Monday, September 30, 2013

Under the influence

One of the workshops for the upcoming Trinity Institute will involve meditation and journaling exercises on the the Cross of Christ. ECVA's Executive Directer has been compiling images from archived exhibitions and blog posts to be used during the workshop, and in a recent email she observed to me that spending so much time looking at crosses and crucifixes was having a strong emotional impact on her.

Could it be that my reading of her note triggered this weekend's painting? It wouldn't be the first time that something I read, heard, or experienced influenced a painting... Not that I set out to create a crucifix; not that it really even IS a crucifix. But the shape is undeniable, and the random splatters somehow don't look quite that random in the finished work.

Another gentle reminder that we are strongly influenced by our emotional environments: even an email can resonate long after a computer is shut down. Or perhaps it's simply the power of that image, of the cross...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

From expansion and contraction into stillness

I find this image endearing: the little bush, so different from the trees around it, bravely flaunting its bare branches -- and all so perfectly reflected in the still water...  Obviously I am projecting some aspect of myself into the picture -- but of course we are always projecting some aspect of ourselves onto what we see. 

...which means that when we are hugely upset about someone else's behaviors we can pretty much assume that something they're doing is resonating with some inner awareness of our own failings. But if we take the time to acknowledge that, it's easy to get buried in self-recriminations: if I can't blame you, then I have to blame myself. No wonder we prefer not to go there; it hurts to look that closely at ourselves.  And so instead of shrinking inward we turn our attention outward again, spilling over into anger.

The only thing I've found that transforms those relentless waves of expansion and contraction into stillness is to get in touch with the deep well of love that lies beneath the waves: once we can find the heart to be tender with our own failings, it's much easier to be tolerant of others.  We really need to make time to do that.  Where will you find the time today?

Saturday, September 28, 2013


What is the mirror of being?
... An empty mirror,
and your worst destructive habits,
when they are held up to each other,
that is when the real making begins...
Whoever sees clearly
what is diseased in himself
begins to gallop on the way.
There is nothing worse
than thinking you are well enough.
More than anything,
self-complacency blocks the workmanship.

-- Rumi

Friday, September 27, 2013

Say cheese with this whine...

I went to an audition last night, for a staged radio-play reading of It's A Wonderful Life (yay, I know, right?  What fun would that be!)  The auditions were running over half an hour behind schedule so people were piling up in the theater lobby, and at one point I looked around and every single person was staring at a cellphone.

... which reminded me of my most recent Monday morning coffee date, when we looked around the coffee shop and realized every other person in the room was sitting alone at a table and staring at some sort of screen; it was clear our conversation was actually irritating the guy next to us. 

So when I saw this person staring at her phone with all that majesty around her... well, okay, she's probably checking to see if the photo she just took captures the majesty well enough to ship off to her friends... but still.  Are all these screens keeping us busy "do-ing?"  Have we lost the ability to just ... be?

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I believe

that deep within

I have the strength and power

the confidence and courage

and all the peace and clarity I need

to love without reservation,

to give without hesitation,

and to accomplish

all God's given me to do.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The uncertainty principle

So much of the tension in our lives arises from uncertainty -- and our efforts to control it.  Will I make this hurdle?  Will I win the race? Will it make a difference in how people treat me?

As the uncertainty escalates -- will I be able to make the rent this month? Is it a tumor? Will he survive the operation? -- tension escalates right along with it, and so do our efforts at control.

But isn't it also true that without uncertainty life would seem incredibly stagnant and boring?  Isn't uncertainty also the source of a great deal of creativity?  Somehow we need to strike a creative balance between uncertainty and control...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Filling with light

You have a channel into the ocean,
yet you ask for water from a little pool.
Beg for the love-expansion...
Wait for the illuminating openness
as though your chest were filling with light.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Behind the veil of rain

“All that you think is rain is not. 
Behind the veil angels sometimes weep.”

-- Rumi

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Finding balance in the mix

Psychologists tell us that the richest relationships are those which allow for occasional disagreements; that a certain amount of drama actually adds a little spice to things. This picture makes me wonder if our lives aren't somehow like that as well.  We know there are striations over the course of our lives, times of light and dark. We also know there are moments when everything looks truly pitch black and we can't even imagine light any more. 

But from a distance, from a larger perspective, we see, not only that the light far outweighs the dark, but that the source of light is often hidden in the dark;  that those darkest moments, the ones that bring us to our knees, somehow allow us to see the light that fills the rest of life.  And it's actually the mix of dark and light together that makes the whole thing beautiful...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Perhaps not

Years and years and years ago a book called The Celestine Prophecy told me there are no coincidences in life. And though I remember nothing else about that book, that phrase still resonates over the years -- especially on nights like last night.

It was, of course, the night of the full harvest moon. And the sky, usually cloudy this time of year, was graciously and beautifully clear. Was it coincidence that my neighbor invited me to join her and her houseguest for dinner? Perhaps not, though I can't remember the last time she and I went out to dinner. Coincidence that I offered to drive (even though she's the one with the beautiful Mercedes) -- and then discovered she had some issues with vertigo and was grateful for the offer? Perhaps not.

Was it coincidence that the restaurant she chose was called Bella Luna, and that it sits looking out over the water toward the east -- a perfect vantage point for a moonrise? Yes, because she had forgotten it was a full moon night. Was it coincidence that this beautiful boat, the Adventuress, happened to be docked beside the restaurant? Absolutely. It seemed a perfect opportunity, so we sat by the window and watched and waited for the moon. When it climbed above the mountains I ran outside the restaurant and wandered across the street to frame the moon between the masts of the boat: no coincidence there, that was a conscious decision.

But to open the image on my computer and discover the moon perfectly placed within the triangle of mast lines? Astonishing! A whole string of amazing coincidences -- or... perhaps not?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The still lagoon of being

All those all-too-human things --
the houses we build,
and the drama inside them --
the relationships and the stories,
the miscommunications and the blame --
all fade to a blur
when I am on task,
when I am watching and listening
for the slightest indicator
that you might be about to surface:
I am that determined
to pluck your essence
from the still lagoon of being.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Time for tidying up

For some reason this morning I find I am being drawn to pictures of laundry.  It may have something to do with the fact that I've had some nice alone time lately, which is great, because I can take care of lots of things I don't get around to when the house is full of people.

But it also means I get to spend time with myself and watch what thoughts emerge -- and inevitably a certain amount of dirty laundry gets aired. But that's a good thing, not something to run away from.  It's an opportunity to take a look at old patterns and old assumptions that could maybe use a little freshening up; a chance to unearth a little past dirt that's been staining the present unnecessarily...

Or it could just be I'm really missing Italy.  Such a gorgeous country; hope I get back there someday!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The fruits of love

Sitting at the kitchen table with my Virginia friends, my eyes kept straying to these beautiful black peppers, seated in an array of vegetables gathered from their garden: what a glorious autumnal harvest!

But of course, you can't harvest something if you haven't sown the seeds in the first place, or spent the time cultivating the plants -- and even then, there are no guarantees.

It's a bit like love, I think.  We're not all that likely to get it if we don't -- or can't -- give it in the first place; if we're not willing to sow the seeds and cultivate the garden.  But that takes a certain amount of energy, which in turn derives from feeling loved.  So somehow, in order to get the fruits of love, we need to first find that deep capacity for love that resides within us...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Re-inventing yourself

Found in a display of ship models at the Mariner's Museum, this sweet boat for some reason makes me think of all the specialized jobs in the world that are now done by machine. 

Being a former layout and design person, I think immediately of the challenge that work used to be before the onset of desktop publishing. But (having just renewed a prescription) I think also of all the phone calls that are no longer handled by human beings, of all the corporations that have done away with most of their secretarial help, of all the manual labor work on farms and in industry that is now done by machine.

People have been having to re-invent themselves for centuries now, it seems, but nonetheless it's still a shock when you learn your livelihood is no longer viable.  Today my prayer is for all who need to re-invent careers for themselves; that they may find something that brings them fulfillment and joy...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gliding into the future

We are on an unchartered boat,
gliding through this infinite universe.
Sometimes that boat's so small
we hardly fit.
But today,
with your presence here beside me,
and your hand on the oar,
the boat is huge
with all that's seen,
been seen,
and will be seen.
Trail your hand in the water,
beloved friend,
and feel the cool breeze of hope
caress your cheek.

Co-written and inspired by Nancy M.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The power of giving

I'm thinking this guy could be my muse; isn't he lovely?  I found him on a statue at the Mariner's Museum Park, only a block or two from the house where I grew up; it's part of a much larger monument entitled "Conquering the Wild," which was sculpted in the 30's by Anna Hyatt Huntington, wife of Mariner's Museum founder Archer Milton Huntington. Together the Huntingtons founded fourteen museums and four wildlife preserves, and Anna's magnificent sculptures appear in parks and museums all over the world. 

I like thinking I grew up looking at this.  And how amazing, to be able to give like that; to make such a huge difference in the world.  But even the smallest gifts matter -- as you can see from the video below:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ode to Joy

Breathe in,
and open your heart to joy.

Breathe out,
that deep, self-emptying breath,
and let your joy
spill out into the world.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Not an obstacle

At first glance,
the obstacles we face
dominate our vision:
we become obsessed with them,
and miss the beauty that surrounds us --
sea, and sky, and all the glory in between.
Look again:
Look again, and see
the wealth of possible avenues --
over, under, around and through --
and, when you see,
does not this fence
become a thing of beauty,
a chance to find new textures
in the pattern of
your lavish, luminous life?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Transforming the longing

"Sometimes a longing can be so powerful that all we can imagine is going out to look for something to fill it.  Sometimes the longing becomes so complete a reality that we can't imagine there being any other possibility.

Yet if we can be aware of ourselves to the extent that we learn to redirect the longing when we feel it coming, we will develop something incredible within ourselves...

Spiritual practices and philosophies are really only the effects of the enormous effort human beings have made to turn that longing within and to discover the love within themselves...All the spiritual talk doesn't amount to anything compared to the simple, conscious capacity to turn that longing within, and find the love within us... In so doing, we find our lives transformed in extraordinary ways."

--Swami Chetananda, The Logic of Love

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Something's lost but something's gained

I just spent a marvelous weekend exploring my Virginia roots. I'd flown to Richmond to attend the wedding of a cousin I'd found through a mutual friend on Facebook: turns out my great grandfather had divorced my grandmother after 27 years of marriage, remarried, and had four more children. My cousin Anne, who is an Episcopal priest and quite a bit younger than I am, is actually the daughter of my grandfather's brother. (Hmmm -- does that make her my aunt, not my cousin? I suspect it might!)

At any rate, she was married this weekend in the Virginia town where I was born (though she actually grew up in Pennsylvania she now has a parish in Newport News), so I had the good fortune, not only to meet her, her new husband, and her brother, and spend time with my ADORABLE great-aunt and uncle, but also to explore the community where I spent the first seven years of my life, taking pictures of the house we lived in, visiting the nearby museum I loved and the church my parents founded, breathing in the scent of the James River, walking its sandy shores and revisiting the weeds and flowers that had so fascinated me as a child and hearing my mother's voice in the wind...

It was an amazing time: it felt like I was reclaiming some lost part of myself; like a true re-union. So now I'm thinking of how much society has changed since I was a child, how often people divorce and move away, and how much is lost each time that happens, even as our circle of friends and family is enlarged. And it seems that in some way the technology which is so ubiquitous now is somehow compensating for that: Everywhere I looked people were using smartphones; texting their friends and family, checking facebook and email, sharing pictures and videos of their homes and children and grandchildren... It was really quite endearing. And it was that same technology that helped me find my missing family, allowed me to stay with a dear friend nearby, and to connect with another during an extended layover in Atlanta. Makes me think of a line from that old Joni Mitchell song, Both Sides Now: "Well something's lost but something's gained in living every day..."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Love anyway

Somehow this pray-er -- whatever the attitude of her body -- doesn't look all that devout to me.  She seems very self-aware, every hair arranged in perfect symmetry, the hands placed just so, the eyes surreptitiously looking at the person in the next pew, eyebrows raised and lips pursed as if to tell God what to do rather than to listen.

But I still find her enchanting: the sculptor has perfectly captured this beguiling and amusing creature. And somehow that's reassuring: if I can find her rather determined human-ness appealing, so God must find my own flaws and foibles, obvious as they must be to the One who sculpted me, endearing as well; might even love me because of, not just in spite of, those same flaws and foibles...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Opportunities for healing

"The greatest difficulties we face also offer the greatest opportunities to practice unconditional presence.  What is especially helpful in this practice is recognizing again and again that our experience is not as solid as we think.  Indeed, nothing is what we think it to be.  Meditation helps us recognize this by letting us notice and relate to the gaps or open spaces in our experience, from which genuine clarity and wisdom arise.

If we take this approach, our old wounds from the past can reveal hidden treasure.  In the places where we have contracted and turned away from our experience we can begin to uncover genuine qualities of our being that have long been veiled.  In the most painful corners of our experience something alive is always waiting to emerge.  So whatever pain or problem we have, if it helps us find a quality of presence -- where we can open to it, see it, feel it, include it, and find the truth concealed in it -- that is our healing." 

-- Welwood, Toward a Psychology of Awakening

Saturday, September 7, 2013

However bad it looks...

I love this picture. It's actually a perfectly normal scene, but the angle of the houses in silhouette against that stormy sky makes it look vaguely threatening, in a cartoonish sort of way; like a world gone all topsy-turvy. (And isn't that a great word, topsy-turvy? Do people even say that any more?)

But I digress.  The truth is -- no matter what it looks like, this world is actually just fine: it's not going to hell in a handbasket (now there's another odd little phrase...)  And the reason I know that's true is I've just finished How the Light Gets In, the latest Inspector Gamache mystery by Louise Penny, and after a couple of days of extreme tension and anxiety ... well, I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone.

But when I grow up (if I ever do) I want to write things that help people understand there really is hope for this tangled tired old world of ours.  Because, however scared and anxious I get sometimes (and I do) some part of me always returns eventually to that root understanding -- with Julian of Norwich -- that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Being Enough


Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The generations I praise

Yesterday the beauty of early dawn
came over me, and I wondered
who my heart would reach toward.
Then this morning again
and you.  Who am I?

Wind and fire and watery ground
move me mightily
because they are pregnant with God.
These are the early morning
generations I praise.

-- Rumi


This morning I have been learning from Bourgeault's book on the Trinity about the cosmology of Jacob Boehme:  Let's see if I can summarize it in a poem:

First, desire, yearning,
a deep, magnetic hunger;
then the stirring up,
the agitation that longing brings.
Then the ache, the stinging anguish
of not having what's desired.
and in the friction, in the tension
between want and cannot have
a flame of self-awareness must ignite.

Such illumination then gives birth
to the True Self -- first an other-
(and then Other-) awareness rising:
which transformation then awakens
next a gentle kind of resonance:
let's call it Love.
And when that love is spoken,
expressed through act or language
new worlds -- yes, new worlds --
come into being.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't just watch

If, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we have become a culture of personality, can not the reason for that be placed squarely upon the television set?  It was my own generation that "progressed" from a life of doing to a life of watching; finding solace, companionship, entertainment and release, not in activities like work, play or conversation but rather in watching the fictitious antics of imaginary characters played by actors whose biggest gift is to behave as if they are not being watched.

Is it any wonder that, like the Thermians in Galaxy Quest, we have begun to believe that what the television presents is how life IS; that there are super-human beings who can rescue us from any predicament; that true beauty lies in the falsely enhanced breasts and lips and singing voices of teenaged actresses; that all problems should resolve over the space of half an hour; that reality is a competition which can only ever have one winner; and that natural occurrences like acne and body odor and aging are seriously offensive problems that can easily be solved by purchasing whatever product has paid for the particular shows we've chosen to watch?

I know.  I'm probably preaching to the converted.  You only watch the history channel, and maybe the news -- and Downton Abbey.  But even the news -- oh, don't get me started.  I'm just wondering: how would life be different if we each took even two of the hours during which we normally watch TV (or stare at our computers) and spent them doing something else -- something creative, or productive, or interactive, or reflective, or ...?  I don't know; you choose.  But doing something, not just watching.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

and the gulls cry
while those who labored rest.
A day of stillness, to reflect
on all that's gone before,
prepare for what's to come,
and breathe the wonder
that is now:
blue water,
dappled sky,
and a golden boat
to mirror back
the promise of tomorrow.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Feeling overwhelmed

At some point in the middle of the night I woke up thinking that this painting, which I created yesterday and am finding very hard to like, was actually a stylized image of a gun; that I should add a trigger and declare its title to be "Don't Go to Syria." So I was excited to go into the studio this morning (the image was still oriented horizontally at that point) and bring it to my dream's sense of completion; to create a political statement.

But in the clear light of morning I see it doesn't actually look like a gun at all, and, in fact, it's not really comfortable as a horizontal, no matter which way is up.  So I turned it vertically, and now it looks like one of those old Memorex ads (yes, I know, I'm dating myself) with the guy in his chair being blown away by his speakers.

What I see now is that this is exactly how I was feeling yesterday: bombarded.  Enormous tension paired with an inability to move.  Yes, the root of it is I DON'T want us to go to Syria -- yet I feel helpless to stop that movement.  But there are other triggers as well: the smiling man at the supermarket waving hideously defaced posters of our president and huge signs declaring "Impeach Obama!" I hate what he's doing, but feel powerless to stop him.

The joy of having 16 young people in our home, more than half of them from outside the US, and treating them to a waffle breakfast with real Vermont maple syrup, and the sense of shame when we realized later that the syrup had gone moldy and made some of the children (and my husband) sick.  The deep sadness when our daughter drove away, even though I know she'll be back from her road trip in a couple of weeks.   The longing to go for a walk, offset by the pain of a slightly out-of-joint hip...

So much push and pull immobilizes me, and I confess that even after 60 years I still don't quite know what to do with all that tension.  Yes, I'm lucky; clearly I was somehow able to paint it, even if I didn't realize at the time that it was there.  But it's a hard state to love, just as it's a hard painting to love.  And now some part of me recognizes some inconsolable child at the heart of the painting, stiffened with gas pains, screaming and flailing alone in her crib, abandoned by parents who are just too exhausted to cope.

It's hard to imagine anyone would want to live with this painting.  But I think -- for the sake of that abandoned child -- I'll hang onto it, for a while at least.  Even if I don't like it, I suspect it's a feeling that deserves to be acknowledged.  And perhaps that's the challenge of continuing to mature -- and the gift inherent in struggles like these: the work of finding ever more productive ways to resolve those tensions.  I take heart again in Cynthia Bourgeault's premise in her book about the Trinity: that the resolution of two conflicting energies inevitably leads to new creation. One can only hope...