Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I returned with the worst cold I had had in years, one of those stay in bed kind of colds. We returned to a dead car battery and a lost internet connection and changes at work. The morning after we returned, I fell and bruised/cracked/broke a rib. After walking at least 10 miles every day on cobblestones much of the time and always while gawking at the beauty around me, never tripping or stumbling, I returned to familiar territory and I fell.
We also returned to warm, glowing fall days, similar to what we experienced in Paris, and I decided, because the energy and the physical stamina were severely limited, I would listen to my body and rest. If I could no longer sit for long unhassled periods of time at a Paris cafe, savoring croissants and chocolat chaud, I could retreat to the deck off our dining room. The deck we call "Paris."
I've called the deck "Paris," since we first moved in the house. Looking out over the rooftops of our neighborhood, I imagined myself standing on a French balcony, greeting the morning. Never mind that I had never been to Paris and had no idea what I would see from a French window and now that I have been to Paris, I realize the view from my deck bears no resemblance to the view from our Paris apartment.
Never mind, I have a great imagination.
Our summer was full with many fast turn arounds between events, along with big chunks of time devoted to Paris preparations. Plus, prolonged hot weather prohibited sitting on the deck. Now was the perfect time. I read. I dozed. I gazed. I remembered. Yes, I did what had to be done--laundry, bills, phone calls, emails--but each day included Paris time. Each day more leaves fell and I was further away from our time in Paris, but I allowed Paris to sink into my being. I let Paris roll around in me. I let myself uncover Paris within me.
While in Paris we discussed with our travel companions what we have taken home from our various travels. Not just treasured objects like the large pottery pitcher perfect for sunflowers we bought in Florence, but lifestyle or attitude changes. Not an easy question, but a good one to ponder on the Paris deck.
I loved the pace I encountered in Paris.--the acceptability of and encouragement to sit in a cafe for as long as you want to observe and marvel at the fashion parade, to reflect on the sights, big and small. To recall what You've learned and what questions you have, such as "What is the criteria for being buried at Pere La Chaise?" and "Is there a law against carrying 'to go' coffee while walking?" To sip a glass of wine or two at lunch. To talk or not. To savor a pastry, slowly, really tasting it. To breathe and feel gratitude for all of life.
To experience what Richard Rohr calls, "deep time" --past, present and future all at once.
I want to live that way. I want those parts of Paris to live on in me.
Phil Cousineau in his book The Art of Pilgrimage lists five excellent practices for travellers on sacred journeys.
Practice the arts of attention and listening.
Practice renewing yourself every day.
Practice meandering toward the center of every place.
Practice the ritual of reading sacred texts.
Practice gratitude and praise-singing.
This is what I want to bring to my deck called "Paris." And to all of my life.
Stay tuned for more thoughts about Paris.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Time to caress my house
to stroke all its surfaces
I want to think of it as a kind of lovemaking
...the chance to appreciate by touch
what I live with and cherish.
True, the house needed a thorough cleaning, but my soul did, too. I needed to restore some order in my head, sweep away the cobwebs from neglected corners in my heart, and polish what had become dull. September 1 seemed like the perfect day to renew the space that shelters me and welcomes friends and family.
The summer has been a social one, rather than a solitary one, with few slots on the calendar available for writing or reading or silent journeys inward. Days chugged along with ins and outs through the screen door, ups and downs with baskets of sheets and towels for the always willing, thank God, washer and dryer, and back and forth to our "urban cabin" in downtown St Paul and here and there for event after pleasant event. All good, but so different from last summer when I spent a month in Door County, writing daily, feeling both productive and luxurious in the easy time. This has been a peopled time--new friends, dear family, history friends--and I regret not one shared minute.
As I turn the page of the calendar into a new season, however, I feel familiar tugs toward my writing. Ideas have not stopped flowing--only the fingers. Little pieces of paper with notes to my writing self stuff folders on my desk. A desk, I might add, once again orderly and ready for my presence. The arrival of September signals a return to, a resumption of what has been set aside during this summer sabbatical. And my house is clean.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Am I defensive because I've made that statement many times? Perhaps, but here's what I think. When I say or write "my thoughts and prayers are with you," I am thinking about that person, praying for that person right then in that present moment. Saying it, writing it, is praying. That counts. That matters. I think it is a bit presumptuous of Feiler to assume that the majority of people don't do what they say they will do. True, many people may never give you another thought and may not have an intentional prayer practice where they lift your name to the Divine, but I believe when someone thinks of me anytime in a loving, empathic, caring way, they are praying on my behalf. When someone I know is in the midst of a crisis, thoughts of them drift across my heart while I'm making the bed, folding laundry or driving to the grocery store, as well as times when I'm writing them a note or preparing a meal to deliver. Those are all moments of prayer, even though I may not stop and fold my hands and say, "Dear God, please..."
Could it be that being the recipient of thoughts and prayers makes us uncomfortable? Do we perhaps not want the attention or do we get a bit itchy when presented with someone's testimony of faith, especially when their belief system does not match our own? It may feel easier to dismiss the statement as a meaningless platitude.
As I write this, I think about a dear friend with cancer, of a new friend with her third cancer, of many others who have been in remission for years and of others I knew only fleetingly when I led cancer support groups. I pray as I think of them. Do they know that? Maybe they will feel a little nudge of sweet energy--I hope so. Whether they recognize it or not, I have sent forth love and hope and an acknowledgement of connection and a belief that what we think and feel matters.
Here's the deal, however. When you make that statement, you are signing a contract and entering into a covenant with the person in need of prayers and thoughts and also with the Divine; however, you envision the Divine. You've said it--now do it. Follow through. Be intentional. Set aside time. Pause. Close your eyes and breathe. See your loved one's face. Say her name. Open your heart and be with her. Also, I invite you to pay attention to the times you say "My thoughts and prayers are with you." What are you actually feeling and do you truly mean what you say? Is there something you can do, along with whispering prayers? Perhaps your prayers are the entry way to a deeper connection with the person in need and with the Divine.
Oh, and by the way, when someone says "My thoughts and prayers are with you," why not say a heartfelt "Thank you," followed by "I hope you will. Knowing I am in your heart matters to me."
Being in my 60's seems to mean I am sending many more sympathy cards and writing more notes of encouragement and reflection. The opportunities to respond to people facing serious challenges are increasing as I get older. Feiler's article reminds me to be conscious of what I say and what I do. He reminds me to bring my best self to all who are in need of Divine attention, and so I say, "Bruce Feiler, my thoughts and prayers are with you, too."
Thursday, June 23, 2011
I took pictures off the second floor walls, pulled the shades, and left the house for as long as I could. Not only was the sound, the ripping and the pounding, intense, but seeing a circus act on our steep, multi-level roof made me queasy. I like my feet on the ground, thank you very much.
When I was in a Tai Chi meditation group, the leader always positioned me across from her in our circle because she said I was so grounded. In the opening pose we stood with our feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent--mountain space. Many things happen to mountains--rock slides and snow slides and volcanos, a special breed of mountain, can blow their tops, but how often does a mountain fall over or drift away?
The trick to being grounded and steadfast, it seems to me, is to know what grounds you, what keeps you from floating away like the fluff from the cottonwood trees. What keeps you from falling off the roof? Being grounded can sustain you in shaky times, uncertain times, times when you have no choice but to relinquish control. No doubt, we will face such shaky times as we get older, and being grounded can serve us well. The year I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and my mother was dying of colon cancer, I didn't always have the physical or emotional stamina to write in my journal, the spiritual practice that has grounded me most consistently over the years, but knowing my journals were just off stage, sustained and grounded me. I wrote details in my head, made notes in my heart about those last days of my mother's life. I observed and I willed myself to remember. I was present.
However, being grounded has its shadow side --being stuck. I know when I write in my journal about the same thing over and over and over and over again and when, rereading those many entries, I see no change, no surrender, no forgiveness or intention to forgive, no new thoughts, no acceptance, I'm stuck. Big time stuckness! When are you unable to move or imagine another way? When does being grounded translate into stubborness, limiting you to one way or the high way, instead of a range of possibilities? When does being steadfast no longer serve you? When does the ground become quicksand sucking the energy out of you?
A spiritual practice done frequently and intentionally, such as writing in your journal, walking a labyrinth, meditating, whatever you choose, is both a way to stay grounded and to clarify what grounds you and leads you closer to the person you were created to be. A spiritual practice can also be the tool to help you recognize when you are more stuck than grounded.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Thursday, June 2, 2011
After my usual morning routine of going to Curves and then walking throught the neighborhood and finally taking a shower and dressing for the day, I gathered my morning meditation materials and my breakfast smoothie (Blend 1 cup frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt, 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup water.) and settled in.
Always eager to discover what message my devotions would deliver, I often forget to center myself, to find the even rhythm of my breath, to become present to my body and to my environment. The wind, however, reached underneath the eaves and swept over my body and reminded me to become still. The wind was in charge of movement for the moment. Not me. I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths and then with soft eyes I drank in the green of the tall grass among the trees across the street. The whole range of greens, light and baby new greens, lettuce greens and Easter greens and "I just learned how to be green" greens.. Not quite the mature greens of summer yet. I was ready to receive. I read the day's entry in Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening, and the next chapter in a book that is not a typical devotion book, but one that is giving me new perspectives on speaking out and solitude and friendships, A Life of One's Own, A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. The only problem with this book is that now I yearn to return to Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse and other books by her as well. Just when do I think I will do that? I wrote a brief entry in my journal, but most of the time I sat quietly and listened to the wind.
Soon my spiritual direction client arrived, saying as she came up the stairs that she hoped I would be on the porch enjoying the day. Instead of going to my office for our session, we sat on the porch aware that we were not alone, just as we are never alone, but this time the Creative Presence was the wind, whispering words of encouragement as we explored ways our spirituality is deepening and ways we are called to live a more spiritual life. Our time was blessed by the wind.
Later while I ate lunch and read, a young couple walking by stopped to chat. "Do you know anyone who is planning to sell their house soon? We are looking." Few homes are for sale in our neighborhood right now, but I thought what pleasant neighbors they would be, and I wished them well and remembered my many days of walking these blocks, hoping we could sell our farmhouse in Ohio and land here ourselves. Now here I am on our front porch. May they find their home, too, I prayed.
The day progressed. I wrote a letter. I moved my laptop from my office to the porch and wrote some emails and did other miscellaneous desk tasks. I watered the plants and swept the porch floor. I watched children coming home from school--how many days till school is out for the summer? I waved at people walking their dogs, and I overheard passing conversations from my almost secret location. A few days ago Bruce sat where I was now sitting and heard someone say, "I love this house. It looks so loved." High praise.
We ate our supper on the porch and caught up one another's days. Bruce finished planting his purchases from our trip to nurseries on Sunday. I returned to my reading--a book that may land on my "Favorite Books Ever" list, The Paper Garden, An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock. I am 63. Perhaps my life's work is still ahead of me. The porch is a good place to have those kinds of thoughts.
Later, when night was falling, I went for a walk, returning to the "welcome home" porch lights. Reluctantly, I went inside and shut the front door. My day on the porch was over.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The words from the Lutheran communion liturgy fill my heart:
"Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord, and fill to the brim our cup of blessing. Gather a harvest of the seeds that were sown, that we may be fed with the bread of life. Gather the hopes and dreams of all; unite them with the prayers we offer. Grace our table with your presence, and give us a foretaste of the feast to come."
Each celebration was an acknowledgment of the hopes and dreams we have for these special young women whom we love and adore. We gathered at not only the communion table, but at buffet tables, eating and drinking together as a sign of our connection to each other. We looked at each of these loving presences in our lives as hopeful signs of the future and prayed whatever they encounter that they may always be surrounded by such visible love and support.
In the midst of the festivities, however, a question kept nagging me. How do we continue to live fully in the present when so much of our life is in the past, when we have so much to remember? What do we do with all the memories of past events, events that we have lived before more than once, and now the event is here all over again? Different people. Different times and settings, but the same event. High school graduation. First communions and confirmations and baptisms. Weddings. Births and deaths. Changes and transitions.
I was flooded with memories. For example, as I stood in my sister's dining room, I recalled our own dining room when our daughter, the mother of our granddaughter now, was graduating from high school. My sister was pregnant with the child who we were now celebrating. I felt pulled back to that same event only all those years ago when I was the mother who had been baking for weeks and had been cleaning and redecorating in anticipation of a houseful of guests, using the occasion as the excuse. I thought about that whole senior year when I had been in tears for every last event. How was it possible that my daughter was old enough to graduate from high school? How is it now possible that she has a daughter old enough for first communion? How is it possible that the unborn child is now graduating from high school and that my younger sister is now facing empty nest? Did anyone notice as I oohed and aahed at the array of treats and the "Oh, the Places You'll Go" decorations in the dining room that I was not fully present, that I was in the past?
And then I walked into the family room, and there was my father sitting in what is known as the Papa Chair, and he seemed to be quietly observing all the fun and fanfare, just as he had sat and watched earlier that day at the lunch after church. I realized how much more the past dominates his days. I don't know if he was thinking about other celebrations, the open houses he and Mom hosted for each of us kids or others he attended over the years. Perhaps he was thinking about his own high school graduation. There is a lot of past in his present and who knows how much future.
One of the challenges of these added years is to stay engaged with the present. The memories and lessons of the past are valuable, for sure, and should not be discounted and in fact, can make us enjoy the present even more, but I think it is tempting to lose ourselves in the past with its memories and stories. One clue perhaps is to realize that this present moment is transforming itself into the past right now. In order to remember it all--how our granddaughter glowed as she received the cup of wine, and how surprised she was to receive presents, and the sound of our niece's voice as she said "This is my Aunt Nan and Uncle Bruce" to her friends, and how our young grandson was so at home in my sister's house--I need to stay present. I need to open my heart, along with my eyes and ears, and rejoice in the now.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I began by just sitting. Breathing and allowing myself to enjoy being in this favorite place. A light breeze created ripples on the lake. A hazy sky obstructed the view across the lake, encouraging me to focus on what brought me there. I started writing all the questions, the options, muddled in my head, including "Should I continue trying to write for publication or should I write only for private and personal use?" "If I decide to continue to try to write for publication/for the public what form will that take?" "Should I focus on doing spiritual direction?" And many more. I could hardly write fast enough, exploring these questions. I wrote without rereading, and the time was productive, but not in the way I expected.
I thought I had so much to uncover, so much more that needed to be revealed, a need to dig deeper, but what I discovered instead was that it is time to lighten up. I remembered the words on my easel, "Wait, The light will come," and there I was siting in brilliant light. Lightness seemed to be the key. My normal MO is to create a plan with clear cut steps and timelines and deadlines and that works well for me--most of the time. But right now I am willing to take a lighter, easier approach. I know I want to continue to write, but the product, the outcome, feels less important right now. I feel less driven, less rigid. I am willing to let go of the book I have been working on for a long time--for now at least. I am more willing to think about that book as the way I worked through issues of grief and loss and was also the path to writing in a focused way. And for that I am most grateful. Therefore, I don't have a major plan. I will let a plan or plans emerge. I will live lightly with my writing. That doesn't mean NOT do it, but to do it within the context of my whole life.
I left the Terrace feeling a sense of abundance and buoyancy and of being and having enough. If I let go, there is still enough, and maybe even more.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Then after a fun-filled weekend, Kate packed up the van with Pete and some of the boots and shoes and left Maren here for her week of spring break.
Monday, March 14, 2011
The world is not the same as it was when I loaded my car and drove to St Paul a little over a week ago. The infamous budget bill here in Wisconsin has been passed, but the protests have not ended, and Japan has been rocked by earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant destruction. Suffering and death. Transformative shifts. Endings and beginnings, although not immediately apparent. High emotions and less than obvious next steps. Feelings of helplessness and also awe at the resilience of humanity. Opportunities to express compassion and to realize our best selves. How do we do that? I am not sure, but I offer the metaphor of the kaleidoscope, thanks to an anonymous writer at the "Awakening the Soul of the Writer" conference I attended this weekend.
"The kaleidoscope is a wonderful metaphor for the creative process because this instrument allows us to twist reality into new patterns. In the kaleidoscope a set of fragments form a pattern, but it isn't locked into place. Reality, the kaleidoscope tells us, is only a temporary arrangement. Creativity consists of rearranging the pieces to create a new reality."
The pieces have been rearranged. Pieces are rearranged every day. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too. In that awareness there is hope, along with mystery. In that knowledge there is opportunity for renewal, repair, and even rebirth. Each change, each rearrangement is a kind of re-entry, a chance for reconciliation and resurrection. How we each choose to do that is an expression of essential creativity.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Saturday my women's spirituality group met, and the topic planned long before the protests started was "Maintain Peace of Mind," based on a chapter from Christina Baldwin's The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit, a book I reread frequently for its deep levels of wisdom. Our group was eloquent in sharing distress and concerns about the current situation, and I was grateful to have a safe place for reflection and exploration. To open our discussion we used a breathing exercise. One breath to let go. One breath to be here. One breath to ask now what? For some the exercise was difficult--hard to let go of the turmoil and the sadness. For others it confirmed the need for commitment and action. For others it raised questions of how to respond. I had been immersed in writing most of the previous week, working on an essay about the spiritual invitations of illness, and barely lifted my head away from the computer screen to think about my own response. However, I knew I supported the teachers and other public workers, and that I believe in the ongoing need for collective bargaining. My morning prayer time included petitions for both sides to dialogue with each other and heartfelt gratitude for the lack of violence, especially as the number of protesters and the days of no school increased.
Almost as if I were on retreat, I had kept silence most of the week, staying at my desk for hours on end. At the end of the day when it was time to emerge, I unconsciously felt I might lose the words and the thoughts waiting to appear in my essay if I interacted, if I broke silence. I was listening for the right words, even as I chopped and stirred ingredients for dinner and even as I turned on the news, I found it difficult to turn my attention away from my writing. During the breathing exercise in our group, however, the word that came to me was "enough," as in "You are enough." "You have enough." "There is enough to go around." I have never been a good multi-tasker, and I prefer to finish one thing before starting another--not very realistic, I know. What the breathing exercise helped me unpack was how often I operate from a place of lack, of shortage, of not enough to go around. Instead I was reminded of the abundance of peace even in the midst of uncertainty.
Baldwin says, "Peace is all around me; my job is to bring my mind to peace." I tend to think that peace is an inner quality only, and I fear losing the ability to stay peaceful and focused and to do what I have chosen to do and yes, what I feel is a call. Baldwin reminds me that peace is also external and urges us each to define a practice of inviting peace of mind into our lives, our world. "That's the thing --to extend the invitation for divine sensation to present itself; to remember to prepare ourselves to walk the day in a spiritual manner, and then to listen, and to the best of our abilities to do as we are told. "
Even as conflict seems to predominate, peace is present in some form. It is our task to recognize it, invite it, integrate it, and magnify it. And then there will be enough.