Friday, October 31, 2014

she's with the fairies now ...

My mother was a survivor. She grew up in Texas during the depression, often reminding me (whenever I made a comment about all of her shoes) she often went barefoot as she only had one pair of shoes. A child of divorce in a time when "that just wasn't done" she was separated from her brother and spent the second half of her childhood with her grandparents.  At 21 she lost her mother and then her father a few years later. 

But my mother was not a mere survivor.  She transformed her life, choosing to thrive in whatever conditions she found herself in.  These past few years she was active and busy in her community, a fact that surprised me given her natural predilection for a comfortable armchair and a good book. She told me she knew she would get depressed being by herself, so she forced herself to get out and make new friends.  

My mother never failed to surprise me.

When I thought she was beyond words, she sang one last song with me, pouring all her strength into a surprising rowdy rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

The hardest part of her passing is the fact Cowgirl never got to say good-bye. There just wasn't time. 

So one week later, we wrote out our wishes and prayers, creating tiny scrolls.  I made a sacred bundle with a sprinkling of her ashes and a few special objects to accompany her spirit and we buried it all in the center of our fairy circle in our backyard.

Now my mother is with the fairies.  There are many prayers in that earth.  She is shaded by a flowering crabapple tree.  Right now, the branches are bare but come Spring ... come my mother's birthday ... we can look out and say "Amma O is blooming."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

unfamilar ground

So far, the process of grieving is like the movie Groundhog Day. Every morning I wake up, I remember, and my heart breaks anew.  

The day takes on a rhythm ... calls to be made, lists added to, strategies mapped out as I begin the process of clearing out my mother's apartment. Honestly, you could tell me I was preparing to ascend Mount Everest and I would feel the same as I do now.  How?  How do I do this?

One step at a time.  

I think may end up walking around the perimeter of the earth.

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

(John O'Donohue, A Blessing For Grief)

I try to take comfort in what was ... 

my mother's sunset

But I am human, and all too often my mind wanders back and I think of opportunities lost, things I forgot to say, things I wish I had done differently.  I wish I had played music on that drive to the hospital.  I wish I had read more poems that last night.  I wish I had known more of the words to her favorite songs.  

I wish I had understood what she was asking me that last night when just as I was about to leave she said, "What do I do?" 

That question -  so raw to me now - I reflexively dodged in that moment.  I didn't think, I just said "You get better. You try to rest and let the doctors and nurses take care of you and you let you body get better."

I wish I had said "You think about all the good that has been in your life.  You think about all the love."

I suppose that is the answer to my own heartache, my inner struggle to know how to move forward.  I remember the love.  All the love.  So very much love.

For now, I hold onto the ache of loss because it is what I have ... it is immediate, intense, real.  It is the flip side to the immensity of the love ... hers and mine.

Thank you mama for this birthday.  It is a hard one. I seek your reassurances and comfort in new places and new ways ... to grab hold and trust the guidance that echoes within me now and know it is your voice, The Voice, keeping me company for the remainder of this journey.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

remembering to breathe ...

As a yoga teacher, I'm always counseling students remember to breathe.

The simplest yet most important practice I teach, the one I turn to repeatedly myself, is the full, three part breath. Relaxing and breathing into the belly at the beginning of the inhale; moving the breathing up into the side body and rib cage; ending with the expansion across the chest and collar bones at the very top of the breath.  The exhale reverses this pattern with the very last bits of stale air squeezed out by the action of the abdominal muscles pulling in towards the body.

A variation is full-body breathing.  The breathe we all knew as a baby ... spacious, full, vast, and effortless.

This is the relaxed, natural way our bodies were designed for respiration.  Unfortunately, it is rarely people's habitual way of breathing.  And this is why practice is so essential.

Most of the time, we breath without thinking.  It happens without our attention or effort.  But there are times when all of our energy is focused upon claiming that next breath. And the next ... and the next.

This past weekend, my elderly mother phoned me up,  complaining she was having trouble breathing.  I sat by her side, stroking her back, trying to coax her body to relax.  She was so panicked, she was taking short, shallow chest breaths, like a panting animal.  Her attempt to breath was exhausting her while also triggering the stress-response in her body and in her mind. 

I took her to the hospital and she was admitted immediately.  Even with oxygen on, she continued to struggle to breathe. I was powerless to help, understanding as I watched her utilizing just a fraction of her breath's capacity, that I could not undo decades of a habit.

This is why we practice.  There will come a time - possibly a multitude of times - when it will take all of our resources just to keep afloat.  The mind becomes agitated, clarity lost and we lapse into autopilot. Practice - whether it be a breathing practice, yoga asana practice, meditation, or mindfulness - has taught me to find the tiny sliver of space in which I can choose how I want to respond, rather than reflexively reacting.  

One explanation of the practice of yoga postures - asanas - is to consciously place oneself in awkward positions so we can learn to relax.

Standing in a hospital, watching a loved one struggling, is certainly one kind of awkward position.  Watching my mother grasping for each breathe, I had to remind myself to take full, deep breaths and to release my fear with each out breath.  It became a kind of mantra for me. Inhale - open to support, open to connection with source; exhale - release the fear, release tension and toxins. Each breath kept me anchored in the moment.  I was watching my mother die.

I don't know if one truly can be prepared to support a loved one through dying.  I certainly didn't feel ready.  I took my mother into the hospital on a Sunday morning and 48 hours later, she was gone.  There was little time to think.  All I had was the space and presence of each breath.  Mine and hers.  A crazy duet of contrasting tempos and rhythms. All I had was the gift of my years of practice, supporting me in staying focused, staying relaxed (as much as possible) and keeping my mind flexible and ready to respond with love and care. 

My mother brought me into this life, and it was my privilege to repay the favor and support her as she transitioned out of hers and into whatever transformation awaits us all.  We sang, I read her poems, we shared stories and remembrances, laughs and tears.  She was deeply afraid. So was I ... but I had to be strong for her. I had to draw upon my practice, my faith, and trust that the words and actions appropriate would flow from me to her. 

My mother rode each breath like a wave, through what appeared to me as choppy seas that brought pain and anxiety, but breath by breath, she made her way to the other shore.  As I held her, as I breathed deeply for her, I was grateful for all of the gifts and blessings she bestowed to me, not the least being this experience in calling upon all my guides, all the inner resources gained through practice and finding myself supported and held.  Her final gift to me was to show me I am stronger than I ever knew, that in love and through love I can endure anything ... including saying goodbye to my own mama.

I miss her.  I miss her hands holding mine, comforting me.  

I think about how as a small child, my daughter would reach out her hand knowing I would always reach down to receive it. I hold out my hand - which looks so much like my mother's - and I wonder "Who will comfort me now?  Who will hold me?" 

But I know - because my mama just taught me -  that a mother's love is a continuous circle flowing backwards and forwards across generations, across time, across any perceivable boundaries. It holds me, it holds her, it holds my daughter, my nieces, my spirit-sisters and the grandmothers in a huge embrace.  I just have to remember to relax, breathe, and surrender myself to that embrace.  I can let go ... for I know I am always held. 

Saying good-bye is the hardest thing to do. The thing we must do the most is the thing we care to do the least, and so it keeps coming around the bend. It is, in the end, life's only lesson. 
- Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

honoring my boundaries

If there is one theme running throughout my present life and within many of the circles I inhabit, it would be boundaries.  Personal or relationship boundaries: defining, clarifying, honoring and maintaining them.

I wonder if anyone older than thirty ever had healthy boundaries modeled for them?  Certainly in my family of origin, running rough-shod over personal space, never mind emotional space, was the norm.  It was my father's house damn it and that authority trumped all.  Emotional manipulation, passive aggressive behavior and martyr complex thrived in that environment. 

Much of my adult life has been spent dismantling unhealthy boundaries; getting at the negative  attitudes and behaviors while mindfully constructing positive, affirming ones.  Boundaries Boot Camp has been vital in bringing awareness to deeply rooted habits of being while holding out new tools in addressing and understanding boundary work.

A new aha (and duh, and of course!) came about when mapping out my circles of intimacy.  With myself in the middle, who - or what - occupies the concentric ring or circle directly adjacent to me ... the ring representing my most intimate of relationships?  Surprise! My most intimate relationships are not with my partner or my child (they occupy the next ring out) but with Spirit (or Source), with Nature, and with Creativity.

The relationship where I show up my most vulnerable and authentic self is not with another person, but with myself. 

Thinking about those relationships, I have to consider how I establish and maintain healthy boundaries.  Or conversely: how do I violate the terms of those relationships?  Do I disrespect or dishonor those connections and if so, how? More importantly, if at the most inner ring or core of my map of relationships there is a rupture, how does that ripple out into all my relationships?

Not the kind of questions to answer in one afternoon ... 

I believe at the foundation of healthy boundaries is a sense of self worth and self respect.  Right now, I am considering how I may disregard my relationship with creative source or creativity whenever I fail to show up for it.  What showing up looks like for me is listening deeply, and allowing space and time for expression and presence to flower and unfold.

exploring drawing with my non-dominant hand ... my new favorite way in!

Beyond any purpose I may believe my creative works exists to perform,  there exists a need for that creative expression to simply be.  For no other reason than it is a part of who I am and how I express my gratitude for the mystery and magic of being alive. Creative expression is how I honor the sacred presence that is me (and is all of us) and it is how I converse with that presence. 

Essential is space for play and exploration ... to question and, in my own language, craft my responses.  

on-going dialogue with Van Gogh; project idea from Studying Under the Masters course with Jeanne Oliver

How I want others to honor and respect my boundaries, I must extend to myself. When I dismiss my work -  when I devalue or talk smack about it; when I disregard its priority in my life; when I discount its cries for care; when I sacrifice it for "more important things" -  I am engaged in boundary violation ... with myself.

Instead, I pledge to respect, nurture, listen and tend to my Creativity.  I pledge to honor play, curiosity, exploration and adventure as core values that both everyday mom-me wishes to foster in our home, and more intimately, through relationship with Creativity and Source.  

Screech Owl รก la Van Gogh

No more excuses ... change is afoot!

Friday, October 10, 2014

the beauty of releasing

'Tis the season ...

Noticing the beauty in that which has moved through a full course from seed, seedling, bud, and blossom ... now arcing gracefully back towards where it began ... the slow and steady swoon towards earth, towards the unknown.

May I remember the beauty of acceptance, of flowing with what is and honoring my own rhythms, changes and transformations.  May I learn to let go like the marigold, the rose, letting fall what is ready to be released. 

I came to the garden just in time to enter the age of undoing. Surprisingly, it’s the age where the most amazing transformations take place. Every single leaf drops every single year from a sycamore, and it is the end of nothing. I came to the garden and found the shortest course to strength and freedom. I learned that all my faith lies in the path of least resistance—in the humble power and aching grace of letting go.
(Karen Maezen Miller, Paradise In Plain Sight

{Inspired by Maya's Monday Mandala practice}

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

happiness is ...

One project off the needles ...

my new shrug ...

Another one on ...

A third waiting in the wings.

Nothing makes me happier than experiencing the delight of beautiful wool caressing my fingers, lingering in my hands.  I  express my love through wool.  There is great pleasure in the making and more pleasure in knowing I have the perfect person in mind for the particular piece I am working on.  

How I love Autumn!  Time to cuddle up, cozy in, a mug of something spicy and warm by my side and the sense of short days filled with my most favorite of things.  Perhaps it is knowing the days are shorter, I tend to plan less but focus more intently upon what I do love, what does matter.

Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Saturday, October 4, 2014

conversing with Van Gogh ...

Ah ... finally, it's Friday  - oops - Saturday!

Time flies when one is engaged in conversation with a deceased master.


Yes, always the mistress of distractions ... as if my plate isn't already full ... I've gone and signed myself up for another course.  But when I saw the first week (ha! about a month's worth of content in that one week) was an exploration of Vincent Van Gogh and specially his drawings ...

how could I resist?  (week six is Frida Kahlo - hello?!!)

Honoring MY Frida (1990 - 2008)
She was my first kitty, joining us when I was in grad school.  I had a colleague get mad at me because she was planning to name her cat Frida, but believed she couldn't since I had taken it.  Well, my girl - all 9 pounds of her - more than lived up to her name and the reputation of her namesake. She never dabbled in the arts or politics, but she was very outspoken and flamboyant in personality ... she taught me "no" is not an acceptable answer when one feels strongly otherwise ... and a well-timed purr will get you very far ... 

So here I sit, wondering how Vincent would translate my backyard? What patterns of lines and dots would he employ to capture the wild jungle of my tomato plants, the rambunctiousness of the marigolds?  In attempting to learn more about his technique and style, I am indulging myself in copying some of his sketches which are overwhelmingly detailed and intricate. It is no small feat to copy and my mind boggles at how he was able to break a scene down into the organized fields of pattern and design.  I find myself looking at my yard and wishing I could ask his advice on how to simplify the scene into the key elements. 

Of course, the answer lies in continuing the conversation through paper and pen and practice.  (Today, I discovered the delights of using a Lamy fountain pen swoon!)

pre-Lamy pen ... I can't wait to try some new copies now that I have a better pen ... although Van Gogh used reed pens to get a richer variety of lines - nice juicy, fat ones and darker ones

It always comes back to practice. And thank goodness for that.  As the winds of Autumn attempt to blow me off balance, I know my practice helps me to find my roots, and gather support and energy to keep me engaged in learning and growing.  

Meanwhile, the season calls me to attend to other pressing tasks ... 

Can we say salsa?  Lots and lots of salsa ... 

Such are my thoughts on this Autumn day.  This is my world as I live it ... what is happening in your world?  How do you stay connected and engaged?  What delights call to you? Do you dare to reply?  And why not, I say ... why not?!

The course I am taking is called Studying Under the Masters {Portraits and Self-Portraits} and a preview of week one can be seen HERE.  It is great fun and I may never get past week one ... and I don't care! (but I have 2 years ... so I'm not worried ...)