A Call to Step Out of Line

Last week I toured an art exhibit at my local Lightcatcher Museum honoring the life work of a man I had never heard of before. It’s called “WANTED: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace.” I recommend going if you can.

The docent focused on getting our group to voice what the artist’s images made us think about. There was so much to see, so much to let settle into my mind and heart. She talked about how Ed Bereal uses symbols and white space to make a point, and that the power of art is that it is interactive with the viewer: we bring our perspective to the piece in a kind of conversation with the artist, and (in this instance) with each other. I never took Art History in school, so have never really had a guided experience of talking about art with others.

Bereal’s images are disturbing. Near the entrance of the exhibit, in a life-size sculpture, several bored-looking white people (mannequins) stand in line to step up to a podium where a man, eyes wide in a head that had been turned upside down and backwards, is being staked through the throat by a mechanized Statue of Liberty/Miss America.

With my word-of-the-year (VOICE) still very much in my mind, I immediately thought, “this is about how we are all standing in line, waiting to have our voices stolen from us.” The image has stayed with me. Our voices are stabbed out of us—yet we seem surprised when it happens. We wait in line for it to happen! This is killing us, obviously. No one in the line—again, all white people—seems to be paying attention to what is happening, what they are in line for. As a white person myself, I can’t help but think this is about me. We are all just waiting our turn, patiently.

The Title of this piece is: MISS AMERICA: MANUFACTURING CONSENT (UPSIDE DOWN AND BACKWARDS)“

Wake up, world!” this seems to say. Wake up, white people! Your America is not what you think she is. She is dangerous. She is mechanical. She is at least a little obscene with her fleshy bulbous breasts exposed. Does that mean she is supposed to be nurturing or sexy or…? I didn’t get the idea that she was a puppet, but definitely man-made, a destruction machine. We have made her what she is, we Americans.

I can see that I could take this as a warning from minorities that whites need to shut up, open their eyes, and get a different perspective.  Or/and it can mean that whites have created this appalling reality we live in where people feel powerless to change anything. Or that the reason we feel powerless is because we are waiting in line to have our power—our voices—removed from us. Or/and…or/and… This must be the sign of great art, or art that has done its job anyway: it gets a response.

Along with much of the world, I heard Greta Thunberg’s words at the United Nations this week. Her voice, her passion, her youth, her total knowledge that she has not just the right but the duty to speak, the duty to act, reminds me of Joan of Arc. She shames us, we who tippy-toe into our support to stop raping our planet and the life Earth sustains.

It’s too easy to stand in line and let those in the White House make me feel like a stake has been driven through my larynx. Stepping out of the line is scary, because I’m not even sure what it means. I’m not sure what I’m doing, not sure what I’m risking, not sure that I have the  energy as a not very ambitious writer who gets extremely nervous at the thought of talking to people I don’t know.

But Greta Thunberg is doing it. She’s doing it brilliantly. And if we all step out of line to speak and do SOMETHING—make those in power pay attention—make our friends and neighbors pay attention—we will all model for each other.

And we must do it now. I must. I need to walk the talk and talk the talk also, knowing I cannot be perfect, knowing that even if I fail, I will have tried.

What comforts will I ignore to push for more action? What other causes and passions? What friends will I lose when I step out of line? What friends might I gain? Personally, locally, regionally, nationally, globally? I’m pretty scared I’ll fail, but my good heavens, Mathilda! What have I been trying to learn and teach  my whole life? Failure is not the problem. The problem is having no hope, of letting despair take me over and give me permission to do nothing.

“How dare you?” Greta Thunberg demands.

How dare I allow myself this luxury of having no hope? How dare I?

NOTE: Just as I was about to push “publish” on this post, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper entitled “It’s Time to Step Out of Line” came up in my email. I guess my psyche keeps pretty grand company.

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Spirit of Life–part two: Sun Moon Dance, being a Dog Soldier

My oldest sister invited me to be her support person/dog soldier in her third Sun Moon Dance this past April at Sweet Beautiful Waters located just outside Tucson, AZ. It was such a powerful experience that I feel it’s important to share, not just with others, but to remind myself, over and over.

Saguaro Cacti at Sweet Beautiful Water in Tucson

This is what I wrote in my journal, following the experience:

I just need to write without too much thought. Jane (the dance chief) asked that we not read or write while the Sun Moon Dance was happening, which meant that my processing, such as it was, has all been internal–though as a dog soldier support person I was allowed to speak to others when a good distance from the arbor. And there were hugs and kind smiles when things got overly intense for me. The last morning, the drums went to a very sad place and Becky was so clearly experiencing anguish. My heart felt like it was being torn out of my body–that’s maybe overly dramatic–but I was trying so hard to be strong for my sister and to support the Tree of Life, the beautiful young acacia tree in the center of the arbor.

The arbor with the Tree of Life–before we placed the shade tarps for the dancers and drummers

The drums and chanting…the dancers danced their love and support and gratitude for the Great Spirit to the Tree, then turned around and danced its love and support for the world on the way back to their spots. They each had a line to follow, sacred and laid down with cornmeal at the start: symbol of work and sacrifice and gratitude to all that sustains us from Mother Earth and Father Sky. They danced and blew their piercing turkey bone whistles as long as the drums sounded. When the chanting happened,  it seemed like the Tree was speaking to me, that the Great Spirit resonated into me with the drums and chants, messages that repeated, over and over, an infusion of meaning.

Some were songs of pain, some of joy, some of conviction and promise to work hard and stay steady. Some were songs of acceptance of very hard things. And of healing. I resonated with the drums and whistles so much more than I thought I would. At times I felt so full of chi–I flowed out with intention–my prayer of energy to the world, to the dancers, to the other dog soldiers (there were many of us). The drummers explained that the drums and chants learn THEM, as opposed to the other way around. 

We dog soldiers tended the fire, which marked another strong line heading East from the Tree, also laid in cornmeal. We smudged all who entered the sacred arbor. We witnessed all the dancing, standing in a roped off (less holy) place as soon as the drums called the dancers back. In a sort of clumpy crowd of support and witness, we faced the Tree, feeling the music, offering our love and energy as support to the Tree and to our particular dancer if we had one, and to all the dancers if we did not. It was such a deep connection to witness my sister doing this. Her spirit is so strong. Her being is so beloved. I felt and still feel so honored that she asked me to support her, that she trusted me to say yes, trusted me to have the giving energy required. And the open mind and heart. I want all my sisters to be able to have this experience.

I am still feeling fragile, vulnerable, ready to cry. Exposed. My heart feels exposed to the air of life. Not a bad thing, but also not exactly easy. 

I’m still hearing the chants: “Mama san, we will walk through pain, ayee oh ayee oh ayee oh ay o.k. Ayee oh, ayee oh, ayee oh, ay o.k.” I know that’s not the words really, but it is what I heard. The message: pain is not a bad thing. We will walk through it. We will be okay. I think there must be an element to this as part of the ritual of the dancers, fasting without water for three days.

At other times in the arbor, I had visions of a gash/gaping wound on the Tree of Life healing over, and the Tree assured me that it was stronger for the wound. It’s that adage, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” So there is hope for Mother Earth; there is still joy in her heart. The Great Spirit is part of Mother Earth, but also there supporting her, having her back. 

Visionary, artist, and author, Joseph Rael Beautiful Painted Arrow had several visions in the late part of the 1900s that showed him that non-natives needed instruction in how to cherish and care for the earth. These visions led him to create song chambers and centers where he instructed non-natives to train other non-natives in important rituals. Several non-native centers across the nation now run sweat lodges, drum and song circles, and various sacred dances for people who would not otherwise have access to such practices. Although some practices–maybe all–have been borrowed from the traditions of several tribes, I was told Joseph tried hard to escape the accusation of abetting non-natives in appropriating the holiness of native cultures and practices. For instance, he created his own language for the chants.

But of course there has been appropriation, and I am torn knowing that Native Americans have every right to feel offended–violated even–by whites practicing rituals that historically our race has tried its darnedest to wipe off the face of the continent. There can be no racial right for whites to practice this kind of ritual.

But the purpose of the Sun Moon dance outweighs my concern that it could offend someone. It is a ritual replete with gratitude and sacrifice. We need these symbols, all of us do, no matter our heritage. We need to feel the power of the symbol of the Tree of Life in our bones and our hearts. I’m claiming this as a species’ right, a species’ need.

The purpose of the Sun Moon Dance is to save the world.

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Spirit of Life-part one

“Spirit of Life”–that’s a big title for an occasional blog to tackle, but this April was quite an adventure in spirit for me.


Years ago I painted my image of God. I think of God as the Life Force, the Chi that runs through all living creation and connects us together. I think of Life as stemming from the planet herself: Gaia holding the energy in her womb.

 

Zion’s sheer edges

In April I traveled to the Southwest US, beginning with a Road Scholar tour of Zion National Park,

then stayed outside of Taos,

The gorgeous light of high desert above Taos, NM

 

 

 

 

 

 

and ended by supporting a Sun and Moon spirit dance in Tucson.

Saguaro Cacti in Tucson

The landscapes I visited were so different from what I’m used to in the Pacific Northwest–and each very different from each other, despite all being desert climates.

In Zion, I was introduced to the geology of the area, which necessitated some background education in geological time in general. To place humans on the timeline of the planet, we looked at at a 25 foot tape measure stretched out as far as it can go: its length represented 4.5 billion years–how old scientists now think Earth is. Humanity comes in at the relative time of the metal alloy that coated–coated!– the edge of the clasp at the end.

A simple diagram of time and life development on Earth on a 12-foot tape measure (note: I did the math myself, so I wouldn’t trust this for, say, a school project or anything.)

I have a 12-foot tape measure, and so of course I have to do the math here. Each inch represents 31,125,000 years. That’s thirty-one MILLION years for an INCH. This blows me away. Single celled organisms came in about 3.5 billion years ago–before that, who knows what life was? If the planet was formed at 12 feet on the tape measure, single cells come in around 9.3 feet–close to 1/4 from the beginning of our planet. One-celled organisms remained the status quo of life on the planet until 600 million years ago, when multiple-celled organisms first came into existence. On our tape measure, that is 19.25 inches–just a little over a foot and a half from “today.” Life as we know it– I mean beyond single-celled organisms!–is pretty darn recent. Humanity on this scale is too thin to measure.

A big benefit of this exercise was to give me some perspective on how big a number a billion is.

But it also broadened the way I think about Earth. Partly it’s because I got to see that this planet isn’t all about “life.” So much happened on Earth, slowly from our point of view of course, that had nothing to do with life. Tectonic plates shifting under seas, colliding, separating, creating mountains and grand oceans and plateaus. Sand dunes petrify.

at Snow Canyon, not far from Zion. Petrified Sand Dunes

A huge plateau is lifted, then a river might, over time, cut through the sandstone, allow wind to come in and further erode the rock. Over eons.

The Virgin River cuts through the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau, here at Zion National Park

Spectacular beauty. And the fact that plant and animal life has adapted to the rigors of this land is both exciting and awe-inspiring.

But setting that aside, now I’m wondering where the Life Force was during the one billion years before single celled organisms came into being? Does Chi require actual life in order to exist? Is Chi in the rocks themselves? I’ve been reading enough lately about the thought processes in fungus and trees, how plants communicate, that forces me to broaden my perspective. The concept doesn’t seem too weird to me, so I probably read about or watched a fantasy or sci-fi show where rocks and dirt and water were somehow sentient. Or maybe these elements are vessels for holding energy, just as we are. Chi being the force from which life stems, not life itself. Woo.

I like thinking about stuff like that. Yay, Road Scholar!

Next post I’ll talk about the second part of my spiritual journey in April, the part that was full of ritual and intimate connection to the Spirit.

 

 

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Large Heart, Large Hands

Art card by Susan Mrosek at www.ponderingpool.com, used with permission

I’ve had this card taped to the door of my office for years. I so enjoy Susan Mrosek’s artistic creative whimsy (check out her website at http://www.ponderingpool.com ), but it’s the sentiment behind this card that captured me from the first. What’s funny is that although this card is about gratitude, I’ve always seen it as being about this woman having a generous heart. It’s the words “the unparalleled gratitude housed beneath her monstrous hand” that had me going there. This woman’s heart must be darn huge to contain unparalleled gratitude. And a heart that big must be generous.

Thank you for stimulating my connection between gratitude and generosity, Susan!

Hands have huge symbolism.

Outstretched, they signify both offering and accepting.

As you can see, I have monstrous hands, too. I usually feel full of gratitude, but then the quality of my life makes that very easy. It’s harder to be grateful for the challenges in our lives, the things that test us, make us grow, deepen our connection to the core of who we are.

I have not been tested severely by this life. That’s okay with me–don’t get me wrong! But that fact makes me realize that there may well be a lot of readers who despise me because I’ve had it so easy. Totally privileged. Sometimes I wonder if I even have the right to an opinion. I know there are people who think I don’t. Or that if I voice it, then they have the right, maybe the duty, to dismiss it.

It’s ironic to think that my test is that I have not been tested. How do I handle that? Can I feel gratitude for being dismissed as not having a right to enter the conversation? Just asking the question, I find my perceptions shift a little. I see a little more broadly into the arena, the concept of how it could be really good for others if I were ignored. Maybe not forever, but for now.

A doodle that inspired this little epiphany

So you see how the concept of gratitude is linked in my mind to generosity–stepping into that new perspective has allowed me to open up to being more generous to the perspective of others who dismiss my voice.

Generosity has been on my mind since my husband and I went to Mexico a couple months ago. We went shopping for a birthday present for one of my sisters, and Andy didn’t even consider negotiating a lower price. To be honest, this took me aback. We lived together in Morocco almost 30 years ago for a couple of years. At that time (maybe now, too)  it was considered insane to accept the first price offered for something. Getting the price lowered was a kind of game, but it was also a duty. I remember thinking that it was shameful somehow if I “let myself be taken advantage of” by a shopkeeper. I would be a patsy, a stupid tourist. Pathetic, in other words.  Not worthy of the rug or bowl or whatever it was I was interested in purchasing. Talking down a price became a matter of pride.

So, here we were–different time, different country, but the same kind of shop, with the shopkeeper clearly waiting to hear a counter offer, and Andy was not playing by the rules. Why not?

Basically, he didn’t care about the game, about this silly moral issue of whether or not we were being ripped off. We could afford it. The price sounded good to him, so let’s pay it and be done. Oh. It wasn’t about the other person’s possible motivations in showing a need or asking for something. Worrying about getting ripped off is really just my ego getting in the way. I am only in charge of myself here. My heart, my mind, my motivation, my ability.

Such a small thing–a shopping expedition! But I felt a paradigm shift in the way I’ve been thinking about money and even gestures of kindness. Now I consciously notice how others are generous. I pray for more generosity in my own life. Not just practical generosity, but generosity of spirit and heart. I think by noting it, I have more chance of asking myself, in the moment, “how can I be generous here?”

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu can be my big-time heroes in this. In The Book of Joy, they say that Generosity is the 8th pillar of Joy  (the others are perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion).

Douglas Abrams sums up their perspective:

When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is, There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.” (p.275)

I started adding “practice generosity” to my daily goals. I’m thinking I can change that to “Large heart, large hands.”

 

 

 


 

 

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VOICE: My Word for 2019

Despite my angst surrounding choices (see last month’s posting), VOICE quickly popped into my head as my word for 2019. If the concept of choosing a word to inspire you each year is new, check out  “word for the year,”

Laaaaaah!

Morguefile by Hotblack

Why VOICE:

  1. I joined a women’s chorus in late December, so this word underlines how brave I am being to step out of my comfort zone and into a new kind of commitment to music. This is a big deal for me. So,

TA DA!

I even bought a DRESS for our first concert (coming right up)

2.  So yeah, I’m trying to be brave. To own who I am, to share myself. To allow my voice to be heard–even insist upon it. VOICE is a good reminder to myself to remember that goal. I write it at the front of my journals. I don’t want to forget.

3.  It also covers a lot of territory. VOICE  has many meanings that I can play around with, an important consideration when choosing a word that needs to last for a whole year’s exploration. My mind teems with considerations, with questions about voice.

In writing, it can refer to a character’s voice, the voice of narration (sometimes the same thing), and the authorial voice. Every book has an overall voice. Often that’s what will make you enjoy reading it–or not. So exploring voices is a giddy playground for my writing life!

Then there’s sound. The speaking voice, the singing voice. Quality of tone. There are some voices I just want to listen to–it doesn’t even matter what they say. Just let me bask in the vibrations. I don’t know where that will take me, if anywhere.

We voice opinions. Is this always wise? How do we know when to speak up, when to keep silent? The one quote I have memorized from Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Hm. But that’s not very brave, or proactive, to keep our ideas to ourselves.

And what about the concept of speaking just to hear our own voice (“I’m alive!”), or to ensure that others know we’re there?  Does “voice” equate with identity? And does it have to be verbal? In other words, is an introvert’s essence/presence/voice made known by a smile, a softening of the face, a touch on the shoulder? Or a clenched fist for that matter. Body language as voice.

And therefore, is whatever speaks about you part of your voice? What about how I keep my home? Am I voicing something by being a slob? Actions, inactions–more voice.

When you add up all these voices, what are we telling people about who we are and what matters to us?

I’m starting to have the urge to go into a dark closet and pull a blanket over my head. It’s that panic:  I know I am saying something just by living my life. Is it what I want to say? Is it what I want people to hear from me? And so, I’m back to my issues with choices.

I have a voice. What will I say?

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Choice: the panic of a natural ditherer

from Where’s My Sammich on Pinterest

I am one of the buzzards in the old Jungle Book movie who sit around shrugging. But with me, I take on the roles of all them.

“What we gonna to do?”

“I dunno. What YOU wanna do?”

“I dunno. What YOU wanna do?”

“I dunno. What–”

“–Don’t start that again!”

The only thing cool about this scenario is their British accents.  As a writer, I dither about what I should write about, whether I should write anything at all, and if so, when should I do it, how should I begin, how long do I spend on it, blah blah. The dithering usually only ends after I blast myself with nasty words intended to act as a swift boot to the backside. My backside (ego) is pretty bruised. But, oh, if only my problems were confined to writing!

Here’s the issues I have with choice:

photo by imelenchon at Morguefile.com

  1. There are too many options in this world. I have a very hard time shopping these days (probably since the 1950s). Why do grocery stores have to stock 10 kinds of balsamic vinegar? You should see me trying to purchase a new laptop. Even having limited it to Apple, there are too many options. Aaghhhh!

2. The word “choice” has the second meaning of the best, optimal selection: a choice cut of meat; “man, that’s really choice.” Maybe I’m dating myself, but I still have that expectation when I’m choosing something important (like how I spend my morning?) of the choice resulting in the supreme satisfaction that I chose well. I did not waste my time, my money, my enthusiasm, my creative spark, my life on this endeavor. I freak out, because what if I choose wrong???

3. The result is that I find it way easier to make little choices than big ones. I promise you I can buy balsamic vinegar with zero angst. I write my morning pages. I can commit to 15 minutes of meditation every day. But the bigger choices that require bigger chunks of time (months, years) –like which huge writing project to focus on, whether or not I should pull out that easel and really work on the portrait I promised my friend 2 years ago, cleaning out the files in my office (oh no, more choices!)–these overwhelm me. I put them off.

Moment by moment we all make choices of what to do in the now. The smaller the commitment, the easier the choice is for me to go with it. In this era of small attention spans and electronic devices that give us endorphin rushes for small tasks, I find I choose over and over again the short commitment.

I have 5 minutes. I’ll just check out Facebook. Or do a quick puzzle on my phone. That can easily turn into half an hour, 45 minutes locked into the screen in my hand. The choice to do that is not “choice” in that good sense, but it entertains me. It kills time.

Time to check the phone, Photo credit: byronv2 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Kills time. I’m a chronic time-murderer. I know I’m not alone. And I know that sounds melodramatic, but I need to get my attention, here. Because my phone doesn’t just kill time, it steals time from relationships with art, with my husband, with whoever and whatever I’m not paying attention to so I can distract myself.

No one’s throwing me in jail for this crime. But I want to do some penance, try to change my ways. At least a little. So, one goal I’ve got for 2019–and I’m publishing this here, mind you!–is to use my phone as a tool for communication and not as an instrument to distract me from experiencing the world more fully.

I’m CHOOSING to do this. Wish me luck!

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Exploring Truth-the scary realities of revision in memoir

Photo by Chelle at Morguefile.com

I just finished taking a class online about issues of truth in writing fiction and nonfiction. By nonfiction, this class meant memoir. The teacher talked about using truth (our lives) to color and form our fiction; we were also going to use craft strategies used in fiction to color our memoir.

Color my memory. Eek!

Which brings me to an existential crisis. It’s about me and my memory. My distrust of my memory. I’m now having a moral dilemma about writing about myself at all.

I was writing about scenes from a time in my life when I was ten years old, maybe eleven. I remember the situations happening. At least I’m pretty sure they did. And as I wrote and rewrote and added color to the scenes, sensory details, dialogue, the scenes came to life for me. Became more real to me as the writer as well as to the reader. They felt true. And then I would change it, color it differently, and a new truth emerged, nuanced with situation.

I’m not sure what truth is. Or if it even exists. And this isn’t even about politics or the news industry!

How much of what I remember really happened? How much have I created for myself to explain myself to myself? Memory is so scary. I’ve been to several lectures, heard talks and read articles about how people often see one thing and convince themselves that it’s something else entirely. Eyewitness reports are simply not reliable. People rewrite their memories. And here’s the thing: they aren’t even lying. They are creating truth.

One of my classmates kindly wrote this to me in response to my wondering if I can call my memoir writing “nonfiction”:

“I think it is nonfiction if it conveys a truth of events and their impact on your life.  I think to the extent you have changed details or characters, it is still nonfiction unless the reason you changed them was to change the emotional truth.”

It’s quite possible, maybe even probable, that Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford both believed that their truths were accurate. Certainly they both seemed emotionally believable in their versions of what happened. But they couldn’t both be right. There is such a thing as reality, isn’t there?

Isn’t there?

I am so eager to hear your thoughts on this.

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The Duality of Adoration and Despair

I am in grief, as I believe much of the human world is these days. I ache for the oppressed even as I try to understand the oppressors.

Many people I know seem to be grappling with this:

“How can I find joy in a world that contains so much suffering?” “How can I love life when cruelty thrives?”

“How can I love God when a devil lives on my shoulder?”

Photo by Visualsamit (Morguefile)

It seems too easy to feel outrage at the actions of others, be they physical or verbal, direct or indirect, and so my sadness and shame and confusion turns personal. It’s taken me a long time to understand that the concept of Original Sin is dealing with the fact that we as humans are so very capable of evil. It’s in our gene pool. By Evil, I mean we seem to thrive on beating down someone else, pushing their face in the dirt because we’re feeling brutal and angry, and it’s their fault. In these times in particular, many of us relish this anger, seek it out, wade in with fists clenched for battle! Conservatives and liberals alike. #Ownvoices. We are all human.

The news is scary, almost every second of it. And disheartening. Sometimes I feel like it is ripping my heart out of my body. And the worst for me is when I just don’t understand why people think the way they seem to think. I don’t want to listen to another diatribe filled with name-calling. I don’t want to be reminded how much people fall in love with rhetoric, fall in love with being part of an angry mob; I too feel that energy. I like marching with my causes!

Photo by GaborfromHungary (Morguefile)

Sometimes I think we humans are just in one big sports arena, championing our sides, pouring money into the MY TEAM concept of it all.

I know a lot of people are finding concrete projects, things to do, actions to take that make them feel like they are doing something to change the way the human world operates. We march, we speak out, we run for office, we collect books for homeless children, we feed the hungry, we sing to the sick. We show we care in whatever way we can.

I recently attended a talk by a minister at the Center for Spiritual Living near where I live who reminded us all about the power of Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” In this poem, Oliver says, “Tell me about despair, yours, and  I will tell you mine.” But her next line is, “Meanwhile, the world goes on. ” The poem ends with a series of “meanwhiles” describing the rich delights our world gives us to bring peace and a deep sense of belonging:

the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

at Silver Falls Park, OR

“The world goes on–appreciate it!” has become my latest mantra. It reminds me to notice the world in its glory, to let my anguish over politics and killings co-exist with my delight in the color of the leaves, the glories of a gorgeous fall day. To take what I am offered and exult. To adore the fact that I am human and alive at the same time that I know, in my heart, that our human behavior–my personal behavior!–is so terribly abusive to other life forms on this planet, even (especially, it sometimes seems) to our own.

 

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Still Connecting

I just turned 60, a big birthday, and one that has turned me introspective–even more than usual! Turns out, I’m quite proud of myself. Doing fine.

Usually, by this time in the course of a year, I have completely forgotten what word I started out with and have to do a panicked search through journals to remind myself–if I even think of it at all. But not this year.

Connecting: my word for 2018

Connect-the-dots Photo credit: whitney waller on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

I’m still connecting, still trying to say yes to opportunities that encourage me to go deeper. And broader. Truer.

I’ve been working on my relationship to Truth. That’s probably not unusual in this era of misdirection, false facts and “truthiness.” It’s hard to know who to believe, what to believe or, if you do believe, how to respond.

But I’m not talking about that.

I’m working on my own truth, my acceptance and understanding of who I am and what I believe about myself and my place in the universe. My connection to the universe as ME. In January I didn’t have many strategies to develop this skill, but I have more now.

Some Tools

Take a class.  I took an online class on self-healing that gave me some great tools and exercises to shift my thinking away from negativity and into feeling good about myself, or at least a lot kinder about myself–and about others also. Maybe that’s just the way it works. In fact, one of the exercises I practiced is from http://thework.com/en. It helped me enormously to do this with a partner.

Find a hero. A lot of heroes. I watched that wonderful new documentary about Mr.  Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, that immediately made me want to binge watch every episode of his show ever made. He is my hero. It’s important to have heroes to inspire me to grow and deepen, yes, but also to keep me feeling positive about our world. It’s a kick to figure out how a person I interact with in my daily life can be–is!–my hero in one way or another. I had to get my phone’s screen replaced recently, and the man doing the work was the most positive, friendly, “yes I can!” person I’ve met in a long time. My hero.

Meditate. I’m a total newbie at this. I did okay on my own (starting with 5 minutes), but it has helped to have an app on my phone to show me the way. I use Headspace. It’s a little embarrassing to call it “meditation for dummies,” so I’ll just say it’s user-friendly. Meditation practice early in the day opens a channel within me, a connection to a creative flow. Who knew? Well, obviously lots and lots of meditators.

Pray. I asked a writer friend, Connie Connelly, how she dealt with the depression and doubt that besets most writers. My question inspired her to blog about her Spiritual Survival as a Writer. (I am the “Mary” she refers to). I’m not sure I’ve ever before made a practice of asking for help from God with making decisions. This concept was not exactly encouraged (or even mentioned) in my Unitarian upbringing. But exploring spirituality on my own was encouraged, and my relationship to God (Life Force, Creator, Spirit,  Universe) has deepened enormously as I’ve aged. Still, asking for help for myself through prayer is quite new to me. I’m a bit stunned at how much it’s resonating. Recently I stressed about a selection to read at a salon I participated in: Was what I wrote appropriate? Was it stupid? Did I need to edit it even more? Blah blah blah. So…I asked God about it. The response: “It’s just not that important, Mathilda.” I felt such relief at getting that answer! It allowed me to laugh, for one thing. Relaxing into the release from pressure made the entire reading experience so much more joyful for me. I tend to burden myself with the importance of everything I do, the choices I make, even the words I choose. With a God that can remind me to laugh at myself and lighten up, I feel blessed indeed.

How do you connect to the inner truth that is you? What tools should I explore?

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Life As We Know It

Photo on Visualhunt

I’ve been traveling again, this time to Alaska. We were only there for a week, so actually saw very little of this immense state, but heavens! What we did see knocked me sideways. We were given the miracle of fantastic weather for this first visit. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the beauty of the landscape was so intense, so picture-perfect, that I think I had trouble accepting it as real.  What with the very long daylight hours (although the sun “set,” it never got completely dark), I ended up gasping a bit too much for my comfort. Weird to think a person can hyperventilate at beauty.

At the top of the Tram in Girdwood.

From the air, the mountains look like waves tossed in a stormy sea.

Incredible amount of glaciers you can see from above

One of my sisters told me that whenever she visited Alaska, she always felt like someone had taken a doctored travel poster and pasted it onto the horizon. That’s the sense I got exactly: this can’t possibly be real.

Even the locals admit it’s rare to see Denali so clearly.

The lesson from Alaska: how rare our planet is. There’s a planet walk in Anchorage. You start in downtown at the sun. Each step you take represents a light second, so that a 5 minute walk means it takes 5 minutes for light from the sun to travel that far. It’s a very effective way to show relative distance and size between planets and sun in our solar system. The planets are imbedded in signs at the proper distance to the sun (and each other). The first four planets are clustered within about 7 blocks of the sun. And then Jupiter–the next one out, is 45 minutes away! I had no idea of the relative distance between planets. Needless to say, we didn’t have time to visit Jupiter, let alone the 5 1/2 hours would need for us to reach Pluto.

Here’s the sun. If you don’t know what it is, it looks like a very bizarre sculpture in downtown Anchorage.

The Anchorage Lightspeed Planet Walk. Photo credit: Kwong Yee Cheng on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I wish I had taken a picture of the sign where the marble-sized Earth was imbedded. I’m a sucker for signs anyway, but this one talked about the amazing miracle that Earth is, with its combination of solid core, gravitational magnetism (something like that), its oxygen and carbon and atmosphere and water. It was magic that this happened on this planet, which happens to be this far from the sun. Making it possible for “life as we know it” to occur here. They used those words on the sign.

It begs the question of “life as we don’t know it,” doesn’t it?

Visions of creatures I’ve seen in sci-fi movies scamper through my head, but most of those resemble life as we do know it, even if it’s just a blob from a putrid lagoon. Is it possible to imagine life as we don’t know it?

The planet walk underlined how very precious and unique our planet is.

We humans have not done well by it. I visited the Marine Life Center in Seward, where they worked hard to rescue otters, seals, fish, and birds from the Valdez oil spill (for one), and where they teach classes about our ocean and our human impact on it.

Created by students from litter collected from the ocean

One school project they have on display illustrates where a lot of our garbage ends up. Videos show how our plastics break down microscopically and show up in krill. Considering the food chain, that means plastics are present more and more in all animals. In us. We are poisoning the planet, yes, and also ourselves.

I have a cousin who looked at me oddly a while back when I said, “We humans are destroying the planet!”

“No, we aren’t,” he said. “The Earth will still be around. It’s not going anywhere for a long time. It won’t look like it does now, but the planet will still be here.”

That gave me pause. Good ol’ Earth. A hunk of rock and water with the magic of life as we know it miraculously developing over the eons. But our presence, our introduction of the non-natural into lifeforms, is changing what the magic of what life is on this planet. We have no idea what we’re creating. As species mutate to adapt to this new world of our making, life may look very different in the future. Even here on Earth.

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