Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When sadness rises

Some part of me is feeling a little sad today: I have to take down my pieces from the patterns exhibit, and though they'll be keeping some of them for possible future sales I'm sad none of them sold this time around.

Plus I got a call yesterday to inform me that I wouldn't be making the second round of interviews for a job I interviewed for before we left.  I suspect, since the first interview went swimmingly well, that age is the issue, but there's not much I can do about that.

In addition, I spent a couple of hours looking at jobs yesterday, and couldn't find anything that seemed to match my skills and interests -- although it may be that my feeling of discouragement was coloring my search.

So it was heartening this morning to read this passage from Rilke's Letters To a Young Poet:

You mustn't be frightened... if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do.  You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.  Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside of you?

Like these three buddhas, who smiled down upon us as we ate one of our many family dinners last week, these words have a way of releasing something in me and letting it float free.  Today -- and at that dinner -- the something is worry about money (it was a VERY expensive trip).  Tomorrow it could be something completely different that worries me; the worries have a way of cycling through a litany of concerns.

But despite the worries a certain amount of calm remains, a soft serenity and trust that things are transpiring just as they should; that good things will emerge from trial, that the closed doors I seem to be facing right now just mean I need to turn to another direction, where open doors will await me.  And in the meantime, I give thanks that I am home, and warm, and there's a sweet tuxedo cat sleeping on my wrists as I type.  Life may have its challenges, but it is also full of blessings.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Yes instead of no

I remember, when my girls were small, learning to watch out for and avoid threesomes: despite the biblical admonitions about "where two or three are gathered in my name," the combination of three always seemed bedeviled; always seemed to result in two against one, and tears.

And though that wasn't what I saw when I first shot this image, I can't help noticing it now and wondering: what is it about human beings, that always drives us to exclude?  Why do we form alliances, then kick each other out? And why, when one takes on that voice, do the others look away, and distance themselves?  Can it be because we know the choice is wrong?

And then, knowing this tendency as we do, why do we persist in designing worlds as if this does not happen?  Why spend our time devising theories, languages and activities that deny or disguise this reality, this truth?

The cynic in me says there is no point, but steps aside to listen when a friend points out how much the world has changed.  Think of all the ones who might have been excluded when I was young, and of the gift their lives have become over time: the women who could not even vote; the dark-skinned ones who could not drink or ride or eat with whites; the many who were shunned for race, color or creed...

Yes, exclusion has been a fact of life, and still exists.  And, yes, there are days when we long to give up hope.  And yet our efforts up til now have brought so many victories: we can't resign the battle, but resolve instead to continue striving for that tipping point when all the hands that once were raised to block reach out instead to embrace and welcome in.

Where, today, will you say yes instead of no?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Divinely Beautiful

I don't think of myself as a particularly acquisitive person, but I do have a (mostly unindulged) passion for art glass.  So of all the things I saw in San Francisco, this square platter I found (in Bloomingdale's, of all places!), done by Swedish glass artist Bertil Vallien for Kosta Boda, is what resonated most.

I loved it: loved the colors, loved the mask, loved the figure in the center and the way the light reflected off the piece... I especially appreciated the ladder (which you can barely see in this picture) that's angled on the right, as it echoes a favorite photograph I took years ago. 

Somehow art works like this one look a bit like God to me: beauty so intense feels like truly divine inspiration.  But of course, the piece was WAY out of my price range (although if I had sold a couple of my metal pieces in this month's gallery show, I'd definitely have been tempted to use the money to purchase it!) -- though, frankly, I'm not sure, even if I had it, where I'd put it... 

So thank heaven for my camera, and for the kind saleslady who despite corporate rules allowed me to photograph the piece (Bloomingdales execs, if you read this, think of it as an ad for your store and for Vallien and Kosta Boda!).  Because at least I have this image to feed and inspire me.  Which it does.

And, on a fairly unrelated note, may I just say what a joy it is to be home again; to be able to sleep in my own bed, wake at my normal time, drink my own coffee and putter around in my favorite fleece robe; to read and meditate and blog without having to either wake my family or listen to loud muzak in a hotel lounge. 

I understand, intellectually at least, that everything is God and is of God.  But the truth is, I'm not really all that enlightened, and it can prove challenging for me to stay centered and serene when surrounded by Black Friday shoppers (our hotel was in the heart of San Francisco's shopping district), the grit and grime of city life, the holiday challenges of family dynamics, and the high noise levels of a typical urban environment.

Here's what I wish I knew to my core:

"I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever."
  -- Walt Whitman, in 365 Nirvana

Yes, this platter felt like a letter from God.  But I'll know I've finally learned to see when I can feel that letters from God are everywhere, not just in divinely beautiful works of art.  Someday I hope to see that everything is divinely beautiful.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Balance, flexibility and presence

"In a changing world, certainty doesn't give us stability; it actually creates more chaos.  As we stay locked in our position and refuse to adapt and change, the things we hoped would stay together fall apart.  By holding on, we destroy what we hope to preserve; by letting go, we feel secure in accepting what is."
  -- Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way

I came across this paragraph in my reading for school last night, and thought I would share it with you this morning. It reminds me of that old Emerson truism: "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."  Except that in this case the hobgoblin is the potential to destroy the system.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, my readings for class have been almost eerily congruent with my readings in Buddhism and Christianity; I love thinking that the theories in one area might apply to the business world.

This particular concept always reminds me of Friedman's work in family systems theory, which I first encountered at a clergy conference years ago.  He shared with us a model which still resonates with me almost 20 years later: if you think of a family, or a congregation, as a molecule, then you can see that a disturbance anywhere in the molecule will result in a disturbance to other parts of the molecule.

A large disturbance can put unbearable tension on the molecule if some part of the system is rigid or inflexible, and can actually lead to breakage: we have no choice but release and relax a bit if we are truly dedicated to the idea of holding things together.

At the same time, a certain amount of stability at the center can keep the whole molecule from breaking apart if one section becomes severely agitated.  So it's really about balance, about staying attuned to the moment and what it needs; or -- in the immortal words of Kenny Rogers -- "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."  Never an easy task, and often a challenging responsibility.  But it helps, I think, to have a model that helps clarify the need for balance, flexibility, and presence.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Where the power lies

Have you ever noticed how attached we get to our normal routines?  Is this a sign of age, or are we always inclined to tread familiar paths?  And are some of us more stuck-in-the-mud than others?

We've been having some intriguing discussions lately about where power lies in relationships, and I find myself wondering if the answers to those questions might not be somewhat driven by the answer to that stick-in-the-mud question. 

As in -- I am more stuck, more inclined to like things a certain way than my husband.  And he's reasonably willing to accommodate that.  So does that mean I have more power in the relationship than he does?  I suspect that he sometimes feels that way.

On the other hand, I tend to be more attuned to his unspoken wishes than he is to mine, and I will often adapt behaviors or directions based on my sense of what he's feeling or where he's going.  Does that mean he has more power in the relationship?  Or do I, by virtue of his reluctance to assess and articulate his needs and longings, just automatically have the power?

Because I believe the power is fairly evenly balanced for us -- and always has been -- these questions can have a certain playfulness to them.  But when the power balance gets off -- and we've all seen relationships where that is true -- it isn't always necessarily the person who openly articulates his or her needs who has the power.  Because that passive-aggressive manipulative "never-mind-I'll-sit-in-the-dark" style can have enormous power when the partner is highly sensitive, easily manipulated, or very insecure.

So what does this have to do with this picture?  I stared at it for quite a while before starting to write this morning, trying to get my bearings after having been awakened rather suddenly.  And I think it has something to do with the kind of open sunny nature of the upper section and the dark and looming nature of the lower section.  The upper section seems very floaty, but the cloud-shaped portion of the lower section has a lot of drive and contrast to it, almost like a fist.  Maybe the implication is simply that there's a lot of power in the unconscious, in the darker parts of our psyches that drive us.  But given the subject that sprang to mind, this issue of power in relationships, I'm thinking this is a reminder that where the power lies may not always be obvious...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Armored for battle

My daughters and I had a little bit of time yesterday morning, so we elected to spend it visiting the shopping mall around the corner.  Living on an island as we do, we don't generally have access to a wide variety of stores, so it's always fun to see what's out there, what's being sold, and how it's being merchandised.

We were particularly struck by the incongruity of this display: a pink suit of armor?  (Sorry; it was hard to get a good photo in the dim light, being jostled by the crowds).  The potential symbolism of it was just too amusing to ignore.

But now, of course, it's Thanksgiving, and family dynamics are coming into play; holiday challenges are beginning.  And I'm remembering a conversation with my girls yesterday in which one of them said, "I just wish I could see what the cousins are wearing before I dress for Thanksgiving dinner," which I found totally echoed my thoughts from the previous evening.

Why do we wish that?  Why is it so important to fit in, to dress like everyone else?  Why is it that we do not feel quite so comfortable choosing our own style and assuming that's appropriate?

Some of it could be put down to the fact that the other branches of the family all live in very urban settings, so they tend to dress in a more upscale fashion than we do.  Some of it is simply a longing to fit in, to be clearly an integrated part of the family: to dress as they dress implies we move in the same social strata, that we know what they know.

But it's also an issue around our own feelings of self-worth.  In a way, dressing like everyone else in the family is a way of putting on pink armor; making sure we are protected, but in a sort of less threatening, charming, softer way.  And why do we feel the need to be protected?  These are not deliberately cruel people; they seem genuinely fond of us and amused by the ways in which we differ from them.  And still...

The truth is, of course, that family history and personal history are always deeply intertwined, and the wounds and misunderstandings we carry from our earliest years have a way of haunting us throughout life.  But I found myself (in discussing a long-standing situation in the family with my husband this morning) describing again what I think of as "the tennis-ball theory" of relationships.  Which is simply this: if we think of the slings and arrows -- whether inadvertent or intentional -- that are hurled at us in the context of relationships as tennis balls, the fact is that if they hit a hard surface, they will hurt, AND they will bounce back with almost equal force.  But if they hit what is essentially a mattress, there's just a soft thud and then they roll to the floor.

The damage we do or that is done to us depends largely upon our own attitude and resistance.  If we put up our armor, fight back, take everything personally, the ball will keep bouncing back and forth, inflicting whatever damage it does.  But if we can soften and release and accept, the ball drops, no harm is done to either side, and a lot of the really difficult blow-ups can be avoided.

Of course this needs to be a two way street; you can't have one side always softening and the other side hurling ever harder, ever sharper weapons.  But someone has to be willing to step aside, to soften, or the conflict has no prayer of being resolved.

So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving, with that Norman Rockwell image of the loving family gathered around the turkey?  Maybe nothing.  And then again, maybe everything...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All parts of the picture

We spent much of yesterday at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, admiring their rain forest and aquarium.  Water, bright colors, plants, reflections -- this photographer was very happy!

But of course that time was almost literally life in a bubble -- back home there are still power outages and homeless people sleeping on cold streets in the snow, and elsewhere in the world conflict is brewing that could significantly affect us all.

I find it difficult at times to carry all this in awareness; to listen to discussions about Rolex watches at the dinner table after walking by the homeless boy with his sad little dog all bundled up in blankets; to be focusing on all this beauty when there is so much ugliness in the world...

But perhaps that's the job: to find a way to hold the space for everything: the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the beautiful and the ugly, the bright and the dark, the colorful and the quiet, and to find a way to see them all, not as opposites, but as equally valid and tender parts of the larger picture...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Calm will return...

Yesterday when we left the island it was snowing heavily, so I checked the weather report this morning; turns out that was a pretty major storm, heavy winds out of the north, unseasonably cold temperatures (in the teens), and, of course, inevitably, loss of power. 

According to the power outage map, our county was the hardest hit, and the icy conditions are making it difficult for the crews to get around and fix things.

So, having left the dog and cats and house in care of neighbors and friends, it's hard not to worry; is everyone okay?  Which may explain why this barn sang to me this morning: it's a couple of blocks from my house, and I love the way the light plays on it in this picture.  The image speaks to me of trust and serenity, of the generally idyllic nature of life in our part of the world.  And, perhaps, of the calm that will inevitably come before and after the storms -- it's always good to have reminders of that...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blessings in the ordinary

Believe it or not, this is my first photograph of San Francisco -- it's of the car rental counter at the San Francisco airport.  We left home in a driving snowstorm this morning, headed for the airport, and now we're in California with our kids and my husband's family.

I've just finished the first of what will be many delicious dinners; we've introduced our daughter's boyfriend to the family, and I'm fading rapidly.

So I'll keep this short and sweet, and just say this: I'm not sure how much I'll be able to get to this over the next few days.  But I am very thankful for all of you who take the time to hop over to this blog, for all your kind comments, and for your inspiration.  I wish each of you a blessed week and a joyful Thanksgiving, and invite you, in these economically challenging times, to remember how very much we still have to be grateful for.  I suspect there's more than you can begin to imagine: just take a look at what's ordinary in your life, and I suspect you'll see it's really extraordinary.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Looking with those eyes

As the nights grow colder, the lagoon has a way of throwing off a hint of fog in the mornings, and everything we see from our kitchen window takes on this lovely silvery cast.

... which feels like another reminder that the reality we think we see -- the accuracy we claim for our perceptions -- must always be a bit tenuous, because it is so colored by what else is in the picture.

A child, seeing the mountains for the first time at sunset on an autumn evening, might assume that they were topped with strawberry sherbet, because the snow turns pink in the setting sun, and looks delicious.  It is only over time that she notices the color is a temporary phenomenon, and passes with the light.

If the kiss of greeting I just got from my husband were the first he'd ever given me, I might assume he had terminally cold lips, because he'd just finished eating a bowl of cold cereal.  Over time, however, the cold of the milk will dissipate, and I know our next kiss will be warmer.

At my age, there aren't all that many things I'm doing for the first time any more, so I've had plenty of experience observing that perceptual shift, and make fewer assumptions about what I think I'm seeing.  The flip side of all that experience, though, is that I've grown used to observing patterns, and then generalizing.  That ability to generalize may protect me from assumptions, but it also has a way of removing me from the present moment -- which means I may not even SEE that the morning has a silver sheen, or the mountains look like strawberry sherbet; I may not even notice the cold tang of my husband's lips.  And wouldn't that be a loss?

That, I think, is one of the gifts of both poetry and photography: each has a way of capturing the moment, the now, that fleeting sensation; of making us stop and notice what might otherwise slide by unobserved.

So I invite you: stop a minute, right where you are, reading this in front of your computer.  Breathe. Notice.  If you had a camera in your hand, right here, right now, what in your immediate environment would make a fun or intriguing photograph?  If you were to write a poem, right here, right now, what metaphor would bring the things you're seeing to life for someone else?  What in the room would look completely different at a different time of day, under different lighting?

And how did it feel to look around you -- even for just a moment, with those eyes?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Love those empty boats...

Earlier this month I recounted a passage from Pema Chodron's  Comfortable with Uncertainty. It drew a parallel between a fisherman shaking his fist at an empty boat which crashes into his and the futility of railing against events and circumstances for which blame cannot justifiably be assigned.

That passage has been staying with me in succeeding weeks, helping me to release a number of petty irritations, for which I've been truly grateful.

I'm also grateful to the woman in my spirituality class who pointed out that all of the large photographs (on loan from me) which adorn the office in which we meet are pictures of ... you guessed it, empty boats.

Of course, all those boats are tied up, and reflecting quietly in calm waters.  Which probably tells you something about why I take those pictures -- and why they continue to appeal to so many people: perhaps they are about hope, and peace; about the longing we have for the empty boats that crash into our lives to be save, manageable, and under control; for the waters in which we pass our days to be calm and smooth.

But of course it doesn't always work that way.  And for all my calm and equilibrium these past few weeks, I was appalled to discover how quickly my violent temper surged when our dog decided around midnight last night to begin growling and scratching at our bedroom door.  Our children had a late arriving guest, and the dog (who is a very protective sheepdog) was determined to go out and barkingly, fiercely defend his territory.

It turned into a huge battle of wills -- he is very much an alpha dog, and determined to have his way -- and though I was eventually able to keep him contained I ended up losing a lot of sleep and struggling with some not very admirable impulses about how I might permanently end the battle for control. 

It's disturbing to see how quickly we can set aside all our hi-falutin notions of grace and calm when something precious of ours is threatened (in this case, sleep, which has been in short supply lately).  And I confess I didn't like myself very much while I was snarling at the dog.

But that's the deal, isn't it: to learn to love even that which irritates or embarrasses us; to find the largeness of heart to accept even the grumpy ugly parts of ourselves.

Some days it's a bit of a battle.  I just keep reminding myself that even the dog is a bit of an empty boat: he's pre-programmed to behave this way, and there's not a lot (if anything) I can do to change that: we've certainly spent a lot of time working on that over the years!  And the truth is, I love him anyway.  Most of the time.  Surely I can grant myself the same consideration...

Friday, November 19, 2010

All is a miracle

"I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth.  

In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality.  People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.  

Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes.  All is a miracle." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The magic of the sacred

"Entrances to holiness are everywhere. The possibility of ascent is all the time, even at unlikely times and through unlikely places. There is no place on earth without the Presence."

Bamidar Rabba 12:4
quoted in 365 Nirvana

"As we train, we may come to the point where we see the magic of the present moment; we may gradually wake up to the truth that we have always been warriors living in a sacred world.  This is the ongoing experience of limitless joy."

Pema Chodron, at the close of Comfortable With Uncertainty.

I'm feeling an undercurrent of joy today.  Don't know if it's my Practice of Saying Yes, or just that a shift is coming -- or has happened -- but both these readings resonated with me this morning.  So when this picture leaped out at me, I found I liked the incongruity of the fort and the flag with the deer and the beach.  Perhaps what it's telling me is that Presence is present even when we are still protecting ourselves and fighting battles, declaring turf wars and fortifying our defenses.  We only need to step outside our self-constructed prisons to see the magic of the sacred...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Freudian slip?

Here I am with the largest of my metal pieces in the new Patterns show at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery.

This was actually the second time this photo was taken. The first photo session, done by a friend who works at the gallery, was absolutely wonderful -- one of those rare photos that, when you look at it, makes you think, "Hey, I'm not bad looking for a 60-something!"

But when I got home and cropped it, I was a little too excited about it, and without thinking I saved the cropped version with the same name on the memory card instead of renaming it and saving it elsewhere on my computer.

For some reason my new computer HATES it when I do that, and goes off into the ozone AND trashes the file, making it unreadable.  So I had to do a restart, lost the photo, and had to go back to the gallery and re-shoot the picture.  The energy was just different the second time around, so while this one is okay, some part of me is pouting and saying "But you shoulda seen the one that got away!"  And, of course, that internal judge, my superego, is trying to do its little incantation about the freudian slip of losing a good image of myself, and what a fool I am to have made such an idiotic mistake.  I am choosing not to see it that way; perhaps for some reason it was important to go back with my husband and let him take the shot...

As you can see from these additional photos, the exhibit is a lovely one, and I am in great company -- lots of gorgeous quilts and paintings and glass pieces (arrows indicate my pieces). If you happen to be in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

That open feeling

This morning, in my reading in Byron Brown's book, Soul Without Shame, I was being encouraged to practice body awareness; to walk through all the various parts of my body and see what they were feeling.

Which was fun, actually, because yesterday was quite a full day: I had a friend and former classmate over for lunch, another friend stopped by in the afternoon, and we had a little dinner party last night -- our first such evening in rather a long time, as we don't seem to entertain much any more -- and what I'm sensing this morning is a lovely open feeling. 

Though I'm sure you could say it stems from having opened our home to guests, I think it also stems from the nature of the guests and of the conversation.  People were being very real and open, both in the afternoon's conversation and around the table last night, and a lot of love and acceptance seemed to be flowing there -- even though two of the couples were meeting for the first time, and their men were definitely strong and opinionated.

It reminds me a bit of what I am learning in school, much of which seems to revolve around the importance of creating -- and holding -- a space in which people can safely and honestly express their own pieces of the picture, understanding that each perception is partial, and valid, and has value (I do think those last two are slightly different and both important).

It also helps me realize the importance of the work I'm doing in my study group around Soul Without Shame.  Because it used to be that after a day like yesterday, full of expansion and warm feelings, my superego -- having internalized the voices of my mother and ex-husband -- would kick in and judge me, playing should games (you should not have said that, you should have warmed the dinner more, you should have offered the soup... that sort of thing), trying to bring me back down to size. 

And today I am just smiling at those thoughts, observing and releasing them.  Because some part of me now understands that what is, is.  It doesn't have to be anything other than what it is.

... and it's all good.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I wasn't here

I spent most of yesterday putting the final touches on the Blurb version of the Gospel of Thomas.  I had already completed and printed a first draft, so this one was to implement modifications; mostly minor things having to do with quotation marks, page color, changing en-dashes to em-dashes... 

But I also refined a couple of the reflections and changed the background from black (which was kinda cool) to white (which is cheaper) and changed the main typeface (because my daughter said it was tacky and overdone).  All of which means that in the end the project ate the entire day; the only blog post I wrote was to my neighborhood blog, to announce that someone was baiting rat traps and we shouldn't let our dogs run free for a while...

I miss the blog when I don't write; it has a way of framing my day.  But this project has been so exciting, I just really wanted to bring it to conclusion and get it out the door.  Now -- before you get all excited, too, I have to tell you the book is ridiculously expensive to produce -- which is one reason it's taken me so long to put it together.  Some part of me was saying, "What's the point? No-one will be able to afford it."  But it still feels great to have it done, and it felt truly wonderful to hold that slightly flawed first draft in my hands. 

So that's why I wasn't here yesterday, and why, even though I'm here today, I'm still a bit back in yesterday.  Because even though "I did it for the Lord," I suspect it's my ego that's clapping its hands and dancing around the room -- cuz this is SO COOL!  Amazing, that it took over 5 years to get to this place.  Imagine what it must have taken Lynn to do the translations...

And -- just so you know -- this copy probably won't be perfect either; it usually takes me three tries to get all the bugs out.  So I wouldn't go reaching for the checkbook just yet...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bloom in the moment

The wildflower saints provoke me to remember the steadiness of return, year after year. They tell me that one does not need to be cultivated to be beautiful."
-- Gunilla Norris, quoted in 365 Nirvana

Some days -- I don't know about you -- but that's a sentiment I really need to hear: a gentle reminder that I only need to be who I am; that I don't need to get (as my mother used to say) "all gussied up," or perform in a particularly impressive way, or consciously seed people's awareness of me ...

I see this as an invitation to trust that the work we're doing, the person we're being is enough.  The gift lies in understanding that the missed opportunities and the plans that fall through, the unexpected machinations of people we thought were friends and our own unrealized hopes will all bear fruit in their own time and in their own ways; our job is just to release all of that and simply bloom in the moment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Anticipating winter

"There are so many leaves. Piles of them. I take pleasure in their abundance. More saints than you could ever dream of. Each one singular. Each one itself. Yellow, red, orange, parchment. They sail down in the autumn air like fearless sky divers. 

They are so trusting -- letting go, completely. Not questioning as I do... Will it be safe? Will I understand? Will it hurt? ... stalling, qualifying, questioning, instead of releasing and taking to the air ..."

-- Gunilla Norris, quoted in 365 Nirvana

As the last colors of autumn begin to fade to brown and the November grays begin rolling in, I feel some part of myself rolling over, curling up, settling with some relief into the enforced stillness of winter.

As a photographer, I used to call this the fallow time, because the gray skies extinguish so much of the light that I'd pretty much stop photographing altogether -- and then by spring I'd be terribly restless and eager to get out with my camera.

But after last winter's adventures with the goddesses, I find I'm feeling more relaxed; even a sense of anticipation about what the winter might bring.  I'm beginning to understand that, for me, the photographs serve as a metaphor, and that the exploration of the metaphor continues long after its creation.

And even if the creativity wanes for a bit, there's a lot of catchup work and tidying to be done in preparation for next year; a chance to sort through the images and seek what is longing to be expressed.

So it's all good...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When you spread your wings a bit, the light shines through...

Yesterday I had an evening meeting for class, so took the ferry into the city at around 3 so I could meet my daughter for dinner.  This lovely cormorant was sunning herself on the pilings as we pulled into the Seattle dock; don't you just love the way the afternoon sun ignites her wings? (or his, as the case may be...)

We had a lovely time at a pho restaurant near her apartment; I ordered a platter of do-it-yourself rice paper roll makings -- fresh cilantro, basil, delicious chicken, vermicelli, sliced carrots, nuts and a wonderful peanut plum dipping sauce.  I loved the way the crisp circles of rice paper softened in the water, then became sheer and stretched to wrap around all the tasty ingredients...

The meeting, too, was delightful; a pleasant opportunity to imagine ways of introducing people to the idea of a more fluid environment, where leadership emerges and fades according to events and circumstances.  And we held the meeting in the same way: loose, relaxed, inviting, not controlling; open, like these magnificent wings.  Plus we managed to finish in the allotted time and accomplish exactly what we had hoped to accomplish.  Amazing how efficient things can be when cooperation rather than hierarchy is the rule...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Patterns of thought: retrieving discarded data

Because I knew the Patterns exhibition was coming, I've been attuned to patterns for months now -- and I'm finding it a difficult habit to break.

Which shouldn't be all that surprising: don't we all find ourselves falling into patterns, habits of thought, habits of seeing, that are difficult to disrupt?

Some of them, in fact, are so deeply ingrained that we're often not even aware that the structure is there -- and yet we allow our thoughts to get sorted into those existing structures, and we toss overboard whatever doesn't quite fit -- which is kind of what I've done with this picture.

When this image caught my eye this morning, I decided to just follow my artistic instincts and pull everything that wasn't germane to the chairs out of the photograph, stretching as necessary to make everything fit.

And in a way, when I took the photo, this is what I saw.  Just the chairs, the shapes, the lines, the contrast between light and dark; the whole colored by the warmth of the day.

But here's what my camera actually saw -- and you can see that my mind just carefully erased the windows, the reflections, the dirty floor, the legs that hold up the chairs... and even added a sense of color that wasn't actually present.

That's what our perceptions do for us: it's almost as if our minds just aren't big enough to take in everything -- like my friend Martha yesterday, who told the story of standing in her kitchen, making a latte while practicing awareness; feeling so good that she could sense her body, and the sun on her back, and the smell of the coffee -- and then she realized she had forgotten to steam the milk!

So our minds make a decision about what data to discard without ever actually consulting us, and we are left with what we THINK is an accurate picture of reality, but it's actually just a subset -- which goes a long way to explaining how we get into arguments and wars: it's all because we each take in only part of the picture; like the blind men with the elephant.

It doesn't mean that the pattern you think you're seeing isn't there: it's just that it's not the whole picture.

So next time you find yourself leaping to judgment because you think you see a distasteful pattern of behavior, stop a minute: could it be possible you're not seeing the whole picture?

We were introduced to a dialog in class a couple of months ago to help us deal with difficult situations like these.  It works something like this:  if someone does or says something that you object to or that makes you uncomfortable, approach them and say this:

1.  "When you do/did/said X (whatever X is), it makes me uncomfortable/angry/whatever."

2.  "That's because Y (where Y is whatever history or patterns you have tie that particular action to a negative feeling)."

3.  "Could you tell me: What was your intention when you said/did that?"

This dialog allows each of you to clarify the hidden patterns that drove your interaction.  You get to know a little more about the other person, they get to know more about you, and each of you discovers a bit more about the parts of the picture that got tossed -- which means each of you has a piece of the big picture, and together you'll be able to see a lot more of what's going on.

Yes, it's challenging to try this; so much easier to let the brain leap to it's pre-patterned assumptions.  But think what a different world this could be if we could all be this open with each other!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The face of exuberance

This giddily over-decorated pumpkin caught my eye just as we were leaving the garden store last week, and then again this morning. 

Something about her mouth -- all those teeth! -- reminds me of my mother, I think.  But also -- she's just so different from all the other pumpkins.  It's as if she thought she'd been invited to a celebrity gala and it turned out to be a hayride. 

I feel like that sometimes, too; sort of embarrassingly different.  In college my nickname was Tigger, cuz I had this irritating way of bouncing happily into situations that everyone else thought should be treated with all seriousness.  It also used to happen frequently at family gatherings -- only usually then I was the plain pumpkin in a field of painted ones, instead of the other way 'round.  They'd all be in mink and satin, and I'd be wearing a wool coat and a knit dress.  Although there was one time when they were all dressed in black or red gabardine, and I had worn green satin...

What's interesting is how strong the drive is to fit in, even after all these years.  I get that it's an issue in junior high and high school, but once we're out in the world, aren't we supposed to begin working to differentiate ourselves?  Or is this some weird compensation device at work: knowing myself to be different, I try to balance that by fitting in visually?

And as I write, and keep glancing at her, I think the pumpkin is just encouraging me to love all the parts of myself that are rolling around inside -- even the outrageous ones.  "Hey," she's saying, "Let's play!  Let's get into it, live a little, take a risk!  Don't be afraid to be different -- CELEBRATE your differences! Come on!  Have a little fun!" 

Hmm.  I think it's just too early in the morning to want to respond to that invitation.  But I'll keep it in mind: maybe at some point later in the day there'll come an opportunity to say Yes to something silly.  I'll try not to shut down in the face of her exuberance...

Monday, November 8, 2010

The joys of imperfection

My husband, though he occasionally breaks his own rules, has always resisted giving me flowers; something to do with cutting them off in the prime of life... or so he says.

So of course I would love to have a garden, a really big and colorful one, mostly wildflowers, I think -- just to get those wonderful textures, colors and scents into my life.

Instead we have a yard populated almost exclusively by dune grass -- though we do have a bush of beach roses -- and every time I've made the effort to plant things a high tide would come along and inundate them with salt water.

I'm not complaining, mind you -- I'm mostly just explaining why I kept coming back to this picture, taken on our tour last week.  It's not a great image, not beautifully composed, not even perfectly focused.  But I LOVE the color; it feeds my soul.

So on the off chance that color feeds your soul, too, I'll risk publishing an imperfect image.  Because it's a wonderful reminder that NONE of us have to be perfect.  Sometimes what appeals to us is not perfection but energy -- the kind of warm, positive, chaotic, joyful energy this picture captures.  It may not be tidy, but it really is just full of joy. 

And really -- on a cloudy day, what more could you wish for?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Starting here, starting now

When things seem to be changing rapidly -- especially when those changes are out of our control -- there arises within us a deep craving for "how things were," for some former (and largely imaginary) time when things were simpler, easier than they are now.

Which is why a visit to the countryside, with its rolling hills and rural landscapes, can be so soothing and refreshing.  Aside from the visual pleasures afforded by a landscape free of tall buildings, neon lights and other artifacts of urban life, there is a reassuring sense that life as we once knew it, or as our parents or grandparents once knew it, still goes on.

I think this picture -- bucolic though it may be -- is a gentle reminder that the past, like the future, is just an illusion.  This is not a real windmill; it's powered by electricity, and set up specifically to foster that illusion.  The fence serves little purpose other than beauty, the carefully manicured tree is maintained by a Mexican immigrant with a rattling old truck and a small timid dog, and right next door is a souvenir shop.

But understanding that that is the reality of now; that in the moment I took that picture I was warm and dry, surrounded by friends, admiring the view and enjoying the day -- well that, in the words of all those mastercard commercials -- is priceless.

Welcome to now!  What's going on for you here, right in this moment? What gift does the present have to offer you right now?  Stay with it, stay here, and let the present deepen your understanding of your connection to the universe.

You Reading This, Be Ready
by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day.  This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life --

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Too much voltage

It's 4 am, and I find myself tossing and turning in bed, haunted and humbled by the images and events of one of those high voltage days.

I call it that because the intensity of events sometimes gets to me -- though perhaps it's just my superego kicking in with criticism when I've had too much wonderfulness.

The day began inauspiciously: I'd taken an early ferry in so as not to be late for an 8 am meeting, but that meant I was an hour early with nowhere to go (school was closed). 

So I sat in the parking lot and reviewed my notes, shivering a bit in the cold car and uncomfortably aware of a homeless person sleeping on the ground by the fence on the other side of the lot.

Class was good -- educational, thought-provoking, entertaining -- and I struck up another new friendship before leaving early to catch the 5:30 boat home.

I'd arranged for my younger daughter to meet me at the ferry because I knew I'd get there too late to put the car on the 5:30 but I wanted to be back on the island in time to attend the opening of the new exhibit at my gallery, as they would be showing my new metal pieces, about which I was very excited.

My daughter met me at the car with not only a walk-on ticket, but also a gift certificate to a favorite store and a chocolate starfish -- both amazingly thoughtful gifts.  She stayed with the car (and, sure enough, it missed the 5:30 by 2 cars) while I walked on the ferry.  It was an awesome gift for her to do that, to wait with the car and drive it onto the 6:20 so I could attend the opening, and between that and the other gifts I was feeling just ridiculously blessed.

Walking up from the ferry I got a text from my friend M who had broken a previous engagement to come to the opening -- another delightful blessing -- and I arrived to find two of my images in places of honor, one just outside the entry to the main room of the gallery, and the other on what I think of as "the primo wall," the wall that gets the most attention. 

It was thrilling to see that, and doubly so to hear all the positive comments; people loved them, and loved my new direction.  To top that off, I'd arranged to have dinner with G, another artist friend, and to celebrate the evening my daughter and M and another delightful couple I'd just met decided to join us. 

So we all went over to the little restaurant next door  -- which I'd never visited before -- and it turned out to be surprisingly pricey; something I hadn't anticipated.  Spirits were high (though my daughter and I weren't drinking as we'd both be driving home), service was a bit slow, and by the time dinner arrived my husband, who'd been at a meeting, was able to join us.  G had ordered a duck confit, and when it arrived, a tiny circle of very elegant food on a large white plate, she began complaining rather loudly about the conspicuous consumption it represented --too much money, not enough food, and no vegetables to speak of -- and how dreadful the island can be, that it supports this sort of thing when people all over the world are starving.

Which of course reminded me of that bundle of rags I'd encountered in the morning, the homeless person sleeping in the parking lot while I shivered in my car.

We all managed to play through: the restaurant gave her a lovely plate of squash treats, my new friend's husband kissed G's hand, applauded her outspokenness, and paid the bill for all of us.  We all thanked him profusely and headed home. 

But, as I said, the voltage was too high for me, and so I woke at 3:30, humbled by my own conspicuous consumptions, by the gift of my daughter's generosity, and by the images of all the people flowing through the gallery, the bright lights and the wine, the elegant restaurant -- all vaguely reminiscent of images from books and movies over the years of the aristocracy partying while the hungry and homeless stagger through the streets desperate for food and shelter.

I am trying to stay with it, to hold it in my heart, to breathe in the shame, the hunger, the shock of the cold pavement through a threadbare blanket, and breathe out the sheer joy of loving family and friends and the beauty of all the images in the show (oh, the quilts in the show are just GORGEOUS).  And now I see that the only way through the intensity of that contrast is to hold my breath a bit at each end of the breathing pattern. 

Breathe in the pain, wait. feel. acknowledge. ache.

Breathe out the joy, then wait; hold. feel.  acknowledge. ache.  Allow the learnings to flow in, love the good parts and the hard ones, the friends within and the lost ones curled aching and chilled in the corners of my soul.

But I don't think sleep will return anytime soon. Not for me, anyway.  And probably not for that man in the parking lot.  He's just too cold.  And now, of course, it's raining.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reflections on an empty boat

As you may have noticed, I've been railing a bit against circumstances lately.  So I just want to share a passage from Pema Chodron's  Comfortable with Uncertainty that really helped me get to a more comfortable place this morning:

"There’s a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk.  He sees another boat coming down the river toward him.  At first it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. 

Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster.  He begins to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out!  For Pete’s sake, turn aside!”  But the boat just comes right at him, faster and faster.  By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him.  He sees that it’s an empty boat.

This is the classic story of our whole life situation.  There are a lot of empty boats out there.  We’re always screaming and shaking our fists at them.

Reading this, I came to realize that most of what was snarking at me was simply that: empty boats. Events were just playing out in natural sequences.  There was no point in shaking my fist; the only difficulties were the ones I was creating for myself with the stories I was building around them.

In staying with that, understanding it was my story, something released in me; something came to peace.  It's not really that the situation has changed appreciably; it's more that I'm coming to accept responsibility for my part in it.

It's a bit like a divorce: it's so easy to want to throw stones and blame your partner for all the messes that drove you away.  But in a lot of ways the things that came along to rip the marriage apart were empty boats; old patterns and needs playing themselves out and wreaking destruction on both your lives.

And now I'm wondering: if we are not fully present, aware, conscious, mindful, in the moment -- might we not also be empty boats, wreaking havoc in other people's lives?


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Share the joy

I don't know about you, but for me the words "Field Trip!" have been a sort of siren call ever since I was young enough to go on one.

So despite the driving wind and rain, I joined a few other intrepid souls on Monday for an excursion to one of my favorite parts of Washington State: the Skagit Valley.

I did this particular trip (an annual event) a few years back, but this time -- despite the rain (which did eventually stop) -- was even more wonderful.  I came back with a lovely new painting (now hanging by the front door), a new friend, and a camera full of photos -- including this one.  Doesn't it look like I've just been back to Italy?

Joy, I think, is where you find it.  And where you find it is pretty much wherever you choose to look; it's more an attitude than an event. 

And this morning, in my reading from Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainty, I was reminded that one of my most important jobs is to share what joy I find.  "The joy that you feel, the sense of being able to open up and let go, also becomes a way you connect with others.  On the out-breath you say, 'Let me give away anything good or true that I ever feel, any sense of humor, any sense of enjoying the sun coming up and going down, any sense of delight in the world at all, so that everybody else may share in this and feel it.' "

I've been so tangled up lately in concerns about what I am or am not called to do and be in the world, whether I should be in school, whether I'm on the right path, whether or not I still have or still could or should use leadership skills.  It's lovely to just step away from all that worry about the future; to step back into now, enjoy the moment, and share.

Yes the economy has gone to hell in a handbasket.  Yes, all of my household is still unemployed and our savings are dwindling.  Yes, I should be considering returning to work.  Yes, I should maximize my skills and experience.  But yes: now is good, too, and while I'm here and feeling it, I can share the joy.

Whew!  Let's just try and take it one day at a time, and let the rest fall into place in its own time. 

Trust, my friends.

Just trust.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Staring at the gap

I know, I know, it's a trash can.  But it does have a certain amount of stark appeal.

I shot this yesterday on the ferry coming home, (I just liked the reflections) and I think it jumped out at me this morning for several reasons.

1.  My ex used to say "Throw me in the trash"  and blink his big brown eyes at me as a sort of endearing, defusing apology when he had screwed up.

2.  As a child, in second grade, when I would retreat from all the playground activity, there was a comfortable and solid trash receptacle beside the playground that I would sit on.  And I remember the kids taunting me (to the tune of the theme song of Cheyenne, a cowboy TV show popular at the time) "Diane, Diane, sittin on the garbage can."

Sad, isn't it, that we can still hear those tunes in our heads 50-something years later?

and 3.  I've always regarded the telephone as an instrument of torture -- perhaps because I'm a visual person and need visual feedback, and at least partly, I'm sure, because I'm deaf in one ear.  So all of a sudden I'm thrust into a milieu where all the decisions need to be made in phone meetings.  And I'm really really struggling.  I don't know who to throw in the trash first: me or my #$%&* phone.

It will resolve, I'm sure.   But in the meantime a lot of childhood shame issues seem to be surfacing. The gap between who I try to be and who I appear to be seems huge, and it's pretty uncomfortable.

Which I'm told is good.  Uncomfortable is good.  Stay with it.  Learn from it.  Feel the pain and let it help you grow.  As Leonard Cohen says, "There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in." 
Rumi makes it even clearer:
Don't turn your head.
Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That's where the light enters you.

But still, mostly I've just been feeling frustrated with myself and exposed. And anxious.

So it was really a blessing to receive an email offering from my friend Cheryl (ccwriter14@verizon.net), who wrote this wonderful poem.  It helps, and offers a little more insight into that crack, that bandaged place, that wound, that gap::

In the Gap
by Cheryl Cease

Every moment
these days
is a poem
a whisper of words
~ or perhaps a Shout.
No matter.
their Source is
the same.
I pause
to just be,
an opening
and fills
my soul space,

Monday, November 1, 2010

The longing to be found

"Don't aspire to be a general
or a minister of state.

One is a boredom for you,
the other a disgrace.

You have been a picture 
on a bathhouse wall
long enough. 
No one recognizes you here."

-- Rumi  
A Year with Rumi (Oct. 29)