Sunday, June 12, 2016

mind the gap ...

This may well be my new mantra.  Mind the gap ...  Originally it was a bit of a laugh between my mother and myself. Our first trip to London -- yikes! -- 37 years ago? We were standing on the subway (er, Tube) platform waiting for a train to pull up when over the loud speaker the very proper and polite voice informed us to Mind the Gap. It was humorous both for the tone (we who were used to the garbled and grating voices of New York City's subway announcers) and for the phrasing.  

Mind the Gap.

It took us a moment to realize what was being referenced was the yawning hole of metal, dirt, grease and rocks. The reality behind this well-mannered warning was: Beware the iron crevasse which will snap your ankle like a twig should you absentmindedly stumble into it.

Now I hear this phrase echoing through my mind as we prepare to pick Cowgirl up from her week away at camp.  I am all kinds of excited and curious to hear about the adventures from her week (target sports, horseback riding, paddle boats, camp-outs - I think I deserve a week of camp!) yet the wise and knowing part of me is well aware of a new reality:  conversation and preteens do not naturally mix.

It seems to me like a cosmic switch has been flipped and my loquacious girl-child has become rather tight-lipped. It feels to me much like seeking the elusive snow leopard: one must be ever vigilant for traces, tracks, a rare gift of sharing words, moments together and/or physical affection.  Connection is not absent; it just has taken on a rarefied and subtle form. Unfortunately, subtly is not my norm.

But I have to learn. There is no choice with a preteen girl. I am discovering my work with horses is preparing me for this new phase of being with my child. If I am too forceful, too direct well ... she will head for the pasture and certainly she is wayyy faster than this menopausal mama.

No, I must become practiced in the art of distracted presence. Turning my attention elsewhere, being engaged with other aspects of my life while leaving open space for her to wander over. As a proverbial dog with a bone, I have to relax my grip on things and learn how to shift quickly when opportunity (by which I mean a determined girl-child) presents itself. 

Mind the gap. Transitions do not come naturally to me. I am a creature of habit, of focused practice and plodding forward, to hell with gaps or walls or twisting paths. But precisely because of this deficiency, life presents me an opportunity to hone this skill.  Being spacious, present, alert but relaxed. Not pushing, not forcing and leaning into trust. Trust in myself, in the foundations we have already put down for our Cowgirl, and trust in her.

Looking to create a cheat sheet for myself, I turned to the Tarot.  The cards, the images help stir things up to give me a new perspective, a fresh way of thinking about things. 

What is the current situation? Six of Swords. Setting sail, a new journey, a new phase in our relationship. Carrying the swords, the beliefs, the ideas we have amassed thus far in our relationship and taking them into new territory.  We are not on solid ground right now, but rocking waters of emotions. Both her preteen self and me in the depths of menopause. Emotions can be connection but they can also bring about turmoil. I need to draw upon all my practice to help me guide us to the other shore.

What is the issue? Six of Pentacles. Funny, I think of sixes as offering a moment of pause, a kind of comma in the flow of life. This image asks me to consider how my actions may appear to my child? Do I stand on high magnanimously offering gifts to her? Does our relationship feel like an imbalance in power? I remember my tween and teen years and certainly I felt frustrated by my sense of powerlessness over my life. If this is how my girl feels? Or conversely, am I putting myself in a position of begging for her attention, her acknowledgement or her gratitude? A powerful image for me to keep in mind.

What is the solution?  Yikes, the dreaded Threes of Swords!  Yet I remember from other decks that this card shows a heart pierced by the swords but not bleeding. Here the offering of roses lies rejected on the ground. The young woman walks reluctantly away from the man, yet pinned to her cloak is a single red rose.  Now is a time when my efforts, my offerings probably will go rejected but I know she is moving through a journey of self-discovery and individuation. It can be a cold and mournful process but it is a necessary stage. She may head off but I can wait. I will wait. I know she carries with her all my love and I know deep down she knows this to be true.

And just to be sure, I drew one more card for clarification: The High Priestess. Well, okay and thank you! Access the source of deeper knowing, trust and strength.  And look at those moon cycles? Just like a mother-daughter relationship moving in and out of fullness.

Before leaving for camp, I slipped into my pocket the note my girl handed to me one night when she was supposed to be in bed. Carrying a tangible reminder of The Truth lest a grumpy and eye-rolling girl is waiting for me. (And isn't she always lurking somewhere?) No matter what we say, no matter how we react to each other, there is a solid foundation of Love which we can return to again and again. We just have to remember. I also drew one final card ...

Of course. Here's how I choose to think of The Gap and a way to face it: arms outstretched, a confident smile on my face echoing the smile in my heart. Mothering is the ultimate of adventures, beckoning me onward and inviting me to travel light.

Have you seen the snow leopard?
No! Isn't that wonderful?
- Peter Matthiessen, "The Snow Leopard"   

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

with gratitude

I find it curious that as I deepen new practices, others seem by necessity to languish. Writing being one of them!  I have been feeling deep shifts - tectonic plates within my heart and soul - but lack the language to describe it all. Or perhaps I should say I do not feel the need to explain myself. And that is a little huge for me!

I have been spiraling back to long-lost practices - meditation, yoga, journaling.  I recently realized my meditation practice dropped off just as my creative practice took root. Now I am returning and while my initial reaction is to bemoan the gap of 8 (!) years and all that might have been if I had stayed true, the new and wise me recognizes that I return ready to sink down some deep and tenacious roots. 

I doubt it comes as much of a surprise, but I can be a bit of a curmudgeon. Cantankerous in the sense of needing to go against the flow. Yes, I resisted for many many years the Harry Potter series because, well, I was annoyed by everyone pestering me to read them. (I also worked at a bookstore at the time and resisted ALL books that arrived in bulk. It just offended my sensibilities to pile waist-high stack after stack of one book when there are sooo many good books seeking readers.) 

Another trend I resisted on principle was the gratitude journal. (If it came from Oprah's lips, I turned a deaf ear ... yet I love Oprah? So I own, I am a tortured soul.) It's not the concept of gratitude or the beauty and impact of a regular practice in acknowledging the daily gifts offered by life and living that raises my hackles, but rather a scrapbookish notion of prettifying and pasting gratitude down in a kind of memento mori manner. 

Truth be told, I didn't give it a whole-hearted effort.  Oh yes, I did for one month keep a gratitude journal. I completely forgot I had done so until this past week when I half heartedly decided to answer a journal prompt from a course I am taking. The prompt was to write down 111 gratitudes. 

Let me say, that when writing down so many gratitudes, the heart shifts from half to full. 

What I loved about this exercise was how much deeper the gratitude flows when I pushed myself beyond the usual items of health, family, nature, and friends. I started to see the relationship between gratitude and creativity. For the more I wrote, the more expansive my understanding and the vision of my heart.

So I decided - decades past Oprah's proclamations - to start a gratitude journal.

Which is how I found the journal (that one month experiment) I had forgotten I had started eight year ago. Looking through the entries, I was blown away by the beauty and love within those pages. I was also stunned to realize that at that time, I could not fully perceive the depths of the love and gratitude.

I found these entries which spread wide my heart:

- reading out loud to Cowgirl; feeling her head upon my shoulder
- warm & spicy chai to begin a new week
- seeing the pride on Cowgirl's face as she puts her boots on "all by myself" 
- the drive through French bread bakery and warm rolls to eat in the car   
- the smell of Cowgirl's hair 
- my girl telling me "good job mommy" as she holds my leg
- meditating in the early morning; finding my girl sleeping behind me on the couch
- baby orangutan looking us in the eyes and goofing
- singing together in the car
- my mantra for when things get tough
- Cowgirl singing to her stuffed animals in the dark   
 I marvel that I relinquished this practice so quickly, but I probably hadn't even looked at what I wrote down. I was too immersed in it all to perceive the tiny treasures each entry was. 

Now, with the distance of time and perspective, I see how unique and precious each moment can be ... and truly is.  So each night I reach for my lovely gratitude journal (a beautiful book of handmade paper given to me at Cowgirl's baby shower) and I write with my Lamy fountain pen five items for that day.  It helps to be doing so as the sun sets over my garden, the birds singing and the fragrance of new blooms combining with a citronella candle or incense by my feet. 

Gratitude, mindfulness and celebration ... life in these past 8 years has prepared the soil and I am ready to receive it all.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Spring Magic

Each year seems fuller and busier. My thoughts are all jumbled up with schedules and lists and summer plans ... so each day I try to spend some time being quiet, noticing and giving thanks for all the abundance that is Life.

look carefully ... she is on top of her babies, nursing ...

It's not even summer yet, but we are easing into the summertime pace!  My new "to-do" list reads: books, paint, horses, play. repeat.  Back to it! I promise to return with stories to share, tales to tell. xo

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

to turn again ...

As I sit sipping my morning coffee, the sun is attempting to shove aside the dark clouds that repeatedly wander back into the day.  Welcome to Spring in the Midwest: blue skies and gentle breezes unexpectedly can give way to stiff winds, swirling clouds and sudden downpours. Our little corner has been spared the more intense "weather events" and I savor each clearing day after a storm. There is a sense of a fresh start to these mornings -- a reminder to begin again.  

And also the benefit of a burst of cleansing and clearing energy. I've just tended to the coffee maker (ah, the smell of warm vinegar!) after tossing yet another load of laundry into the washer. With luck, there will be enough sun to line dry the clothes. I've looked around my space and decided it was time to give new life to some paintings that were satisfying exercises but uninspired finished pieces. It is funny how something that has been insignificant most of its existence becomes endearing the moment I decide to let it go. It takes a surge of optimism mixed with some ruthlessness to push forward; but once that first slash of gesso goes down, there is an exhale of release in covering over to start fresh.

  All around me are reminders of this process of letting go in order to spiral around anew. I have been watching a friend make her goodbyes to one dream in order to turn towards a new one.  To embrace life is to know how to say goodbye, to know how to allow endings to happen. Because new beginnings are seeded in endings, in death, in release. 

I keep pulling that damned Death card in the Tarot. Except it is not damned, but blessed. To push death away is to damn myself to stagnant living: lining my walls with paintings that do not breath; gardening with no challenge from hail or rabbits: living without the bittersweet of love ripened by separation and goodbye.

My girl and I witnessed the final hours of one of the therapy horses, her time being sudden and unexpected. It blew me apart in that her passing carried the energy of so many recent passings. 

Life is a series of journeys, and every lesson that it offers to us comes around again, in the same form or a different form, until we learn it. Each time around, there is more to be lost - but each time around, there is also more to be gained.
- Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted

Around and around ... as my girl enters the boggy terrain that is preteendom I shudder from the memory of my experience stumbling through that shadowy landscape. I had been thinking that to be a parent is to relive those experiences from the uncomfortable and helpless position of watching my child find her way forward. And indeed I cannot make that trek for her. I also cannot and should not project onto her my experiences. What I can do is recognize all that is stirred up within me  - the fear, the uncertainty, the confusion - is mine and this circling back around is my chance to do some deep healing work for myself.

Before I can support her, I have to take time to honor my own internal state and to offer myself understanding and compassionate care. Then I am in a better position to hold space for her own explorations and to support her finding, trusting and utilizing her powers to transform and heal. It isn't easy and I am not always so skilled at coaxing out my hurt feelings, but each time I remember is a gift that keeps on giving.

I am grateful for the lessons and insights offered in Annapurna Living's Mother Course. I highly recommend it not just for mothers, but for anyone wishing to strengthen and nurture compassionate, healthy, empowered relationships. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

poems with wings

Perhaps I conjure up what I want to avoid? Each April I cannot help but hear echoing throughout the gradually warming days:

"April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain." 
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Spring rains accompanied ceremonies of grieving and celebration. The month began with a fire ceremony marking the passing of one friend ...

and ended at our city's botanical center with a memorial for our neighbors whose unexpected deaths while on vacation has me stumbling pass their house in continual confusion and disbelief.  Witnessing the rawness of grief in their daughter's eyes has stirred up emotions that had settled to the bottom of my own heart. Each new drop of sorrow and loss is added to a swelling pool: my mother, my aunt, my friend, my neighbors ... the list swells backwards and forwards.

I suppose that is how it is in middle age. The longer my tenure here, the more I will have to say goodbye. It is the balance to so many hellos. What has become apparent to me with the loss of my neighbors is the urgency to making each hello count. At their memorial service I was made aware that I really hardly knew them. I mean, we would often meet while walking our dogs and talk of neighborly things: the dogs, the weather, our gardens. A little residents gossip and updating on local events. We each had busy and full lives and our worlds intersected in a narrow margin at sidewalks and driveways. 

Hearing their children, grandchildren, lifelong friends and colleagues share their memories was a privilege. For it gave me pause to consider: What will my legacy be? What do I hope to create with this, my "one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver) For my neighbors certainly lived full, attentive, loving and passionately engaged lives.

By opening myself up to the vulnerability of deep grieving, I discover within that dark pool immense inspiration. Listening to person after person talk about my neighbors what slowly emerged was a picture of life anchored in love and purpose. That purpose was to nurture within each individual their unique passions, interests and gifts. 

Assisting me in uncovering purpose and meaning are my art journals and words. My own words, yes (scribbled in more notebooks) but also the bountiful collection of words, insights and meaning found in poetry. As David Whyte so astutely noted, all poets eventually become philosophers.  So I gather close by those books, those writers like Oliver and Whyte who offer so many thresholds into deeper meaning and living.

"One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting 
their bad advice--"
- Mary Oliver, The Journey

I lay in my bathtub listening to David Whyte recite the above poem along with other favorites (like Wild Geese) ... the water and the words soothing aches of the body and of the heart.  (I believe what I've found is an excerpted segment from a longer recording of  The Poetry of Self Compassion.) 

Still feeling raw and tender, I am easing myself back into everyday routines. I don't want to lose these gifts of insight. Considering what would be the most loving action I could offer myself, I headed out for a long walk.  Inspiring me is the work of Sharon Blackie and these words which I had read the night before from her new and immensely powerful book If Women Rose Rooted:

"We spend out lives searching for meaning in ourselves ... trained to be ever-mindful of what is going on inside us -- our breath, and our thoughts and emotions -- when so much of the meaning we need is beneath our feet, in the plants and animals around us, in the air we breathe. We swaddle ourselves so tightly in the centrality of our own self-referential humanness that we forget that we are creatives of the Earth, and need also to connect with the land. We need to get out of the confines of our own heads. We need -- we badly need -- grounding; we need to find our anchor in place, wherever it is that we live. Once we find that anchor, so many of our problems fade away. And once we find that anchor, so often we uncover the nature of our true work, the nature of the gift we can offer up to the world."

On this day many winged ones greeted me. To truly grasp I share the same space with these powerful and magical creatures is to crack open some secret chamber of hope and possibility within. The fullness of life - life with stunning and unexpected hellos and life with heart-wrenching good-byes - flew up before me. And it slipped quietly below me. All around me ... and within me.