A Unique Flavor

This week we are up on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The previous week we were in Upper Michigan sleeping along the shore of Les Cheneaux (the channel Islands) in Lake Huron and drove by and played in Lake Michigan. It feels both a privilege to be in the presence of such bodies of water and humbling at the enormity and power of each while we experience them with their own unique vegetation, shoreline, and personality.

Between these lake visits, I attended a funeral for Walt, a man who had been both a client of mine and a hospice patient. A large gentle man, bound to his wheel chair and oxygen, who deeply grieved the loss of his wife the year before. It took almost a year for Walt to go out to his workshop alone as he was always with Sharon even while he was out tinkering and inventing. He is now resting in peace next to his beloved and the thought of him brings a smile as he touched the hearts of our whole team who grieve his passing. As I write this, I pause as it is challenging to paint a portrait of this man not knowing the day to day life he lived previously. I can only say it was his gentle tears, his inability to put his feelings into words, it was his smile, his loss of his beloved lab, Mitzi, along the way, his passion for good toffee, his decision to bring the outdoor cat in the house after Mitzi died and the cat’s partner died and admitting he didn’t really like this cat but felt sad for the cat’s loneliness in its loss, his deep appreciation for all the attention he received in his illness and loneliness, and in the end maybe it was the peace we all felt when leaving his presence that brings such life to his memory.

I purchased two books this week that are entertaining me between bike rides, hikes, fishing, and exploring along Highway 61. The books are by Kathy Rice, owner of the now closed Pie Place Cafe in Grand Marais, MN. Delightful cookbooks with many of their famous and favorite recipes of salads, sandwiches, soups, fish, and of course pie! I loved that she wrote that she did what she had a passion for, which was make pie. We share that passion. I could have a bumper sticker that reads, I brake for pie. Each recipe begins with a portrait and a story of an individual who entered Kathy’s cafe. Some were local and some from other locales but each captured her imagination in some way with story, art, personality, and life history. Many became life long friends.

In the end, we become a smattering of who, what, when, how many kids, where did I work, who is left behind and on and on in a dry list offered as some form of identity in the newspaper or funeral program. Reading Kathy’s portraits of individuals she has met, I realize each portrait of a life she offered us could be the obituary for that life lived. Kathy captures, as best she is able, the soul of the individual through her words. It puts me in mind of Heather Lende (heatherlende.com) who was introduced to me by my sister, Di, and who is, among other talents, an obituary writer for a local newspaper in Haines, Alaska. Heather’s obituaries paint a portrait as do Kathy’s words. I would say each has a passion for people and take the time to open their hearts and minds to that one before them or the one who is being grieved for by a loved one.

Kathy states “the soups flavor will vary according to what you choose, but that is part of the fun.” Thoughts: What am I choosing this day, this month, this year, this life, that flavors my life? My grandson loves making soup and throws in many questionable items without a recipe. Most often it works, sometimes not. It takes courage to choose but if we do not choose others choose for us. To paint a portrait that captures the essence of the person we have to have the courage to see and portray what the individual might perceive as a flaw. Maybe that is what creates the wholeness of a life. Maybe it is merely that particular “spice” that adds the flavor to a life well lived.

Les Chêneaux, Lake Huron

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Lake Michigan

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Lake Superior

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The Lilacs are in bloom, it must be June.

IMG_3959I am finished with the drawing class and grateful; grateful for the learning and grateful to have some space in my life. Learning was often a struggle as when it is possible to see where one wants to go but not sure how to get there. I did learn and am both proud of and surprised at what I accomplished. Finally, it all came together.

I lost a rhythm to my life when the class started and have not painted in months, have not been writing, and have not picked up the pencils again. Life is full of distractions and usually those distractions involve people I love and care about or work that needs to be done both paid and in the home.

Today is a day to begin again and find the courage to write and push that muscle to contract and expand as the thoughts rise to the surface and bring focus to the inner realm. The class taught me to see. There will be days when I will be blind to what is before me but the work in this class taught me that looking and then looking again is a good exercise in allowing the brain to make the connection with the perceived object. When drawing from a photo of the north shore, what I thought were some complicated branches in the lower right hand corner and had decided to ignore were on second and third look, a week or two later, large boulders with veins and rust. All being important features to the whole that I merely cast aside as being “too hard” and dismissed as not important. When I realized they were boulders, I could not fathom how they could be seen as anything else as they were so clear. When opening my eyes with an open mind, I felt excited by how interesting these features were and they turned out to be fun to draw.

This habit follows us and happens many times in life. We see or hear based on what we believe not by what we truly see or hear. In the moment of looking, when not fully present, we add judgment to the act of looking. We define and categorize what we believe we perceive. We add another layer to the moment of experience. It is like looking at a rainy day and deciding we do not like this day for the rain. When we open our hearts to the day, we see the way the world becomes more green with the watering; we delight in the puddles; we explore the play of hiding under an umbrella; and, we connect as one with the experience of life.

Final Drawing Project

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Reflections From The North Shore

Leo and I set out to snowshoe on the north shore of Lake Superior near the mouth of the Caribou River. It had begun to thaw a bit and we sank up to our knees in places, got off the trail and made our way to the road and then back on another trail closer to the river. In some ways a deer trail although we had to bail on that as their path headed down a cliff to the water and then across and up the other side.

Leo was hoping for window pane ice flows to the shore and his wish was granted yesterday as we listened in awe to the crashing of the ice flows into each other and to the shore. Each morning, each day, Lake Superior is a different lake on the surface as it thaws, flows in different directions, refreezes and delights us with unexpected formations.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life consists in what a man(woman) is thinking of all day. ” We feel this truth as we contemplate the water each day; I lived this truth as I walked the Camino in Spain for three and a half weeks. With vast open space, contemplating the beauty before us, we open and feel united to that which we contemplate. The day is the water, the field bathed in the morning sun, the splash of color on the wisteria as I turned the last corner.

We can drive through beauty at 60 miles an hour every day and not see it nor experience that which is before us as we plan our day, reflect on how to approach our boss, review the argument of last night. We create a habit of not seeing until we are removed from our day to day habits and are faced with little else to contemplate but what is before us. That is the gift of retreat, we leave something behind, we withdraw from enemy forces, and in the act of retreat we review and re center. The enemy being that within us which we struggle against to be present. Seeing beauty is an act of will and honing that skill is an exercise of a muscle allowing us to hold a strong and steady gaze.

Allowing beauty in to the center of our being changes us in ways that allows us to be one with the constant beauty which lies below the surface. Beauty reflects the beauty of our own true nature. As Lake Superior changes throughout the day, all the while being its’ constant true self below the surface, so do we flow in and out of myriad emotions, thoughts, and movements in our day and beneath it all are each a spark of God, pure love, unity.

An Embodied Journey

This appeared as my morning reflection (by Jon Kabat-Zinn):

     The rehabilitation of the body, in the sense of fully inhabiting it and cultivating intimacy with it is, however it is, is a universal attribute of mindfulness practice… Since it is of limited value to speak of the body as separate from the mind, or of mind separated from body, we are inevitably talking about the rehabilitation of our whole being, and the realization of our wholeness moment by moment, step by step, and breath by breath, starting as always, with where we are now.

This spoke to me this morning as three events of the week came together in this quote. I enjoyed a spirited discussion yesterday with friends over lunch about the body/mind relationship as it relates to our compassion and caring as individuals and the gun violence which we live with in our culture. I watched the 2010 movie “Temple Grandin” this week and I have been learning about contour drawing and how to fully enter that experience.

In my early years, as for many of us, we received distorted information and education about the body from our churches and therefore handed down through parents and educators. The body being an “occassion for sin”, “the body is the devil’s playground.” Women in particular learned that they are the temptress, the vehicle for men to loose control of their reason. We learned of saints, who we were told to emulate, who used self flagellation to punish their bodies in an attempt to keep themselves in control. We were taught fear and left in ignorance about our bodies and believed that it is best to be disconnected from this physical home, ignore this body, and be more holy for the leaving of it behind.

This belief system belies our own experience when we are more fully present with ourselves with awareness of our physical selves. There was a time when I was experiencing anxiety attacks. The release of the anxiety came when I could learn to trust and breathe into my body and be present with each breath, bringing mind and body together and sitting in that awareness. Temple Grandin was born with autism in a time when this condition was greatly misunderstood. As she observed her world, she found peace, comfort and an ability to navigate this world as she learned how to be more fully present in her body thereby increasing her ability to understand compassion, caring, and kindness. Compassion is the ability to feel another’s pain and bear that pain with them. Temple learned this through her witness of the pain of animals and bringing that to a level of understanding through her own body. Rather than further disconnecting from her body, she went more fully into her body and revolutionized animal husbandry and opened a door into greater understanding of autism for future generations. Her work in the world was through her body/mind connection, the wholeness of her being. As is ours.

In my art class, one of the first things we were taught was contour drawing. Drawing slowly, with each breath, as if you are touching the edge of the object which you are observing. This has been a challenge for me as I have a quick, sharp mind and I do things quickly and efficiently. I tend to see things whole first and am quick to get to completion. I have had to greatly, consciously, slow down. It is painfully slow and yet there comes the moment when I am with the breath and the sense of time and space change and dissolve in the now.

It seems the conflict lies in our identification with our body, mind, emotions, and thoughts. We are not any of these. We live in a day to day sense of false identity; I am fat, I love this, I hate that, I am sad, I am happy, I am bad, I am good. We hold the body, emotions, and thoughts as who we are rather than a vehicle that requires good care, maintenance, and respect. Within that awareness we can let go of identifying with what we think, feel, and look like as these are merely energies of mind and emotions passing through. We are spirit born into this body, this mind, these emotions, moving through life seeking our true selves. A grieving individual will ask me, how can I grieve and be done with these feelings? There is no circumventing our grief or our lives. We can only go through, honestly feeling what we are feeling, not believing every thought that goes through our head, not identifying ourselves with every emotion that runs through us, not holding firm to what we perceive as absolute truth.

It is by fully being in our being that we then transcend into a more full sense of self as Self, a spark of God, Atman, Nirvana, however we name that which is wholeness. When we are fully aware of ourselves in our experience, a door opens to a more expansive understanding, realization, freedom. We live the compassion we seek. We breathe in the love that is boundless.

Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world. Mary Oliver

Labyrinth in Tuscon AZ 2017

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Our Daily Work

It feels as if spring is arriving and we are being nudged out of hibernation. We are enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin, if not a bit cool. We saw two young men in shorts. Maybe my brain will thaw as well and I will be able to write again or maybe it is just that life has been a bit too full and disjointed to get thoughts to line up.

I have been thinking of our travel trailer in storage and some work that needs to be done when we pull her out in early April, and planning a trip to Chicago with two of the oldest grandchildren which happens also in early April, and our family trip to the UP in June and other summer events. My body and spirit want to move more even though I exercise every morning. A bit of adventure thrown in would be welcome. I have been a student for five weeks and already I feel ready for spring break.

Since adding a class to my life, writing has had to be pushed aside for time and I miss the writing and reflection. As I sat in meditation this morning, I remembered that whether I am writing, drawing, painting, meditating, playing with the children, or sitting with a bereaved, it is all the same when I am present. Each activity when I am present allows me to see, feel, experience life in a moment. When I take a seat or stance or walk in the present moment I am alive and connected to life. It may feel like my time is torn between one thing and another but it is not, as at the core it is all the same exercise and as Jon Kabat-Zinn states, it is all “taking your seat in and in relationship to the present moment.” It is our relationship to this moment that is our life. Usually what keeps us out of the present moment is anxiety and regret, one for the future and one for the past. We live in our constant inner chatter about one or the other.

This is my life and it can all seem trite and mundane when we hear reports of yet another school shooting and the loss of so many beautiful lives and this awareness too becomes the practice of focus and staying present. We sit with our caring, our anger, our concern, our activism but not by loosing ourselves in a future or a past but by continuing to live in the moment that is ours in each breath. We connect to the source of each moment as best we are able to be open to grace, spirit, love, compassion and then we bring these out into this world we inhabit.

As Kabat- Zinn states in his book, Arriving at Your Own Door, “Now is already the future and it is already here. Now is the future of the previous moment just past, and the future of all those moments that were before that one.” We live with anxiety worried about the future and if we are where we “should be” in life. Are we where we thought we would be when we looked forward at age 21? And yet, we are our future in this very moment.  We create worry and anxiety about some untold future not realizing our tomorrow is built on today. As we re-center in this one moment, the only one we have, we build a center for tomorrow. We build peace on peace, joy on joy, compassion on compassion. At the center of my being I do know why I am here and why I am drawing and writing and I trust in where it is all taking me. I believe all of this when I hold a steady attention, some days, some moments, being harder than others. By holding a steady attention, holding a focus, we can rest in the focus. There is no anxiety. There is only space, breath, and presence; all grounding for a full life.

Seventeen lovely children and adults were in the midst of a day, in the midst of a breath, and it was the last. We sit in that awareness and feel the pain of those who have been left behind, who grieve their loss, who feel confused and uncertain of their future and wish, with every breath, they could change this past. As we sit in this awareness, we enter this moment with them through each breath in and through each breath out, transforming in each breath hate for love, anger for peace, doubt for faith, despair for hope. We hold steady in the strength we have today and make this our offering, this our daily work toward an untold future, this a promise for a more compassionate loving tomorrow.

The dawning of a new day, a new moment, at Morning Sun.

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A Video Presentation

Since my return from El Camino, I have been gathering photos and creating a video of our journey to share with all of you. It is complete and my son assisted in making it available on Vimeo. Copy and paste the link to view. It is a delight for me to see it each time and breathe in the gentle air and feel it again on my skin. I remember the dear people we met, the food, the feel of the paths walked, the laughter shared, and the countless ways of being supported.

http://vimeopro.com/cineomatic/el-camino-2017

Enjoy!

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Taking the Empty Chair

Oh God! make me busy with Thee, that they may not make me busy with them. Rabia

Ha! This showed up as this mornings reflection from Blue Mountain Meditation Center. I burst out laughing. It is so true in so many ways.

Whether it is in meditation or sitting for prayer, the mind is going through its endless lists and planning, running commentary regarding work, situations that have brought conflict, dreaming about something in the future, regretting something in the past. It gets so busy in the mind, we find ourselves arguing with ourselves because there certainly isn’t anyone else in there. Meditation is most likely the situation Rabia was speaking of in his declaration but we can all identify in countless ways. Enough already. There are only so many ways we can spread ourselves out with invitations to be more involved in civic organizations, political, Facebook, holiday events. Who are the “them” that are calling us to show up?

What Rabia calls for is focus. Let me be so focused that nothing else intrudes, nothing distracts. In today’s language, the call is for recharging, rebooting. Somewhat crass language for sitting in mindful awareness but it is language familiar to us. If we do not recharge our computer or phone or iPad we have an instrument without any power. We are the same. We need focused time for recharging or we are running around without any juice.

When we are depleted we get short tempered, make mistakes, make errors in judgment, at times succumb to illness or injury, and we loose our connection to the Self within. We hurt those we love including ourselves. It hardly seems worth it but we get so sucked in to tasks we don’t know when to step back.

It is as simple and as hard as setting time for ourselves, committing to it, and showing up to ourselves. Getting recharged can feel compelling when we get used to sitting in quiet with ourselves. We want more. We find ourselves looking forward to siting in the empty chair or cushion and simply and profoundly being engaged in the act of  being. Not busy doing. Simply being. Feeling the connection to all life in all forms. Breathing in beauty, joy, and relaxation.

The chair for the weary traveler. El Camino 2017   Take it, it’s yours!

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