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.