community: they don’t run nearly as often, and aren’t nearly as large, so we come to know the men and women who run them, and learn to appreciate and value their contribution to the community.

But the third answer was always “the madrona trees.” It’s not just the gorgeous bark, or the red berries that we string together at Christmas time to hang on the Christmas tree; it’s the way they grow at the water’s edge, the delightful shapes and patterns that both living and dead trees carve into the relentless green of salal and cedar.

So when I had a few spare minutes yesterday evening, I went down to the dock to photograph the magnificent camp dinghies and was delighted to see this truly classic formation hovering just above high tide level. To me she looks like a goddess or magician who has somehow managed to harness the waves as she stands in her lovely round-bottom boat.

But it doesn’t matter, really, WHAT she looks like: what matters is the way the shapes call out to the imagination, inviting it to consider a delightful world beyond the familiar. Her bark was undoubtedly beautiful when she was young and alive, but she has something to offer even in death – something encouraging for those of us who are moving into the latter portions of life.

Just beyond the edge of cliff on which she hangs, I could see my daughter and all the campers gathered in the amphitheater beyond the dock, arm in arm and singing before the evening fire. A camp is a wonderful community, one that continues through the years even though the campers don’t see one another for months at a time, and the friendships they form here – I know now, from watching my own kids – will keep them afloat through life’s storms as surely as the ferries.

I’m grateful, though we left the islands almost 10 years ago, that those connections -- and the madronas – live on.

Friday, August 13, 2010

In the kingdom of heaven

The first day of camp is winding down; the kids are all off playing, and I’m staying in a beautiful lodge that smells of woodsmoke; this is a sign that nestles into the stones that surround the fireplace;  it seems to be the theme of this place...

I had a lovely day; taught 2 classes by myself (songwriting and gypsy crafts) and 2 classes with Kirsten, the wonderful young woman who shares my lodgings with me (nature crafts and fimo goddess-making). I’m slowly getting the hang of the camp schedule and the camp way of being, which seems to be loose and appreciative, allowing the kids to explore and discover within fairly simple boundaries.

I came in, as usual, with some shoulds, but in this case I wasn’t quite sure what the shoulds should be! Should I be teaching, a disciplinarian, entertaining, accommodating? What exactly was my role? Should the kids like me, have something to show from their time with me?

In the end, I decided (because Kirsten is an excellent model) that the improv discipline of saying yes was pretty much all I needed to do… well, maybe, “Yes, AND…” By the end of the day I was managing not to ask too many questions of my daughter/boss (who I could see was itching to spend some time with her fellow staff unsupervised by mom) and figured out pretty much where I had to be when. So it’s all good.

I even found time to read some more in Patricia Ryan Madson’s improv book this morning. Time for two chapters, in fact, since I couldn’t figure out at first how to make the shower work, and had to wait for one of my roomies to wake up and show me. The chapter I most enjoyed was called “be average” and was about giving up on perfection. What really made the chapter great was that she understood how striving for originality becomes a striving for perfection; that we artistic types can get really tangled up when we are so desperately determined to “think outside the box.”

Striving for an original idea,” says Madson, “takes us away from our everyday intelligence, and can actually block access to the creative process…Do what is natural, what is easy, what is apparent to you. Your unique view will be a revelation to someone else.”

I like that – it ties in beautifully with what I’m learning in school: it is enough to be me. I don’t need to be flashy or original – I already am, in my own unique way, and that is all I need to be.  That's the message the camp seems to give its kids.

It’s true for you, too.

What would it feel like to live out of that space all the time?

I’m thinking maybe that’s what the kingdom of heaven would really look like.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Off into the sunset

I had to go into the city yesterday evening for a practice coaching session; just missed the 8:10 ferry home: here it is, heading off into the sunset without me.

... which is what I'm about to do: head off into the sunset without you.  I've volunteered to be an artist-in-residence at a camp up on Orcas Island, and will be spending the next week or so teaching kids between the ages of 9 and 14 about fiber arts, drawing, painting, and mask making.

It should be great fun, and I'll get to spend some time with my younger daughter (and, yes, the older one is back from Mongolia and delighted to be home).  But it seems unlikely I'll have much in the way of internet access, so -- though I may well be blogging -- I suspect I won't be able to post anything til I get home.

So I wish you all a good week, and hope you'll still be here when I return; I appreciate you more than you could possibly know.

Peace and comfort,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An act of faith

In the middle of a weeklong visit from their daughter, her husband, and their delightful little girl, our beloved neighbors received word that their son had been rushed to the hospital with heart failure and might not live through his surgery.

So they are now gathered at the opposite corner of the country, holding a so-far-productive vigil at a hospital in Florida, and we are minding their garden, enjoying their peas and nasturtiums (which respond so well to these misty mornings we've been having lately), and holding their son and the whole family in our prayers.

Times like these are so challenging.  Life is full of the unexpected and the unpredictable -- some of it pleasant, and some of it not so pleasant -- and, because most of us find that terrifying,  each of us, over time, tends to develop a whole mess of sort of superstitious strategies for dealing with that. 

My strategy has always been a bit different from my husband's: he believes the correct approach is to "expect the best; prepare for the worst."  I'm good at the preparing part of that, but not so good at the expecting part.  I'm good at HOPING for the best, but mostly I'm too busy worrying to claim I actually EXPECT the best -- worrying is part of how I prepare for the worst; I keep sifting through all the possible negative outcomes to be sure I'm prepared for each of them.

Which is another reason, I suspect, that I found improv class so challenging: because you simply cannot prepare for what's about to come your way.  Your best preparation -- really -- is to be fully present to what is: the moment you take your eye off what IS to prepare for what you might do or say, something will arise that you had not -- and couldn't possibly have -- anticipated, and then, there you are, all ready to speak a prepared piece that has absolutely nothing to do with what is actually going on.

Patricia Ryan Madson, in her delicious gem of a book, Improv Wisdom, reassures us with these loving words of faith:  "When the human heart has something to say, saying it is always timely.  Improvisers always speak without a plan.  Discover the freedom that comes when you trust that you have what you need."  Reading this, I can begin to see why I love photography and blogging so much: it's really an act of faith.  Photography, for me, is simply a response to what is: it keeps me fully in the present.  And the blog -- though you could say I prepare for it by reading and meditating -- is really never prepared in advance: it is simply a response to whatever photo seems to present itself that morning.  Though I may go into the process with some base assumptions and biases, there's always a chance they'll get flipped completely on their ears by what emerges when I commune with the photo.

And I LOVE that -- because it feels like I am not in control.  Which -- in this case, at least -- I like, because I feel the universe is far wiser than I am about what might need to be said at any given moment.  So the blog is my daily act of trust; and I trust and hope that in allowing it to shape itself I am building habits of trust that will slowly begin to replicate themselves in other areas of my life; those places where I still have this overwhelming urge to control and prepare.

Madson has wonderful advice for folks like me:

•  Give up planning.  Drop the habit of thinking ahead.
•  Attend carefully to what is happening right now.
•  Allow yourself to be surprised.
•  Stockpiling ideas for future use is unnecessary.
•  Trust your imagination.
•  Welcome whatever floats into your mind.
• Fear is a matter of misplaced attention.  Focus on redirecting it.

Okay. Well then -- good luck with that!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saying yes to intuition

I spotted this lovely statue of Mary through a rainy window while waiting at a stoplight on Saturday.  What is it about statues of Mary that we find so appealing?  Because those downcast eyes, that total acceptance --the implied "Let it be unto me according to thy will" -- feels like a relic (and not necessarily a holy one) from another time.

I spent much of my class time yesterday in discussions designed to help us get closer to knowing what it is we were "born to do."  Which could, of course, be another way of looking at "according to thy will" -- what is it we were created for, and who really knows the answer to that question?  And why does the answer seem to change from one day to the next?

I came home to find a job description in my mailbox, for a part-time job, a job working for the church, that I could do relatively easily and still probably have time for blogging and schoolwork.  So I sat down at my computer, worked up a resume and a cover letter... and then I couldn't hit the send button.  The files are still open on my computer, but thinking about sending the note made my stomach clench and my throat close up.

I love coincidences, and love it when opportunities fall into my lap; that usually feels like something I should follow up on.  And it's certainly true that someone in this house needs to get a job.  But I think we also have to listen to those gut feelings.  And though my reading this morning (and yesterday) encourages me to practice saying yes, I did make a vow -- in both of my classes -- to spend more time listening to my intuition.

And so, this morning,  I choose to look at Mary and see, instead of obedience, a willingness to listen; to see that downcast head as a sign of attentiveness to her own inner workings and instincts.  Because if I say that I believe God lives within each of us, then I have to believe God lives in me as well, and trust that that anxious churning I feel, deep inside, is some valued piece of me turning away from what looks like a perfect opportunity -- to do something I CAN do, could get PAID to do, but don't necessarily WANT to do.  It's an act of trust, really: I just have to trust that when the right job comes along, it will be something I know I will love -- and I'll know it when I see it.

So I AM saying yes today -- just not to the job.  I'm saying yes to my intuition -- and hoping that will be the right thing to do.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Magical Shared Adventure

This is a totally unaltered photo, taken near the beach at LaPush, Washington.  Isn't the color bizarre?  It was a super low tide; my guess is these rocks and pilings are almost always underwater.  I don't know if the lichen or plankton or algae or whatever it is that makes it that color is always that green, or only turns green when its exposed to light and air -- if I were my husband, I'd have looked that up on the Wiki before blogging about it -- but then, if I were my husband, I'd get so intrigued by all the links off that wiki site I'd never get around to writing the blog at all!

And isn't it wonderful that our kids got both kinds of parents -- the parent who is really good at holding her feet to the fire, and the parent who is so curious about the world he sometimes forgets to eat?

It's all about balance, and in order to get that balance we need all kinds of people and all kinds of ingredients.  But it's not enough to have them; we need to USE them -- which means, as Patricia Ryan Madson says in Improv Wisdom, saying YES.  Maybe not yes to everything, she says, "It is undoubtedly an exaggeration to suggest that we can say yes to everything that comes up, but we can all say yes to more than we normally do."

So how does that work?  Madson tells a wonderful story about a child who runs to her mother and cries, "Mommy, Mommy, there's a monster in the closet!"  Normally the mother would of course reassure her child that there is no monster, but, inspired by improv's Rule of Yes, she said, "There is?  Wow, let's go see!" and together they went to the closet, "where we had a dynamic encounter with the monster, capturing it and squealing with delight as we tickled it into disappearing.  It was a magical shared adventure; I would never have thought of joining her fantasy before considering the rule of yes!"

As you might imagine -- being the parent who is good at holding her feet to the fire -- I found Improv class incredibly terrifying..  But at the same time it was exhilarating and very freeing.  And I kept thinking -- my husband should be in the class.  He's great on his feet in situations like that -- precisely because he is so curious about the world. He, who -- unlike me -- has no interest in performing in plays, would probably get a huge kick out of improv.

In truth, it takes all kinds; I think we're back to the rainforest image again.  We need panthers and leaf molds and spiders and brown bears and daisies and orchids and actors and audiences and algae and pilings... and the great thing is that it's just like Richard Rohr says: Everything Belongs!

But as a friend of mine points out, well -- sometimes that's a concept that can be VERY hard to say yes to: there are some things and people we just think shouldn't get to belong.  But I think I'll keep working on it.  And the best way to do that is to say yes to more than we normally do.  So that's your assignment today: say yes to something unexpected!

-- and be sure to let me know how it goes!

Coloring between the lines

This morning I began reading a book recommended to me by Kim of Prayers for the Oft Traveled Road.   It's called Improv Wisdom, and offers life lessons from Improvisational Theater.

In the prologue to the book, the author, Patricia Ryan Madson, tells a story of basically having spent a life "coloring between the lines," and how it didn't quite turn out as she expected -- which led her to Improv.

I was immediately reminded of an experience WAY back in kindergarten, when my teacher called my mother in to complain because, having colored in the outline of a bee, I flipped the paper over, traced the outline on the back, and colored it in again.  For some reason this was not acceptable... (and I remember my mother being furious with the teacher afterward).

But what I also remembered, thinking back on this, is that for years afterward I loved coloring books (I particularly remember one a friend had, of the Lennon Sisters in all their pretty dresses!) but, to cover any possible stray imperfections, I would go over all the lines with a wide black crayon.

What I remember is loving the effect of those wide black lines.  But what I suspect is that I was protecting myself from failure -- and don't we all do that!  Of course -- having taken improv classes -- I know that's the scary bit about improv: you have to be willing to fail.  I seem to remember that was my downfall in trying to learn to ski, as well: you have to be willing to fall.

Whether failing or falling, the challenge is the same: you're out of control, and somebody might yell at you, or laugh at you, or be shocked by you... and of course we who are now "women of a certain age" grew up knowing that any of those things would be a source of GREAT SHAME, and so we avoid opportunities to fail or fall at all costs.

So, thinking about that this morning as I came to my computer, I was amused to be greeted by this photo.  Actually I took a whole bunch of these shots at sunset a night or two ago, a bit bemused by my determination to photograph something so relatively unspectacular.  But now I see that the setting sun was doing her own variation on coloring between the lines -- and maybe our job, like hers, is simply to be light, and allow the lines to form themselves around us.  Like the designers of Project Runway, "One day we're in, and the next we're out," but what's important is to be true to our own vision.


It's all good...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Niche construction

I spent some time yesterday walking through the forest with a new friend -- a woman from Texas who grew up here on the island, was back visiting her family, and had been encouraged to look me up by a friend of hers who reads my blog.

It always amazes me, the way like-minded souls seem to manage to gravitate to one another in this great universe of ours.  Psychologist Thomas Armstrong, in that Rain Forest article I spoke of yesterday, calls this "niche construction," and notes that it may be just as important to evolution as natural selection.   Just as where a spider builds her nest or where a beaver constructs his dam will prove critical to their survival, "Choices about lifestyle or career," he says, "may be among the most critical in determining whether a person suffers as a disordered individual or finds satisfaction in an environment that recognizes his strengths."

And if you find yourself forced to exist in a hostile or unsupportive environment, connections outside that environment can be key to helping you survive -- which, I suspect, is why cellphones and the internet become so important to some people.

All fun things to think about -- but I need to run off to class now; full day ahead!  Have a good weekend!

Friday, August 6, 2010

I'll take three dozen of those gorgeous panthers

My neighbor gave me a copy of the April/May issue of ODE magazine.  Its lead article is entitled Your Brain is a Rain Forest, and makes a case for neuro-diversity, for understanding that each of the different ways the brain has of processing has value, and that we shouldn't be pathologizing and medicating behaviors diagnosed as ADHD, autism, Asbergers, dyslexia etc.

The author, psychologist Thomas Armstrong, believes that differences among brains are as enriching and essential as differences among animals.  And ODE's Editor-in-Chief, Jurriaan Kamp, suggests that this rain forest image  -- seen from the perspective of chaos theory, the old flap-of-a-butterfly's-wing-alters-a-tornado idea -- applies across a broad spectrum of human activity: militarily, economically, agriculturally, and even within the body.

"There is no escape," says Kamp.  "Wherever we are, whatever we do, we are related and connected... It may take another generation to embrace the world of cooperation and community fully.  Meanwhile, we already live together in a rain forest -- and it's good."

(Just as an aside, I can't help but think, in this context, of China's birth control policies, and the frightening ramifications of a society that is systematically extinguishing its feminine.)

Anyway, having read this editorial and the article itself yesterday, I was amused this morning to find David Whyte talking about the rain forest as well.  The image of the rain forest, he says in his book, The Heart Aroused, is satisfying to humans, "because when we see the forest and all the disparate forms, odors and cries that make it up, we intuit a life where all our own strange and eccentrically exotic parts can fit, too... A balanced, intricate ecology, in effect , asks us to stop choosing between parts of ourselves according to what we think belongs and what does not.  A mature ecology does not say, "I'll take three dozen of those gorgeous panthers and cancel the tacky leaf molds."  If it did, the rain forest would soon, as the metaphor goes, be out of business.  No leaf molds, no compost; no compost, no life."

The two pages immediately following this quote are wonderful, but too long to continue quoting here; his basic point is that our education system is designed to create a monoculture, eradicating all the parts of us that don't belong in the classroom, that think for themselves, or are somehow connected to mortality; the parts that question and challenge and occasionally fail.  In effect, he says, we attempt to create a single crop, and then pour onto the fertile soil of self "a continual stream of hydrocarbons and massive amounts of poison to keep the system from blighting itself."  Some of that poison takes the form of coffee, pills, alcohol and other drugs.  But then there is "the poison we administer to ourselves, the constant daily drip of self-criticism that reinvents and justifies all the reasons we are not good enough, and all the ways we do not deserve the life we desire."

"A great deal of our education," he says, "is based on removing our faith in the fading half of the cycle of existence, and the chief tool for removing our faith is shame."

Bingo!  So now I see that this work I'm doing in school to unearth -- and learn to accept and appreciate -- the parts of me I've been stifling and rejecting for so many years is part and parcel of the spiritual journey and of our journey as a culture, society, and planet: we need to understand that all of it, and all of us, is connected; that the dark parts and the ugly parts, the parts we want to toss into the compost pile, all have value and are part of the great wheel of existence. 

Which is not to say we elevate those leaf molds, make them captains of the forest and expect them to catch and kill as panthers do.  But we DO have to let them do THEIR job -- whatever that may be.  I cannot expect the part of me that wants to snarl at a crying baby on an airplane to lead a meeting or preach a sermon.  But I CAN acknowledge its existence, and can allow it to help provide fuel when I need courage to address a boss or spouse's inappropriate behavior.  I cannot expect the part of me that is churning with worries about my daughter (who is feeling sick and lonely in Mongolia) to drive a car; it's way too distracted. But I can allow its depth to fuel poetry or compassion, or to lend me courage to call the airline and book her a flight home (if that becomes necessary).

So you see?  It's all good.  We just have to learn to pay attention...