Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Finding a Theme

One never knows where one will find wisdom. Most recently I found it in a home decor magazine in an article about cleaning closets and shedding stuff.

You Need A Theme
The reality is, no one lets go in a vacuum--no one lets go of anything
without reaching for something else. But if you don't know what you're reaching
for, you won't let go. The solution is to come up with a theme. Take the
pressure off yourself. Stop trying to figure out exactly what you're going to do
next. Instead, define what the next chapter in your life is going to feel like.
What part of you do you want to express? Freedom? Creativity? Intimacy?
Serenity? Balance? That's your theme. When you get the right word--the right
theme--it mobilizes you to move forward. It gives you something exciting to
create space for. (Julie Morgenstern)

Ever since moving to Wisconsin I have been wondering what I am to do here. What's next on my agenda? When we moved to Ohio in 1994 I was eager to explore new options, do things I had not done before. I left a stimulating, challenging position in public relations for a seminary and decided not to look for a similar job. Eventually, I trained as a spiritual director, opened a private practice and led retreats and facilitated groups on topics related to spirituality. I loved finding a new career, answering a new call. With this recent move I first thought I needed to do something new again. Isn't that part of what a move is all about? After some reflection, however, I thought about bringing what I have done and who I am into this place, this time. How could I use the skills and the knowledge I had developed over the last years in a new setting? With that idea in mind I have investigated some possibilities, but I have not found the right match. I've tested a few things, but have not felt the passion to pursue them. This has been challenging, especially when I am asked "What are you doing these days?"

This "What's next?"conversation is not confined to those who have moved to a new community, but it is also a common conversation among people who have retired recently or are considering retirement. There seems to be pressure to have a fill-in the blank answer. "I am going to_______. I've always wanted to_________. The problem is not a lack of interests or opportunities or support. The "What next?" question is so much bigger than those categories. I think Morgenstern has given an avenue for serious reflection and one worth a number of early morning journal entries. What is to be my theme for the next chapter? Stay tuned.

Oh, and in the meantime a friend mentioning that it may be the right time to retire gave me an idea about what I might do. I have always loved leading groups. One of the things I miss most about my Ohio life is the women's spirituality group I led. What about starting a group for women who are newly or about to be retired? A group that would look at the issues of this time, offer support, explore strategies, and provide a safe and spiritual context for reflection. Interested?

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Inventory of Comfort

"As adults, we still suffer from a lack of soothing." Yes, yes," I thought as I read this during my morning meditation yesterday in a book that takes my breath away on almost every page, Healing Through the Dark Emotions, The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair by Miriam Greenspan. I could easily think about all the times when I needed to be soothed and comforted, when a lingering hug would have made a huge difference, but then just as easily I thought about times when I have failed to soothe and comfort another. Times when I wasn't even aware giving comfort would have made a difference. Or times when I tried to offer solutions, instead of offering a listening ear and cooing softly, "I know, I know. I am so sorry." I ached with that recognition.

Greenspan continues: "Given the state of the world and its everyday assaults and stressors (including the speed at which we in the West are now living and the overwhelming inundation of information we have to contend with, as well as the everyday violence of the culture), we could all stand to be rocked like babies every day! But even if you've got someone to do this for you, it's important to be able to soothe yourself."

Easily, happily a wave of my comforts swept over and through me.

Writing at my desk with a candle lit and soft music playing.

Holding my husband's hand as we cross a busy street.

Tossing a shawl over my shoulders on a blustery day.

Opening a new book, a new journal.

Easing into morning meditation time.

Preparing a meal I know will be enjoyed--the chopping and stirring and simmering and smelling and waiting.

Seeing the light on in our living room as I approach the house after an afternoon walk.

Thinking about our grandchildren--being with them is certainly better, of course. The smiles, the laughs, the morning cuddles in bed, the reading before bedtime, the seeing the world through uncensored eyes.

Watching the birds at our feeder and spotting red-tail hawks as I drive long distances.

Hearing my husband come in the door in the evening.

Practicing T'ai Chi, meditating in motion.

Noticing my mother's ring on my finger and pausing to feel her ongoing presence in my life.

Spending time with dear friends, doing what we do best --antiquing, shopping, discussing books and sharing thoughts about this time of our life.

Noticing how our children are now more receivers of our friendship than of our parenting.

Finding the National Public Radio station when I am away from home.

Looking out our bedroom window every morning, catching the first glimpse of the day.

Decorating our home for holidays and the changing of seasons, especially fall when I indulge my love of pumpkins, all kinds.

Learning something new or deepening, broadening what I already know. Do you want to know what I learned at a lecture at the arboretum about wild turkeys yesterday? Ok, too bad.




These are more than pleasures, although experiencing each of these does bring pleasure. These are ways of soothing my supposedly misread ego or my tired, weary heart; ways of turning loneliness into satisfying solitude of soulful connection. I'll add one more thing, before I leave you to compose your own list, composing this inventory of comfort has comforted me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sacred Mondays

The list for the morning was clear when I awoke: Pray, read and meditate. Do the laundry dance. Clean the master bedroom and bathroom and vacuum the second floor hallway. Clean-out the refrigerator and make a grocery list followed by doing the grocery shopping and unpacking the groceries once home again. Fold clothes, put away, and iron. Cinderella's list? Not in my book, for I love to hometend and in the hometending I encounter the sacred. I pray my way through these homey tasks.

My first prayer is one of gratitude. Thank you, loving Creator, for this life; the luxury of living according to my own schedule and desires. And my prayers go on from there, beginning with the laundry. As I load the washing machine, I think about the blessings of the recent days. I see a Valentine handkerchief I tucked in my pocket on Saturday and remember the friend who gave it to me. Thank you for the gift of friendship in my life. I toss my husband's exercise clothes into the washer and am grateful he takes care of himself in this healthy way. I change the sheets on our bed, smoothing and tucking and folding and as I layer blankets and spread and pillows, I think about the rhythm of our days, morning to night to morning to night and on and on. I do nothing to make that happen. It just is. I clean our bathroom--not my favorite task, for sure, but I love the light in this room and the view over the rooftops of our neighborhood. I send blessings to all the households in my sight. I hang fresh towels and think about the first time I did that in this house after a year of being in transition, and I am overwhelmed with amazement and gratitude for being able to live here. I vacuum the hallway, peeking in at guest rooms and think about those who have visited and those who will soon be coming and I send them prayers of hope that they may receive whatever it is they need today.

The whole grocery routine follows and here is where it falls apart for me a bit. My least favorite part of the whole process is lugging in the bags of groceries when I get home and then unpacking them. I often tease the bagger and ask if she is coming home with me to unpack, since she does such a good job packing my purchases and often the response is, "Wish I could." Bless your heart, I think, and for an instant I see the holy before me.

Gunilla Norris, one of the goddesses in my life, in her book of poetry Being Home, A Book of Meditations, says, "Prayer and housekeeping--they go together. They have always gone together. We simply know that our daily round is how we live. When we clean and order our homes, we are somehow also cleaning and ordering ourselves...How we hold the simplest of our tasks speaks loudly about how we hold life itself."

I choose to see Monday as a sacred day and to move through this day as if tending an altar where at the end of the day I will kneel and give thanks for the glories of the day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Absence, Dependency, and Lack of Control

This is not what I planned; not what I intended. I set aside time to write frequent entries on my new blog, hoping I would get comfortable with this new style and tool for writing and reflection and that you, a potential ongoing reader, would have frequent entries to read and therefore, want to make this blog a "regular" in your life. Well, the best laid plans were tossed in the air and the landing was delayed. For almost two weeks I was in laptop/printer distress, and I experienced a whole range of feelings.

First, I realized I needed help, and I felt energized by reaching out for help and finding someone approachable and available who could help me. Being new in this community, we are still putting together our team and a good computer tech who doesn't make me feel like an idiot is a necessary member of that team. Now if I could just find a dentist!

The first few days I enjoyed my laptopless condition. I had informed those with whom I communicate most regularly about the situation and asked my husband to bring home his laptop from work, so I could do some emailing in the evenings. At first I enjoyed the extra space in my day. I spent more time in morning meditation. I read more. Walked more. I sat at my desk in our bedroom, where I never bring the laptop, and I wrote letters. Yes, handwrote letters.

I stayed calm. I praised my patience. At first.

However, the time of laptoplessness lengthened and all my dresser drawers were now clean and lavender scented with fresh drawer liners. Each day I would check-in with my computer guy and each day he would be sure all would be well later in the day. One problem became another problem, however, and laptopless time extended on and on. Eventually, these prodigal machines did come home and that was when I really fell apart. You can fill-in the blank with your own computer nightmares, but there were more phone calls, a new printer, loss of email addresses, (but not documents, thank you God) a visit from a tech to install my printer and then frustration as recently as minutes ago because my printer was NOT working. I figured it out and for this moment I am breathing evenly.

During these days I felt a bundle of feelings:
I felt scared.
I felt frustrated.
I felt alone.
I felt lack of control.
I felt disappointed.
I felt sad.
I felt disconnected.
I felt dependent.
I felt uncomforted.
I felt vulnerable.
I felt embarrassed.
I felt angry.
I felt anxious.
I felt unclear.
I felt uncertain.
Sometimes all at the same time.

And then finally when all was restored, I felt grateful, deeply grateful. The first time I emailed dear friends and family members and said, "I am back" was a sacred moment. These machines are sacred objects. Yes, if my house were on fire, I would grab my laptop. But I also became aware, at least momentarily, for this is a lesson, I will need to learn yet again, that these miraculous machines are not objects meant to be worshipped. They are not meant to rule my life or take the place of my life. Perhaps it is time to institute intentional sabbatical time; planned timed-outs from computer accessibility.

Mark Nepo says in his Book of Awakening, "It is the path off the path that brings us to God." And sometimes the path means being off-line.