Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Blessing for The Pilgrimage of Your Day

I never know where my morning writing will take me. This morning while writing about hospices as places of hospitality I decided I needed to know a bit more about how ancient monasteries offered respite and care to pilgrimages. I started by looking at a book about a modern day pilgrimage, Joyce Rupp's Walk in a Relaxed Manner, Life Lessons from the Camino. She starts the book with a wonderful blessing for the journey by Macrina Wiederkehr. We are each on a journey every day of our lives, and some days have the feeling of pilgrimage. May this blessing be of service to you wherever your path takes you today.

May flowers spring up where your feet touch the earth.
May the feet that walked before you bless your every step.
May the weather that's important be the weather of your heart.
May all your intentions find their way into the heart of God.
May your prayers be like flowers strewn from other pilgrims.
May your heart find meaning in unexpected events.
May friends who are praying for you carry you along the way.
May friends who are praying for you be carried in your heart.
May the circle of life encircle you along the way.
May the broken world ride on your shoulders.
May you carry your joy and your grief in the backpack of your soul.
May you remember all the circles of prayer throughout the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Muddled on an April Morning

I awake muddled, muddy on this April morning. In fact, it just took me three tries to spell the word "muddled" correctly and what does muddled mean anyway? Well, to me it means feeling a lack of clarity, feeling unsure, a bit torn, overwhelmed, de-energized, and even apprehensive and anxious. Furthermore, I am uncertain about the origin of each of these feelings and even less clear about solutions. So the sorting begins.

First, I will blame April itself. In some ways April is the cruelest month, for the weather is fickle. One day I am sitting on the front porch, sweaterless, book in my lap, chatting with my husband while he is planting pansies. The next day I am turning up the heat and digging for gloves before I leave the house. I see snowflakes and wish I didn't have to leave the house at all. April is also the month of my birthday, the anniversary of my Mother's death, and taxes--each with its own set of heightened emotions.

Perhaps the feeling comes from impatience with waiting. We continue to wait for our 1802 farmhouse in Ohio to sell. It has now been on the market a year and a half, and I yearn to have both feet firmly planted in Wisconsin. Except for the day I write two mortgage checks (I am deeply grateful to be able to do that, by the way.), I think little about this situation and know we have done what we can and that our realtor is doing what she can. But springtime is supposed to be the time when houses sell and we keep hearing that the market is loosening up a bit so where is our buyer? I feel irritation when someone who looks at the house says it is too old. Well, what did you think when you saw 200+ years old on the listing sheet? Or the person who wants a more open concept, which is not exactly the norm for an old house. I also continue to wait for a response from the literary agent who requested my material after reading my query letter about my book of essays on grief and loss. That was 6 weeks ago. What is proper etiquette? Do I send a "Remember me?" email? Do I submit to another agent? This is a mysterious and quirky process, and I am weary of waiting. And I wait for some good news from our son about his job-hunting process. My heart is heavy for him. Waiting for the appearance of warm temperatures and tulips is much easier.

Perhaps the feeling comes from the Hospitality Cycle we've been in the last several weeks. Lots of houseguests. Lots of menu-planning, sheet-changing, towel washing, table-setting, tour-giving. Truly, there are NO regrets. I repeat, that firmly and loudly for those of you who have been our guests or will soon be our guests. No REGRETS, for along with opening our door, we have opened our hearts. We have laughed. We have shared memories and stories and thoughts. We have added to the love in this house, but preparation and the aftermath have created an imbalance with little time or energy for the other chunks of life.

Perhaps the feeling comes from the blank page. I am beginning to write the first draft of an essay on the spirit of hospice and I am always twitchy, itchy in this stage. I love the gathering and percolating stage and I love the tweaking, editing stage as well and find it hard to let go of either stage. It is the first draft that drives me to clean drawers and buy birthday cards for October and research writer's retreats on the Internet and yes, even write a posting for this blog.

I suspect this muddled feeling is a mixed bouquet of all these feelings and, of course, I know what to do when I feel mired in whininess. I sit quietly and I write. I sit quietly and breathe and meditate. That's is exactly what I have been doing and now I will move into the rest of the day. May this be a day of clarity and calm for you. (Image is "The Beginning of Summer" by Deborah DeWitt Marchant)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


During my early morning researching for an essay I am writing on the spirit of hospice, I found inspirational words by Christine Longaker in her book Facing Death and Finding Hope, A Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care of the Dying. Both are in a chapter on caretaking as spiritual practice.

The first is a prayer:
May everything I do today be beneficial. Through remembering my spiritual practice throughout the day, may I gain more confidence in the wisdom and compassion of my true nature. And through this realization, may every contact I have with others bring us both benefit, relieving suffering, bringing healing and happiness, and furthering us along the path to freedom. May kindness and wisdom increase in the world, and through my efforts today, may I contribute to the betterment of life for all.

The second is a list of ways to integrate your spiritual practice into your daily activities.

On waking, reflect with gratitude on the kindness you have received.
Instead of gossiping, speak well of other people.
Instead of cursing someone, send them your blessing.
When walking, consider you are walking toward the truth.
When preparing to eat, reflect with gratitude on all those whose sacrifice brought you the food; then mentally offer your meal and your enjoyment of it to all enlightened beings.
When cleaning, imagine you are cleaning your negative habits.
When putting on clean clothes, or receiving something new, offer your enjoyment.
When you see someone happy, rejoice with them.
When you see someone suffering, instead of turning away in fear, turn toward them in love, and give what you can in that moment.

Love and Light Blessings

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Winter Trees

I've always loved the bones of trees in the winter; the skeletons. The ability to see how a tree is made and how it reaches; its spread and girth and width. The bones, the basics, the dark against the grey sky. The shadows cast, the possibilities, the past, present, and the imagined future.

For years I walked the same route, no matter the season, and it was in winter that the changes over the year were most apparent to me. Where a huge branch had been struck down by lightening or age. Where undergrowth was more its own. Where nests were left vulnerable to driving snow, sleet, rain. Where time had taken its toll.

The first winter of my walks there I noticed trunks with door-sized holes and wondered if I had peered inside would I find Peter Pan and the Lost Boys or a bear in hibernation? I noticed stumps large enough for picnics in the coming summer. I wondered about lone leaves stubbornly clinging to an otherwise bare branch. What is it holding on to? Why won't it let go?

If I were a painter, winter trees would be my subject. From a distance I would paint the colony, the community of trees in their nakedness, like being at a nude beach. Up close I would paint every line and blemish and wrinkle and wart and age spot and acne scar.

I've always said I have earned my wrinkles and feel an affinity for trees in that respect. They have lived through many seasons, many years, known draught and deluge, the coldness of abandonment and neglect and the pressing heat of passion too close for comfort. They've earned their wrinkles. I love the starkness, the lack of pretense, the startling beauty of trees in winter. The way they seem to say, "Look at me. This is who I am." I welcome the life, the new, young hopeful life of spring, especially this year as we experience our first spring in this house, but on this cold April morning I honor the season of winter trees. A winter tree looks either older than its years or younger than time and that is just the way I feel. I am a winter tree. (Note: the painting is "Aspen Trees" by Ann Doody, an artist based in both Madison, WI and Aspen, CO)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Grazing and Gathering

I'm in the"gathering" stage of writing an essay about the spirit of hospice for a book of photographic portraits. During these times of grazing and gathering, I flood myself with ideas and the words and thoughts of others by roaming through my bookshelves, checking indexes and table of contents of my books. I note what resonates. I jot down ideas for this project and other projects, some not even imagined until this very moment. I love this stage of writing, and it is always tempting to stay right here for there is always another book to open. I trust the process, however, because at some magical, mysterious point I know it is time to turn the wandering into writing. Blank sheets of paper and an empty computer screen eventually become compelling.

This morning I did more than skim the books in front of me. Instead I leaned back in my desk chair, tucked the quilt more tightly around my legs and wrapped my shawl more securely around my shoulders and read a book that has been on my shelf for sometime, The Tao of Dying, A Guide to Caring by Doug Smith. Along with many quotes and ideas appropriate for my current essay, I read the following:
Time is established.
It cannot be altered.
A year will always be a year.
A person's last year cannot be lengthened
or shortened.
A month will always be a month.
A person's last month cannot be lengthened
or shortened.
An hour will always be an hour.
A person's last hour cannot be lengthened
or shortened.

Do not reach forward.
Do not reach back.
Do not push.
Do not pull.
Be settled where you already are.

These are good words for the "sacred sixties," it seems to me.

So I return to the grazing and the gathering time, knowing that it will take whatever time it will take. I have whatever time I have. And soon, perhaps in a few minutes, my sweet six year old granddaughter, who is spending her spring break with us, will emerge from her bed and come into my office and say, "Hi GrandNan," and we will move into our time of play and companionship, loving and living whatever time we have. I am so lucky.