Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Still waters can be challenging, too

On Sunday my husband dragged me off to a book signing at our local bookstore.  He's a bit of an armchair sailor (though we have owned a small sailboat or two in our time, we are thankfully boat-free at this point in our lives) so he was looking forward to learning about the sailing adventures of another couple on the island.

I am a reluctant sailor at best, and was not all that engaged, but there was one photograph, somewhat similar to this one, that struck me as incredibly beautiful: the sleek reflections of a colorful evening sky on a relatively calm sea.

It took a minute for me to realize that for a sailor, out on the ocean, with no land in sight, a tiny motor and a bare minimum of fuel, that glorious calm could be a harbinger of doom. 

And as I feel the terror looking at the photos of the huge waves breaking over the coast of New Jersey or silhouetted against the skyline of Chicago, I realize that in some of these pictures there are surfers, either riding the waves or standing patiently with surfboards, planning how to catch the next wave.

It's another gentle reminder of how dependent our reactions are upon perspective; that two people looking at the same scene or situation might have completely different responses to what they see.  Which might even mean that we could adapt our own responses by consciously shifting our perspectives -- though I am reluctant to suggest that, for fear of belittling the challenges another might face.

But I do remember thinking my parents' move from Cincinnati to Chicago, the summer after my freshman year in high school, was a catastrophic event -- and then it turned into an amazing opportunity.  Change -- when we're stepping into it, whether we instigated it or were pushed -- has a way of being pretty scary.  And the kinds of catastrophic loss some East Coast residents are facing -- not to mention the implications of that loss for the whole country's economy -- have got to be incredibly disturbing to contemplate.

So -- and again, I don't want to in any way minimize the enormity of the task that lies ahead -- I thought I'd share this passage from my reading this morning in Goldie Hawn's book, 10 Mindful Minutes:

"The events that make us sad are often those that also lead to change, and change is what shapes the universe.  People fear change, especially children who crave stability and routine, but change can be good.  Change shakes us from complacency and makes us sit yp and take notice.  It helps us focus on what is good and important in our lives.  Change stops us from stagnating and, in opening us up to other possibilities, leads to transformation."

It all depends on your perspective, whether the choppy waters ahead are promising or terrifying; whether the prevailing winds blow ill or good.  But one thing is certain: there's some substantial change in the works; it only remains to be seen what sort of transformation that might bring.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Weather worries

Living on the water as we do, we're very familiar with the high water challenges posed when two storm fronts collide, and when a storm front coincides with a full moon. (This photo shows a neighbor wading down the road, 3 houses away from us, during a particularly high tide a few years back -- I think that was the same year our propane tank floated loose...)

But what I find utterly mind-boggling is the thought of being stranded in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city in a power outage.  The locks are electronic -- if you leave your room, how do you get back in?  The hotel has many floors: if you need to go out for food, and there's no elevator, how do aging knees survive all those stairs? And what hope is there of finding food even if you do go out? 

Presumably there is no heat, but you can bundle to stay warm for a day or two -- but what if it takes longer to restore power?  And is there water?  Is it safe to drink from the faucets?  Cell towers need power, too -- so if the power's out, doesn't that mean cellphones fail to function?  How do you call for help in an emergency, or reassure your family that you're okay?

My heart goes out to all who continue to struggle with the effects of the storm...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Heading into the storm

I'm sure I'm not alone in worrying this morning, as all our friends and family on the East Coast prepare for what one friend referred to as "Frankenstorm." So I thought -- how best to convey my concern? -- and came up with this image, taken during 90 mph winds on Shaw Island a few years back.

Because that's the thing: for all the warnings about not going out in a storm -- you still have to walk the dog. It's a bit like being a mother -- especially a single mom: when you get sick, you still have to take care of the kids. Life has a way of going on even when every inch of you wants to crawl in a corner, hide from the storm and/or nurse your wounds.

Which makes me think of that poem again -- Rudyard Kipling's IF: "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs..."

And so, as the sun glows softly in the trees here on my little island, I promise to sit and breathe, to do Tonglen; to imagine the anxiety and the fear and the wind, and send as much gentle peace and calm in that direction as I can manage; trusting that despite the storms ahead, "this, too, shall pass..."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Appear an easy mark

The less friction you make
as you move through this world,
the more power you will gather and store.

Fire will take an interest in you
and think you are an heir to light.
Lightning will start to ride in your purse.
When could you then feel cold?
What divine food could you not prepare,
or supply for any?

It is better like this sometimes:
Most everyone starts thinking 
you are an easy mark,
while in truth you are just biding your time,
waiting for the optimum moment to strike 
a lethal blow and make a real difference.

 But for that you need forbearance.
What lasting good has ever been rushed?
When you finally speak up or act with passion,
you will help tear down some walls of tyranny.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Staying on track

There are times when life goes by in a blur; when we're on autopilot and rushing from place to place, commitment to commitment and barely aware of our surroundings. Some of that busy-ness is inevitable, of course, but some of it may also be self-protection: we keep ourselves busy to avoid the pain of sitting alone and possibly having to deal with uncomfortable thoughts or situations.

But the pace of things can prove dizzying at times, and that dizziness can leave us disoriented: we may suddenly find ourselves spinning off the track and down some unexpectedly steep incline.

Life has a way of slowing us down when we get too out of control -- disease and disaster can bring things to a standstill in an instant. A sudden glimpse of some less attractive aspect of our personalities can also stop us in our tracks: we see a behavior we thought we'd extinguished years ago rearing its ugly head -- often just as we had been congratulating ourselves for some perceived goodness -- and stop to wonder what on earth got triggered there.

But we can also choose to slow things down a bit: a conscious decision to sit, to pay attention, to take note of the blessings in our lives, can help reduce that spinning sensation and help ensure that we stay on whatever path we've currently chosen for ourselves. So yesterday, in a day full of commitments, a friend and I found a window of opportunity and went consciously off-track to visit a little park I'd discovered earlier. Though it was raining and we were not exactly dressed for the weather, we wandered down to the dock, admired the still water and the golden trees, and were rewarded with the presence of several deer who watched us quietly, lying in the grass and chewing lunch as we got into our car and drove away.

It was a moment of blessed silence in an otherwise crazy day, and for that -- and for family, and friendship, and deep, thoughtful conversation -- I am truly grateful.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A lot to digest

There is a place
between knowing you are priceless
and at the same time recognizing
you are what is stepped over in a street
after a horse just left what they do 
in those pretty brown clumps
of useful organic matter.

Somewhere between those poles,
live if you can.
For anywhere else 
really won't suit you
or serve a special work
that comes to those
who have achieved real equilibrium,
a synchronistic balance with all,
all you have ever known.

This may sound like a lot to digest:
suns are waiting to emanate from your pores.
You will have to factor that in someday;I will help you.
There is a place between knowing you are priceless and...

-- Hafiz

from Daniel Ladinsky's A Year With Hafiz

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Savoring the good stuff

Okay.  I confess.  I'm not always good at this, but I have been called a Pollyanna more than a few times in my life. It doesn't mean I don't feel the bad stuff -- my husband will happily tell you that I carry a fair amount of baggage and it ignites pretty easily.

But it doesn't take long for my internal optimist to start putting out those fires with a "Yes, but..."  As in, "Yes, this thing that happened really sucks, but look at all the blessings in my life!"

The unfortunate aspect of this is that I can find it difficult to air my problems, because -- however stressful they are for me -- they start to look pretty small when I compare them to the things others struggle with.  But the good news is that it keeps me fairly resilient.

So I was encouraged to read in Goldie Hawn's book, 10 Mindful Minutes, that this ability to bounce back from troubles can actually be taught.  In a study of mindfulness-based stress reduction, Shauna Shapiro discovered that people taught to practice mindful optimism three times a day were able to significantly reduce anxiety and depression while improving self-esteem and sleep quality.

This is great news -- that optimism can be learned.  In his research on depression, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania proved that teaching 10-year-olds the skills of optimistic thinking "cut in half their chances of becoming depressed while going through puberty."

So how do we become more optimistic? It helps to understand that "When something bad happens, pessimists tell themselves the three P's:

• They introduce the personal by saying, "It's all my fault."
• They bring on the permanent by thinking, "It's always like this."
• They add the pervasive with thoughts like, "Everything is terrible."

Optimists tell themselves the opposite: They start with the impersonal, thinking, "Things I have no control over are to blame."  They consider the impermanent -- "I'm going through a hard time, but I know it will get better.  Sometimes things are hard." And finally, they settle on the specific -- "This particular thing is hard for me, but the rest of my life is still good."

The challenge, of course, can be understanding that the rest of life is good.  But I think the way we come to that is to savor the good stuff, to be attentive to the joys of life: to appreciate music, the sounds of children laughing and birds singing; to savor the scents of cooking, and Christmas, of candles and fresh air; to take time when eating to enjoy the many flavors on your tongue; to drink in the phenomenal beauty of the world around us and the faces we pass on the street; to bask in the sunshine or revel in the crisp air of autumn, the feel of a beloved fuzzy sweater, the touch of a loved one...

It's all good.  Only sometimes it's not.  But that's okay, too.  Just remember: this, too, shall pass...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Simple pleasures

Late October just doesn't tend to be as beautiful in the Pacific Northwest as it can be in other parts of the country.  Even if it's not raining, the clouds have pretty much rolled in for the duration, and as the days grow short and the light starts to go you can feel your internal energy begin to shift as well.

So it can be hard, both at the beginning and the end of the season, to keep my spirits up -- especially since I don't go out with my camera much this time of year.  But there are compensations, one of which is that the higher tides mean the wildlife are floating closer to my windows -- which is how I managed to get a shot of this loon from my living room yesterday morning.

I watched her for quite a while -- she was actually enjoying the rain, splashing about and grooming herself, and was quite entertaining; a real bright spot in the day.  Which leads me to this quote from John Kehoe's book, The Practice of Happiness:

"We need to remind ourselves that many pleasurable moments exist each day in our life. Understanding this, we make a decision to start noticing them.  We take a few seconds here, a moment there, to stop and appreciate the small joys and beauty in our lives.  And far from it being a chore, we find ourselves refreshed by this simple practice."

So.  When you look around you, what small joys are helping to refresh you today?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The hurt you embrace
becomes joy.

Call it to your arms
where it can change.

A silkworm eating leaves
makes a cocoon.

Each of us weaves a chamber
of leaves and sticks.

Silkworms begin to truly exist
as they disappear inside that room.

Without legs, we fly.
When I stop speaking,

this poem will close,
and open its silent wings...

-- Rumi

Monday, October 22, 2012

Step away from your phone...

It's autumn, and the crisp scent of apples fills the air, drawing a murder of crows to my neighbor's tree.  They roost among the branches, picking off the apples and tossing them to the ground, dropping bits of apple and plum to our deck as they stop off on our roof to chew the sweet fruit.

Their raucous cries fill the air, and the shuffle and clatter of the crows' feet on the metal flashing above keeps startling the dog, who barks, thinking someone's knocking at the door.

It's a feast for the senses -- the sound and sight of the harsh black crows, the smell and taste of the ripening fruit, the chill breeze on our cheeks in the evening -- and I think again how fortunate we are to live where we can enjoy such a feast. 

In my reading this morning in Goldie Hawn's 10 Mindful Minutes, she states that "mindful sensing practices not only strengthen the neural networks for focus but simultaneously activate and strengthen those controlling emotional balance and the highest operations of executive function."  So it's good to step away from the computer, the television, the cellphone, and all the other technological distractions that surround us.  Step away, step outside, and breathe in the gifts nature has to offer us; your brain might just be healthier as a result...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One Sacred Body

All human beings are members
of one sacred body.
Every person is a beam
shining out from a single gem.
When the world causes pain for one member,
how could the other members ever rest in peace?
If you lack grief for another one’s sorrow,
how can you call yourself a human being?

—Sa’adi, translated by Lynn Bauman

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Coping with disappointment

This was the photo that caught my eye this morning as I was browsing through my photos: it's a statue of St. Francis, and stands before the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, where millions of people come to worship and pray and find solace in the presence of his burial site.

Francis, the son of a wealthy merchant, had left home outfitted as a knight and full of dreams of glory. But God spoke to him in a dream, told him he was not to be a knight and sent the young man home. So this is the downcast Francis, returning to his hometown, embarrassed and terrified of the treatment he will receive.

I suspect we all know that feeling of dejection -- the moment when the elation we felt when we thought we had found our purpose in life subsides; when the dreams we had of glory fall apart and we are left with a sense of failure, and wondering what next, what could we possibly have to offer the world. So I found this statue heartening: it's a gentle reminder that we are not the only ones to have ever felt that way. But it's also a reminder that setbacks are not necessarily the end, that a failure in our chosen field doesn't mean that life is over; that if we continue to be attentive, we may find (as that wonderful Anne Murray song says) that "when one door slams, another door opens."

Patience, my friends. Patience.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mindfulness 101

As sunny days become a distant memory and the gray clouds roll in, we start to get the higher tides of winter, which means that from time to time our driveway and the road beyond will be under water.

There are a couple of places in the driveway that have a disconcerting habit of bubbling up when this happens, and looking at this picture this morning, I thought about that and, at the same time, how much these bubbles resemble a brain.

I'm sure the connection is the result of the book I'm currently reading: it's by Goldie Hawn, and it's called 10 Mindful Minutes.  Hawn has set up a foundation whose charge is to bring lessons about the biology and practice of mindfulness into elementary schools, and this is a book to help parents teach their children these same lessons.

I've actually been finding the book extremely helpful, even if I've read much of what it discusses in other places.  Hawn puts a lot of topical information together in one place and presents it all quite succinctly in terms even a child can understand, and I realize I've already been applying it successfully, both for myself and for my own daughter, now in her early 20's.  So I thought I'd share the VERY most helpful bits briefly here -- forgive me if you already know this stuff.

We already know the brain is divided into left and right hemispheres, but there are some other important things to know about.  There's the reptilian brain, that lives at the base of the skull and takes care of autonomic reflexes, like making your heart beat, your lungs breathe, and your throat swallow.  There's also the limbic, or emotional brain, that's responsible for the way you feel -- happy, sad, worried, etc.  And there's a very important part of the limbic brain, called the amygdala, that Hawn describes as a sort of Guard Dog: it barks when something bad or good is happening, sending out flight, fight or freeze signals when it thinks bad stuff is going on, making us feel like we're in danger even if we're not.  The Guard Dog also sends out signals to smile and be happy.

The biggest part of the brain, she goes on to say, is the cortical brain, which is responsible for remembering, thinking, talking, and helping you pay attention.  And the very front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, just behind your forehead, is sort of a Wise Old Owl: it "looks at stuff, thinks about it, remembers what you see and hear... and is in charge of thinking, planning, reasoning, solving problems, making good choices, and being sure you dont let your emotions take over and do mean things because you're sad or angry."

So here's the part that matters most: the Guard Dog, when upset, releases cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that unleash the symptoms of fear and anxiety. Sometimes, in true danger, this is helpful, but at other times it's not; the Guard Dog sometimes over-reacts.   The problem is that these hormones can shut down the pre-frontal cortex so we can't think straight.  But here's the key: if we breathe deeply and count to ten, the brain will relax, the Guard Dog will stop barking, and the Wise Old Owl will help us figure out what you need to do to solve the problem.  And if we keep doing that, stopping to breathe and calm, we can actually build new pathways in the brain and get better at controlling the Guard Dog and behaving reasonably.

I know it sounds unbearably simple.  But I'm already finding that giving myself simple language to understand how this system works -- and knowing that we can change -- is helping me to get better at dealing with everyday stress. No wonder life goes better when I take time to meditate!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Willful suspension of disbelief

I woke early this morning, and, as occasionally happens, I found myself dozing off a bit during meditation this morning.  So by the time I rose from my chair I had decided to go back to bed and catch up on a bit more sleep -- and then I looked out the window. 

I'd never seen a green sunrise before, so of course I had to go and get my camera, which couldn't quite capture the range of color, so then of course I went to photoshop to compensate and bring the colors back to what they actually appeared to be...

So this IS what it looked like, even if it's not quite what my little camera shot.  Does that make it a lie? 

I've been thinking a lot -- both because of the political debates and because our younger daughter is now embarking on the urban dating scene -- about what constitutes a lie.  If we say it so often we come to believe it, is it still a lie? 

My husband showed me a delightful video of FDR yesterday, in which he suggests that if you're going to tell a lie, make it a big one, "for its fantastic nature will make it more credible, if only you tell it over and over again." Our daughter, who visited yesterday, was concerned because the boy she's dating at the moment just seems too good to be true.  Is the story he tells of his life and family a lie? She has no way of knowing, because she doesn't get to see him in context: she hasn't worked in the same company with him; she shares no friends with him; he isn't a friend who suddenly became more than a friend -- he's just someone she met somewhere.  So how CAN she know what is true?

These are times when we just have to trust our judgement.  But that's not always easy, especially if we understand that not all our impressions are accurate, and that our perceptions can easily be off due to various past experiences that pre-condition our expectations.  I've heard that there are green sunrises, so when I see one I can be open to the possibility of it.  But I've also heard politicians bend the truth to get elected, and I've heard young men bend the truth to seduce young women.  So I am open to those possibilities as well --and, sadly, more inclined to be cynical than to trust. The trick is knowing when to trust our instincts and when it's okay to willfully suspend disbelief...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A path to the sea

There's something so enchanting about a path that leads to the sea... What is it we imagine must lie waiting for us at the end? The soft sand between our toes? The quiet moment we might spend, staring across the water and dreaming? The chance of finding a perfect shell or bit of bright blue glass to carry home? The opportunity to reawaken childhood memories of buckets of sand and buried treasure, of castles built and borne away by the tide?

For me it's an irresistible invitation to step away from the daily grind, the pressures to achieve or succeed or even just survive, and feel the pounding of the surf echo through the soles of my feet; a way of restoring my sense of connection to other times and places...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On the kindness of strangers

I don't know what this is, nor do I remember where I was when I took the picture, though I suspect I was on a ferry. But I love the colors and the textures; love the beauty hidden in the utility; love the thought that someone spent time designing these now-rusting pieces of metal to solve a particular problem.

I think we tend to forget that almost everything we see -- roads, cars, buildings, clothes, grocery carts, store windows -- was designed or imagined by at least one someone, and then probably created by several someones, or by machines that were designed by someone.

No-- I'm not heading into either an attack or a defense on/of intelligent design.  I'm actually just thinking about a video I saw on youtube yesterday, a sort of rap construction of President Obama saying "You didn't build that."  I confess I'm not up enough on what the latest election headlines to understand what that was about.  But it got me thinking -- as Blanche tells us in Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire -- about how incredibly dependent we've always been "on the kindness of strangers;" on the determination and ability of people all around us -- those we know and those we don't, those we agree with and those we don't -- to do the work it takes to keep our lives running smoothly; to ensure that we have Thoreau's famous necessities: food, shelter, clothing and fuel.  Our lives are so inextricably intertwined: how is it that so few people understand that? We need each other: surely even self-interest would suggest we should therefore care for one another...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Down time

What we do with our spare time says so much about who we are, what's important to us, what we're hungering for...

So. If you were given 5 or 6 hours with no responsibilities, no expectations, no deadlines hanging over your head, no one looking over your shoulder, what would you do with your time?

Blessed with unexpected free time yesterday, I cleaned out a drawer, tidied up my office, painted this picture, and treated myself to some escape reading. Nothing noble: no meditation, no long walks in the countryside, no important projects -- just down time. It was lovely... and a wonderful reminder of the Sundays of our childhood, when our time was our own and we could spend it as we wished...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

You are light

You are light,
dancing into the wind;
you are the space between 
what is and what could be.
We are the shadows,
clothing you in darkness,
shaping you to our own likeness,
our own longings and desires.

Sing to us of grace, of love
that tears away the veil
and sets us free.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Remembering openness

I took this picture several days ago, and kept thinking about posting it here: it's quite an unusual boat, and the reflections are lovely -- it seems to have all the ingredients of a pleasing photograph.

But something about it doesn't feel right.  Not that it's not good, but it doesn't communicate the sort of thing I look for in a photograph.  And this morning, in the process of meditation, I figured out why.

Now let me back up a bit and say that in yesterday's meditation the name of an old boyfriend came to me, someone I had dated back in high school -- my first real boyfriend, the one I dated just before I met my first husband -- someone I hadn't thought of in years.

So I googled him, and it turns out he has a PhD in neuroscience and lives a very short ferry ride away -- astonishing, actually, since when we met (at Dartmouth Summer School) he lived in Palo Alto and I lived in Chicago.  And as I looked at his picture on the internet, even though he's 45 years older than when I saw him last, I could see the boy he had been, and felt this sort of internal softening -- a bit worrisome, actually, given that I am a happily married woman!

But, thinking about that in today's meditation (yes, I THINK during meditation.  I know I'm supposed to be all off somewhere, but thoughts do have a way of filtering in!) I realized that  I was not so much remembering him as remembering me; the me I was before my disaster of a first marriage, the sadness and the baggage that it left me with; the me that was open, and trusting, and in love for the first time with someone who loved me back; the openness and innocence of that time.

And how would you picture that? I wondered... and then I understood: THIS is why pictures like this one on the right are so much more appealing to me.  Even if the boat is old and dirty; even if it leaks a little, it's OPEN.  There is an invitation here; an invitation to step in, to set out, to embark on an adventure and trust. And at the same time there is a reflection, a self-awareness, a receptivity, a steadiness to it.

In a way these little boats are the me that was, and the me I long to be again, the open and trusting and loving me that meditation helps to resurrect out of the detritus and confusion that experience and disillusionment can bring over the course of a lifetime.

So I particularly appreciated this quote from Frank Zappa that I read this morning in Goldie Hawn's book, 10 Mindful Minutes: "The mind is like a parachute.  It only works when it's open."  And now I understand that, at their best, my images seem to have that same quality...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Soul food

I wish I understood,
or could explain,
why visits to this place
so feed my soul.
The dark, the light,
the subtlety of color,
the slow subsiding
of weapons into earth again;
the harsh allure of angles,
the cracks
where life is so determined
to seep through...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The connection between openness and energy

A dear friend came to visit yesterday, bringing along two teens from Tennessee to broaden their horizons.  A casual decision to take a mid-afternoon break for an old fashioned phosphate in a local diner turned out to be the highlight of their trip: they'd never seen a jukebox before, let alone one with individual table stations like this one. So we casually dropped in a quarter, selected a tune, wandered over to the jukebox to watch it drop a 45 into place, and then sang along (and howled) to the immutable lyrics of "Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood." (Yes, I'm showing my age!)

There's so much more to the world than any of us tend to encounter, caught as we are in our daily routines. So much more to see, to hear, to taste and feel than any of us can capture in a lifetime. So we're already limited by the constrictions of time and space; why, then, would we further close ourselves off by locking up our hearts as well? There are opportunities all the time to step out of our comfort zones, but so often we choose to close ourselves off from experience -- and just so you know, I am a key offender in this area.

Michael Singer, in Untethered Soul, suggests that every time we protect ourselves, shut ourselves off from life, we lose an opportunity to experience what he believes to be an infinite supply of inner energy. "Pay attention," he says, "when you feel love and enthusiasm. Then ask yourself why you can't feel this all the time. Why does it have to go away? The answer is obvious: it only goes away if you choose to close. By closing, you are actually making the choice not to feel openness and love.

You throw love away all the time. You feel love until somebody says something you don't like, and then you give up the love. You feel enthused about your job until someone criticizes something, and then you want to quit. It's your choice. You can either close because you don't like what happened, or you can keep feeling love and enthusiasm by not closing. As long as you are defining what you like and what you don't like you will open and close. You are actually defining your limits, allowing your mind to create triggers that open and close you. Let go of that. Dare to be different. Enjoy all of life. The more you stay open, the more the energy flow can build

Even reading this I can feel all sorts of arguments starting to surface. "But what about...?" and "Yes, but..." And then I picture the Dalai Lama: that amazing smile, and that amazing energy. Hmm. Maybe there's something to this...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where do we find freedom?

I thought I'd see if I could cope with the ambiguity of yesterday's piece by creating another similar piece but adding in some of the borders and patterning implied by the baseball field analogy from Sunday. I might not like some of the design elements quite as much, but I do find the image more appealing, less disconcerting.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a long time with the priest who counseled me through my divorce. We were talking about the concept of freedom in marriage, and he pointed out that there's actually a lot more freedom if you have certain defined boundaries to work within. If there are no boundaries, he said, it's human nature to keep pushing out there, looking for them, seeing how far you can go -- and that becomes a kind of compulsion in itself, which doesn't actually free you.

...something to ponder...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The blessing in ambiguity

I had a great deal of fun creating this image, but when it was done I was frustrated with it; felt it needed something more identifiable, more recognizable to give it definition. I tried overlaying various statues -- Christ, a Buddha, Kwan Yin -- but then it felt more like finger-pointing, a lecture. So in the end I let it stand.

I think I was dealing with a natural human compulsion to quantify, identify, contain, simplify... Flannery O'Connor once remarked that she had an aunt who thought a story had little to offer unless somebody got married or shot at the end of it -- another variation of this all-too-human temptation. But, as Eugene Peterson says, life seldom provides such definitive endings. Life is ambiguous; there are loose ends -- and it takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness. But if we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be absolutely essential to our growth and understanding.

This image doesn't make any pronouncements, offers no clear, identifiable subject. But perhaps what value it has lies in the invitation to you, the viewer, to make your own discoveries...

Monday, October 8, 2012

On and off the field

In baseball, writes Eugene Peterson, "the world is defined by exactly measured lines and precise, geometric patterns... Errors are instantly detected and their consequences immediately experienced.  Rule infractions are instantly detected and their consequences immediately experienced... Outstanding performance is recognized and applauded on the spot. 

"While the game is being played, people of widely divergent temperaments, moral values, religious commitments and cultural backgrounds agree on a goal and the means for pursuing it.  When the game is over, everyone knows who won and who lost.  It is a world from which all uncertainty is banished, in which everything is clear and obvious."

But off the playing field, he continues, "None of the lines are precise.  The boundaries are not clear.  Goals are not agreed upon.  Means are in constant dispute...At the end of the day -- or the week, or the year -- there is no agreement on who has won and who has lost."  And, of course, bad behavior is not always punished, nor is outstanding performance always recognized or applauded.

No wonder people love to lose themselves in sports...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Let the current take you

If a single picture could capture what I loved about living in the San Juan Islands, this might be it: the graceful curve of the madrona trees, the charm of the little cabins, the rocky shore, the tidal inlets, the sense of peace and isolation...

I've been missing this calm, quiet connection with the earth that breathes me into being.  So Rumi's poem for today (in Coleman Barks' A Year With Rumi) struck a chord:

"Nothing can help me but that beauty.
There was a dawn I remember
when my soul heard something from your soul.

I drank water from your spring
and felt the current take me."

Meditation is a bit like stepping into this little cabin: I rest in the peace and the beauty, drink from that source, and let the current take me. 

Hmm.  It must be Sunday...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Living in a larger world

People occasionally ask how I choose which images to post here.  It's a bit hard to answer -- a combination of what-have-I-photographed-recently-that-I-like  and, when I haven't been out with my camera lately, what have I shot in the past that I may have overlooked.  Mostly I just trust that, when looking over the images, something will call to me; I just have to figure out why.

This is what called to me this morning; it's a doorway, shot in Orvieto Italy in 2008, and I can think of at least two reasons why it spoke.  The first is that last night was the monthly First Friday Artwalk on Bainbridge, and the theme of the show at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery was "Main Street." There were lots of pictures of doorways and windows, even some of Italy, and so that probably planted itself in my brain. 

But the other reason, I suspect, is that since my husband was laid off (about 6 months after this picture was taken) we haven't really done any traveling, except for the annual Thanksgiving trek.  We've both been missing that exposure to other worlds and other ways of seeing, and so reading about Jeremiah's efforts to study and speak to other nations this morning made me think about that again, and made me wonder what sorts of pre-conceived notions I've brought to my travels over the years.

"Crossing the boundaries and exploring the horizons," says Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses, "develops our own deepest health.  For we cannot be whole enclosed in our own habits...we cannot grow to maturity confined within our own coterie... The larger the world we live in, the larger our lives develop in response."

I know that my world view shifted significantly with my first visit to Italy.  And I know there's room for more growth, and more opening.  And so I suspect that part of what triggered the choice of this photo is hope: hope that the job currently looming on my husband's horizon might come to fruition; that we might eventually replenish those depleted family coffers and actually someday be able to travel again... We've been living a bit in that dark cavern at the lower section of this image, and I'd like to think the time has come for that bright door at the top to open.  What the heck; a girl can dream!

Friday, October 5, 2012

All things are living

"All things are living, even stones.
It has to be that way;
energy pulsates from their bodies,
since all are part
of the Omnipresent Living Being.

Everything is holding out their hands,
offering something.

How much easier 
the world would be to live in
if we were as kind
and accepted all."

-- Hafiz

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Swimming against the stream

There's lots of change in the wind today; time to keep breathing, hold the tiller steady, and press on in hope.  But as Eugene Peterson says in Run with the Horses, "It is, of course, far easier to languish in despair than to live in hope, for when we live in despair we don't have to do anything or risk anything.  We can live lazily and shiftlessly with an untarnished reputation for practicality, current with the way things appear.  

It is fashionable to espouse the latest cynicism," he continues.  "If we live in hope, we go against the stream." I'm doing my best to go against the stream -- and beginning to understand why the salmon who finally arrive in our streams to spawn look so incredibly battered. But I still believe it's worth the trip...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The safety of between

There's a bin full of unsold prints in my living room, and this one happened to be in front yesterday evening. It caught my eye as I sat at the dining room table, sharing dinner with (and sending calming vibes to) my daughter, who had two dreams come true yesterday: her visa for Australia came through (she's leaving in January to attend her cousin's wedding, and hopes to travel around the country for a few months) and she and her friends were approved to rent a darling bungalow in a community just outside Seattle: they'll hand in their rent checks and sign their lease tomorrow.

She is thrilled and frantic all at the same time, and it's all about leaving home, living on her own, being a grown-up... all stuff she's been moving toward for years, but still: when it finally happens... It's like when you try for months or years to get pregnant, or to get a job, or to buy a house, and then suddenly realize you've succeeded. That's that moment when you realize that you wanted it so much you lost sight of all the scary changes it would entail.

That's the moment when your past -- the wanting -- suddenly becomes your future, and the intensity, the present voltage of that, can be incredibly difficult to channel. When it happens around big purchases, there's even a name for it: buyer's remorse -- that instantaneous regret you feel when that thing you wanted beyond imagining is finally yours.


Been there, done that... I can't tell you how many sleepless nights I've spent in just-purchased houses, wondering what the heck I'd gotten myself into. So I understand it. And, empath that I am, I can't help but feel it. Which means now I'm calming myself as well as my daughter, because of course these are big shifts for us as well.

I'm pretty sure that's why this image caught my eye. It's because the craziness of it -- the bright colors of anticipation, the words that leap into your brain to say you've just done something incredibly foolish, the welling up of dark spirits at the bottom -- perfectly capture the sort of crazy moodiness of the moment.  And there's really nothing you can do but just go with the flow, catch the wave and ride with it.

... all of which is both exciting and exhausting.  Funny, isn't it: we hate that liminal between phase, the waiting, the space between what used to be and what's to come.  But once the end of that's in sight, it's curious to note how strong the longing is to return to the relative safety of between...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A balance of opposites

Sitting at coffee yesterday morning, we found ourselves chatting about the way we humans are attracted to opposites. We were talking mostly about relationships, but I think it applies in lots of other areas -- mostly because, searching for a photograph to share this morning, this was the one that leaped out.

It was taken in Eastern Washington, a world hugely different from ours, despite the fact that we're in the same state.  Their temperature, unlike ours, ranges from extreme heat to extreme cold.  Our colors are the muted tones of the rain forest -- blues and grays and greens -- while theirs offer the stark dry golds and deep blue skies of the desert.

I know from experience that there are places that call to our souls, that feel unmistakeably like home -- even if they're nowhere near where we grew up: I felt that kind of immediate affinity with Shaw Island, and with the house we live in now.  But -- for me, at least -- there is an almost biological imperative to experience "other:" to explore thoughts and feelings and places vitally different from the familiar paths of mind and home.

Which is why, though I love my home, I get those occasional urges to travel: I've been itching to go back to Santa Fe for years now.  Which is why, when I find myself particularly entrenched in a community with a rather Democratic political stance, I do my best to stay in conversation and keep relationships alive with my Republican friends.  And I suspect it's why I married my husband, who despite our shared values is my opposite in so many ways -- fascinated by history, politics, computers, science and math when I am drawn to music, literature, art and theater; athletic when I am not; uninterested in anything to do with spirituality or contemplation... The balance, I think, keeps us both sane: we never run the risk of getting set in our thinking!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Then and Now

It's October now, and summer is drawing to a close -- however slowly -- and I am sad to realize I didn't get to make nearly as many trips up to the islands as I'd been planning.

... which seems to be happening each year, despite the best of intentions.  The reasons are always different (this year it was a bum knee and three plays I was involved in) but the end result is the same: not enough time in the islands, and not enough drives through Washington's beautiful Skagit Valley to get there.

I was thinking a bit about that this morning, reading in Eugene Peterson's Run With the Horses about Jeremiah's words to the exiled leaders of Jerusalem, stuck in Babylon and longing for home.  Jeremiah essentially tells them to stop wishing for the past and longing for the future: bloom where you're planted.  I mean, yes, I miss life on a small island, miss the beauties of rural Washington -- and I'd like to revisit that, however briefly, from time to time.  But here is where I am, and this is what life is asking of me at the moment.  It makes sense to embrace what is rather than wasting time wishing I were somewhere else.

It seems to me that this is a message common to the wisdom literature of all faiths and belief systems, Abrahamic or otherwise.  It was perhaps most simply expressed in Ram Dass's famous title, Be Here Now,  but the heart of it is that to get the fullest benefit from life, you really need to be present to it, to live it, to notice what's around you and participate fully rather than dwelling on past regrets and glories or anticipating future challenges and opportunities. 

It seems to me that the political advertising this year is deeply entangled with America's longing for an economically healthier past -- and an economically healthy future.  Lots of promises are being made that seem to be designed to tap into exactly the same sort of hunger the Jewish leaders were experiencing in Babylon: a longing for things to be the way they were... AGAIN. 

My question for the members of both parties who are trying to gain my vote is this: and what are we doing about how things are NOW?