Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Multitasking: Wishes and Dreams ❀

I keep coming back to the lesson of learning to live in Time rather than fighting against it. No, really, I draw this oracle card on a regular basis! One of the things I have wanted to be more connected to was a sense of natural time: the cycle of the moon, the day, the seasons. So this month I decided to take part in Jamie Ridler's Full Moon Dream Boards. I loved giving myself the two weeks from the new moon to the full moon in order to ponder Jamie's prompt - The Pink Moon and what seeds do I want to plant? What do I want to blossom in my life right now?

Last night I drove home under the almost full moon. I was aware from these days of gathering the images and words for my board of the immense need for me to simplify, slow down and focus. The beauty of the moon reminded me of the power and grace inherent in stillness. This is what I have been craving: to be Still and aware. Awake, Present and Centered. A lot is going on within me and I need time and space to process it all. I want to let the juicy goodness soak in, appreciating the gifts and celebrating the singular beauty of each blossom as it arises in my life. I don't want to rush anything. I want to feel my connection to the natural cycles of life and from that connection let flow my creativity. Flow and grow, that is what I want for myself in this phase of my life.

My Dream Board seems to flow nicely into this week's Wishcasting. I wish to invest in these seeds: Stillness so I can hear the call of my heart; Simplicity so I can see what is around and within me; and Play so I can joyfully express the luminous beauty of this life.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My World (Best Shot Monday)

Since I was so wordy in my Weekly Reflections, I thought I'd offer something for the more visually minded ... Tracy Clark asks "How is life looking in your world?" Well, here is my corner of things. Enjoy my best shots from the past few days.

Weekly Reflection (week 16): Surrendering to my Life

How gracefully do I surrendering to my life?

So here is how my mind works: first I was chewing on the question posed by Marisa Haedike in one of her podcasts from her blog Creative Thursday - "Is this the life that I want for myself?" Thinking about it, I was getting stuck on the notion of want and some confusion - in my mind, of course - around the sense of dreams being tied up with desires and grasping at what I don't have and being blind to what is in my life. In the shower I came up with a spin on this question which is: Am I growing the way I want to grow? And from another angle: Am I living the life I have been given?

So I was getting all bogged down over the deeper implications behind dreaming, and notions of desire, attachment, aversion never mind the original question which is asking if I am living my life awake and aware or is my life living me? Driving into work I was listening to a CD sent to me from Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association on chanting and my favorite chant, Om Namah Shivaya came on. Chanting has always been a powerful practice for me. The first time I chanted, it felt just right. As Bhavani, the instructor on the CD explained, for some of us chanting is like a magnet and we are the metal filings that are drawn to it. She also explained how what we chant - usually the names of gods or goddesses (all aspects of one infinite energy) - is to remind us what it is we are committing ourselves to or what it is we are wanting to evoke within ourselves. As someone who has become increasingly forgetful, this resonates with me! I will set an intention at the beginning of my yoga practice and usually that is it - the concept flies away the minute I open my eyes and begin moving. So I need constant reminders in my life.

Om Namah Shivaya roughly translates into "I bow to lord Shiva" or I bow to the constant change that is the nature of life. Bhavani offered a beautiful translation: May I surrender to the reality of my life. She then questions "how gracefully can we do that?"

Okay, so I've travel a bit from the original question that got everything rolling, but maybe not. I keep in touch with my dreams not because I believe my life is lacking in anyway but to keep in touch with how I want to grow as a person. And in order to grow into the person I aspire to be (the person I already am, but need to embrace) I must surrender to what my life is offering me. If dreams are like seeds, then I plant and water those seeds and but the soil that they go into is the circumstances of my life. How that plant will grow depends up my attention and care but it also depends upon elements outside of my control. It is the earth - my world, my responsibilities, my commitments, my family - that provides the nutrients and in my opinion, the magic that will take my dreams beyond the scope of what I am capable of envisioning.

So to commit to a dream seems to require both conscious action and a letting go. Which is ... duh! ... Karma Yoga! Doing my part and letting go of the notion I control the outcome. Rather, receiving the fruits of my efforts as a gift, even when the outcome is vastly different from what I had anticipated. So to open a window onto my dreams, I am not looking to move beyond my life, but to glimpse how I may enrich it and how it already enriches me. To surrender gracefully to my life is not to stop growing, but to see new possibilities for growth.

And rather than consider how gracefully I surrender to my life perhaps I am setting "graceful surrender" as my intention. I commit myself to change and to growth. And I recall this intention each time I chant Om Namah Shivaya. Another translation I just found captures what I have been struggling to understand: "I honor that which I am capable of becoming." The life I aspire to is rooted in the life I am living and both are always in the process of becoming, growing and changing. That is the nature of Shiva's dance. And to borrow from T.S. Eliot "there is only the dance."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Practice makes perfect

The concept of practice keeps coming up for me. This past week I've had the phrase "practice makes perfect" stuck in my head and I have wondering and worrying it to death. Of course I understand it refers to doing something over and over again in order to master it. I've thrown the word practice around quite a bit when it comes to my life and I am left wondering, what is it I am hoping to perfect?

In terms of yoga practice - and I mean the real practice, the foundational principles (yamas and niyamas), meditation, awareness, energy control; the whole shebang and not just the postures - the more accurate statement might be "practice makes more practice." Or a spin on a Buddhist saying - "after practice, more practice."

Why do I practice? Yeah, I know I am dodging the What here, but I think I will get back to that. I practice in order to not lose me in the busyness of life. I practice to strengthen habits, reactions, attitudes that I believe are healthy and positive so that I may be less likely to fall into reflexive patterns of thinking, behaving, being. I had a long day yesterday. What was to be a routine check up for my mother at her doctor's office turned into 3 hours at the medical center with Cowgirl in tow. And a return trip this morning. A pretty normal response would have been to come home, bury myself in comfort food and retreat to the basement for television. Instead, I poured myself a glass of wine, went down to my art space, put on some music and worked in my journals for an hour or so. I was consciously aware that I was moving against the tide of old habits, but the resistance quickly dissipated and I know the next time I have this choice, it will be easier for me to choose that which gives me energy rather than that which depletes it.

I am very actively practicing a creative habit. I have set up days and routines for creative play and I stick to them even if my writing day involves some stream of consciousness scribbling while sitting in the doctor's waiting room. Practice is another way of saying I commit myself to something on a regular basis. That it is important to me and so I am giving it this space and time no matter what.

But back to the Perfecting part. My life is my practice. Or rather, how I engage with my life constitutes the components of practice. I practice being present in my life. What this means for me is pausing repeatedly to notice my breath. I have become familiar (through practice!) with the signs that I am spinning out of my center. My mind races, I feel antsy and edgy and I become snappy and snarly. My temper is short and there is a desire to flee. In those moments if I can pause to notice my breathing, generally I find I am holding onto my breath much like I am holding onto some negative emotion or thought. I exhale and let go of my breath and magically the hold whatever emotion or thought has had upon me loosens as well.

I also practice returning to the sensations in my body. When I am stressed (usually about time; since becoming a mother, I am always running late for something) there is a knot and a sense of heat in my solar plexus. My throat tightens and my facial muscles harden. When I can attend to these sensations, breathing and relaxing them, I can bring myself back into the present moment. A traffic jam may have me obsessing over being late, stressing about how I will juggle everything that has to get done in less time, thinking should I take an alternate route and generally being everywhere in my mind but the car. When I return to my breath and my body, I am back in the car with my daughter. I realize I cannot change the traffic, but I can change my attitude. I can turn the music up and we can sing; I can appreciate this extra time to be with Cowgirl and ask her to tell me a story because she tells the most wildly wonderful stories where I am Mommy Hulk and she is Spidergirl and Moose is Batdog.

I practice slowing down. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. The compulsion to multitask is strong even though I know I never can pull it off. I end taking more time to clean up the spills, mistakes and missteps because I tried to do too many things at once. Slowing down means doing one thing at a time and attending to each detail. Cleaning the floors, ironing a tablecloth (yes, I just did that!) can be tedious tasks when my mind is filled with all the other things I want/need/hope to be doing. But when I pay attention to my actions, how my body feels and my breathing, there is a soothing quality to the work. My mind relaxes and a sense of spaciousness fills the space previously occupied by all those thoughts.

The greatest benefit to slowing down and paying attention is I notice and remember all the details. I firmly believe life is the details. Lately Cowgirl has loved having us tell her stories about her past. We talk about when she was a baby with us in China (she was almost two, but she was our new baby) and even stories from 2 years ago are like classic myths for her. Last night I was recalling the first birthday party I took her to and how there was an ice cream cake with a poodle on top and the birthday girl made another girl cry when she scooped up the poodle's head and ate it. I remembered that Cowgirl ate her entire humongous piece of cake after I told the other moms she wasn't much of a sweet eater. She painted a ceramic kitty blue and we have him up on her nightstand. She loves hearing all the details of her life and it is important that I have paid enough attention to remember them all.

Through practice I recognize each moment offers me an opportunity to choose how I wish to react. And I practice in order to form a habit of choosing what will strengthen my connection to living in Truth and Love. I practice so I may learn to relax into my life rather than resist what is offered to me. I practice in order to reaffirm through my actions, words or thoughts my connection to love, unity and abundance and to weaken the hold of fear, doubt and the sense of smallness that robs me of power. I practice not to perfect Me, because I know I am and you are already perfect. But I practice in order that I might come to believe that truth.

I cultivate an attitude of practice because it reminds me I have a lot still to learn. I can and will mess up and that's okay. I am practicing. In reality, there is no perfecting ... just simply being. Which isn't all that simple! Practice provides a rhythm, a structure that allows me to be engaged with my life in a proactive way. I have a choice: be here, awake and practicing, or be lost. What's at stake is coming to know and embrace my authentic self and that is worth the commitment of a lifetime.

"Behind all one's pursuits, the basic problem that remains unresolved is the feeling of inadequacy .... It is the problem faced by Arjuna, a warrior-hero of the fabulous achievements and disciplined intellect, who was nevertheless overwhelmed by personal conflict and a feeling of helplessness. Lord Krishna taught him how to know the adequate self. When he knew it, all his conflict and sorrow were resolved. This is the subject matter of the Bhagavad Gita." - Swami Dayananda, The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Double Dog Dare (Wishcasting Wednesday)

Remember that? To be double dogged dared ... to be pushed to the edge and taunted "come on, don't be a scared-dee cat" and either caving into peer pressure or slinking away, the label of Afraid pinned to your back.

There is so much positive, encouraging energy out here and I've found myself jumping in to waters I would never have imagined myself capable of swimming. I have received wonderfully gentle, encouraging nudges to share my vision, speak my words and I have responded to fear and uncertainty by daring myself many times.

So here's the thing: it is exciting to join in, to move outside of the comfort zone and expand my horizons. I am participating in Marisa Haedike and Sean Hogan's ecourse Be It Live It Do It (April in Paris) and I am struck by the fact that I am not sure what my "it" is? Well, my dreams of course. And everyone is talking about living their dreams, birthing their dreams, giving wings to them and I am definitely waving my pom poms and enthusiastically cheering everyone on.

And I know dreams come in various sizes and forms according to the dreamer and certainly I am the only judge of what is a dream for me. But I am wondering about all this calling into action? Yeah, I signed up and climbed aboard and am very excited to dig around and unearth whatever is germinating deep within me. But I am wondering - daring to consider in fact - that maybe I already have "it" and in fact am living "it" and I just need to recognize and appreciate this fact? Am I so busy looking up at the sky, squinting to see my dreams on the horizon that I am missing the fact they are laying comfortably by my feet, waiting to be acknowledged?

I dare to say I don't know.
I am uncertain.
I can change my mind.
I may want some time.

I wish to dare to consider the pieces of my life -
the messiness, the uncertainty, the eruptions and interruptions, false starts, dead ends, lost bits and scattered ideas -
are part of a larger form I may not be ready to take in.
or understand.

I wish to dare to consider
I may already be living my dream
and I wish to dare to believe
doing so
living "it"
it is much simpler
than my mind makes it out to be.

So many wonderful dares to read about over here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring days (Best Shot Monday)

I needed one of those days that just unfolds ...

without much planning and with little fuss ...
open to receiving the quiet gifts that each moment offers ...
experienced outside of time ...
the whole day whispering "listen ..."
and me pausing long enough to hear.

A visual record of a Perfect Day:

Started off with early morning walk while the neighborhood was quiet:

except for the birds who provided a lovely soundtrack:

back home, a hot cup of good, strong coffee:

and I was ready for the day. Throwing the usual plans out the window, Cowgirl and I packed our backpacks with snacks, water, pads and pencils and headed off to the botanical garden. Paying little attention to time, we walked, told stories, discovered tiny miracles and took loads of pictures. The shot I do not have is of us sitting on the ground, my camera strap around both our necks and me holding the camera while she had her turn taking pictures. Oh, she is ready for her own camera!

some of the loveliness we saw:

after much strolling and picture taking, we found a shady spot to rest and eat our snacks:

Tired but contended, we made our way back to the car.

it was, to borrow a favorite line of poetry,

"... a day from a book, steeped in its own warm juice,

heavy with the smells of growing ..."

(Alastair Reid, Weathering: Poems & Translations)

How would your perfect day unfold?

Weekly Reflection (week 15): My Thoughts

We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; the travel far. ~ Swami Vivekananda

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. ~ The Buddha

What are the thoughts I wish to hold?

I cannot remember where I heard or read this statement, but it has motivated me in my commitment to a path of Self recovery. "Every action has its ancestor in a thought." When I think about where I am, what I am doing, and how my life has unfolded I can track my way backwards to an original thought or attitude. Knowing this, why do I persist in giving valuable air time to negative, self defeating and destructive thoughts?

Well ... old habits die hard.

I am learning to catch myself when in a cycle of negative thinking. I cannot always pull myself out, but I am able to remember nothing is permanent; the emotions that move through me in this moment will look and feel and be different later on. I also hang my hat on the idea that emotions are like weather patterns; always shifting, stalled perhaps, but ultimately changing. I had an A Ha moment this weekend when I realized I am living in a part of the country that experiences some pretty major weather patterns. I am learning on several levels the value of not attaching myself to how things are right now and when necessary, just to ride the storm out.

There are those days when I just need to live through the funk or the fog. I liken it to day 2 of a 3 day road trip: just driving, not arriving. But another powerful tool from yoga is a practice called Pratipaksha Bhavana and I am learning just how potent this seemingly simple teaching can be. Sutra ll:33 from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads "When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bavana." (Nischala Joy Devi from The Secret Power of Yoga) When I cannot change my situation, then I can always choose to change my attitude. Swami Satchidananda counseled that one way to loosen the hold of any negative thought upon our minds is to consider its after effect. Of course, I have to catch myself thinking the thought first! Sometimes those pesky gremlins have crept up and before I know it, they have taken my mind over for their destructive dinner party and I am eagerly serving them food and drink.

journal page inspired by Faith Ringgold interview. text reads: I have to believe it, I have to want it, I have to trust it, I have to live it."

This past winter provided me with many opportunities to work with these practices. Feeling stuck and unmotivated, I grabbed hold of anything positive and energizing to help move me through the trough. For the new year, I created my To Do book which then morphed into my Goddess Workbook. I have been faithful writing out my weekly lists which really function "Things I Want to Remember To Do" lists rather than chores to be checked off as done. Often items have been moved from week to week to week and I am do not beat myself up about that. I just know things can get overlooked in the busyness of my day and my list is a way of keeping sight of my priorities.

Writing in my book this weekend, I decided to look at the first page which is where I have listed my major projects and dreams for the coming year. As I looked down the list, I was struck by how many of the items I had already begun, were fully established or in process of becoming. Out of 22 items (and I do add on to the list) 12 of them are in various stages of germination, rooting and flowering. Proof positive that while I might have felt stuck, things were moving.

So seeing the power of positive thinking, what are the thoughts I wish to cultivate in the soil of my mind today? Rather than new seeds, I believe I wish to recommit to intentions I have set forth already: to know as I am, I am enough; to live my life fearlessly, with a wide and open heart; to embrace all aspects of my life as opportunities for my growth; and to welcome myself as a work in progress and in process. With these attitudes in place, I can live life riding the winds rather than feeling battered and blown about by the storms that will inevitably pass by.

How do you monitor your self-talk? What kind of soil are you preparing for your seeds?

(where i am choosing to live ...)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Full Heart/heavy ♥

This morning I woke up enthused, excited and eager to open the windows of my heart to all the colors, scents and sounds of Spring. In reviewing photographs from my past week, I was taken by how vibrant my world is these days. Looking at the images that capture the content of my days, it was surprising to see how a commitment to Creating Every Day has manifested into - to borrow a name from an inspiring blog - an artful life.

Last week was Cowgirl's Spring break and we took full advantage of the extra time to create. We made flower jewelry and had a girls' luncheon out with Grandmother:

We spent a morning at the children's museum and Cowgirl took full advantage of a face painting station to give us both colorful makeovers:

Oh yes, I had two smiley people/faces on each cheek and could only clean off one before we left the museum to have lunch at a suitably busy restaurant.

I also gathered my courage and began to sew my poetry tote bag for The Artistic Mother group. It took all of my discipline and control to sit and carefully cut out the various fabric pieces I would need and to read through the instructions multiple times before starting. Not that it is a complicated project ... but I realized the reason I am not good at sewing (or baking) is that I lack the patience to methodically and precisely move forward. Cutting out 9 four in by four inch squares, I was like a kid at Disney land at the beginning of a sugar bender. I just want to dive right into things and see how it would all come together. I want to move and act and get into the process. The careful prep work is not my strength. That said, I think I can learn a lot about patience and focus from sewing ...just with small projects that come together sooner, rather than later.

Okay, so I sat down at the sewing machine and lined everything up and attempted to slowly begin the machine. The needle went up and down, the machine purred and ... nothing happened. Tried again and nothing. Then I realized I had not threaded the needle! Off to a good start, right? The patchwork pieces for the front of the bag came together fairly easily. Sewing the rows together, well, a little "off" in one row but hey, I am embracing imperfection, right? Onward I went. I got sassy, I got confident, I was envisioning many more such bags in my future.

Well ... I can say I am inspired to make more bags although I think going a tad larger might be easier when it comes to sewing in the lining (this is info only those making the bag might understand: if your sewing machine does not detach from its base, then sewing "in the round" for the lining is tricky with that tiny opening.) And thankfully, I have my fabric flower from the previous week to pin over the more obvious glitch in my sewing (a corner is a little misshapen.) I discovered I sew like I bowl - despite attempts to be straight, I veer to the left. I also caught myself holding my breath, so maybe some yogic breathing practices will help me sew straighter. But I love the bag and do plan to make more - it is just so darn cute and the possibilities are endless. Even better there are two no-sew option tutorials on Shona's website.

So my heart is full from all these adventures; pushing myself to try new things, opening up space in the day for more play and silliness and celebration.

And then I went into work and checked out the news online and saw these pictures from Qinghai province in China where a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the region of Yushu county.

I have no words right now, I just know my heart is with all those whose lives have been turned upside down, who are living in pain, fear, uncertainty about their future and uncertainty as to the fate of their loved ones. Apparently many families in this region send their children away to be school and no one knows just yet the fate of those children. As a mother this is my biggest nightmare: to be separated from my child when something horrific happens. It is unbearable to consider - every instinct in me is programmed to protect and comfort and care for her and to not be there for her ... again, words fail me.

So my heart is heavy right now. If anyone knows how to donate directly to relief efforts in Qinghai province, please leave me a comment or a link. In the meanwhile, I will take my daughter out to play because that is a blessing I will not squander. And I will turn to my art journals because there I am finding a way to explore my feelings and to reconnect to meaning and hope and faith.

Today my heart weeps. I am aware more than ever of the continual dance of Shiva that describes individual and cosmic experience: creation, maintenance and destruction. To hold on, to live and love knowing this life is so very fragile and precious, that is the gift of heartache.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Care of a tender heart

Today's Wishcasting asks: What do I wish to be gentle with?

The overwhelming consensus amongst my fellow wishcasters seems to be: myself. And after reading so many responses that echo what I am feeling and struggling with, I pretty much felt everyone else had said all that I might want to say on the subject. It has been a challenging week with the Husband out of town and me, the sole adult in the house. I have been tripping over my expectations of what I can do in a single day while wearing many hats: mommy, cook, dog handler, driver, domestic diva/slave to name a few. Factor in allergy season and hormones and voilá - a cocktail for emotional fireworks, for sure.

So thinking about being gentle, I know I have to start with myself. But in all honesty, the incentive for cleaning up my act is Cowgirl. And while looking at this photograph, my answer to this week's question emerged.

Caught in a rut
of busyness
i loose sight of
the many gifts
by small hands

my head in a fog
of ridiculous
i absentmindedly
"she holds my heart
in her hands"

is the realization
she is holding out to me
her heart
an offering
made daily
purest intention

tiny and tender
this immense
and responsibility
is one i pray
i never again
take for granted
or overlook

my wish
for her -
which really is a wish
for myself -
is to recommit
to the practice
of being
my words, my actions, my thoughts
rain down upon
both our hearts

not just right speech,
but words
born from
gentleness and love

To read the other responses I wish I had written, visit here. And remember to go gently through your day. ♥

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 15): Wanting to thank you

Who do I wish I could thank from my past? (Who might not realize their impact upon my life?)

I am always awed when reflecting upon the course of my life to consider those seemingly haphazard moments shared with another person, possibly a stranger, that sparked a monumental change in my life. At the time, I am not aware that my course has shifted and that the steps I am somewhat haltingly taking will result in such a rich journey.

I've been thinking about all the people in my past who have bumped shoulders up against me and sent me off in new directions. I've written before about the conversation over tea that turned out to be the seed for my journey to Cowgirl. The job I hold now is due to a conversation with a customer when I worked at a bookstore. Somehow, the fact I had a master's degree in Art History and had taught before came up and months later a phone call came in to the store and someone I did not even remember was asking me if I wanted to teach a class at the university here.

But there is one person who has been floating through my awareness a lot these days. The one person who I wish I could thank right now for his impact upon my life is my high school photography teacher. His was more than a casual bumping into and I doubt he ever knew how essential his belief in me was then and even now.

High School was not a good time for me. My memory of it is steeped in the emotions of survival. I was pretty shy, I started out overweight and then struggled with an eating disorder for the remainder of my time there. I did not belong to any clubs, I partook of no extracurricular activities. In fact, I spend my afternoons working at the public library. The librarians there and the women in an aerobics class at the YMCA that my mother and I attended compromised the bulk of my social interactions. Oh, I hung out with friends my age but my sense is we all were just drifting through our days until we could be released into the next phase of our lives.

Somehow, I gathered up enough courage to take the one class I had always wanted to take: photography. Our school only offered black and white photography, levels I and II, and I took both. I loved everything about it. The chemicals that stained my finger tips and corduroy pants, marking me as an initiate; the lazy spin of the lab clock marking time for the developing and fixing trays; the hum of the lights when exposing a print; tapping the bottle opener on the counter to let the person next to you in the dark know it was their turn to open up their film canister. I think I loved working in the darkroom because I could feel alone while surrounded by others. There was a sacred quality to our working there together, each person focused upon their images, coaxing their perception of the world into tangible form.

Of course what made this space sacred and empowering was the instructor, Mr. Perna. In hindsight, it seems many of the teachers in my school were disappointed. There were standouts who loved both the material and the teaching of their subject, but many more seemed disappointed by either where they ended up, what they were doing or by us, the students. I don't believe we knew that at the time, but we could sensed their disillusionment the way a dog picks up on meanness. In turn, they made us uneasy and uncomfortable with where and who we were.

By contrast, Mr. Perna seemed to genuinely enjoy both photography and the teaching of it to us. I loved the times he would pull out a slide projector and show us the works of the great photographers like Stieglitz, Adams, Weston, Strand and Lange. One weekend my mother and I ran into Mr. Perna and his wife at an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs in New York. My sense is we were both pleased to recognize the other one shared a passion for the image.

After taking both of the black and white photography classes, the only other course one could take was an independent or "advanced" study which was limited to one student per semester. It never even occurred to me to try for that coveted solo spot and probably Mr. Perna knew I would not ask. So he asked me.

Not only did he ask if I was interested, but he confided that he was asking me before another student approached him as he would rather work with me. If he did nothing else, this expression of his confidence in me opened up the possibility that maybe, just maybe there was something in me that was worthy of his belief. But he also taught me to respect my vision and taste, and to stand up for my point of view. One time while discussing one of my images he expressed his preference for a lighter exposure, but deferred to what he had observed was my preference for darker images. He never treated me as a kid with a lot to learn; rather, he treated me as an equal whose ideas and aesthetic were worth considering. In respecting me as someone with something worthwhile to say, he mentored me in learning to respect myself.

I wish I could say I carried forward his confidence and conviction in my talent. I fell back into old habits of disbelief and after I took a college photography course, I put my camera away except for holiday photographs. My cameras languished more or less unloved until last year. Thankfully I stumbled into other teachers whose passion for photography and the healing effect of turning the camera lens upon one's life is rekindling that little flame sparked by Mr. Perna so many years ago. I know I am bolder today because of the foundation he helped me create way back when I was still a vulnerable caterpillar, incredulous that wings or color or freedom could be part of my story.

So a very humble "thank you" to Mr. Perna for believing in me when I didn't know how to do so for myself. I can't say I've tried very hard to find him; probably if I caved in and joined Facebook I might be able to track him down. And yes, I do know his first name, Paul (and his wife was Susan) but he is frozen in my memory as "Mister." And it seems fitting to combine this thank you with photographs from my past weekend as my contribution to Best Shot Monday.

I know the very best way I can show my gratitude for his gifts is to continue to believe in myself and to nurture that attitude within others. We often never know how a smile to a stranger brightened their day but we do know the impact of those acts upon our hearts and our spirit. I will also keep taking pictures for they help me to remember to see and honor myself and they capture the magic that is my life unfolding as a woman, a mother, and an artist.

How will you keep the gratitude wheel turning? Who do you wish you could thank?