A Blessing and Blooming

The pavement rose bushes are in full bloom and the waft of rose scent in the air feels like an intake of blessing on each breath. I missed the peonies as rain hit hard on their opening. The lilies are in bloom with splashes of color everywhere.

The last couple of weeks have simply been hard labor with scooping a few ton of rock into our landscaping around the back of the house. What seemed insurmountable in the beginning is now two thirds complete, one shovel of rock at a time. My body still holds a few aches from the job but also pride in accomplishment while realizing the enjoyment of sweaty dirty focused labor. The job was made fun with two grandkids to help us, keeping us focused and laughing in the midst of it all.

During the week, I called Margie, a newly bereaved late 70’s woman whose husband died a month ago and has been told she needs to vacate her rental as fast as possible as it is being sold. Distress, tears, disbelief, stuff to be sold or given away, no time to grieve, panic, all this I heard as I visualized Margie trying to move a ton of rock with very little support. I remember those first weeks of deep grief and the fog we move through as we try to find our bearings with a brain not functioning well as we forget things, have a hard time focusing, and find ourselves melting in tears at the small reminders of our loss. We can feel buried under an insurmountable weight.

For many of us it is the people surrounding us who help us with each shovel load, helping to ease the burden, keeping us focused, and we are grateful. At other times we find ourselves alone in our grief, sadness, and confusion. Whether we are alone or surrounded by loved ones, we ultimately find we must look within to our own resources, that which guides us daily. Finding in our own stillness the quiet moment releasing the waft of roses arising from our own heart, that which is connected to all life and loving and living and that which draws us forward to live and grow into the only thing to which we can become, ourselves in full bloom. Our own wholeness of being.

IMG_3977

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

IMG_1012.JPG

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.

IMG_0471

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!

P1030041

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!

fullsizeoutput_351e

A Healing Balm

The Christmas and seasonal decorations are on display in our home and it feels peaceful and festive. I am aware, as I place items, that it is like dressing. Choosing the outfit, the jewelry, telling a story with the choices made and the colors displayed, all symbols of how we are feeling in the day or the season. The outer display of the inner journey.

This phenomenon is alive in many forms in the month of December which honors many special days in the Christian and Jewish traditions as well as including spiritually significant days for Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and Zoroastrians as well as African-American Kwanzaa. Each rich and alive with tradition in its many forms.

Leo’s family has a tradition of stopping at people’s homes to see their tree. That was a tradition foreign to me but with his large family and extended family all in the same area, off they would go to see a decorated tree. Each tree in each home designed by a family or family member reflecting beliefs, personality, style, taste, likes and dislikes. We each year tell a story with our ornamentation or lack there of, whether we are Christian, or secular and choosing to celebrate Christmas or any other faith or tradition honoring a tradition of celebration.

In the spring season of the Christian Easter, I have attended Jewish Passover in different locations and found this true in the way the stories are told, the seder plate, the personal tastes imbued in the foods. I have celebrated the winter solstice for many years with different friends which was a new creation each year with some elements honored and held. Some with a party, others with burning a traditional oak log, gathering water for the new year, drumming, meditation, and connecting to the earth.

Each celebration in any season brings in light, love, and that which is larger than our singular life on earth, holding all that we hand down, to be used or not, with variations of the next generations additions and subtractions.

I turn to the altar I redesigned on returning from the Camino. I enjoy altars. I have made them many times over the years. A place to honor the Divine in whatever form, adding items from nature, candles, maybe a photo of one who has left this world, or one who needs prayers at this time. As with decorating a house at a holiday, it draws our attention, gives a place to focus and center, being aware of the story told with an outward reflection of the inward journey. It offers a place to ground and is as simple as one candle and as elaborate as one can imagine.

A personal altar offers a quiet reflective place to be in a busy season. Even places of worship are busy drawing one out of the inward reflective space. We live in an extroverted, busy, talkative society. Creating a space where one can take a seat in conscious awareness is a personal gift to the self, now and any time of the year. It tells a story, reflects our inward journey, might include objects and beliefs handed down or might be inclusive of an entirely different spiritual direction. Each year we have many opportunities for ritual, many ways of tradition, as well as space for expressing the beauty and the story of this moment.

Marilyn is 80. Her husband died shortly after last year’s Christmas. This year she is emotionally revisiting those days and states that while she is a person who will decorate every room at Christmas she desires nothing this year as she sits in deep sadness, loneliness, and loss. As we sat and entered the story, she expressed that while the decorating was her delight, she and her husband found their Christmas connection in the manger scene. They always set it up together and it was a connecting piece for them in this season. As Marilyn talked of how the kids would come and bring down all the decorations from the attic, I asked if maybe this year they could just bring down the manger scene, the connecting piece for her and her beloved. I saw Marilyn’s heart open with a smile and a feeling of relief pour over her body. “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, that is just enough.” The manger scene is enough to tell her story, this year. An altar for her gaze and reflection. A connecting piece to something larger than self. This year a healing balm.

fullsizeoutput_351c