Friday, September 30, 2011

Terms of Use: A Guide to Ownership

A rendering of my inner stupa next to a Trent Miller drawing.  Can you guess which one I did?!
Dear self,

Today has been a hard day.  I don't really get why, but it has!  You seem to be very worried about the future, about where all of this is going.  Which I get.  But it seems to me you are also becoming blinded by panic!  Which is both unattractive and unsettling.

I also noticed that you are depressed, which to me means you aren't settled in yourself - you are jumping out every which way.

You still feel incredibly cheated by some of your life experiences. But I see some things that you cannot change! And so - where is all this anger coming from? You seem to be very angry at yourself.  Which is a little like shooting yourself in the foot.

I wonder if you can go inside now, and forgive yourself for the things you have done that hurt you. Go inside and tell these scared places that you are sorry.  That you hear their pain.  That you feel it.  That you want to do better, and you need their help, instead of their fury.  You get it.  You get that they are pissed.  You are listening.  And yet you don't quite know what to do about it.

Last night, you were jittery jane - jumping all over the place.  When you finally sat, at the end of the night, you felt the presence of God.

Today, in little Frances' room, you heard her tell her mother,
I'm right here for you - and you thought how that's what God is saying to you all the time - when you think you are lost. God is saying, I'm right here by you.  You are not alone. 

I have a friend who regularly goes through old journals to see what she was thinking and feeling at earlier points in her life.  I keep my journals but rarely go through them.  But I found this entry from six days ago that already seems profound and wise--as our creations often do when viewed from a distance.  I know six days is not a lot of time, but hey.  Leaps of faith can happen in a second, right?  A lot can happen in six days.

My sister-in-law checked in with me recently after several posts where I wrote about depression.  I don't mean to give the impression that I roll around on the floor moaning all my life.  In fact, I am often bopping around at unnatural speeds.  Okay, unnatural for me.  In any case, I write so much about healing and depression because I want to take the stigma out of being uncertain in life, out of feeling overwhelmed, and especially of feeling vulnerable.  I want to be intimate enough with life and each other to welcome the shadows of our psyches, the shadows of our world, and to get comfortable with those shadows, because they are a part of us, too. 

I guess I'm not much of a Toughen up! kind of gal.  Because the paradox of inner strength is that it does not come from emotional calisthenics, or regimes we impose on ourselves.  It comes when we learn to be so tender with ourselves that we become the mother to our inner child.  When we learn the skills of tenderness, we strengthen our relationship to ourselves so profoundly that we become nearly unshakeable.  And that is the kind of tough I believe in cultivating--tough from the tender inside out.

When I saw rediscovered this six-day-old letter above in my notebook, I thought of my dear friend, whom I spoke to yesterday.  Among such topics as fig-infused cocktails, shopping at Kohls, and a blouse-sweater-belt item I bought that my husband is now referring to as "the contraption," my friend and I talked about the nature of depression--how it is ultimately the result of betraying your inner will.  Like putting a big brick on your belly, pinning yourself in place. Remembering this sometimes helps shift my perspective when I am feeling low.  It helps me ease up on any expectations I might be placing on myself that are causing emotional discomfort. 

What also usually helps is a spontaneous run with my spastic dog. The disaster of us careening down the sidewalk, him halting to stop to pee without warning, me getting my arm jerked out of its socket, makes me laugh.  As he stops every half block, and I tug on his leash without mercy, we are not winning any competitions in speed or grace.  But we are having fun.  And in that delight--disorganized, a purpose in itself--I remember the unerring presence of the perfect in the imperfect.  And that, my friends, soothes my heart like no other balm.

So, maybe try this sometime, a letter to yourself - for those times when your head is out of whack with your heart, and someone wise must simply take the reigns.  Or don't!  Who gives a hoot what you do, as long as it pleases and provides for you.

With that, I say hello (& hello! & hello!) to Autumn, seeing what ways I can slow down, gather supplies, and go inside--the house, myself--to watch the light changing, to draw out the blankets, to get cozy with my family, and just like the trees, unwind.

With love and hope for your inner unveiling,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tea, Sun, Chickens

What I Learned From My Mother
by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds.  I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape-skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

1. The Chickens
Is it wrong to one day write about the secret wisdom of chickens, and another to tell you how boiling three of their legs and making a pie from their tender meat saved my pickling soul?

All day, nothing could cure my sadness.  Not a delightful morning jog with Dog, not time at my friend's house watching her sew, not toasting bread and spreading on delicious butter, and putting tomatoes and basil on top that I myself grew.  I ask myself now, looking back on this day, Goodness, how did you miss the seed of those moments?

I don't know.  Sometimes it just happens that way.  In fact, I have lately been meditating on the fact that what we do does not matter so much as the attention and intention we bring to it. 

Perhaps that is why what did cure The Sadness, as my husband affectionately calls that beautiful friend-emotion who sometimes visits and hangs around for a while, was making my own pie crust.  Because there was no reason to make a pie crust, other than the fact that I wanted to.  In that purity of decision, and crazed focus, that slight buzz of time rush and determination, I wheedled my way beyond the fog of a near-hovering migraine and into the bone joy of blinders-on, heck with the rest of the world, cooking.

Whew!  I'm sure glad I did it, too. 

Chicken pot pie might always remind me of arriving at my friend house to retrieve a book on a cold Saturday during graduate school, and being offered a giant slab of warm pot pie made by her neighbor, our friend Gina.  The crust on that pie was so thick and delicious, eaten in the cozy dark of Gina's windowless kitchen, that I can almost mistake the memory of it for putting on a beautiful, hand-knit sweater, and pulling up a rocker to sit at a fire.

2. Tuna Noodle Casserole (For When You Are Depressed)

When I got married, my excellent maid of honor (who is famous for being in something like sixteen weddings) presented me with a box full of recipe cards she had collected from many women in my life.  Making food from these recipes is a simple, true delight.  I know that this feeling is nothing new to lots of folks; in fact, I know it is a common wedding custom to share recipes.  To this I say, Yay Tradition!  It pleases me greatly to connect my kitchen to those of my family and friends.  Moreover, I find it an honor to expand my circle of women through food.

So, yes.  Food is healing!  And cyclical and amazing!  And recipes have a life of their own!  I hear them calling from their little boxes while I sleep at night.  Days after I read one, I have a bionic urge to pluck it from its safe little bed and do whatever it tells me, give myself over to its sometimes formidable ingredients. 

This urgency is wisdom, I say.  Like today.  Baking hearty pot pie on a gorgeous sunny day? Totally called for. 

3. The Future (Egads)
I wrote a bit about my kitchen as a guest on a blog I like, which hopefully will appear soon.  The posts and pictures on this site remind me of all the delicious freedom, exploration, and colorful dreams that your twenties can and hopefully do hold. 

Today is my friend's birthday. 

She and I have talked about the nervousness that comes with tipping the scales from your twenties to your thirties.  I have been surprised by the beauty and power I have discovered in the world via my thirties, so imagine my delight when having tea with a friend this week, to hear him state that turning forty is the Absolute Best! 

So there.  No matter what our age, we have this to look forward to: growing toward more wisdom and humor, the tenderness that comes with understanding, the flavors that season our souls on the path, and the good foods we learn to make! 

To your health, to your dreams, and unfolding creations.  And yes, that sounds like a scrapbooking ad.

So, while the tomatoes slumber and old grasshoppers rub their knees, I leave you for a night's rest.
with love,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You Are the Song Behind the World

Dissolver of Sugar
by Rumi

Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,
if this is the time.
Do it gently with a touch of a hand, or a look.
Every morning I wait at dawn.  That's when
it's happened before.  Or do it suddenly
like an execution.  How else can I get ready for death?

You breathe without a body like a spark.
You grieve, and I begin to feel lighter.
You keep me away with your arm,
but the keeping away is pulling me in.


Pale sunlight,
pale the wall.

Love moves away.
The light changes.

I need more grace
than I thought.

Good morning, furry life.  I felt the need to jump out of bed last night to type up this Ode to Chicken Song (my title) by Alice Walker, from her memoir, The Chicken Chronicles.  The book is a marvel, in that it is so controlled at times as to be cheap (come on, Alice!  Give us more) but at other times is full of such quiet power, I wonder if I will ever forget its anecdotes.  In any case, it is a wonderful diversion from the wishy-wash days surrounding the full moon as my heart sloshes from side to side.

Ms. Walker writes to her chickens in California while she is abroad in Tibet.  The following passage comes after the author's discovery of the most ecstatic sound she has heard in her life: the buzzing prayers of monastery nuns as they gather in one room, chanting disparate prayers.  Walker writes:

...behind the world, always, there is a song...behind every country's 'leadership' and every country's 'citizenry' there is a song.  Behind Tibet, behind the spiritual 'country' the Dalai Lama...and the Tibetan Government in Exile have formed, there is the song of the nuns, which is the song of the feminine.  Without this song there is no movement, no progress.  It is this song that keeps it all going, though we may hear it infrequently or only by accident.  For millennia and to our detriment, it has been deliberately drowned out.  But it is there, nonetheless...

It is the same with you and with the other animals of the planet.  You are the song behind the world human animals inhabit.  Awww...hohohohohoho....This is the vocal song you sing as chickens, but each animal has its song in its very being: we are our songs embodied; it is the song of all of us that keeps our planet balanced.

I have been thinking about forgiveness lately, or, why I am still thinking about something that happened eleven years ago.  Growing up, I was taught that it is important to forgive, because it is a good Christian thing to do.  The whole Christian Thing To Do fixation cracks me up, by the way.  I wish there were a code for living, by which we could always find ourselves safe.  I find the truth to be closer to walking on a tightrope, when every moment is guided by the winds, and our balance, and our feeling out the next step.  Maybe that is cynical, but it seems to me, the older I get, there is no clear answer to life's questions, except as we can answer for ourselves.  And I think religions help us come to those answers.  At least, that is the case for me. 

As I made my way into adulthood, I began to understand the reasons behind these good Christian ways (etc. etc.)  I mean, the edicts were only helpful as I understood how to practice them in my life.  Without that meaning, they were rigid rules.  And there is nothing less enlightening than mechanically following rules for enlightenment.

Some wonderful things have grown to make sense in my life.  Some of these are cooking, friendship, growing tomatoes, and feeding others. When it comes to the area of forgiveness, however, I have some work to do.  A gifted friend once taught me that forgiveness does not mean, to pardon.  It means, to give back.  There are lots of ways to give back - in fact, one of the ways could be very eye-for-an-eye-ish.  But the way I thought of my friend's counsel was this: I will not hold this (insult, accusation, painful information you have handed to me).  Like a baton, I am handing it back to you.  You learn to incorporate it into your life how you must, or dissolve it through your own process of healing and transformation.  But it isn't mine to hold. 

Sounds easy, right?  Ha ha ha ha ha.

I have been giving back one painful moment for eleven stinking years now.  The missing link in my efforts has been prayer, possibly.  At least, that is my new theory.  In prayer lies the final piece of surrender; and it is surrender that ultimately heals a heart, and thus a life.

But what IS surrender?  (Besides the ding-dang hardest part of life?)  To me, it is letting go of my attachment to outcomes.  It is pausing to say, I don't know how this needs to end.  And then moving forward still - despite and with that uncertainty.

It is the willingness to discover something new.

This morning, I drew a gigantic bunny on my sketch pad.  Its ears rise up behind it, as if tuned into some other planet.  And maybe that is what is called for sometimes: opening up the whole scope of hearing, so we hear not just our own mind's complaints, but the wider world around us.  Not so we tune into those complaints, either.  But so we hear what is always being said underneath them: the prayers for peace, songs and chants for peace, the buzzing, braying truth that what lies behind our suffering is an ability to heal all things.

Last week was full of adjustments and readjustments for me.  I had to sand the wheel of my life that had been turning so smoothly before I went on vacation.  It was a little ugly, in truth - this adjustment period. But it was necessary.  And by Sunday, I was lolling about like a turtle in the sun, finally at peace in my body and life.  Because of this, when a friend came to me that night, and needed to go for a walk in the park, I was able to be totally present with him, and free of any personal distractions chattering in my head while he talked about his life. 

This is the power of the feminine - not only the ability to be there for another, but to be there for ourselves when we are having a rough time.  In fact, we have to be there for ourselves, first, in order to be any there for anyone else. 

I once made the mistake of believing that this presence with myself was hard, or complicated, or time-consuming.  Sometimes it is.  Last week, it felt like a full-time job.  But most of the time, with a little routine maintenance, it is a pretty seamless process.  And when you fall out of routine, and find a big hitch in things, there are others to call in for support.  You, me, the chickens, and the nuns.  We're all in it together.   This is the good news.  
And I thank you for being part of it.

With love,

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rain Delay

When I Look At the Old Car
by Marcia F. Brown

When I look at the old car
backed into the cleared-out space in the shed,
I can almost understand
those bewildered men who leave
their softening wives in middle age, up-
and-walk-out after decades
of marriage and family, to take up
with some buffed and waxed young thing
with great lines, horsepower
to burn and a dazzling array
of untested equipment.

When I look at the old car's
headlights, dulled with disuse and staring
at me, as if to say, What did I ever do?
Wasn't I always good to you?
Turned over every morning, rain or snow,
to start your day? Kept you safe
all these years, mile after mile?
And I'm filled with guilt and say with feeling
You're absolutely right. You were the best. There'll never
be another you
, as I glance surreptitiously
at my cute new model sitting in the old car's space
in the garage and explain, You just got old. 
You're falling apart. And besides,
I say,
I've fallen in love. We're already living together.

And the old car looks like it might be wired
to explode. 

So I walk across the yard
and look at the new car,
and it occurs to me that before too long
the new car will be old, the suspension
will sag and things will fall off.
And like the lout who'll use up
his young fling and want to trade in again,
we'll deny that we've put on some miles ourselves,
dump this one in the shed and go shopping--

until someone lays a firm hand on our arms
and says Enough. You just can't drive any more.

I love this poem.  What an ending!  I considered sending it in a letter to my mom's friend, but thought, what if she got the wrong idea?  What if she thought I called her an old car?  I decided against it.  But her friendship with my mother reminds me of mine with a best friend from college who called out of the blue last night. I was ecstatic to see her name on my caller i.d., and surprised.  "Is everything okay?" I asked.  "Of course," she said.  "I just called to say hi." My gut fear that something was wrong reminded me of what I had discovered earlier in the day: I've been moving too fast. 

It's a cozy rainy morning and my dog has been oversleeping lately.  Because the dog is my alarm clock, I have been oversleeping too.  But rather than feel guilty or even sheepish about it, I am taking this opportunity to catch up on Nothingness, or the cozy Somethingness that is: blankets, the rain outside, sweet stacks of books and lamp light throughout the house.  Though I have been fighting the concept rigorously, I am finally surrendering to a post-vacation rest. 

In the spirit of paying attention, I will post a few pictures of the tiny moments that have been arresting my buzzing mind, bringing me back to the blissful physicality of the present tense. 

Picture 1
My gray-faced dog
who paws at me continuously since I arrived home, bringing the much-needed message: Enough with your agenda already!  Let's play.

Picture 2
A front-hall composition, complete with shiny little hatchet my husband (inexplicably) deposited there.

Picture 3
Naked baby pic!  This is my nephew who, through shrill and explosive laughter, relentless requests fruits and vegetables, and a curious addiction (discovered last week) to kale green smoothies,
brings me back to the present in nano-seconds, settling into the abundance that is

The photos are all a little blurry, but, I admit it!  I kind of like it that way.

May we all make time to count the ways we love today,