Thursday, January 31, 2013

When it's over


When it's over, it's over,
and we don't know
any of us, what happens then.
So I try not to miss anything.
I think, in my whole life,
I have never missed
The full moon
or the slipper of its coming back...

Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

A dear and gentle friend, a hospice nurse and lovely soul, died today of cancer.  This poem "just happened" to fall open by her bedside yesterday; I thought I'd share it with you now as she occupies my thoughts and prayers...

Sit. Breathe.

When my daughter's really struggling with whatever life has tossed into her path that day, I almost always say "Breathe.  Breathe."  There's a little lilt on the end of each of those words -- a little bit like the lilt most people put on the end of "Sit!" when they're talking to their dogs.

... which usually means the dog doesn't take it seriously. I say a fierce "SIT!," and the dog drops, but my husband usually has to say the word (in his thoughtful, lilted way) several times before the dog responds.  It's a gentle command, said in that way, but not a very effective one; more an invitation than an order.

Like these chairs: they say "Sit. Breathe. Now breathe again" in a very gentle way.  But maybe, like my saying breathe, it's because sitting and breathing -- making the time to be quiet, to get in touch with presence, with wholeness, with connection -- will only ever be effective if it's a choice we make ourselves, not a command we follow.  What's needed is for us to remember that all the calm, all the joy, all the compassion and serenity we need is there waiting for us: we have only to choose, to sit and breathe, and it will come...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Untangling the net of relationship

Mark Nepo tells us that peace builder John Paul Lederach found that one of the Mexican words for conflict translates into "the net is tangled." It's a wonderful metaphor to help us understand that the original, functioning, productive state is all about connections; that conflict unravels connections which must be carefully sorted, untangled, and re-bound so that the net may again serve its purpose. It's not that the tangle is resolved, it's that the connections are restored.

I like, also, that he points out that each fisherman takes one end of the opened net and they "back away from each other until the net is fully open. Then they can see the knots and tangles more easily. Once they've repaired it, they walk the open net into the water together. What this tells us is that even when having the courage and commitment to face conflict, we need enough distance between us so the net of relationship can untangle and open it can feed us."

Distance, commitment, patience, connection, mutual benefit -- a beautiful way to understand the importance of finding ways to work together.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fostering a sense of connection

As I wander through my recent images, I find there are two photos of these horses.  They're almost identical, except in this one the black horse is looking at me, and in the other one he's looking away. 

That distinctive white blaze on his forehead gives this picture a strong focal point -- which is partly why I chose to post it here.  But there's also a connection forged by the fact that the horse is watching me, and I believe that's equally important.

Our egos have a wonderful way of making us feel unique and special, but they also foster a sense of isolation and separation: I don't know many people who don't hunger for a sense of connection.  Which means that part of what I hope to accomplish as a photographer is to invite my viewers into the picture, to give them a taste of that connection -- the unity that lies beneath the surface of our lives.  So -- here's looking at you, kid!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Try a little tenderness

This charming piece was part of a complex windowsill arrangement at a friend's house over Christmas, and it sang to me this morning as I was looking through my images -- I suspect because (like millions of other people) I was watching Downton Abbey last night -- and I have a child on the other side of the world who's been feeling anxious.

There's so much tenderness captured here in these simple figures.  I think a large part of spiritual practice is simply coming to understand that God feels that same tenderness for us, and finding the heart and strength to be a channel for that tenderness; to share it with those around us who may need to feel that bond of warmth and sympathy...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I came to the shore at twilight

I came to the shore at twilight and saw seven candles.
I hurried along the beach toward them
I was amazed.  My amazement was amazed.
Waves of bewilderment broke over my head.
What are those candles that no one seems to see?
 ... the seven became one,
in the middle of the sky's rim,
then fanned out to seven again...
flashes of light spurted from each like juice.

-- Rumi

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Choosing joy

reflection --
the circle,
the square,
the angle and the line...
Everywhere I look
the opportunity to choose
what pleases,
what brings joy.
Each moment
brings another choice:
where will I stand?
In darkness?
Or in light?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The universe is a joker...

Yes, this is my second post today.  And, no, I don't plan to air this one on FaceBook.  But it's such an amusing story I just feel this need to share.

It's just too funny for words.  Or else I am crazy.

Actually, I must be crazy: why else would I be excited to get a job, and then laugh hysterically when it turns out I am ineligible?

So I got a call to interview for this job. I've been hunting since my husband lost his job almost 4 years ago, so I'm excited: first real bite. Tiny organization, good cause, only 15 hours a week; totally manageable.  I like them, they like me, they call to tell me it's mine. Pay is crap, but who cares: I'll be out of the house, doing good, working with great people...

But the firm is a subsidiary of a very large and powerful institution, so I have to go through all this INCREDIBLY COMPLICATED rigamarole to follow through to employment: SIXTEEN different sets of forms, an interview in Seattle, an orientation day, AND a drug/urine test.  That's three, count them, three separate trips to Seattle (you'd think they could at least schedule them all in one day; that's a total of about $75 in ferry tickets).

So anyway I'm game: I start running off and filling out all the forms as soon as the emails start rolling in, and happen to notice (since the forms they send include the projected performance review) that one of the qualifications for the job -- the only one NOT mentioned in the interview -- is that I must be able to lift 50 pounds. Which is not an option for me, thanks to an ancient back injury, though I'm stronger now (thanks to Pilates) than I have been in about 20 years.

So I send my boss-to-be a note asking if this is a problem.   Full disclosure and all that.

I don't hear back.  I'm not worried; I know it'll eventually get resolved.

So at 10:30 this morning I am on a ferry to Seattle, heading to a clinic in Queen Anne to take my drug/urine test.  (another hysterical story but never mind.  I mean, who gives a drug test to a 63-year-old church lady?  I'm actually honored, and mildly amused by the level of precautions taken to ensure I don't cheat on the test...)

Phone rings while I'm there, but I wait to check voicemail til I am back in the ferry line.  Surprise: it's my boss-to-be -- so sorry, he can't hire me after all: turns out the 50 pound thing is a dealbreaker! 

He is very apologetic, I am very nice, struggling to keep the giggle to a minimum, but when I get off the phone I burst out laughing.

Talk about the universe NOT wanting me to get a job! OMG I think (again) that God is just about the funniest person I know.

And here I thought my life was about to finally settle down... What will they think of next?

A jar full of delight

Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.
Be a connoisseur, and taste with caution.

  -- Rumi

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A preference for midwifery

Finally, this past weekend, I had the experience I realize I've been hoping for as a painter. I've been feeling so drawn to the paints, but I'm used to the way photographs feel as if they are created, not by me, but through me, and I wasn't getting that with the paintings. I'm too aware of my own weaknesses to really want to control how a painting looks, but I wasn't able to step aside and let the painting build itself until this one, which just sort of... happened.

I painted for a bit, things were starting to get muddy so I stopped, and then I just spent time with what I had, looking for what wanted to be kept, what thrown away or covered, and why. This is what emerged, and I'm pleased. I don't even need you to be pleased -- which is the other piece of why I don't want to control where a painting goes: if I don't force it, then it's not "mine," in the sense that I created it and hope you'll admire it. It just is, and it either speaks/appeals to you or it doesn't. What matters is that I feel more in balance with the process that created it.

Now that I've had a glimpse of what it might actually feel like to be painting, I can't wait to do more! Luckily I've a workshop coming up this weekend. I'm hoping that painting on unexpectedly large canvases in a roomful of strangers will encourage me to step aside and let more paintings create themselves. It's a bit like birthing, I think: at this stage in my life, I think I'd rather be a midwife than go into labor myself...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Seeing what we are conditioned to see

Those of you who have been on this journey with me for a while know there was a period when I was fascinated with the patterns, textures and colors of our ferry floors.  For the most part that passion has waned, but every once in a while it surfaces again; for me, still, the ferry floor is like a fascinatingly random abstract painting, just as I am still drawn, 15 years later, to the patterns in driftwood that initially occupied my photography. 

Perhaps our eyes become imprinted with a particular way of seeing that's hard to shed?  That might explain why, when my husband looks at me, he still sees the woman he married 28 years ago.  But it might also explain our refusal to see or listen to things that fall outside our assumptions; to be open to change, new information, and compromise.  Yet another facet of being that has its positives and negatives...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Put this design in your carpet

I cannot stop pointing to the beauty.
Every moment and place says,
'Put this design in your carpet.'

I want to be in such a passionate adoration
that my tent gets pitched against the sky.
Let the beloved come
and sit like a guard dog
in front of the tent.

When the ocean surges,
don't let me just hear it: 
Let it splash inside my chest.

  --  Rumi

Monday, January 21, 2013

Awakening to beauty

I remember discovering, in photography class, the difference between taking photographs (which was what I'd been doing up until that time) and making photographs (which was what I learned to do in that class).

Much of that difference was a matter of intention, of becoming intentional about what we chose to photograph and how we composed the image.  In those pre-digital days -- we shot slides, so we could look at and critique them later -- it was all about being selective, not wasting film.

But now I think -- and I wonder if the digital camera has anything to do with this -- photography feels to me like it's more about awakening to, or simply awakening, a photograph.  It's more about being awake to my surroundings, about noticing and responding -- and then, later, in Photoshop, awakening the beauty that caught the eye originally; unwrapping all the beauty that the camera couldn't quite capture.

This weekend was all about fog: we had some sort of inversion going, and it was like living in London -- the fog was this tangible presence, all day long, never lifting.  And up in the mountains, where the temperature never rose above freezing, the fog decorated the edges of everything -- trees, weeds, grasses, leaves, ferns -- with an icy white lace that had a bluish glow to it.

I was aware of it at some level, but driving home I was more trying to figure out the most efficient route, so eventually I pulled off the road to look at a map -- and it wasn't until I'd pulled onto the road again that I realized this beautiful barn and all the lacy trees behind it stood just off to my right.  I ended up having to go several miles down the road and then turn back in order to get the shot I could easily have taken from my perch beside the road if I had just... awakened.  And yes, I lost some time doing that -- but it was worth it!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Let the Beauty we Love

Today, like every other day, 
we wake up empty and frightened.  
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways 
to kneel and kiss the ground.

-- Rumi

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Love moves away

Pale sunlight,
pale the wall.

Love moves away.
The light changes.

I need more grace
than I thought.

-- Rumi

Friday, January 18, 2013

The tracks of our tears

Since the Beloved is involved in everything,
it has to be this way:

The skinned knee is better off for having ached.

And a face that has known a tear's movement,
may not show right away any signs of change,
but a magnificent inner canyon is being formed
from the currents of sacred elements touching --
shaping us.

-- Hafiz

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beyond the shadow of death

Our dog has been slowly going blind, but this morning it seemed clear he had passed over the threshold from "going" into "blind."  I stood by the front door waiting with his leash, but I hadn't turned on the hall light, and he refused to cross the line where the kitchen light ended and the hall shadow began.

In the end, I had to physically drag him to the door because he saw that shadow as a wall -- much as, in this image, there appears to be a dark wall between the camera and the ferry, even though what exists, in fact, is a ramp ready for boarding.

This morning I heard from a friend that her cancer is not responding to treatment and her physician has recommended she move into hospice care.  And I find myself thinking -- even hoping -- that the wall we imagine to exist between life and death may also be only a shadow; that we, blinded by our own perceptions of what life is, may be incapable of seeing that wall as a ramp, a dark passage into light, and may, like my dog, have to be dragged across and through the shadow of resistance to discover that all the relief we seek awaits us on the other side...

Here's a related quote I found in Mark Nepo's Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: "Until I had cancer, until I found myself close to death, I had thought of life and death as two different continents, one leading to the other.  But almost dying thrust me below these distinctions, below the map of names.  And in that tide of pure, unnameable experience, life and death pooled together; indistinguishable, one informing the other."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beyond fear into possibility

If the composition of this one looks vaguely familiar, it's because it's based on the cover of an old Patagonia catalog.  The catalog sits on top of one of the many piles in our upstairs hallway (which is still full of boxes from the garage) and it kept catching my eye, so I thought it would be fun to try painting it.

It turns out I have a lot of fear around painting -- years of being raised by a critical artist mother -- and so I'm trying to make it a practice to respond to anything that beckons as a possible subject, as a way of painting through the fear to the other side.

In this case the fear has to do with painting anything remotely representational (I'm convinced I can't draw) so I did the whole painting with a palette knife so I wouldn't get caught in the details; just stick with general impressions. 

Though I'm pleased with the result (note: this is an unretouched photo except for slight color corrections to restore accuracy), I'm not necessarily certain it's a direction I want to follow.  But I didn't want to NOT follow just because it scared me.  Having spent so much of my life making choices out of fear, I want to use this path to push beyond fear into possibility...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Looking beyond the window

What with one thing and another -- spending time with friends, keeping text company with our older daughter as she packs up all her worldly goods, dealing with a dying battery in a fire alarm (why do those batteries always seem to start beeping after you've crawled into bed?) -- the dishes didn't get done last night, so morning found me standing in a stupor at the kitchen sink, mindlessly scrubbing last night's spaghetti pot.

As the coffee began to kick in and I slowly came in focus, I looked beyond the kitchen window and realized the hooded mergansers were cavorting in the lagoon again, dipping, bobbing, and dancing on the water, creating their swirling patterns in the rosy light of dawn.

So often true -- we get caught up in the responsibility or the drama or the exhaustion of the moment and forget to look beyond the window, to notice the beauty right before our eyes; forget to listen for that song the universe is always humming in our hearts; forget to ask if this is really how we meant to spend our days, in mindless drift from task to task...

Monday, January 14, 2013

When the mountain is out

It's one of the amazing things about living in Seattle: you go for months without seeing Mount Rainier, forget it's even there, and then one day the air clears, the gray dissipates, and suddenly there it is again, floating in the clouds above the city as if it had never left.

The majesty of it all is simply breathtaking, and I don't know anyone who doesn't feel a little leap of the heart when the mountain is out. So when a friend called yesterday afternoon to say the mountain was glowing pink in the sunset I grabbed my camera and headed down to the park to capture what I could. 

Though the colors in these images are intense (no, I didn't do anything to enhance them), the composition is pretty boring. But they do capture the mountain, and the moment. And that's enough, really: sometimes it's not about the photo, it's about the subject; not about what I can create, but about what has been created, long before I ever arrived here; about what will continue to humble and inspire us long after I've gone. 

It's times like this, when the photo itself is just incidental, when I realize again the truth of Eckhart Tolle's words: "The purpose of all art is to serve as a portal to the sacred."  In cases like this, I don't need to contribute much. What matters is the magnificence of creation; I just get to share it with you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sparkles on the night ocean

We had a hard frost yesterday morning, and everywhere I looked there was beauty.  Weeds, dead leaves, feathers -- all were edged with white sparkles. As I wandered happily around the yard, snapping pictures, I came upon our statue of St. Francis. The statue is black, and has a way of disappearing into the shadows of the dune grass, so I was enchanted to see the way the hard edges of the frost gave definition to the tenderness of the sculpture; his hair, his cowl, and the trust of the bird and bunny -- a lovely illustration of yesterday's poem in Coleman Barks' A Year With Rumi:

"We are the night ocean filled 
with glints of light. We are the space
between the fish and the moon,
while we sit here together."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Thesis/Antithesis: A Relationship Question

Let's posit -- just consider --
that I am blue, dark and cool,
and you are yellow, bright and warm,
antithesis to my thesis.
Which implies -- when we mix together --
a synthesis of green: how perfectly ecological!
But if I should glide into tealishness
(a gentle fading, blue to green)
is my blue lost to the world?
And if you were to begin
the slow slide into lime,
what happens to the sun?
How can we give birth to green
without losing our true colors?
How do we define that delicate line
between give, and take?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Artistic license

Rumi has a wonderful poem about what can happen when you break the rules.  It's called "A Piece of Wood" --

I reach for a piece of wood.
It turns into a lute.
I do some meanness.
It turns out helpful.
I say one must not travel 
during the holy month.
Then I start out,
and wonderful things happen.

I'm having fun and breaking all kinds of rules with this image, using Photoshop to fix flaws in the painting and adding elements of my photos to the finished work.  And, yes, you could call it cheating. But you could also call it art :)

I'm not suggesting rules are made to be broken.  But I do think it's important to remain flexible; to understand that the Divine can manifest itself in unexpected ways and places.  And besides -- a little artistic license can be a lot of fun!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Image and metaphor

"I was born with the ability to see in metaphor," writes Mark Nepo in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, and something in me sits up, takes notice; nods its head -- yes! It explains why, when this image caught my eye last night, some part of me went into gear without my noticing or telling it to, looking for a reason other than color or composition that might explain why this one captured my attention.

What I saw then was a sort of conductor, about to orchestrate some significant changes -- and a warning: Keep Clear!  Whatever it is that's come to you that needs to be done in the new year, do it carefully; stay attuned to the situation, be aware of your inner agendas, your own responsibility; listen for each step, for guidance; move with humility and compassion...

But there could be SO many other ways to interpret this -- which is the beauty of images.  What do you see?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Escape imagery

Sitting as I am, in a house full of boxes (two daughters in the process of moving and a garage that needs to be repaired after some flooding) I find myself dreaming of a less cluttered life.

I keep thinking of my friend Anita, sitting quietly in the cabin on Shaw, working on her book, and I keep looking forward to my upcoming mountain getaway; to time spent in a simple room with only a bed, a window, and a desk...

So it's not surprising that the image that calls to me this morning presents a far simpler lifestyle.  Not idyllic, necessarily -- clearly this barn is in major need of repair.  But certainly free of the "stuff" of life, of papers and taxes and insurance forms and boxes...

Sometimes we really need to re-connect with nature: to breathe the scents of earth and grass and pine, to feel the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair.  But right now it's raining so hard the dog won't even stay outside long enough to poop!  So looking at this picture is going to have to suffice...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If home were where the heart is

There are days
when I miss the islands so much
I can hardly breathe:
the sharp edges of the cliff,
the lithe curve of the madronas,
the way the sea licks the shore
and returns, again and again,
for more...
Like the sea, it seems,
I can never quite get enough.
And what is enough, anyway?
Isn't enough when home is planted
so deeply in your heart
that you always know you can return;
be there,
no matter where you are?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Letting it go

I had the delightful privilege on Saturday of attending a one-hour workshop offered by painter Christopher Mathie, and watched, enthralled, as he shared his approach -- not just to painting, but to life -- with a roomful of fellow artists.

The whole experience was inspiring, encouraging, and very freeing: he may have looked 20-something (he's actually 40-something) but he had the wisdom of an 80-something: my notes from the talk included phrases like "You have to be willing to let stuff go" and "it's always the right mark."

But what I also learned was that images like this one -- nice composition, but not necessarily sale-able -- are perfect fodder for paintings.  So now, of course, I'm itching to paint again -- and so glad I didn't throw away all the images I've shot that weren't necessarily show-worthy.

On the other hand, this issue of what to keep and what to discard becomes increasingly challenging with time and shrinking resources: my daughter chastised me just last night for ruthlessly throwing away most of the unidentified travel photos I inherited from my parents (who chose to run a travel agency when they reached retirement age).  Between what we inherited, what we no longer use but can't quite bring ourselves to throw away, and what our children have left behind (living as they do in tiny studio apartments) our home is beginning to feel painfully cluttered with ... stuff.

And, of course, as I write that, I notice again Christopher Mathie's wise words: "You have to be willing to let stuff go."  Those marks on the canvas, that exercise equipment, those clothes, those images that we were holding onto, thinking they might come in handy again someday?  Maybe it's time to let them go.

I'm just sayin...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fog as opportunity

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't love fog -- the quietness of it, the stillness of it, the way streetlights halo at dawn or dusk, the way footsteps echo, the dampness that settles on my cheeks, the clear feeling in my chest when I breathe...

And then, as a photographer, I discovered the extra benefits of a foggy morning: the way the fog obscures all those background distractions, allowing the subject to stand out, giving extra clarity to what is close, and blurring all connections as vision drifts further into the distance.

Why, then, can I not find a way to appreciate my own internal fog, those times when the path ahead is unclear, when the boundaries between what is, what could be, and what could never be become so indistinct?  Shouldn't this be an opportunity to focus; to reflect on what is here, what is now, what is real, what is clear, what is set apart, what is bright, what is true?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sometimes I do

In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,
and that light becomes this art.

-- Rumi

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pluses and minuses

This handsome fellow was fishing in the shallows of the lagoon at low tide, late yesterday afternoon.  We have mixed feelings about the eagles here: even though their species is no longer considered endangered, we've been conditioned to consider them rare and somehow special (though I confess, on seeing one up close, I always hear the voice of Sam, the muppet eagle).

We love to watch them soar, their broad wings with their distinctive tips; their white tails spread as they dip and cruise over the water, looking for salmon.  But we loved the herons, too, the ones whose rookery on the hill above us was the second largest in North America -- until the eagles came and decimated all their young.

... and doesn't that always seem to be the way of things?  When we protect one thing, something else often seems to suffer.  When one thing's going well, something else is not. Life, it seems, is rarely perfect -- the water in the glass is almost always sitting at the halfway point -- and we're the ones who get to choose our focus: half-empty, or half-full.

I'm learning, as I age, to be grateful for the balance, to listen for what needs to change while understanding that for every action there may also be re-action.  And as I write, the words of Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now begin to echo in my head:

"Well, something's lost but something's gained
In living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From WIN and LOSE and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Thursday, January 3, 2013

January chill

... And now, 
as the excitement of the holidays draws to a close, 
we settle in for our winter hibernation, 
watching the puffs of frosty air 
as the earth breathes quietly in her sleep, 
cradling the roots of all the growth that is to come...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Starting off the year with a clear sky

Traditionally, given that it's our older daughter's birthday, we spend New Year's Eve together with our girls and their friends and go out on the deck to watch all the fireworks at midnight. But this year, now that both girls are off and living on their own, they had better things to do than spend the evening with their parents, so we were looking forward to an early night -- which unfortunately didn't happen, as the neighbors chose some particularly loud varieties of fireworks this year (keeping us and our anxious dog very much awake).

My overactive maternal brain further complicated matters by waking up again at 3 and worrying about how the girls' evenings went. Silly, I know, now that they're well into their twenties, but it's the first time they've been out in the world, in the city, on a night when people are known for drunkenness etc. Eventually I was able to self-soothe enough to return to sleep (and, oh, don't those 3 am worries have a lot to say about how effective our meditative practices really are? So humbling...) but then I was up again at 5:30 to escort a friend up to Shaw Island.

But this was the view yesterday morning as I sat in the ferry line at Kingston, waiting to cross to the mainland. I have to say -- the colors fed my soul, and gave me what I needed to get through the long day -- driving to Anacortes, ferry to Shaw, dealing with a plumbing problem, ferry back to Anacortes, driving back to Edmonds, ferry back to Kingston, home by 9pm to collapse, exhausted into bed. The view, clear skies, the chance to spend time with good friends, and a beautiful new buddha to grace the Shaw retreat -- priceless!