Friday, October 7, 2016

lessons on fishing (and time) ...

[F]or me, philosophically, stress is a perverted relationship to time. So that rather than being a subject of your own time, you have become its target and victim, and time has become routine. So at the end of the day, you probably haven't had a true moment for yourself. And you know, to relax in and to just be. 
- John O'Donohue, interview in On Being (transcript here)

The first time I heard those words, I had to stop what I was doing (yes, multitasking), sit down, rewind (so-to-speak) the audio and listen closely.

[O]ne of the huge difficulties in modern life is the way time has become the enemy. (John O'Donohue)

I believe I have been shadow boxing Time for much of my adult life.  It's a slippery eel; the more I try to extract myself from a sense of being caught up in the net of time  -- rushing, running late, arriving breathless, wringing my hands at all I have to pack into one slim suitcase of time -- the more entangled I become.

To be conscious is not to be in time ... (T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

I totally agree with Eliot ...  but how to live in this modern world of school bus schedules, trash days, tax days, monthly bills and all AND to live in what an art teacher of mine once referred to as Medieval Time (absorbed, suspended within and outside of Time)?

Only through time time is conquered. (T.S. Eliot)

I'm not sure I want to conquer time so much as befriend it? It dawned on me that my frantic relationship with Time is part of a larger and deeply rooted anxiety. "Not enough-ness." It isn't so much Time fudging around with me as much as modern society perverting Time by turning it into a commodity. What is my time worth? You are wasting my time!  Words I've even heard my Girl parrot (from whom? Gulp.) 

I don't want Time as an enemy. I want to understand its deeper magic, the alchemical potential hinted at by O'Donohue when he writes "Possibility is the secret heart of time. On its outer surface time is vulnerable to transience. In its deeper heart, time is transfiguration." (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)

This student is more than ready ... and finally (it's about time?!) my teacher stepped forward:

Or rather, she perched forward.

For the past few weeks I have gone to the park for a walk and discovered Heron on the edges of the shore fishing.  The immediate lesson Great Blue Heron offers is that of patience. If you want to see Heron doing anything other than standing still like a avian manikin, you had better be prepared to wait. And watch. Abandon any notion of a quick walk and surrender to becoming like Heron by standing still. Looking  and waiting. 

Would say there is a fair helping of trust involved except doubt probably never enters into the heron's mind.  Now, I find myself doubting often ... getting antsy with the suspension of my walk (wasting my time?) but there is that delicious moment when an inner stubbornness wins and with a sigh I adjust my posture and settle in for the wait.

So far, I've always been rewarded.

Or rather, Heron is always rewarded for her patience, her commitment, her deep knowing This Is What I Do.  

Watching her the other day, I realized I often bemoan "Why is it taking me so long?"  The It varies - my understanding, my knowing, mastery of a skill, completion of a project or process, my finding My Way, flashing upon My Purpose - the list is long but the vibe is always that of me out of sync with some mythical timeline. I ought to be further along. I ought to have this all figured out by now.

Yeah. Right-o. 

It struck me that when I am fully absorbed and committed ... like Heron, focused upon the water that will surely yield a fish later or sooner ... I am suspended within the flow of time but not constricted by it. When I tantrum and feel the squeeze of Time -- this is taking me too long! -- then I am not fully in. I am distracting myself. I am turning outward when the call is to go in. Time  - or a fixation upon time and time keeping - is my means of side-stepping the depth diving. I don't have the time and it is taking too long.

So maybe, just maybe my frustration with time is a clue that I hiding out on the surface of time, swinging on the clock face when in fact time offers me a portal to dive deeper within. 

I know Heron's deeper teaching will be both a lesson and a surrender to time. Showing up, abiding, paying close attention, and most of all knowing when to act ...

and knowing when to stay in stillness.

Monday, September 19, 2016

filled up *

I was walking Moose dog this morning when I realized, it had been 48 hours since I had last left the house.

And even that excursion (into town for Chinese class with Cowgirl) was the only trip in a week ... I've had a cold which has left me more irritated by the pure exhaustion and not-so-covert message from my body "You think you know what slowing down feels like? Well, let me show you ..." 

I then started thinking about  the fact that tomorrow will mark the 10th anniversary of my father's passing. All this reflection upon cycles of time lead me to thinking about what the past ten years has held for me.

In the past decade, I became a mother and said goodbye to both of my parents. I also lost my favorite aunt (namesake for my Cowgirl), several dear friends and spiritual sisters, and my first (and only) cat of 18 1/2 years and my first dog boy of 14 1/2 years.

The past ten years we moved to our current home, the one we dreamed and designed (and still pay for!)  I rekindled my passion for creating art, studied under some amazing teachers (creative and spiritual) and have crafted a daily practice that reflects, nurtures and holds all of my passions. I have entered menopause and am embracing the wisdom it offers, a creative and spiritual freedom of self-sovereignty. 

I have traveled to new places - China, New Zealand, Bali - and I have returned to favorite soul-home spaces - Cape Cod, Squam Art Workshops, Pacific Northwest, Italy (!) I have made incredible new friends and reconnected with cherished childhood sisters. My circle extends around the globe, a truly mind-blowing thing to consider.

image by Em Falconbridge

I trip myself up by fixating upon productivity -- what have I accomplished? -- and it is the gift of a bird's eye view that helps me shift my understanding. Rather than thinking about  what I've done (although in fairness, I can give myself credit for the many yeses  - and the many goodbyes - that have brought to this place in my life) the reframe that lights me up is this ...

How FULL is my life? 

image by my fantastically talented niece, Alyssa Reiner

How full is THIS life?   

Way full ... and my sacred task is to simply open myself up to it all. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

down the rabbit hole ...

Apparently while I am distractedly exploring my rabbit hole, the real rabbits are taking advantage of the salad bar I've conveniently potted and maintained for our mutual  enjoyment. 

I paint the nasturtiums before they eat them. I suppose it is a balanced exchange?

I have had an epiphany of sorts during some recent rabbit hole spelunking. (If you know me at all, you will understand my tendency to depth-dive results in "duh" moments transformed into a-ha! insights; and for my next trick I shall be spinning straw into gold.) I am an over-thinker (not the a-ha! or duh) and the exhaustion of chasing my own tail has lead me to quietude.  I find hard, physical labor helps here (exhaustion quiets the mind) and frequent retreats into Nature do much to balance out thinking and being. What I understand now from the vantage point of total collapse and surrender (hello, Menopause!) is the lunacy of believing my task is to create deep meaning and purpose through my life.

Now, I can live my life with purpose and meaning, but it seems utterly arrogant to maintain it is my job alone to endow it all with deeper significance or importance. It occurs to me that this notion is unique and specific to human beings in general and is part of our burden having been kicked out of The Garden.  

I plant, water and feed and obsess over my nasturtiums and the rabbit comes along and eats them. Who is the dumb bunny here? This being human - by which I mean walking around believing myself to be so bloody influential and important - is exhausting work. I don't mean to downplay the responsibility we humans have for our impact upon the planet - our destructiveness is due in no small part to our stubborn clinging to the notion of ourselves as separate and outside of Nature. 

And there I go again, believing I need to say something important. This is my a-ha! - my clinging to the belief that I need to be or at the very least appear to be important to matter. I mean, everything and everyone matters. The rabbit, the nasturtium, me ... we are all equal here. But living with such gravitas, ack!  I am mindfully cultivating a lightening up, a freeing up and an opening up of heart, mind, spirit. 

I start my days outside on my patio with incense and prayers of thanks. I often linger to watch the antics of the hummingbirds at the feeder.  Thinky thoughts have their place, but they can muck up the transmission of such magic.

I meditate daily to help me listen deeply and to relax.  I gather my art supplies and I draw and paint ... clouds, trees, butterflies, birds, Moose-dog ... whatever lights me up and fills me up. 

I head to the park regularly to walk and listen and look. I still look for meaning, hoping to add to it through my attention and attentiveness But I am wanting to hear the stories that exist outside of my human mind: the stories of the lake and the land, the Great Heron and the trees, the prairie plains and the skies.  


I believe we live in a web of meaning and importance and my role is not so much to be fashioning it, but surrendering to it. 

I've missed coming to this space and sharing my experiences, sharing the magical moments that are occurring all around me. I've labored under the belief I must justify my taking up space and time by offering something meaningful or purposeful


I am here. I am filling up my sketchbooks and filling up my eyes and my heart. Allowing it all to spill out as I fill up again.  What I have to share matters to me. It is all I can and want to do. And that is enough.  

So I may be diving down more rabbit holes or slipping off into the woods on a regular basis, but my intention is to share those moments. I mean, who am I to hoard what is being offered with such immense generosity and joy? 


Thursday, August 25, 2016

just love.

This first full week back to school has had a topsy turvy kind of vibe to it.  Trying to find a rhythm with this new schedule along with mandatory wake-up time (no snooze button for me - that is a hardship!) has me shuffling through my days annoyed by any and all requirements placed upon me.  Dinner? You all want dinner?  I mean, isn't it enough I packed you a lunch? 

Given my mood, I don't know why I was surprised to find one of my favorite horses at the barn acting peevish of late. Usually she is very sweet with me. I am a horse-lover but I am not a horse person. I do not know all the ins and outs of their behavior so my assessments are pretty simplistic and I keep them to myself (my job is to know their poo, not their minds.) This horse I feel needs lots of reassurance and when I am around her, I try to give it to her. When we are alone, that is. 

But lately there have been others around and I realized today that we both have felt rushed. In that space, feelings are often brushed aside and dismissed. The equivalent of being told "Get over it!" With this horse, I've found it has always worked best when I've acknowledged her responses. "Oh yes, that big tractor IS strange and scary, isn't it? But I am right here and we will walk by it together."

I know some of you get this (please tell me you do!) And I am recounting all of this because I recognize for the horse and for myself, being pushed on without time to acknowledge our feelings is a guarantee for upset, outbursts, nips, and all sorts of unhappy and unloving responses.  

Today I had time to slow myself down and just hang out with her for a bit. Not expecting her to act a certain way nor trying to make her behave (according to human expectations) but holding space for her to be, well, her.  And very quickly, the sweet horse I knew emerged.

This got me thinking. 

Earlier in the week, a mother with a special needs child said to me "He is scaring me right now ... I don't know what to do for him." Not to diminish her situation, but it struck me that as a mother I know all too well the squeeze of wanting so much for my child and fearing myself not equal to the task. Perhaps too this is how the horse felt: the burden of expectations making her anxious, overwhelmed and acting out. I wanted to wrap my arms around this mother and let her know it was okay to feel scared. I wanted to tell her I see how much she loves her child and how she does so much for him. I wanted to make her feel better ... which is really a reaction to my discomfort with her pain. And in that moment, her pain was immense and beautiful. It spoke of the fullness of her love and it needed to be expressed.

Years ago, prominent yoga teacher shared with a group of teacher-trainees this advice: "You think you are here to teach your students yoga, but you are not. You are here to simply to love them."

Those are the words I would say to her now. Those are the words I need to remember myself.  My job is simply to love. My child. The horses. My family.  My friends.  My life.  This world. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

turning towards simplicity

While the calendar says otherwise, today marks the end of our summer. 

the thermometer also indicates summer still has us - and this poor bunny! - in her fiery grasp!

Today Cowgirl had a half day orientation at her new Middle School. Tomorrow is the official First Day.

Middle School.  Yes, I am clutching my heart as I type those words.  I am also trying my very best to remember that my middle school experience (level one of Dante's Inferno) has no bearing upon what her experience will be. 

Still. Cataclysmic changes here.  To mark the end of our summer break, the three of us went to see the movie Pete's Dragon.  It is an incredibly sweet, lovely movie.  It was especially wonderful as we were the only three people in the theater.  A private screening if you will for my dragon daughter. It is a gem of a movie in the vein of simple, uncluttered story telling with characters you immediately like It was so good the Girl overcame her initial resistance to a furry dragon with a dog-like nose.("Dragons have scales, not fur!")   Overwhelmed by all the nostalgia - end of summer, dragons, little boy happily living wild in the woods - I cried several times. I thought I was sneaky about it, but at the end of the movie my girl outed me. "I heard you crying mom."

Yes, a computer generated dragon brought me to tears. Or rather, it was the moment when Pete, the little boy, separated from his dragon woefully cries "I want to go home!" and then howls like a wolf lonely for his pack.  The emotion of that moment brings me to tears right now. Because the pain of such immense longing touches a tender space of longing within me.

I want to go home. Who hasn't longed to return to the place and time when life felt simpler? When love was clear and connection unquestioned?  I watched my newly minted preteen staggering under the weight of a backpack loaded with school supplies making her way towards a middle school that I swear looked ready to swallow her up. In that moment I wanted nothing more than to whisk her back to age 2 ... to the summer cottage where I bathed her every morning in the kitchen sink (there was only an outdoor shower.) 

I want to go back to the time when my mother bathed me in the kitchen sink of a different summer cottage. 

Of course nostalgia and memories tidy away the confusion and chaos.  But such simplicity can be a practice and every day I have a choice to turn towards it.  Pete's dragon  can make himself invisible. He chooses to reveal himself to those whose hearts allow them to see the dragon for who he really is: not a dangerous monster but a loving, playful and loyal friend. 

The world feels crazy right now ... it seems like the way forward requires making choices that require sacrificing our dreams or ideals.  In the movie (spoiler alert!) we imagine Pete faces a  similar fate. He cannot stay with his dragon in the woods and so it seems he will have to  leave that world behind. Except ... he doesn't. He can have both worlds: the human family he misses and the relationship with his dragon - his best friend - Elliot. 

I am determined to create that life for myself and for my family; I am determine to see how I can stay in the simplicity of summer the whole year round. Feeding our dreams every day and every day living in the space of dreams manifesting: that is something I choose to embrace, I choose to feed.  Reconnecting each day with what truly matters and letting go of the internal clutter that confuses or distracts me is part of my practice.  And through practice - whether it be meditation, chanting, painting, running, patio daydreaming - I strengthen the connection between heart, intuition and imagination. 

In our family, we see dragons. I am determined to keep it that way. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

august memories ...

Summer is hard for me. I feel heat and humidity more intensely than the cold and it may sound perverse, but too much sunshine makes me grumpy. 


But summer has been bringing me some lovely moments which I record in my gratitude journal -

~the pleasure of sleeping with windows open after a long heat wave
~finding baby peppers growing in the garden box
~waking to bird song
~walking Moose in the coolness of night
~an abundance of marigolds
~fresh peaches from the farmer's market
~monarch butterflies on my walks
~an afternoon thunderstorm
~corn still warm from the sun and the fields

Ah, corn. I buy it from a truck parked daily in the corner of our neighborhood gas station. I buy 6 ears and they always throw in an extra "just in case" an ear is less than.  We usually end up with left-over ears and recently I have taken to cutting the kernels from the cob to use for soup. 

I am cutting a cooled ear when I remember cleaning out my mother's kitchen shortly after her death. In her freezer were six small plastic containers, each filled with corn. Individual meal sized portions of summer corn set aside for winter months when the taste of fresh corn would be most welcome.  I am struck by the hopefulness of that action and then undone by the reality that I held the bits of my mother's last summer. It felt sacrilegious, but I emptied each container down the disposal. There were too many memories to swallow in her stuffed apartment. Crackers of every kind (she was a cracker afficienado), canned goods long expired (stashed away for those rainy days that never arrived), spices I still use, and a half emptied bottle of Kahlua. (DId she drink it with friends? Or by herself? A solitary pleasure enjoyed as a daring gestures in her golden years?

I realize part of the weightiness I have felt this summer perhaps can be attributed to a growing list of bittersweet August memories. The last real season with my mother. The last time I saw my father was in August. He was in the hospital recovering from by-pass surgery and I flew out to help my mother for a week. When it was time for me to return home, I hung back from my mother and brother. I slipped back into his room.  I didn't want to believe I was saying good-bye, but part of me knew.  

My father asked me, "Do you think I will be alright?" I can't remember what exactly I said, but I know I reassured him. I reminded him he was going to have a new granddaughter and that he would be meeting her soon. He had to get better.

Less than two weeks later, the Husband and I flew to China to bring Cowgirl home. One month after I became a mother, I lost my father.  He never got to see Cowgirl in person, but at least he knew finally we had become a family.  He never said so, but I know he was thrilled for me to become a mother. 

This month will be our ten-year anniversary. Ten years as a family with Cowgirl. Next month will bring the ten year anniversary of my father's passing. As I get older, I become more fluid in the dance between grief and joy, sorrow and gratitude, loss and hopefulness. I store up memories like my mother put away corn. I feed upon the moments, the memories to sustain and inspire me. 

And we fill up our days with new moments, new memories. The imperative is to enjoy the Now because the future can be a long way out and all we have is right here, right now:  life rich and hard and heartbreaking and heart filling all at once.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

lessons in abstraction ...

Before you speak consider: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it an improvement over silence?

 I am not a quiet person and rarely am I silent. But these past few months I have found my mouth starting to open or my fingers on the keyboard and then suddenly poof! I sit back and sink back into my thoughts, my daydream, my internal monologue.

I feel rudderless, which is not unusual for me in the summer months. Heat and I have never coexisted happily together and the lack of structure that happens when school is on break fuels my dazed meandering. I think this is okay, this is natural, this is how I spiral through my life learning, testing, integrating, evolving. The process of feeding my roots isn't flashy, isn't a grand gesture but quiet and slow moving. Often I don't even realize this is what I am doing ... this nourishing my heart and soul. 


It is getting up every morning early before the temperature rises and spending time in my garden in prayer. Connecting with the life around me and which I am a part of and feeding gratitude, feeding reverence and joy.

It is trying on new ways of creating, remembering play and curiosity are core values for how I wish to show up in this life. With that in mind, I signed up for a class on abstraction by Wendy Brightbill enticingly called Letting Go: An Exploration of Abstract Painting offered through Jeanne Oliver's wonderful platform for online art classes. (Seriously, if art videos are your kind of porn, the offerings on this site abound with hours of video content; artworks being birthed before my eyes always leaves me breathless and eager for more!

I figured my lack of coherent thoughts, ideas, projects is a perfect state in which to steep myself in abstract painting, right?  The more I thought about it, the more abstraction seemed perfect for me as my life right now feels diffused, random, and open to multiple interpretations.

I have quickly discovered the fly in the ointment ... I am more grounded than I had previously understood. Now, to be fair, I have only a handful of painting sessions under my belt and quality of ease in Ms. Brightbill's creations (let go! play with colors, shapes, patterns and  have fun!) is definitely the result of much practice, more practice and heaping doses of practice and commitment to this process. 

But what draws me into deep engagement is examining the patterning in the feathers of a hawk's wing or the subtly of colors in a snowy owl's plumage.  While I admire the variety, the beauty, the poetic display of colors, lines, and forms in an abstract piece ultimately my love is for art that assists me in opening wide my eyes to life around me rather than life within me. What fascinates me is the natural world around me and understanding myself within that creative pattern and play. 

Oh, I will keep on with abstraction. I know there is something there for me to learn and use. And the practice is not wasted as I am crafting cards out of my experiments. 

On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear. 
Bhagavad Gita 2:40, translation by Eknath Easwaran)

It comes back to intention, always. What drives me to pick up my pencil or paintbrush and hazhard to create chaotic messes? Lovely images are nice, they can be inspiring and uplifting but that will not sustain me through the frustrations of quieting my monkey mind and surrendering to the process of discovery and creating. What does keep me returning are the aha moments of seeing with my heart and understanding in my gut and in my bones.  

Trying on abstraction, I realize is my true passion and gift: beholding, understanding and celebrating the artistry of mama Earth and her infinitely inventive creations. Abstraction could offer me a process to express  that wonderment in ways that bypass representation. I don't know. I may not get there. But rather than focus upon it as a goal, I embrace my attempts as yet another way I can meander into new places of knowing, connection and wonder.

I think it's so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary -- you're happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.

I can't live where I want to, I can't go where I want to go, I can't do what I want to, I can't even say what I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.
- Georgia O'Keeffe 

[I recently was contacted by an online art education and image database resource, Artsy, and asked to introduce their site here for interested readers. Having worked for over a decade as a Slide Librarian, I can truly appreciate the mission of Artsy: "We strive to make all of the world's art accessible to anyone online." In addition to a growing database of artwork, there are articles, exhibition listings, suggested contemporary artists based upon your search and other educational resources which make browsing the site a wonderful down the rabbit hole experience for any art lover.  Seeking some creative juice, I landed on their Georgia O'Keeffe page and from there discovered a painter new and very relevant to me, Eleanor Hubbard. Happy inspiration hunting!]