Sunday, June 30, 2013

A break from routine

Centering prayer -- as taught by Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault -- is my preferred form of meditation.  But lately it's been a bit of a struggle to stay focused and present for that.  So this morning -- having watched a rather flippant special on Buddhism on PBS last night -- I decided to just focus on my breath. 

What a relief!  I had no trouble staying the time, and though my mind wandered (there's a lot going on right now) it was somehow easier to bring it back -- which is not to say breath meditation is better, or I should switch.  It's only to say we need to stay flexible; to remember that (as my dad used to say) "there's more than one way to skin a cat."

Which is why, despite all the challenges and preparations that face me here, I elected to go up to the islands earlier this week, to take a break and carry myself away from routine for a day and just... breathe. And though I missed my intended boat (three huge dump trucks took up all our allotted spaces) and spent four hours just sitting in line at the ferry terminal, it was still a break from routine.  And though the ride on the ferry at the end of the day didn't offer a spectacular sunset, it still felt heavenly to be carried into that dying light.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Promptings of the heart

One of the most significant things Jesus offered, it seems to me, was the understanding that it's not always about playing by the rules.  The most important test of right and wrong, for him, was love: what was the loving thing to do?

I've always felt that was true for writing, too: I grew up in an era when we were taught how to diagram sentences, so I have a deep-seated understanding of grammar and sentence construction.  But I think flow and understandability are more important than rules, and that it's a sign of a writer's maturity that she is willing, having understood the rules, to set them aside for the sake of grace and meaning.

Photography, too, has its rules, and this image clearly breaks the rule of thirds with its centered horizon and centered mountain peak.  But I'm posting it anyway -- because I like it, and because I believe, with Emerson, that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."

It seems to me that parenting follows the same sort of pattern: it's important, first of all, for our children to learn basic rules -- my mother-in-law used to say that parenting was about teaching our children to be civilized, to be good citizens.  But over time we need to free our children to make mistakes, to learn which rules are bendable, which are breakable, and what kinds of consequences may ensue.

And for me, the spiritual life has followed this pattern as well.  Though I discovered faith at an early age, I had an intense conversion experience as a teenager and became rather embarrassingly evangelical for a while.  When it became clear that system of rules was painfully exclusive of much of humanity, I left Christianity as I had known it and explored other paths.  And then, in my early thirties, I found Christianity again, this time through a conviction of Jesus' love and forgiveness of ALL humanity (and me in particular) -- which faith held me in good stead for many years, until my experience of "church" became so intolerable I needed to wander off again.

It was the Gospel of Thomas, and Jesus' wisdom expressed therein, that brought me round to Christianity again, by helping me to understand that the story of Jesus' life is not as important to faith as the teachings, and the teachings are not about rules but about openness and acceptance as an expression and reflection of loving and being loved.

I'm probably not articulating that last bit particularly well -- I'm growing increasingly conscious of how long this post is becoming (another rule I am reluctant to break).  But all of this is to say that yes, rules are useful.  But in the end, I believe, if we are to be fully, truly human, it is important to learn to trust the promptings of the heart...

Friday, June 28, 2013

At one with nature

Though I spent the night in a remote cabin, passing no cars either on my way to or from the ferry, I am not alone: the mournful cry of the ferry bleats in the distance, birds and insects chirp just outside my open windows, and this friendly deer wags her tail contentedly as she munches the wild grasses we laughingly call a lawn.

Why is it so much easier to understand our connectedness to all creation when there are fewer humans around?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Slipping into night

It doesn't need
to be a perfect sunset;
the chairs need not be wood,
or even all that comfortable.
The day need not be warm,
although dry helps,
and there may not be someone
to keep you company this time.

What matters is the stillness,
and the light;
the quiet and the color,
the sense of peace
and a day that's closing,
leaving all the care behind
and slipping into night.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Value in mistakes

I'm beginning to understand how closely the act of living resembles the creative process, and how clearly principles in one can apply to the other. 

Take mistakes, for example: we all make them.  But instead of flagellating ourselves for doing so, can we not see them as opportunities to shift direction -- even as messages our internal wisdom may be sending, to say we might be on the wrong path?

I'm not talking about repeat mistakes, or lapses/relapses into addictive behaviors.  As one of our refrigerator magnets says, "Make new mistakes!"  But read these words from Shaun McNiff's Trust the Process, and see if you don't agree mistakes can have value even beyond the world of art:

"The discipline of art requires constant experimentation, wherein errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for expression.  The mistake is outside the intended course of action, and may present something we never saw before, something unexpected or contradictory, an accident that can be put to use.

Mistakes break the continuities of intention with slips and distortions...Deviations often generate distinctive qualities. They move us forward and into unexplored terrain... The mistake is a message that calls for attention... If you view your life as an ongoing invention, mistakes shed their onerous nature.  The only serious deficit involves the inability to respond... Often we need to break down tired patterns before we can create new ones."

So if there's something you've been kicking yourself for -- look again.  And as my husband is fond of saying, "What did you learn from this?"  There might just be a wonderful new opportunity hiding in that mistake...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rainy day thoughts

We woke up to pouring rain this morning, the sort of downpour we used to get in New England.  So we moved the planned beach picnic for ten indoors -- and of course, by the time lunchtime had arrived, the sun was out and the deck was dry.

But we ate indoors anyway, and afterward went for a walk on the beach, stretching our arms gratefully toward the sun.

... all a gentle reminder to 1) stay flexible and 2) remember: if you don't like the weather in your life right now, just wait a while; it's sure to change.  And of course the converse is true as well -- don't get too cocky about the good weather you've been having lately: everything can change with the darkening of the clouds...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Adjusting your sails

One of the joys of summer is watching the sailboat races.  Yesterday was a relatively calm day, so they didn't leave my viewfinder very quickly and the water was still enough to capture their reflections.

But of course calm weather is more challenging for them; I'm sure the sailors would prefer a good stiff wind.  On the other hand, weather this year in this part of the world tends to be mostly calm -- unlike other parts of the country, which get tornadoes and hurricanes while our sailors sit becalmed. 

So Puget Sound sailors are probably used to maneuvering in light winds, and would find sailing around the islands of Maine quite difficult -- just as we've grown used to living in this mild climate, and now find the temperature extremes of our beloved New England challenging.

But mostly what this picture makes me think of is that old saying I used to have on the wall of my office: "You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."  It's a very Buddhist concept, I think, but applicable in so many facets of life.  It's never really what's happening to us that's the problem, it's how we deal with it  -- and how we deal with it can lead to wonderful new opportunities and experiences.

This is true for the creative process as well as in life: I've begun rereading Shaun McNiff's classic work on creativity, Trust the Process, and he's quite clear about this: "As with birthing, the practice of creation requires a continuous respect for that which takes place autonomously and in its own time.  The creator is a necessary participant, but like childbirth the process is not controlled by the person who serves as the agent of delivery....The results of artistic expression may bring relief, joy, and harmony.  But the process thrives on tension.  Conflict and uncertainty are the forces that carry the artist to new and unfamiliar places."

Painting, I'm finding -- like writing, and performing, and even growing old -- is not for sissies!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dual processor

We got a double blessing last night: full moon AND a fabulous sunset -- a great opportunity for the aspiring photographer to try to capture both in a single shot.  It's part of the whole economy of motion concept I first encountered reading Frank Gilbreth's classic, Cheaper by the Dozen

With so many children, economies of all sorts had to be practiced in that family; I remember being particularly struck by the way those children were taught to take showers -- and I still practice a slightly modified version of that method.

Somehow I just grew up thinking it was always better if you could do two things at once -- read while drinking coffee; if you return something upstairs, try to bring something back with you that needed to go downstairs...  Which is why today, in the throes of a major housekeeping frenzy, I'm listening to music while writing this blog while printing off new pictures for the refrigerator and trying to remember all the ingredients I need for the grocery trip later today.  However practical these "economies" might be, they're NOT very zen, and tend to make me scattered rather than focused.  But I couldn't do it if I hadn't meditated first -- and it does allow me to justify the time spent doing that.  Odd, isn't it, how we choose to live...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

More Awake in Dreams

"Many are more awake, with greater abilities
in dreams than in the daylight.
I walked through a world last night
of such exquisite intricacies...
It was surely as real as any place you ever visited.

Whatever the hand can shape and make last,
the advanced mind can do a millionfold.

And there too, while I slept
so alert, with perceptions keen and powerful,
did I know love, and could more bear her fire.
In dream, in spirit, 

are we not closer to Her likeness?"

  -- Hafiz

Friday, June 21, 2013

Patience, location and location

There's a saying in real estate: the three most important factors in selling a house are location, location, location.  It holds true for photography, too.  In the more obvious sense -- if I didn't live where I live, I'd never have been able to get this shot.

But -- thanks to the teacher who explained to me that a REAL photographer doesn't TAKE pictures, she MAKES pictures -- there's also the whole issue of where you position yourself when you're taking the shot.  In this case, I saw the eagle from an upstairs window, but I snuck downstairs and crouched behind a canoe.  And this, of course, is one of several shots -- mostly just the eagle, but I watched for that pesky crow to move into position.  So patience is another ingredient...

Which is true for just about everything, isn't it!  "All things come to those who wait," we're told, but who has the patience to wait anymore?  This isn't just a new phenomenon: I remember thinking my mother was the most impatient person I've ever met --  I even wrote a poem about it in college:

I'd always planned to follow her unexample--
Patience, I thought, must be
(if not the greatest)
at least the most attractive virtue:
I steeled myself to wait in lines
I caged my words,
lest they devour your sentences half-spoken.
But now, I find, I am my mother's daughter --
I cannot wait for you to reach for me.
I touch you first, and then draw back,
That tension which leaves you stronger for the going
makes me weak.
If I were truly patient,
I'd never need to make these resolutions...

Apparently even then I could see: the things I find distasteful are so often things I struggle with myself. And looking at this poem now, from the perspective of age and experience, I see that my reluctance to face and accept my own impatience condemned me to stay in what was essentially an abusive relationship far longer than I should have.  Live and learn, I guess!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Once again, what surrounds me influences my art... This one took shape with very little mental interference from me -- which means I was completely mystified for most of the creative process -- which seemed to drag on for days.  It was only today that I realized this image was about the creative process, and womanhood, and the challenges of balancing creativity and family; clearly a reflection of an amazing book I just finished.

The book, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, consists of 8 fictionalized biographies of women photographers.  The stories -- the women and their work -- move chronologically through most of the 20th century, and beautifully depict the progress of women's lot in life over time.The writing is lyrical and engaging, and author Whitney Otto manages to capture the challenges of photography without beating the reader over the head with them: the stories are perfectly engrossing for the plots alone.

But now that I see this painting through the lens of the book I just finished, I realize there are wombs, and blood; bolts of inspiration and camera lenses; pain and beauty, muddiness and clarity all working together.  I'm not sure I like it, but I think it needed to be painted, and for that I'm grateful -- if only that it's done and I can move on!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The photo not taken

We went into Seattle yesterday to attend our older daughter's graduation from video game school.  So why, you might ask, am I showing this lovely abstract of Seattle's Great Wheel when I could be displaying a photo of her giving her valedictory speech, or of the charming silver dragon character she created?

Because I forgot to bring my camera.  I have LOTS of pictures taken with my iphone, but it's an iphone 3, so the calibre of those images leaves MUCH to be desired.  And I forgot to charge it last night, so even if they were good I have no way of knowing, as the battery is dead.

Sigh.  No-one's perfect, I guess.  But with no decent camera to distract me I was able to really drink in the details of the occasion.  The speeches were brief and delightful (especially our daughter's), the students and faculty were fun to meet and clearly felt like family to her, and she -- in the spectacularly flattering rose, orange and yellow wig she wore for the occasion (!) -- was positively radiant: the most beautiful and happy I've seen her since she was a small child.

So I found myself re-reading Emerson's essay on Spiritual Laws this morning, and found this: "Every man has this call of the power to do something unique... By doing his own work he unfolds himself." It was truly lovely to see that she has finally found and pursued her passion, and that in doing so she is becoming so much more fully herself. We should all be so fortunate!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What do your voices say?

How many times
have you been inspired,
envisioned carrying through
some project to completion,
only to find its shape has changed
somehow along the way.
And what do your inner voices say?
You failed to realize your dream!"
or "Wow!
for staying flexible, present;
for responding to the moment,
to the ebb and flow of possibility!"?

Monday, June 17, 2013

A curious attraction

We spent some time Saturday at the Wooden Boat Show on Bainbridge. It was small, but well attended, and a lovely feast for the eyes. It's always been amazing to me, how even the simplest things on boats --especially wooden ones-- can be so appealing.

Perhaps it's because I have seafaring men on both sides of my family? My father was in the Navy, and his father stowed away on a boat when he was 12 and was a sailor for the rest of his life. (Is now the time to mention that my father's most damning expletive was to call someone "a son of a sea-cook"?) And my great-grandfather on my mother's side captained a steamboat on the Mississippi River.

You'd think all those genes would manifest themselves as a love of boating -- or at least of seafood! But no, it's more a matter of what my eyes love than what my body loves. This must be another example of the hunger I spoke of two days ago: though my eyes hunger for the sea and all that's associated with it, my heart prefers to be safely on land (for the most part, though I have been known to enjoy canoeing) and my stomach definitely prefers land creatures to sea creatures. Which makes me think about something my daughter said recently, about the difference between the men she's attracted to, and the men she actually dates. Attraction: such a curious thing... You'd think the two hungers would have more in common with each other. Makes me think of that line from Paul's letter to the Romans: "For I don't do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don't want to do..." Must be something about how we are "fearfully and wonderfully made!"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Changing times

In a neighborhood as small and closely knit as ours is, it makes a big difference when people move away -- and we've lost two couples who mean a great deal to us this month. The first, and closest -- the owners of these beautiful poppies -- are "only renters," but they've lived here longer than we have and will be sorely missed.

When you're building a community, it's never about who owns the property; it's about who's around, and how they interact with others. We've never met the owner of this couple's house, but we've shared several dinners with his wonderful tenants, watched their cat, they've watched our dog; we've watched each other's kids grow up -- that's the stuff of community.

The other couple lived at the farthest end of the sandspit: his family had owned that property for years and they were founding members of the community -- she still leads the singing that follows the annual Fourth of July parade in our little neighborhood (yes, we have our own parade!). They're only moving closer into town, but still -- it feels a bit as if we've lost an anchor. Theirs will be a difficult act to follow...

But change is always an inevitable part of life: the question is only how we adapt. Neighbors, like these poppies, may go away, but new ones always come to replace them. They may be more or less visible in the life of the community, in good or bad ways, but always there is something new to be learned or gained.  It's like a variation on that wonderful quote from Gilead I shared last week: With change there are always new opportunities -- You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When hunger strikes...

Having spent the first half of my life in the rolling hills of the East and Midwest, I find the mountain landscapes of Eastern Washington utterly fascinating. 

That's a curious human thing, isn't it; to be fascinated by the unfamiliar.  And yet we humans are also notorious for being drawn back to the familiar: I remember one of the reasons I decided to work for the bishop here was because he had a Virginia accent, and sounded like home.

So which is it?  Are we drawn to the familiar, or to the unfamiliar?  I think they're different kinds of hunger -- and, like most hungers, they tend to arise when something's a little out of balance.  But they're also different kinds of hunger, I suspect.  For me, at least, the hunger for something different is more of a surface hunger, a hunger of the eyes.  The hunger for the familiar?  That, I think, is a hunger of the heart...  

Friday, June 14, 2013

By their fruits...

As we drove across eastern Washington, we kept seeing groves of trees with long narrow leaves.  We knew they weren't apple trees, but it wasn't until we stopped at a fruit stand that we were able to walk right up to some and see that they were cherry trees: "by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:20)"

And so, this morning, reading Jack Kornfield's observations about the development of Buddhism in this country I thought again about this famous saying.  It turns out Buddhism is plagued by many of the same failings that distort Christianity -- sectarianism, abuses of power, patriarchal organizations, and indifferent and/or irrelevant practice.

It seems to me that whether our practice involves Centering Prayer or some more Buddhist variety of meditation, we inevitably find ourselves struggling with the same kinds of demons on a more personal level -- our fears, our hungry egos, and our need for security.  But in the end, it seems to me, the success or failure of that practice, whether Christian or Buddhist, can be characterized by the same fruits: compassion, inner stillness, and wisdom.  So.  How is your ripening process coming?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Love anyway

This time of year, when the warm weather is here but the skies are still gray, we all tend to get a little itchy.  My husband is itching to hit the road on his motorcycle, I'm itching to get back to rural life in the San Juans, and the dog -- well, he just gets itchy.  Which means that now, in addition to the insulin shots and eye drops he already gets, we put him in a cone of shame, dress him in t-shirts (to keep him from opening wounds with his incessant scratching), spray him with anti-itch medicine, and feed him benadryl.

So as a compromise we decided to take off for a couple of days, carting the dog and all his meds (he doesn't scratch as much in the car) to Eastern Washington (lots of sunshine, lots of driving, lots of dramatic scenery for my husband) to ride a ferry that's about to be de-commissioned (I love ferries) across the Columbia River.

It was a gloriously photogenic and sunny two days, so I'll be sharing photos with you for a bit.  But I did notice I was starting to get pretty cranky towards the end of each day: lack of sleep (the dog begins scratching as soon as the sun comes up), long periods of time in a confined space being driven by someone else...  As I said to my husband last night -- next time, I think I'd prefer to take a vacation FROM the dog rather than WITH the dog. 

But thinking about it this morning, I realized the ultimate message of the trip was "love anyway."  So what if the dog drives us crazy with his constant scratching: love him anyway.  So what if my husband drives a car like it's a motorcycle: love him anyway.  And so what if, thanks to lack of sleep and changes in routine, I get pretty surly by the end of the day: I need to learn to love myself anyway. 

I'm working on that...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Evening, and the shadows fall;
two lights left on --
one in the sky,
one on the landing --
for those who have yet to come home.

The Inner Workings

The inner working of a human being
is a jungle.  Sometimes wolves
dominate.  Sometimes wild hogs.

Be wary when you breathe.
At one moment gentle, 
generous qualities, like Joseph's,
pass from one nature to another.
The next moment
vicious qualities move in hidden ways.

In every instant a new species
rises in the chest --
now a demon, now an angel, now 
a wild animal, now a human friend.

   -- Rumi

Monday, June 10, 2013

Foiled by the illusion of knowledge

"The greatest obstacle to discovering
the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans 
was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge."

Daniel J. Boorstin

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Unleashing true self

Yesterday morning found both my husband and me on ferries: mine to Edmonds, to drop off paintings for the upcoming Arts Festival; his to Seattle to pick up a sick daughter and bring her to our local walk-in clinic.

So I had lots of free time to think -- or at least to watch my thoughts and where they took me -- and what I observed was discouragement and negativity.  Which should be surprising: after all, I'd just opened a show the night before and would be attending another opening this evening.  And I'd been cast in a play to be aired later this summer.  You'd think I'd be feeling pretty good about myself.

Well then I began observing my energy levels, and realized they were quite low: there were lots of things I could do, given I'd have the house to myself for most of the day, and I didn't feel like tackling any of them.  Clearly I was blocked somewhere.  But where?

Eventually it became apparent that at least some of the root of the problem was that I'd done three paintings over the course of the week, and wasn't really comfortable with any of them.  Two I'd started with a definite vision, and in neither case was I able to realize that vision.  The third had been purely experimental, but I'd somehow gotten attached to the experiment and didn't feel like adding anything more to it-- but I was also convinced that anyone else looking at it would deem it unfinished.  Clearly my self-critical voices were having a heyday -- and, equally clearly, I was having trouble with both fear and attachment: attachment to bits and pieces of what I HAD managed to accomplish, and fear of moving forward, fear I couldn't really paint, fear there was no possibility of redeeming these three paintings, fear that in trying to finish them I might lose whatever value had been created early on.

So I decided to take the worst of the three paintings, a very ambitious diptych created from two ginormous 15" x 48" canvases I'd gotten for super cheap at a going-out-of-business sale, and just -- paint over it. I abandoned all my previous expectations, grabbed a giant house-paint-sized brush, and just tackled it as a complete do-over, determined to boldly paint through (and over) my timid earlier efforts. And I love the results: my mood improved a hundred percent as I watched this one bloom and saw how the strong bits of the previous attempt showed through and the timid bits all disappeared.  It feels a bit like all the little naysayers inside stepped aside for a bit, and the strong true self in me was unleashed onto the canvas.

Now if only I could carry that kind of assurance out into other parts of my life...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Change is rarely easy

The grass on the other side
may look quite tempting;
the scent of possible success alluring;
the delicate sprinkle of flowers
enchanted, and inviting.
The transition might appear simple,
brief, no sudden curves,
and solid underfoot.

Nonetheless: come prepared.
Bring your machete, your axe --
whatever you'll need to cut through
all those mistaken assumptions.
Change is rarely easy...

Friday, June 7, 2013


Wherever you turn your eyes,
the world can shine like transfiguration.
You don't have to bring a thing to it
except a little willingness to see.

-- from Gilead, by Marilynn Robinson

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Differing perspectives; same Heart

Pulling onto the Sandspit yesterday evening we were greeted by this glorious sunset, so my husband kindly stopped to let me take a few pictures -- which was a good thing, as it faded rapidly.  (Moral of the story: act on it when you see it, and always keep a camera handy!)

But what I really love about this image is that it's a view we never see.  The spit curves around to almost touch the island again, encircling a large lagoon.  This picture is taken from the entrance to the sandspit, but we live at the farthest end -- our house isn't even in this picture, it's way further to the left -- so though our sunrises look a lot like this one (minus the boat), we are actually looking across the lagoon at the very houses from which this shot is taken, and our sunsets -- which look out over the Olympic Mountains -- are completely different.

And yet we all share the same neighborhood -- and many of the same joys and concerns -- despite our different views and perspectives.  Hard not to see that as a microcosm of planet earth: we all share the same neighborhood -- and many of the same joys and concerns -- despite our different views and perspectives.

Thinking again of yesterday's deer, and that sense of safety, I can't help but imagine -- or maybe just dream of -- a world where we might finally understand that underlying sense of connectedness.  I think that might be what enlightenment looks like: to get that; to see, as Thomas Merton saw, "the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where neither sin nor desire can reach, the person that each one is in God's eyes.  If only they could see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way there would be no reason for war, for hatred, for cruelty... I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Safe in the shadows

Speaking of immature -- this young buck was lying under my neighbor's plum tree this afternoon; he didn't even budge when my husband started up the car and drove away, though, later, when I went out to check up on him, he was on his feet and nibbling on the leaves.

How lovely it would be to be that trusting!  It's certainly true that he's safe with us -- unlike those coyotes who were visiting last month.  But that's also because we -- and our pets -- are safe with him.

What a lovely world it would be if everyone felt this safe...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

-- from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

That unfinished feeling

Some days, despite my age, I feel a bit like this immature eagle who came to hang out on our beach yesterday: immature, unrealized... just not quite "there" yet -- wherever "there" is. 

The feeling's often triggered by seeing other people's successes, I'm sad to say.  It's not that I envy them, it's more that I flagellate myself (my mother's voice, I'm sure) for not having done a better job of establishing myself as an expert... in something, I'm not quite sure what!

Perhaps this is the feminine equivalent of a mid-life crisis?  At any rate, it's always an opportunity, not so much to reassure, as to explore: what is it that I'm hungering for? Where am I being led?  What new territory is waiting to be tackled?  Because it's not really about what I haven't done; it's more about what I'm being called toward...

Monday, June 3, 2013

Advice in unexpected places

Today begins the start of a very busy week: on Wednesday I will drop off 27 pieces of art (9 paintings, the rest photos) for the show that opens this weekend. (This is one of the photos, which was used for the invitation postcard announcing that exhibit).

On Friday I will give back-to-back art presentations on the ferry (3:50 to Seattle and the 4:40 back) and then head to the gallery for the open house. On Saturday morning I'll take the other ferry, to Edmonds, to drop off the 3 paintings that were juried into their annual art festival, and then on Sunday evening we'll head in to the artists' reception for that exhibition, which opens the following weekend.

And, of course, the early part of the week will be spent prepping for all that -- and working on a new painting I'm very excited about.  Perhaps too excited, as I woke up ridiculously early this morning thinking about the next phase of it... 

But all of this is stuff I love, so it has the sort of joyful color around it that you see in this image.  Which I suspect is why I was amused, yesterday, to find these words in a romance novel loaned to me by a friend: "I'm in my sixties; it's late to become enlightened.  I hereby vow to be relentlessly happy, ridiculously daring, outrageously open-minded and passionately optimistic." (from Angel's Peak, by Robyn Carr)  Though they're probably a bit more enthusiastic than I'm comfortable with, these don't seem like bad words to live by.  Despite the recent trials and tribulations, they hold a certain allure -- and they seem like a good description of how the Dalai Lama lives his life.  I just wished I'd discovered them -- or begun living by them -- a lot earlier... 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Opening a sacred space in the heart

After a long gray month, sunny skies have returned to the Northwest, and the California poppies, closed up for so long, have now opened to welcome in the light -- and I find that opening has echoes in my own heart.

Richard Rohr, in one of his appendices to Immortal Diamond, talks about the Sacred Heart; about how dropping into his heart space "makes it almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic."  I think I can say the same: if, when under stress, I can close my eyes and drop my attention into my heart, I can feel it opening, slowing down, even skipping a beat or two, and a warmth steals over me that softens whatever is troubling me.

It's a little bit like that leap of heart I used to get as a young girl, when I'd accidentally encounter a boy I was crushing on. So it's easier now to understand that that happy place within is somehow akin to love, and that it is love -- always -- that heals the wounded or troubled soul...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A path drawn by obstructions

One of my readers posted this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on her website (Spiritual Drawing Board):

"Each man has his own vocation.
The talent is the call.

There is one direction 

in which all space is open to him.
He has faculties 

silently inviting him thither 
to endless exertion.


He is like a ship in a river;
he runs against obstructions on every side but one;
on that side all obstruction is taken away,
and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel 

into an infinite sea."

I post it here because I find it deeply reassuring to think that, even though these paintings seem to emerge in unexpected ways, with no obvious connection or direction, they are part of a path; that the blocks I encounter -- those times when I'm trying to do one thing and end up doing something else altogether -- help me to stay centered and serve as guidelines.

But of course -- this holds true for life as well.  And I find that even MORE reassuring.

PS: The faces in this image are my paternal grandparents, and the image is an exaggerated reflection of childhood memories of their fourth-floor walkup in Hoboken, NJ.