The Artistry of Waiting

BenchThe artistry of waiting lies in discerning actions and non-actions. Imagine sitting on a lavender-blue bench in the late afternoon sun under magenta bougainvillea.

You are waiting. Doing your best to back away, to stop pushing toward a wanted result—though the result looms immense and necessary in its urgency, a giant billboard with Now! Now! Now! flashing in neon lights. How dare things not fall into place!

Your anxious belly and hamster-wheel brain don’t like this not knowing, not knowing why a situation is stalled or taking its time. It’s so easy to fall into the pit of believing the world revolves around our individual “I”— easy to forget the fact that other people have lives that are filled with impossible-to-know details and unknowns. That organizations and governments and the florist around the corner consist of people living lives full of the galloping momentum of unpredictability.

Yet today you remain seated on the lavender-blue bench. A magenta petal flutters down and settles on your knee.

Something has shifted inside of you. Barely sensing the beauty of handing this situation over to time and powers beyond your control, you simultaneously know you’ve done everything you possibly could. This is when the skill of thinking outside the box helps immensely.

It’s possible that you’re learning the art of intuitive ‘enough already.’ (I like the way it sounds in Spanish—‘ya basta.’)

Faith grows stronger each time you whisper to yourself, “It’s okay not to know. Trust expands exponentially each time you imagine a situation that resolves itself more elegantly than what you originally planned.

What is better? To push, fret, blame and rage? To become an impatient, whiny, sleep-deprived ogre only focused on what is wrong? (The English have a word—whingy—even better than whiny.)

Or to know you’ve done your very best, gifting the situation with strong intention from now on out and honoring the perfection of things beyond your to-do list?

For waiting is also a fierce self-care practice that takes infinite forms: walking somewhere instead of driving, erasing everything off your calendar on a usually jam-packed weekend, cooking with a friend, mailing a handwritten thank-you note instead of emailing, or studying that dream subject for a few minutes a day. The possibilities are endless, the insights surprising—the energy, clarity and calmness gained will generate a refreshed readiness and willingness to implement entirely new actions and non-actions when needed.

All because you took the time to be quiet and still in the warmth of the sun while sitting on a lavender-blue bench pondering the softness of a magenta petal on your knee—deeply comfortable in the artistry of waiting.

Another View of Letting Go

Version 2Once again I am visiting family and friends in my hometown of Boulder, once again I’m writing about letting go. With umbrella in hand, walking around neighborhoods that are still etched into my brain and heart and body, I’m noticing that the memories of growing up here are now like a well-loved movie seen many times, the low clouds and rain of this blustery May adding a softness to the edges of the scenes (“faded” was the word I used two years ago).

Even better is that each day spent here is utterly new and fresh. Not weighted with the more noir shades of old stories lived out in these streets and mountains. There is an anonymous quote that goes: “Place is an environment claimed by emotion.” I’m beginning to see that place is stronger than emotion, able to claim itself back from human feelings by the simple fact that stories—by the very nature of language—beg to be rewritten. When we tread with awareness our tales can dissolve into a thriving presence that fully embodies all that we’ve lived, wherever and however that life has unfolded.

After all, once vowing never to return, here I am. Sitting in our friends’ home, drinking green tea, listening to the clambering of squirrels on the trellis, watching the clouds descend over the Flatirons as the maple and cottonwood leaves flutter wildly with news of more rain. Soaking up this day, and wanting to share with you a quote by Emerson found by the phone in this welcoming house:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Old nonsense indeed…in need of continual letting go, letting go, letting go…allowing a continual letting in.

 

 

 

The Powerful Freedom in Choosing Our Thoughts

Fire&Moon copyIn their collaborative novel Sunlight and Shadow*authors Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl write: “It struck her as miraculous that there was unlimited power and freedom in choosing what one thinks…”

I woke at 4:15 a.m. this morning, this waking up in the 3 to 4:30 a.m. pre-dawn darkness a rather exhausting new habit. Looking out the window I saw the beginnings of the lunar eclipse and knowing I wouldn’t be going back to sleep any time soon, I took my pillows, a sleeping bag and my dog Mancha outside and arranged us all on a lounge chair to watch the moon melt from full to infinitesimal.

Not expecting anything other than a wakeful rest under the gaze of a phenomenal astronomical event, I was gifted with a spectacular reminder. As the full moon’s brilliance slowly faded many of the 2,0001 or so stars visible to the human eye began to catch my attention. Instead of the moon’s glaring message “Look here, and nowhere else!” hundreds of other points of light came into view.

Even in my sleep-deprived state the poet-coach part of me saw this as a metaphorical chance to embed an important knowing even deeper into my psyche and body:

A thought can be a beacon or a distraction. It is our work and practice as hopefully evolving human beings to notice this vital distinction.

Does one thought or pattern of thinking become a downward spiral toward inaction and perseveration, toward self-absorption or habitual reaction, the loneliness and frustration of being stuck in one place?

Or does our thinking lead to clarity, discernment, compassion and right action, countless possibilities waiting to be explored, that amazing moment when clear choice manifests into something once thought improbable?

All these words were whirling around in my head as I stroked Mancha’s soft fur and listened to the roosters crow across the valley while the full blazing moon slowly turned into a pinpoint of star-like light. I went inside and tried to fall back asleep. No luck. I met my dear husband in the morning half-light and we made our coffee together. My thoughts pulled me toward my studio and this blank page.

It’s only 8:45 am and it’s already quite the amazing day. Hallelujah!

 

1Approximate number of stars visible on a clear night away from artificial light

Sunlight and Shadow, UNM Press, 2012

Surprising Joy

IMG_0103It’s a rare weekend of constant rain in the desert. I’m a pluviophile, a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days. The steady beat of the rain on the metal overhang outside my window has, much to my surprise, temporarily suspended a weeks-long focus on gathering tax information, and poetry has taken its place. Specifically, a poem I wrote many years ago about a day at Miramar Beach in Santa Barbara, California where I witnessed a young boy at play. Just as it rose up to speak to me today, it would now like to speak to you…

Afternoon at Miramar

First memory of that day was a flash of blue / he stood where waves form a tiny cliff / and with arms outstretched like he owned the sea / flew off the small rise and landed on his rump / squealing as he slid down the gritty slope / over and over he jumped and yelled / periwinkle clothes bright against yellow sand.

Sunset blazed and still he leapt  / full-body dives into a deep sandy hole / while I walked one last time toward plum-colored mist / then pushed by wind and a nearing / dark found myself trudging behind his tangled blond curls / small fingers grasped in his mom’s firm hand / a tired little boy climbing steep stairs.

It’s hard work stepping off the edge of the world / shouting each time with joy / hard work to scramble up again and again / when your bones give way to the thrill of descent and your heart pounds wild as the bottom gives / then holds.

Photograph by Barry Shapiro

 

 

Paradox and What Matters

PointedBeautySince mid-December it has been a time supported by others’ words. Three weeks ago I was going to write about something other than paradox. The vague thought never settled into a beginning sentence so nothing was written. Days filled with work, friends, and family passed steadily by. Nightly news stories of mayhem around the world, then terror in Paris echoed down the hall as I cooked dinner, the newscaster’s voice calmer as he announced each night’s closing story of hope and inspiration.

The last story never quite dispelled the invasive narrative of fear—I remembered that studies have shown our brains access negative fearful thoughts three times faster than positive ones. A few days later a client shared a quote by Carl Jung: “The spirit of evil is the domination of life by fear.”

The next day was Saturday, January 17th. A heartwarming phone call with a girlfriend started the morning. Though a glorious spring-like day spread out before me, my attention grew more scattered and unsettled. Fear wasn’t dominating my thoughts, though I could feel its shadow. The usually welcome promise of writing time beckoned, yet once sitting at my desk everything seemed irrelevant and the urge to toss out collected books and accumulated notes dampened any inspiration.

Unable to stay in the studio, I wandered outside and cut back the horsetail and papyrus in the bog next to the pond instead. There was a rhythm to the clipping and pulling that was soothing. Back in the house I wandered around doing little nothings. Hours passed. At one point I opened A Year with Rilke, and read: “The tasks that have been entrusted to us are often difficult. Almost everything that matters is difficult, and everything matters.”

Suddenly remembering this blog, I wandered back to my desk and waited for that first sentence. Minutes passed. Golden light streamed in through the window and drew my eye to a note pinned to my wall. On it was scribbled a line from Colum McCann’s novel Transatlantic: “He was aware that the essence of proper intelligence was the embrace of contradiction.”

My wandering, unsettled day full of little nothings had led me to that moment, illuminating McCann’s words and illuminating my awareness. I looked up the word intelligence—it contains the root meanings of “understanding, power of discerning; art, skill, taste, to comprehend.” Another week passed.

All of the wisdom I have come across these last seven weeks has helped me remember something vitally important. Embrace paradox. Embrace the contradictions. Life doesn’t contain just terror, nor is it comprised of only pleasing events and emotions. Within the vast and diverse range of our lives—whoever we are and wherever we live—we will experience our own version of most everything. To not embrace the totality of life is to continually fight and struggle against reality, to exhaust ourselves trying to keep the contradictions separate. In that diminished, blindered state we lose sight of compassion and clarity and what is truly going on.

We humans are more than capable of choosing to walk through our days feeling fear, joy and everything in between. Perhaps the key is to not judge the experience of our days. To consciously embrace each circumstance, each feeling, each encounter. To stay tuned to our hearts and bodies and brain, ask necessary questions, to consider our choices and exercise our intelligence. For it all matters.

Kindness

IMG_0604 2A friend emailed the poem Kindness just as the week began to go crazy, and it was only kindness that gave light and clarity to each situation that came my way. In that clear space of being rooted in its lucidity so too did its companions understanding and compassion help me break through my confusion and old patterns.

Wondering about what to write for the month of December with its roller-coaster energy of endings, celebration, and beginnings—along with the wildness and chaos of the past year on so many levels—a calm-voiced message came through: “Send this poem out.”

I am eternally grateful for Naomi Shihab Nye’s compassionate, wise words. This may be the fiftieth time I’ve read this poem—may it continue to carry us all toward kindness.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is / you must lose things, / feel the future dissolve in a moment / like salt in a weakened broth. / What you held in your hand, / what you counted and carefully saved, / all this must go so you know / how desolate the landscape can be / between the regions of kindness. / How you ride and ride / thinking the bus will never stop, / the passengers eating maize and chicken / will stare out the window forever. / Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, / you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho / lies dead by the side of the road. / You must see how this could be you, / how he too was someone / who journeyed through the night with plans / and the simple breath that kept him alive. / Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, / you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. / You must wake up with sorrow. / You must speak to it till your voice / catches the thread of all sorrows / and you see the size of the cloth. / Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, / only kindness that ties your shoes / and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, / only kindness that raises its head / from the crowd of the world to say / it is I you have been looking for, / and then goes with you everywhere / like a shadow or a friend.

 

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Found on www.poets.org, where this poem is reprinted with the permission of the author.

What Keeps Us Afloat

IMG_2060I call them mom-isms, my mother’s newly found perspectives that speak of Buddhist equanimity with a dash of slapstick humor. She offered up her latest this morning: “If something is bothering me, I look out the window at the mountains and just picture the worry floating away over the mountains like a feather…I don’t want to be one of those grumpy old women.”

She has Alzheimer’s now. She has been a Presbyterian, Catholic and Southern Baptist at different times in her life, and humor doesn’t figure highly in my own memories of her, so these bits of wisdom are a precious gift. In her very decline, we are both emerging anew.

Mom spoke of her ‘letting go’ practice after I read her this line from one of author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels: “He clung to the thought and found it floated.” This line speaks of things joyous, affirming, empowering, enlivening. There cannot be light without shadow, and so this line also speaks of difficulties and tragedies and unspeakable things that have somehow over time been transformed, and thus transformed us.

The last few weeks I’ve been acutely aware of the old feelings and snippets of stories that have taken up residence in my physical self, decades ago roosting like hungry baby birds within me, now like ancient mummies in tangled nests. I’m remembering our bodies are the last to let go of the musty remnants of our individual human experiences. Letting these remnants drift away like my mother’s worrisome feathers is a somatic, felt-in-my-body re-structuring. A relief that I don’t yet have the words to describe.

Hard emotions—anger and rage, mistrust and confusion, grief and despair to name only a few—are here to stay. So many of us learn to repress and suppress these emotions, to perpetuate an ‘I’m fine, thank you very much’ response to what my friend Vickie calls ”the Hallmark card” version of life. Yet suppression and repression turn emotions into stones, a heaviness that settles into our bodies, dragging us down, down, down. A heaviness that takes on many guises, and in its most heartbreaking results in personal decisions like Virginia Woolf filling her coat pockets with stones and walking into the dark water of the Thames River, or social and cultural explosions like war and genocide.

It is in the expression of these thoughts and feelings—in the sharing of our deepest shames and wounding—that we stay afloat. A sharing done in the company of safe, trusted friends listening, often in silence—as we speak of unspeakable things birthed from difficult, sometimes impossible-to-fathom situations. We float just as buoyantly when we allow ourselves to speak of our exquisite joys—moments of silliness, beauty, discovery, and love—to those same staunch friends. Sometimes strangers hold the space for strangers speaking to other strangers thought to be enemies and the listening transforms everyone present.

What keeps us afloat is opening wide and riding the breeze, blossoming in light and the dark, letting the depth and breadth of our lives be both our foundation and the current we float upon toward the next moment.

The Question of Purpose

IMG_2019

Why am I here? What do I want? What will make me happy? This question of our individual purpose is a Big Question, a question we first hear within our own dreams and fantasies as children. Then the adults ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that we hold within us throughout our lives, sometimes resulting in solid answers, often resulting in even more questions that can leave us frustrated or inspired, and always standing in the land of the unknown.

How do I fit more family time (or exercise, spirituality, classes, do-nothing time, find a new job, etc.) into this hamster wheel of a life? How did I end up here? What should I do next? Always the Big Question hovers.

For a short or lengthy period of time within a life, one’s purpose can consist of getting untangled from the wishes and shoulds of others—usually pertaining to work, earning money and/or fitting in with the flock—a net woven of other’s desires and needs that are in direct opposition to any innate spark or flame residing within us. Flinging off those constraints leaves us face to face with what will indeed fulfill us, make us happy, that certain something worth waking up to every day.

Oh, the pressure!

Know that within this volatile word purpose live the centuries-old meanings of intention, aim, and to put forth. Spirited meanings that contain the characteristics of inquiry, adaptability and creativity. To value, to stretch, with intensity and will. To move onward and further. And to do so continually.

‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain’s words are a challenging celebration of the true direction of your individual life. A direction that requires as much being as doing—a direction that touches so many others along the way. Like the joy I sensed in the young girl running toward a parade. She ran by, and turning quickly I took the photograph, hoping to capture her compelling run toward life, that stretching toward her own why.

Purpose is a loaded word, often pointing toward a radically different way of living—that like the best jazz musicians—riffs off our own decades of experience and ongoing expertise, our own dreams and the palpable, sometimes mysterious support around us.

I’ve found the why of my own life is elastic, expanding in its depth and breadth and forcing me to do the same. My why is always moving onward, and so my aim and adaptability require constant practice. Over the years a curiously brave curiosity that is stronger than fear and the fog bank of the unknown has attached itself like an invisible friend. Each step is a stretch toward answers—and yes—more questions that invigorate my days.

 

The Art of Choosing

IMG_1932When choosing becomes imminent—be it a seemingly large or small choice—quietly sitting for a while with all of the options allows the finer truth of things to come through. It is in this waiting, this stillness, that the artful nature of making choices appears.

Many years ago I read a true account* of a woman who could no longer function in her daily life because she could not make any choices. Leaving behind any option was unbearable for her, rendering even the tiniest decision impossible. One day, her doctor read her Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” She came out of her frozen frame of mind soon after hearing the poem, its last lines recognizable to most of us: “…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / — I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

Yet it is in the first stanza that Frost shares the art of choosing: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could…Then took the other…”

Long I stood. Only then did the choice come to him.

I came across this orange dragonfly in our pond the other day. It held on to a horsetail reed for the longest time, gracefully embodying stillness while the reed swayed in a strong breeze and the noonday heat.

Be the dragonfly. Know the right choice will make itself known as you listen to your own knowing, your own wisdom. Even as well-meaning advice and friendly confirmation sways your thoughts, ask: What is my heart urging me to hear? Am I honoring my intuition? Am I embracing the facts and connections my intellect is sharing with me? How and where in my body is my physical self giving me messages?  

The practice is in the stillness. The listening. The trusting.

 
* Dr. Jack Leedy, “Poetry Therapy: The Use of Poetry in the Treatment of Emotional Disorders” 1969.

 

 

The Practice of Unfolding

Unfolding

“I find my ideas and visions taking longer to bear fruit—a slowing down and [feeling like I'm] getting less ‘done’—[the] work now is to not interpret this negatively but rather contemplatively.”                                       -Victoria Seeley

My friend Victoria’s words are like soft rain after a long drought. The last eight months have been a time of rethinking, reimagining, rebuilding, and re-sensing how I want to breathe and walk through the days and months to come. I’ve found unexpected synchronicities, collaborations and abundant quiet time, albeit sometimes rather forced. Four months of flu and colds, an emergency appendectomy, and having both my personal and website emails hacked have contributed to this sense—and fact—of slowing down in order to listen to what I need to hear. Of contemplating instead of judging.

Every day I pass through my small walled garden on the way to my studio. Over the years I’ve learned to take notice of what is unfolding—the three Japanese iris that have bloomed overnight, the hens-and-chicks growing so fast they now need replanting, or the sudden surprise of leaf-eating ants beginning to devour the jasmine vine.

The plant that speaks to me most is the philodendron in its shady corner. Rooted deep into the soil with its aerial roots snaking along the wall, it has grown into a magnificent plant over the last five years. It has done this by slowly and steadily unfolding one leaf at a time. Today I noticed a new leaf in its initial unfurling. Over the next week it will unfold until it reaches two feet in length and almost the same dimension in width.

Each day as I walk past it, the philodendron reminds me to follow its rhythm—to steadily, slowly unfold in my own glorious way, continually growing into and adapting to my own corner of the world. And yes, many times life calls for a fast-paced blur of activity, jolting me out of this tried and true rhythm (my husband just turned on Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” at full volume…his timing both distracting and brilliant). That’s why unfolding is a practice, why I keep returning to the garden.