Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who's On Our Roof?

Sunday morning, and I breathed into the quiet of the day. Ah, no trucks rumbling past the house, and no roofs being reshingled. Early this spring our neighborhood was bombarded with hail, and now roofing company signs seem to be multplying like weeds on every block. Including ours. For two days last week, we had men on our roof.

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. 

Spiritual refreshments are sometimes just outside our windows. Or on our roofs. Roofing is hard work, dangerous work, and I am grateful this job was completed safely. Watching the crew moving agily, confidently across the roof, reminded me that I can stay grounded, but I don't have to be stuck in one place or in one way of thinking or responding or being. Like the roofers, I can touch the sky.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The View From the 23rd Floor

Recently, Bruce and I decided to rent an apartment downtown St Paul. Instead of going to a lake home on the weekends, we now have an "urban cabin," and in true Agneberg style, we have settled in quickly--pictures on the walls, shelf liner in the kitchen cabinets, and books in a new bookshelf. We have even entertained for the first time, although I am telling everyone I am not planning to do much cooking there. The grandkids gave me colorful measuring cups and spoons, however, so I do think an occasional batch of cookies will be in order. 

We have decided to take this step for several reasons.

1. I anticipate needing and wanting to go to Minnesota more frequently, as my father, who is almost 88, begins to cope with more issues of aging. Having our own place will make the coming and going easier. We have always stayed with our daughter and her family, and we loved doing that and never felt we were imposing. They have always been hospitable and thoroughly welcoming, but we take over our granddaughter's room and while she appreciates the $$ tip I leave under her pillow, at some point her room will be her castle, her sanctuary from little brother and disagreeable parents and friends she can't quite figure out. They have incredibly busy lives and having Mom and Dad come and come more often and maybe more spontaneously adds more to their schedule and To Do list. 

2. Our plan when Bruce retires is to move back to St Paul where we raised our kids and where the majority of family and friends still live. Having an apartment is a way to begin re-establishing a life there; a transition stage to fulltime life there and life as a retired couple. A way to get to know the metropolitan area again and what it has to offer us now that we are in our 60's. Having an apartment is a step up from "visiting," although it is still not quite living there. It is a way to road test what will be right for us and for our family when we do make this permanent change. At this stage of our life the opportunities for "do-overs" are not as obvious or as easy, and this decision feels like a way to become more sure of later and bigger decisions. When we lived in Ohio and more recently in Madison, our visits were jampacked and we never saw all the people we wanted to see and never had the chance to explore the area--go to the Guthrie Theatre or the arboretum, for example, but perhaps that will change a bit now that we have a home base.  

This is all quite new still, but Bruce keeps saying how right it feels, and I agree. At the same time I feel a bit cautious, for I don't want us to let go of our good life here.  My circle of women friends has increased and deepened in the last few months, and I am beginning to feel at home here in a way that is more profound than knowing my way around and having our home decorated the way we want it. I am not ready to let go of what we have been establishing in these 3 and a half years. When we do move to Minnesota, I want to miss Madison, our life here and our friends here, just as we miss our son and daughter-in-love and friends in Cleveland. I want reasons to return. 

An ongoing theme for me is finding the right balance. What I am balancing changes with time and situation, of course. Family and career. Time with friends and time with family. Exercising or reading a book. Solitude vs time with others. This is one more opportunity to listen and respond to my inner voice. 

3. Oh, and one more reason. It's fun !!! We are good at moving in and creating a homey space. We enjoy doing that and already our "urban cabin" feels like home.   

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Day on the Porch

Yesterday I sat on the front porch for almost the entire day. Now that's luxury. Even though the wind was almost visible in its unrelenting strength, I was protected on the porch. I had no need to go anywhere nor did inside the house tasks beckon me. I could spend the day on the porch--and I did.

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.