Friday, November 30, 2012

Opening to the mystery

Yesterday was Madeleine L'Engle's birthday, so in honor of that I'd like to share one of her poems, offered to me by a mutual friend.  

After Annunciation: 

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.

What a wonderful invitation: if we don't allow for a little mystery, if we fill our heads up with logic and reason, then that which is waiting to be born, that which needs to be born, won't have room to grow to fruition.

Definite food for thought...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

That bright spirit

This magnificent statue stands outside the Museum of Science and History in Fort Worth. I love the sense of pride and courage she conveys; love, too, the peacefulness of that sleeping baby on her back.  I've placed her against an urban background because I'd like to think such virtues haven't expired just because the times have changed, and because I know we need those virtues still if we are to continue to thrive in this challenging economy and this divided country.

I'm particularly thinking of this today because I've recently been in contact with a musician friend in whose band I used to sing. Despite the decline of performance opportunities and the rise of health problems -- cancer, diabetes, amputated toes, a stroke --  he took the time to call and tell me he'd found an old videotape of one of our performances, and made a point of telling me he treasured those times together, felt privileged to have worked with me, and missed my presence in the band.

I was deeply touched, moved to tears in fact; I haven't really sung since I left that island, some 15 years ago, and I miss singing, miss the exhilaration of those performances, the giddy fun we shared with our audiences, and the total acceptance he managed to shower on the four or five of us who shared the stage with him.  He was a consummate, gifted musician who welcomed us amateurs into his space and created a climate where we could shine: my husband always says that's when I really came into my own, when I began singing with John.  I admired him then, and admire him still for his willingness to share his incredible gifts with us and with the world without a trace of ego beyond what was necessary to keep him employed.

In my reading from Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow this morning she's talking about how spiritual experiences change behavior, and her questions sounds like the questions this statue awakens in me: "Have you become more generous, which is the ultimate healing? Or more patient, which is a close second? Did your world become bigger and juicier and more tender? Have you become ever so slightly kinder to yourself?"

And so, as the holiday season approaches, I ask myself -- and you -- what could you and I do today to bring more of that spirit , that fragrance of generosity into the world? How well do we model this kind of willingness to take what comes and keep that bright spirit alive despite the challenges we face? How -- and what -- will we give back today, and what bright hope of peace are we determined to carry into the future?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Turning toward the light

In our family there's always been a clear division: my husband and older daughter prefer Microsoft/PC-based products, and my younger daughter and I prefer Apple-based products.  So I wasn't prepared -- having engineered an Apple IPad as a Christmas present for myself last year -- to see it completely co-opted by my husband.

But I finally realized that gave me permission to co-opt the Kindle he'd gotten for Christmas a couple of years back, and yesterday I ordered my first Kindle book -- mostly because I couldn't find it in ANY of the bookstores I've looked in for the past 2 weeks, and even Amazon can't promise it in less than two weeks.  And I was growing impatient.  Because it's Anne Lamott's latest, promisingly entitled Help, Thanks, Wow.

So I began reading this morning (warning: it's highly quotable), and I couldn't (knowing I had this picture) resist illustrating this quote for you today:

"Prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light.  It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold...Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation.  But like sunflowers we turn toward light.  Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself.  And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Harnessing the mind

Our minds are so amazing: so much talent, so much strength, so much power -- and all at our constant beck and call, obedient to our every wish. But -- for my generation at least -- we don't seem to have been given the tools to rein in all that strength and power, and so our minds, ungoverned, have a way of running away with us.

We have only to wish, and the mind is off and running, thinking of how best to make that wish come true, or what life might be like if it did come true, or how sad our lives are because that wish hasn't yet been granted. And because the mind is so big and powerful, it runs away with us, and there we are, galloping through this forest of uncontrolled thoughts, hanging on for dear life for fear of falling off.

Imagine how much simpler and more pleasant life could be if we could figure out how to rein in those thoughts, keep them to a gentle canter -- or better still, how to dismount, disengage; to allow the mind to run free while sitting on a fence and watching, or while maybe going somewhere else altogether... What if the mind, instead of running wild and out of control, were obedient, at our beck and call, waiting patiently in the stall for us to arrive and saddle up for our next adventure?

But the only way to get to that point is to understand that we are NOT our minds, but separate, and in control -- and then to build a relationship with the mind: to establish who's boss, to offer food for thought, to groom it occasionally... I know. It's an odd analogy. But it seems to me that much of the wisdom through the ages is an attempt to help us understand that we are not our minds, but a separate consciousness. And that meditation is a way of helping to train our minds, to establish control, to build a relationship within ourselves; to harness and contain that phenomenal power and put it to better use...

Monday, November 26, 2012

No place like home

In my last dream before waking, I caught sight of my mother -- deceased these last 15 years -- and was astonished by the wave of delight I felt; by the joy of holding her in my arms again after so many years.

Sitting in meditation after my coffee, I found my mind kept sifting through the images from Fort Worth, wondering which to write about and what to say; whether or not to address the oddness of that ancient sense of connection. The results were inconclusive -- if only because I kept endeavoring to return to that blessed emptiness at the center of being -- but then I rose to return my empty coffee cup to the sink, and this is what I saw.

So of course I grabbed my camera and stepped out onto the front porch, but in the end this was the best view, shot standing beside the kitchen sink. And as I stood there looking out, I could hear my inner Dorothy clicking her sparkly red shoes together and chanting, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home." Whatever home was not, in those difficult years growing up, home certainly is now: a haven, the place of peace and quiet acceptance for which I always longed.

-- which makes me think of Anne Lamott's recent post on Facebook, which I loved:

"This will be my body the whole time I am here! This one! Yikes, how awful. No, wait wait, this exact one, that is STILL HERE, against all odds. Thank you thank you thank you God. We have lost so many precious friends who would have done anything do have some more time in this joint, with our Mother outdoors, with those they love most. Anything! So that is how I am going to spend today, pretty much-sort of more-or-less believing that this is it. This body, this biography, this exact family, this everything. And it is wonderfully made, of love and energy, for love and energy, for giving, forgiving, for--as William Blake said--learning to endure the beams of love. And joy will always be the best make up."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Humbling-- in a good way!

This image, I think, was by far the most astonishing example of the capabilities of my new camera.  It was shot mid-afternoon last Wednesday in Fort Worth, and I have to say there was a sort of deep-rooted thrill in my chest when I realized I could see the moon this clearly.

I suspect that thrill is not unlike what the astronauts must feel in orbit, looking back at the earth; I know it's somehow akin to the way I felt years ago, standing on the deck of the Bremerton ferry, on my way to a Cursillo weekend, when we paused to let the USS Admiral Nimitz pass by.

Our ferries are not exactly small; they carry 188 cars and 2000 passengers.  But the Admiral Nimitz -- over a thousand feet long, and capable of carrying 90 fixed-wing planes -- completely dwarfed us; the sailors ranged around her edges and waving at us looked smaller than ants from our perspective.

You would think that such an experience would make us feel small and unimportant -- and, in a way, it does.  But I think the leap my heart gives is not about being humbled, but more about the joy of being in the presence of magnificence. I actually appreciate knowing that the world is considerably larger and more complex than my own sphere of influence -- for some reason, I find that incredibly reassuring...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

You, too, can be Ansel Adams

I've been down to one camera for some time now -- a little Canon point and shoot -- and enough advancements have been made in the field to make me wish I had something a bit more sophisticated. So I picked out a new camera for myself for Christmas, and then gracefully agreed that perhaps it would be good to purchase it before leaving for our annual Thanksgiving trip, so that the family calendar pictures could benefit.

This is not a particularly elaborate camera; it's only a step or two above what I've been currently using. And this is a small, lo-res picture, made that way for internet publication. But, ohmigosh, look at the detail! This is a bank of live oak trees in Fort Worth, and all those tiny little leaves are surprisingly distinct. Makes you wonder what miracles Ansel Adams might have wrought with a simple little digital camera... (and, no, I'm not claiming this even begins to approach the art of the master...)

Anyway -- I did want to say I'm back, have been exploring some new worlds through the lens, and am looking forward to sharing them with you. And don't worry; they won't all be black and white -- I just converted to that to emphasize the contrast in this one.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving --

Friday, November 23, 2012

Time and a reason to drop the sword

"I have come into this world to see this:

the sword drop from men's hands
even at the height 
of their arc of rage

because we have finally realized,
we have finally realized,
there is just one flesh we can wound,
and it is our own."

  --  Hafiz

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Hymn of Thanksgiving

"For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies,

Lord of all,
to thee we raise
this our hymn of thankful praise."

Words: Folliot Pierpoint, 1864.
Music: Conrad Kocher, 1838

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


This wine I drink today
was never held in a clay jar.

I love this world,
even as I hear the great wind 
of leaving it rising,

for there is a grainy taste I prefer
to every idea of heaven:
human friendship.

  -- Rumi

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inhabitants on other planets

I am wondering
if someone slipped something
in my tea about an hour ago?

I feel like I am
on some mind-altering drug,
and everything is telling me jokes.

You know it is not beyond God
to take pity on many down here.
He might just surprise you someday
and grind a few million tons of opium
into a fine dust
and then sprinkle it over your house
so you stop complaining.

You might have to shovel your way out,
as if a big snow came along,
smoking it -- breathing it in
all the time as it were.

Maybe God does that routinely
for inhabitants on other planets
who don't take politics and gender
so seriously...

  --  Hafiz

Monday, November 19, 2012


    by David Whyte

if you move carefully
through the forest,

like the ones
in the old stories,

who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Evolution of an image

I thought you might like to see some of the stages in the evolution of this image. 

The first photo on the right is a painting.  I liked the colors and textures, but the balance felt way off.

So I did a little replication, creating what might be a nice frame for a face, but the middle was pretty boring. 

To alleviate that boredom, I decided to try copying and replicating the image as smaller blocks of color, doing a little twisting and warping as I went.

But then the color range just seemed too narrow, so I slid the yellows left (on the hue/saturation slider) to become more red, and slid the greens to the right to become more blue. 

The resulting image was cool, so I decided to stop there and post it here today.  But this morning I got up and realized I liked the middle SO much more than the edges.  So I stretched the upper half in all directions and ended up with the image you see at the top left, which I decided to call Celestial Offering.  

Sad to say, by now it's become dreadfully stretched and pixilated; there's no way I could ever print or sell it -- I'd need to start all over, and photograph the original painting at some incredibly high resolution -- and there's no guarantee I could duplicate the process that brought me here. 

But I love it anyway, love the sense of hope and acceptance it conveys.  Looking at it, I hear the echoes of that Anne Lamott quote I posted earlier this week, as if it's "plugged into the vast supply of gorgeous, hilarious, heartbreakingly profound and sweet divine supply."  Which is good; I kind of needed that today...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

For Cynthia, grieving

You know --
or think you do --
the life, the face
as familiar as your own
watching you,
it's suddenly struck down,
leaving the rivers
which you once rowed to joy
now lethal with memory.
And then you come to know
that other world,
the following darkness:
the way the larks of grief
fly up into your face
each time you walk

the once familiar fields;
the way the grass,
once soft enough to roll in
now has edges sharp enough to scar
the feet that can hardly bear
to take another step;
each fallen leaf, once golden, now a grave;
the hands that, reaching out
to help, become instead a reminding slap:
Gone (Can I help you?)
Gone (Do you need me?)
Gone (You're always in my prayers...)

I'm going to a memorial service today -- a friend's husband, hit by a car -- and so this grief is on my mind.  Which means when another friend's father posted this song on Facebook this morning, it brought tears to my eyes, and so I share it here...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Not all that convincing...

Isn't this fun?  It's a photoshop meld of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge -- and of course I love the colors...

I've been thinking a lot about the events of the last few weeks: adversity, whatever form it takes, always has a lot to teach us.  We miss an incredible opportunity to learn if we get so caught up in the drama that we can't bear to look more closely.

But.  We also need to take a break from the drama.  So I did that today: I wandered over to our town library and spent an hour or so shelf-reading: making sure the books are in order, pulling the ones that need mending, lining them all up. 

In a lot of ways it's a pretty simple task, not unlike folding sweaters in a retail store.  It's not that challenging, but if it's not done things can get pretty messy -- and surprisingly unappealing.

... and I loved the work.  I found myself wondering why I ever left the world of libraries (just so you know, it was the money. After the divorce I just couldn't support myself on $3 an hour...) So then I thought, what is it I love?  Well, there's the books.  And the people, who all seem very nice.  It's the opportunity to contribute, to give back some of the skillset I've acquired over the years, even if only in a very small way.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I liked it because it felt safe.  One thing I'm learning as I pass through this particular transition phase is that the tensions described in the poem at right are very real.  There's a deep longing to be seen, to be recognized, to be appreciated -- I'm told that's a characteristic of the enneagram 4, the artist.  But there's also a more deeply rooted fear of disapproval, of saying or doing something that will bring down some sort of unexpected punishment.  And the tension between those two conflicting drives has resulted in a sort of paralysis.

But in the library I don't need to be visible -- I can just be helpful.  And the chances of doing something heinously wrong are greatly reduced when I am not expected to, say, convince lots of customers that my product is absolutely essential and they must buy it (is anything really that essential?) or convince wealthy patrons that they should really be giving lots of their spare cash to my worthy institution (when there are so many worth causes vying for that money), or convince constituents that their representative leaders have their best interests at heart (when they clearly don't) or convince my employers that they cannot continue to indulge in unethical behaviors (like THAT's ever going to fly!).

And look at that.  I just noticed how many times the word "convince" appeared in that last paragraph.  In the libary I don't need to convince anyone of anything.  I don't have to sell; I only need to serve.  Which is sort of the appeal of being "just an artist" as well.  I don't have to convince anyone that this bridge exists, or that it's even possible.  I don't even have to convince you that this image is beautiful.  Or that you want to hire me to photograph something of yours.  When I am just being an artist, I am just ... playing.  Creating.  Exploring the possibilities, imagining, wondering -- and reveling in the results; allowing the beautiful colors to feed my eyes and my soul.  And if you don't like it, that's okay: I haven't let you down, haven't promised anything I couldn't deliver.  All I promised was that I would continue to explore, and that you are welcome to join me on the journey.

A much safer place to be.

And now I get to explore how it is that safety became so important...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dreaming of a more enlightened future

My daughter has been working to refinish a boat in one of Seattle's marinas, learning firsthand about some of the drawbacks of manual labor. (I know at least part of the reason she came home last night was to get a really good backrub!)

I went to visit her the other day, and as we walked down the dock this baby seal swam by and pulled up to rest on the rocks at the water's edge.  It's late in the season to see a seal this young, but then we had a late-blooming summer this year, and a spectacularly warm and beautiful fall, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

I'd like to think these little aberrations are not about climate change and global warming -- living at sea level as we do, that poses a rather significant threat.  But after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- and now, of Superstorm Sandy -- I don't believe we can continue to ignore the problem.

Which for some reason makes me think of The Help, which I finally got around to watching last night.  It was difficult to sit through it at some level -- just as I find it difficult to watch Mad Men: the discrimination -- against African-Americans in the one, and against women in the other -- hits a little too close to home.  I was born in Virginia, and though we moved to Cincinnati when I was 7, we still went back every year to visit my grandmother -- and I still remember feeling shocked about the way my mother and her mother talked about "the coloreds" when I was old enough to understand what I was observing.

It's astonishing, when I think about it, to realize how much attitudes toward minorities and women have shifted over my lifetime.  And so I cannot help but think that there could be similar shifts over my children's lifetime, that assumptions we take for granted now could seem equally horrific to them when they reach my age.  I'd like to think those assumptions would have something to do with pollution and its effect on the environment, with spirituality, with a more compassionate awareness of the connectedness of all beings.  But people have been hoping those things for a long time; could now really be a tipping point in that direction?

I don't know.  But I can dream...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Love in a blue funk

Yesterday morning began in a blue funk -- something that really doesn't happen to me all that often.  I did my best to deal, but there was no denying that circumstances were combining to awaken a lot of my demons.  So I found it triply amazing that three very dear friends, people I hear from rarely but always speak with at length, all called yesterday, full of concern and support.

Plus I got a sweet note from my special friend in the Philippines, and another from a kind gentleman, unknown to me, who thanked me for the previous day's post.  Even my Tuesday morning class seemed tailored to my need for support and encouragement.

How is it that when we need it most the love we need is always there for us?  I am so grateful for the generosity shown me over the course of the day.  And so I want to share (though I may have published it here before) the Rumi poem our wonderful teacher, Bev Gaines, read just prior to our meditation session.  It helped a lot:

The Guest House 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. 
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in. 
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
.. and, just in case you're wondering, this is a photo of the little guest house where Cynthia Bourgeault used to stay, back in the day when she led week-long centering prayer retreats at the Rivendell Retreat Centre up on Bowen Island in British Columbia. I've never been inside, but to me it will always be a very special place.

A crack in the happiness shield

A couple of days ago we were watching reruns of Better Off Ted, and when one of the characters complained to his boss, the boss responded by making slicing motions in the air, and noises, as if wielding a light saber. "Cheiou, Cheiou, Cheiou, Cheiou!" she said. "That's the sound of me deflecting your whiny bitching with my happiness shield."

I mention this because  I created this image yesterday evening and I don't even like it. I find it hopelessly saccharine, and can only assume that it's the unfortunate result of some part of me which is essentially throwing up a happiness shield -- because another part of me is DEFINITELY whining. And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

It's all tangled up with that question I thought I'd answered -- and thought I would have answered -- years ago: what are you going to be when you grow up? Some piece of me definitely thinks I should have done more with my life, and while most of the time I can appreciate what I have managed to achieve, occasionally there are cracks in the happiness shield and disappointment creeps in.

When that happens, I'm never sure which voice I should be listening to -- after all, the "you're never good enough" voice (which of course has its origins in my childhood) has driven a lot of accomplishment over the years. But wouldn't you think the time would come when that voice could finally back off and say, "enough, already; good work -- now relax and enjoy what's left." There is this irritating sense that I haven't honored the gifts I was given, have squandered my time, have been lazy (that's the mom voice) and a maven, drifting from fun task to fun task without committing to anything (that's the dad voice.)

By now you're probably throwing up a happiness shield of your own to deflect all this whining; I certainly wouldn't blame you. But just so you know -- and maybe it's good to know -- the life of faith isn't all moonbeams and rainbows. There are times when it's a pretty heavy slog.

So I particularly appreciated these words that Anne Lamott posted on her Facebook page last week:

All that ever works is Love and generosity and savoring the eternal present, but you'd never know it from watching me go through the motions these days. I pray all the time, but without a deep sense of union or connection. It's like taking a survey by phone. I do it, but I mostly just want to be done. Still, you know what? I think it's okay. Some patches of time are going to be rich in communion with God, Goodness, Good Orderly Direction, even the Gift of Desperation. Other times? Not so much. As always, though, it is the right time to be exquisitely, crazily friendly to myself...

So what to do? Where do we even start?

I'm going to keep doing my sort-of-faking-it prayers; my phoning it in prayers. We take the action, and the insight will follow. The insight will be how crazy and isolated I feel when my electrical cord is not plugged into the vast supply of gorgeous, hilarious, heartbreakingly profound and sweet divine supply. This lackluster phase will pass. Then, the joyously plugged in phase will, too. Sigh.

Yup. Sigh.  That about says it.  But then I think of that lovely passage from Romans 8:26: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."

Well, that's the hope, anyway...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Coping with the wait

It seems the theme for our life right now is waiting: waiting to hear, waiting to see, waiting to know... and it is no longer the short wait we thought it would be: it's a long wait, and the length of it somehow attracts complications, each of which comes with its own added wait -- or weight, as the case may be.

I think we're doing a pretty good job of living with the uncertainty of it all: we're older now, less impatient, more inclined to believe that things have a way of falling into place if you let them.  But it's still an uncomfortable place to sit, and we seem to spend a lot of time distracting ourselves and amusing ourselves as a way of softening both the hope and the potential of disappointment.  All of which explains why I found these words from David Whyte's poem, Winter Apple, so moving:

Wait longer
than you would,
go against yourself,
find the pale nobility

of quiet that ripening
the sweet inward stillness
of the wait itself.
I am trying hard to think of this as a ripening time; working to take on that mantle, the pale nobility of quiet; doing my best to taste that sweet inward stillness.  
But some days it's a struggle.  Hard not to be haunted by the longing for what's next...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Second Sight

                Second Sight
              by David Whyte

Sometimes, you need the ocean light,
  and colors you've never seen before
     painted through an evening sky.

Sometimes you need your God
  to be a simple invitation,
     not a telling word of wisdom.

Sometimes you need only the first shyness
   that comes from being shown things
       far beyond your understanding,

so that you can fly and become free
    by being still and by being still here.

And then there are times you need to be
   brought to ground by touch
       and touch alone.

To know those arms around you
   and to make your home in the world
     just by being wanted.

To see those eyes looking back at you,
    as eyes should see you at last,

seeing you, as you always wanted to be seen,
   seeing you, as you yourself
        had always wanted to see the world.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

When the seasons change...

I spent last weekend at a workshop -- held here on the island, amazingly enough -- with the poet, David Whyte. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I've been a fan of his approach to business consulting since I first encountered his book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, back in the late 90's. 

So -- given that the workshop was called, enticingly, Poetry in the Woods -- I decided to go.  I didn't know much about his poetry, but since he was both a poet and an expert in Organizational Behavior, I figured I couldn't lose.

He never even addressed the organizational behavior side of things (that's okay; I got enough of that in school!); instead it was more like spending a weekend bathing in metaphors: there was music, there were stories, reminiscences of his friendship with the late John O'Donohue, and there were lots of poems, all read aloud to us -- pure heaven.  Plus we were each given a lovely journal in which to jot down anything that struck us as we listened, so I have lots of little bits of wisdom floating around that seem to be just waiting for companion images to help plant them a little deeper.

So the one bit of wisdom from that weekend that I thought I'd share with you this morning is this: Sometimes, after having donned a heavy coat for one of those emotional winters in our lives, we just ... forget to take it off.  Yes, I know, we're heading into winter now -- at least, for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  But is that really where you are, emotionally?  Maybe it's time to shed a layer or two; to let the warm breezes of love back in...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Attention to Detail

I share coffee once a week with a friend of mine, a kindred soul who once confessed to me that he, too, had been a photographer of some success in his younger days.  What stopped him was the realization that almost everything he shot was echoed in someone else's work; that it was a very hard field in which to set yourself apart as an original.

... which troubles me, as well, from time to time, and certainly drives me to expand my photographic horizons -- and often to refrain from shooting the familiar and the obvious, however much it draws me.

So, though I love them, and wish my salt and sand-encrusted yard could grow them, I don't tend to shoot flowers, though as you can see here I occasionally make exceptions to that rule.  This one was taken in our island's beautiful Bloedel Reserve, found in a patch of blue hiding on an out-of-the way path that was shared with me by a fellow artist.

And every time I look at this image I marvel at the delicacy of it -- the fine hairs on the stems, the ruffled edges of the petals, the shyness of the flower as it faces down, the hope of the pod that, having dropped its heavy petals, angles up toward the sun... I love the attention to detail we find in nature.

And this morning it reminds me of another poem introduced to us by David Whyte in the workshop I attended last weekend:

A Modest Love
by Sir Edward Dyer

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
   The fly her spleen, the little sparks their heat;
The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
   And bees have stings, although they be not great;
Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
And love is love, in beggars as in kings. 
Where rivers smoothest run, deep are the fords;
   The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
The firmest faith is in the fewest words;
   The turtles cannot sing, and yet they love:
True hearts have eyes and ears, no tongues to speak;
They hear and see, and sigh, and then they break.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Living with the questions

When I tell people I'm a photographer, the next question is usually quite predictable: "What sort of stuff do you shoot?" they ask. And, sadly, I've never been very good at answering that question.
The most accurate answer is probably "whatever calls to me," but that sounds pretty woo-woo; most people immediately assume from that that I'm not a professional, as we all know most professionals tend to specialize.

But the truth is, I really can't predict.  Take this image, for example: it started with a curtain blowing in the breeze -- I didn't even have my camera with me at the time, so took it with my cellphone. For some reason the waft of the curtain made me think of angel's wings, and, well, one thing led to another and this is the result.  Is she a Madonna or an angel?  Is she a response to the coming season, or just a happy accident?

I can't really answer those questions.  And perhaps I don't need to? As I age, I am beginning to understand that it's okay to live with the questions; to allow the answers to remain a mystery.  This was what called to me; this was what emerged.  Perhaps, instead of questioning the process, it is enough to accept and enjoy the journey and end result.

But the miracle of it does bring to mind a poem read to us this past weekend by David Whyte; it's by the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—blessed illusion!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—blessed illusion!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old sorrows.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—blessed illusion!—
that a fiery sun was shining
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—blessed illusion!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Embracing other

For some reason my cat decided to participate in my meditation this morning. And as I sat at the dining room table with him curled in my lap, one paw tucked trustingly into my hand, his nose buried in my elbow and the vibration of his purr warming my belly, it occurred to me that this election -- and its aftermath -- has been, and will be, about embracing other.

I'm hoping, now the election is over, that we will find a way to reach across the aisles; that those in power will learn to listen rather than to shout, and to put the needs of many above the vested interests of the few.

I liked the words of JFK, which someone posted on Facebook this morning: "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past, but let us accept our own responsibility for the future." I'm hoping that future will allow us to step away from the polarization that has characterized this country in recent years and to begin to work again for unity, and for the values so beautifully expressed in the Declaration of Independence all those years ago...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Something missing

Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft,
my voice so tender,

my need of God so absolutely clear...

-- Hafiz

Monday, November 5, 2012

Strengthening immunity through kindness

Allan Luks, author of The Healing Power of Doing Good, conducted studies on over 3,000 people that indicated that performing -- or even watching -- acts of kindness can reduce feelings of depression, lessen the sense of hostility and isolation, increase optimism, awaken a sense of joyfulness, and help people develop more resilience.

Harvard studies have even shown that watching and doing acts of kindness strengthen our immune systems and increase our T-cells.

So what does that say about the probable future of a culture that watches relentless scenes of violence and feeds on the drama and nastiness of cheesy reality shows?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The well of recognition

After one long weekend,
steeped in poetry,
I went into the forest,
following an unfamilar path,
and there I found it:
there I found the well,
the well of recognition,
not indifference.

I stepped into the forest
and there came upon the well,
the well of re-cognition,
the well of knowing once again
the girl who was myself before,
before the changes came
that made me who I am today.

The well of re-cognition,
of unlearning and re-learning
who I was and what I know,
what I am, and what I have -- and will -- become;
unlearning past
and seeing through new eyes
the future that always was
and still will be.

Come with me: walk deep into the forest.
Climb onto the well's rock wall,
strip off your clothes
and lift your arms.
Now take that one deep breath,
then lift, and dive.

And as you fall,
breathe the dark green wonder of it all:
keep breathing, breathe, and breathe again,
the way you never could
in that blue chlorinated pool
of your childhood.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The sweetness that comes after grief

True human beings know
the moment you accept 
what troubles you've been given,
the door will open.
Welcome difficulty, as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off.
That undressing,
and the naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.

--  Rumi

 This, by the way, is the other Breezy Point painting, finished Friday morning... 

Friday, November 2, 2012

When empathy emerges

My husband had to go into Seattle yesterday to help our daughter with her car, so I had the dining room table to myself -- which means I had another chance to paint.

The urge to paint is really strong, but I don't seem to have a personal style yet (though I clearly have a personal color palette) so I mostly just play and see what emerges.  This was the first of two paintings, and when it was done I was... well, done.  But not all that sure what it was or why it looked the way it did.

The second painting went through lots of stages, and in the end it was kind of a smeary mess that looked vaguely like a body of water, but at least I understood it wasn't finished yet.

What's interesting is that all night long I dreamed of what would come next in the unfinished painting, and this morning, when I awoke, I realized that both of the paintings are responses to the burning of Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy.  Both seem to predominantly feature water, but each has a patch of fire with the stark black lines of burned out buildings.

I did not set out to paint these things, nor did I realize how profoundly I had been affected by the images -- and the concept -- of those burning homes surrounded by water.  It's a little bit like the experience of writing fiction, when the characters take on a life of their own and you just sort of watch them evolve -- except in this case it's a brush, and color, that seemed to take over the canvas. It's a very curious experience, and leads me to think that empathy lives at a very deep subconscious level within us... 

And now I'm wondering, what if I auctioned off the two paintings and gave all the proceeds to the relief fund for Breezy Point (if there is such a thing)?  Or maybe just the Red Cross?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Going to the balcony

We all know that sticky feeling we get when we are over-engaged with the drama of a situation, when we are quick to feel resentment, blame, and righteous indignation.  But as long as we're stuck in that space it's very unlikely the situation will resolve itself, or that we will be able to move on, to return to the clarity and energy we need to fulfill our gifts and callings.

We can only really successfully begin to resolve a problem by pulling away from our emotional engagement with it, from what Pema Chodron calls "Shenpa."  William Ury, from Harvard's Program on Negotiation, calls this distancing "going to the balcony," and suggests that instead of getting stuck in the drama of the moment we imagine ourselves overlooking it from a balcony high above the fray.

Going to the balcony allows us to acquire a larger perspective, to be more objective; to see how a given situation might look to the other participants.  That objectivity in turn enables us to understand another's point of view; to feel the empathy, compassion and forgiveness that are necessary to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.