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Archive for September, 2012

A Life on Fire!

Choose to experience a life on fire!  Tama Kievs

It almost blew me away the other day, this wild south wind that whooshed its way over the land and out to sea in shimmering cobalt ripples.  I hardly could keep myself upright as I forged forward on Marquette’s shoreline path.  It was unsettling, feeling as though I could be lifted up in any moment, and, yet, it was exciting, too, the way the wind blew through my hair, the way the wind blew through my bones, the way I was being shaken up and shaken free. What would it be like to be lifted up by such a wind?!?  On days when the waves are splashing the shore and the wind is blowing in off the Lake, I love to watch the kiteboard guys and gals, as they fly up over the bay.  I feel the rush as they hold on tightly, as they find themselves airborne, as they land again, somehow in one piece.  I’ve been feeling that, this past week, that rush of energy that I envision the kiteboarders must feel.  I’m on fire with a new project.  Actually, it’s a project that has been in the making for several years and now it is coming to fruition.  And I love this feeling, this whoosh of new ideas, of words flying onto the page, of creative playmates showing up, of purpose blowing me forward.

And yet, I don’t want to blow away on an off-shore breeze, don’t want to land, smack, in the middle of a cold autumn sea.  And I don’t want to fly too close to the sun either.  Those kite-sailors, they know what they are doing.  There’s skill involved.  There’s a sense of groundedness in these high-flying risk-takers.  I remind myself of this as I feel my focus starting to scatter like the scarlet leaves of autumn.  “Come back to the ground,” I say out loud.  “Come back to your bones, to that strong container that you know you live in.”  It’s a wild ride to invite this life force through us, and it pays to keep up with the ground-work at the same time.  I’m seeing it as a balancing act.  It’s not a matter of stifling the energy, dampening it down, “putting a lid on it”, an expression that I’m sure I heard more than once as a child.  It’s not a matter of playing smaller than we really are, of pretending we’re not flying through the air with excitement and glee when indeed that’s what we’re really doing.

In yoga, the yoga that I was trained in, we start from the ground up; we start from our strong foundation.  In every asana pose, whether on our backs or while sitting or standing or in table, we find the part of us touching the earth, plug ourselves in, find our alignment.  And then, this whoosh of energy, this wild-wind of life force, it has a strong body home to blow and flow its way through.  And yes, it does settle us down, to ground ourselves like that, to plug ourselves in.  We can sense the quiet underneath the gales of autumn.  We can breathe a little deeper and think a little clearer.  And sometimes, from this grounded place, our inner weather forecast can appear a little calmer, a little less windy.  But not always.  In yoga the other day, as we pressed into the part of us touching the earth, as we envisioned our roots digging deep, as we drew up from the ground exactly what we need, someone in the class piped up, “Can we do Lion Pose?!?”  So that’s what we did.  From this place of deep ease and groundedness, we stuck out our tongues, bulged our eyes, and we roared.  We roared for the fun of it.  We roared for the courage to follow our dreams.  We roared for health and beauty.  And we roared again for the sheer glorious joy of roaring.  And we broke out in laughter.  Speals of laughter.  It was a fun, funny energy that flew up from that grounded place.  Not quiet or subdued.  It was a kite-flying moment of kite-flying energy flying through our grounded bodies.  And I say, seize a moment like that, hold on tightly and enjoy the ride!


Recipe For Walking On Water

Choose a day that is sunny and warm

and a sea that sparkles, a salty sea

and the salt will hold you up.

Fill yourself with the sparkly light and the sea

that is salty so that you become the sea and the sparkles

skimming across its surface

so that you become the breeze

floating your way to a place where the waves,

the gentle waves on this sweet day

kiss the shore.

Then breathe deeply.

It is important to breathe deeply,

to fully inhabit this breeze of a body,

to fully believe in your sparkly light

and that is when it happens, when you reach way up

grab onto the wings of the gulls and you taste the salt

and you hear the song of the ages and you place one foot

in front of the other and you step away from the shore

and the water, the cool-warm-salt-filled-sparkling water,

holds you up — of course it does! Why wouldn’t it! —

and you walk

you walk on water.

















Out of the Box

Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and respect for strength – in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.  Alice Walker

It is your work that is the ultimate seduction.  Pablo Picasso

I didn’t expect it, this creative ocean-wave surge of energy flowing through me.  I didn’t expect the inner message that it’s time to let myself ride this wave forward, that it’s a “go”.  I had tucked it all safely into a box, a large sea-grass box that I had bought three years ago at a local import store.  In fact, I had bought four boxes on that September day, had labeled each one with a title, printed in color and accompanied by an image on a sheet of laminated paper the size of a book cover.  I had imagined four different projects, four different book possibilities, and I had begun, that autumn, to fill up these boxes.  And I have to tell you that there’s something freeing about throwing things into boxes: the rough drafts, the quotes, the photographs, the scribbles and the scrawls.  It’s messy liberation, the antithesis of left-brain perfection.

So, after three years of allowing myself the joy of contained creative chaos, I noticed last week that the boxes were beginning to spill over, that the creative tide was indeed high and that it was time perhaps to examine what had washed up on my metaphoric shoreline.  It was the night before flying east to Maine for a two-day writing retreat with my friend Muriel that I decided to haul my sea-grass boxes out of the closet.  And three of the boxes, they were easy to sort through, to tidy up and tie together in neat little bundles, to set back in the closet for more sea-grass brewing.  It was the fourth box, the one labeled, “Get off your fanny and vote for Annie!” the one about my mother that set my sea legs quivering and my mind all salt-water sticky.  What was I to do with all of this?!?  This overflow of treasures from the cove and the sea beyond?!?  That was what I was thinking about two days later while walking along the real Maine shoreline at Popham Beach just hours before meeting with Muriel.  As I stepped over the pieces of seaweed and the mussel shells at the place where water meets sand, as I breathed in the salty September breeze, I wondered how to do it, how to take what seems like an ocean of material – the recipes and essays, the twenty years of poems, the photographs and quotes and treasures written with my mother’s own hand – how to fit these gifts from the sea and the shore into a book that also contains a storyline from this past year.

I honestly thought that it would remain dinnertime conversation, that it would stay neat and tidy in the realm of ideas and brainstorms and fun things to tuck away for a later date, that posing my sea-grass-box-wondering to Muriel would be an appetizer in an evening of rich and delicious sharing.  But that’s not what happened.  Muriel, who spent ten years living next door to my mother at Fish House Cove, who shared with my mother recipes and stories and her own inner treasures, who knows us both, mother and daughter, brought to the table that evening, a week ago, her seasoned writer’s eye, and, with ease and a bubbling sense of fun, came up with an idea, a brilliant design to bring it all together in a glorious creative way.  And it must have been in me, too, this physical means to contain the rich ocean of material in a single artistic project, because it felt so right.  I could envision it; I could see it clearly, as if it had already transformed itself into a tangible tactile reality.  And when that happens, when your inner tide is rolling in, and a creative project is ready to be born, maybe one that has been boxed up for some time, there is no stopping it.  All weekend, more and more ideas for designing my book flooded into my mind.  And the project gained a clearer and clearer focus.  And do you know what?!?  The process was exhilarating!  The process is exhilarating!  Just as exhilarating as it was three years ago to toss all those polished poems and those rough drafts, those scrawls and those scribbles into that sea of a box.

And now, more than ever, I realize that there is a time to hold on to all the treasures, to polish them perhaps, or to just let them simmer and stew on their own, the poems and the essays and the stories not quite finished, a time to place them into a sea grass box, and a time, at a later date, to haul them out again, to wring them off and arrange them as best you can.  And then, there comes a time to let them go.  All weekend, while walking the beach at Popham, while sitting beside the gardens at North Creek Farm, while driving the winding road that traces the Kennebec River, I kept seeing the monarchs, floating through the air with such ease, from aster to aster, sailing in the breeze.  It was a delicious sight.  And I thought of my mother.  She loved September, her birth month.  She loved the way the ocean sparkled in its special shade of September blue and she loved the monarchs that drifted into Fish House Cove in flocks.  She loved how they landed on the tall asters that grew along her driveway, how they sucked the nectar from the purple flower’s center, and how they drifted away again.  She loved it all.

A New Season

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  Mary Oliver

My friend Matt’s comment has gotten me thinking.  “It sounds like you are in transition,” he wrote to me in an e-mail last week.  And of course it’s true.  We’re all in transition, always, ever-expanding beings that we are.  And, when I draw my attention inward to my immediate family, I nod my head, “yes”; agree with Matt, that this certainly has been a summer of transition.

In the past three months, both our sons have finished their graduate studies and now have their PhD’s, both have moved to cities that are new to them and have new jobs.  Peter and Shelly are now parents to a ten week old, and that makes Cam and I grandparents.  And, in the midst of this summer of change, we, both sons and Cam and I, flew off to Maine for a Memorial Service and celebration weekend/family reunion honoring my mother’s life.   So the people who I love, I can certainly see how they are in transition as they learn to navigate new waters.  And I, swimmer of my own life, am feeling myself splashed a bit by the changes in their lives.  My mother’s passing has challenged me to be with her in a whole new way, one that looks beyond this world of Mom-in-body-form.  And, when I fly off to visit my kids, it’s good-bye to the Flatirons of Boulder and the foothills of Salt Lake, and hello to the high plains of Laramie and the banks of the Tennessee in Knoxville.  And Viren!  Baby Viren’s birth has opened up a whole new playground for me to splash around in.  And yet, as I say again and again in yoga, we live our lives from the inside out, swim in our own sea of possibility.  So although I’m eager to play with my loved-ones as they move forward with their ever-changing lives, I’m back to thinking about Matt’s comment and wondering what it is that I, from this inside place, want to open up to as summer transitions into autumn.

I was asking myself that question, the “What’s next?!?” question, in the wee hours of the morning two weeks ago, as I boarded the plane that would carry Cam and I westward to visit Pete, Shel and Baby Viren for a Labor Day Weekend in Laramie.  In fact, when I squished myself into the window seat, I hauled out my journal and began to write : “What brings you most alive?!?”  “What is it you really want NOW, Helen?”  Before I could even respond to my inquiries, Cam, who was seated in the middle of the three-seat row, began to chat with our aisle-seat neighbor.  At first, I continued my journal-scrawling, asking the Universe for clarity to my questions, and then, within minutes, I gave up, closed my journal and let it go; the conversation beside me was just too interesting to ignore.  The tall athletic-looking forty-something man in the aisle-seat was talking about Detroit, telling us that he was going to give us a positive spin on the city.  So, as we took off from the Detroit Airport, as we flew over Michigan and Wisconsin on our way west to Denver, our new friend told us about the creative buzz growing in the city that he called home, a city with lofts that the young are renovating and sections of town, as lively and lovely as Paris.

I loved our conversation about Detroit, and the conversations that followed about travel, and our kids, and the creative fire that we, the three of us who were squished into the row, feel for our chosen vocations.  We kept the momentum going, story after story, over the rolling hills of Minnesota and the farm fields of Iowa.  We kept it going, lit up by the things that bring us most alive, when our friend began a new tale.  A buddy of his, an orthodontist, who owns one of those downtown Detroit lofts, has created a thriving dental practice in a part of the building and a soundproof music-area in another.  And his orthodontist friend and a middle-aged group of guys, including our airplane neighbor, they have formed a band and jam together in this space, its walls adorned  with the jackets from their favorite  albums; twice a week they play together, loud and jubilant and unleashed.  He was as excited as a young kid with a new bicycle as he told us about this adventure.  He was vibrant and giggly and said that he didn’t even care if they ever actually performed.  It was the practice, the process, that brought him most alive.  It was doing the thing that he never thought he’d be able to do that ignited his inner fire.  It was for the sheer fun of it that he rocked and he rolled in a rock and roll band.

As we flew over the flat plains of Nebraska, I found myself excited for my new friend, and jealous, too.  The clarity that I was asking the Universe for an hour or so earlier was coming into focus.  I was remembering an old dream of mine, one that rises like a buoyant cork to the surface every once in a while, before I push it back under, telling myself that this one, this one is impossible.  “I want to be in a band, too!”  I blurted out into the stuffy air of our Delta jet.  And it’s true, I do.  And my friend, he was enthusiastic.  It didn’t seem to bother him when I told him that I couldn’t carry a tune and I don’t know how to play an instrument.  “You should do it!” he said.  “It’s a blast!”   And by the time we started our descent into the Mile High City, it was seeming like it might actually happen, that punk might be the way to go, that I do have some talents, that I’m loud and I’m enthusiastic and I can hop around a stage with more gusto than anyone of any age.

So, yes, I’m in transition, opening up to this new season, eager to play with my grandson, eager to discover what new stories want to fly from my pen, eager to embrace the unexpected feel-great surprises, eager for the adventures close to home and in places far away, eager to ask myself again and again what new things light my fire, eager to witness how this dream of mine, this head-banging joy-punk dream of mine, the one that I used to deem impossible, makes its way into clearer and clearer focus.

Cowboy Joy

You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy . . . mix them, mix them!   Hafiz

It makes sense that it was a cowboy song that wafted through the airwaves on this Saturday evening.  After all, we were in the heart of cowboy country in this cowboy store in this cowboy town.  And Cam was singing right along as he pushed the stroller through the aisles of boots and hats, belt buckles and snap-front shirts.  Someone once told me that while Rock and Roll ignites our passion, Country opens our hearts.  And it was true for me over Labor Day Weekend while browsing the Boot Barn in Laramie, Wyoming.  My heart was feeling open, my spirit swaying to the country twang.  We were on an adventure, out for a stroll with a stroller, in a town that was new for us.  Pete and Shel and Baby Viren had just moved from Boulder, Colorado to Laramie, Wyoming two weeks earlier where Pete was beginning his year as visiting professor, and Cam and I had arrived in town the day before.   As Cam rocked the stroller back and forth, singing his cowboy song, Shel tried on brown knee-high boots embroidered in a pink western floral, while Pete sifted through racks of leather belts, and I found my way over to the baby clothes.  It was a good moment for all of us.

A few days earlier, before heading off to Laramie, back in my Upper Peninsula town of Ishpeming, I had driven past the Wonderland Motel and had noticed that there was a new quote on the motel’s small billboard: “Joy isn’t in things; it’s in us.”  And of course this is true.  Viscerally, I feel it each time I lie on my yoga mat or traipse through the woods or walk barefoot in the sand and the waves; I feel it, this bubbling well-spring of joy that is sometimes wild and reckless and other times calm and peaceful, each time I sink down into that inner place and remember to breathe and appreciate.   And I know that it is my challenge and my intention to live my life with this inner navigational system guiding the way.  And so, yes, it is an inside job; I agree with the Wonderland’s wonderful quote.   And, I add to this quote that we are born into these bodies that are matter, in a world that is matter.  We are born into a world of things, each moment, born anew into a world of things, born, on this night in Laramie, into a world of high plains and the Snowy Mountains, into a full moon rising over the wide western sky, into a world where a song was playing on the radio and we were all shopping in a store that felt vibrant and novel to us.  And Viren, the youngest member of our tribe of adventurers at eight weeks old, was wide-eyed and kicking, a smile on his round baby face, as he leaned back into his carseat-stroller-perch and listened to his grandpa sing to him  a cowboy song.

I love hanging out with Viren.  Of course I do; I’m his grandmother and he is adorable.  And, it’s deeper than than that.  He’s also my robust twelve-pound bundle-of-joy teacher.  When he’s not sleeping or nursing, he is always moving, stretching and flailing his little arms and legs, flexing his feet, lifting his head and strengthening his neck.  When you lay him down on his back after he’s been scrunched in his carseat, he reaches his arms behind him, lengthens his legs and moves his face into the most delicious of yawns.  Each day, each moment is a new adventure for this little adventurer as he concentrates on grabbing at his foot or aiming his fist into his mouth.  He, who was born with his eyes wide open, who was born wise in a way that we have long forgotten, is now spending his time learning to fully inhabit his body.  And he certainly is living from the inside out.  The joy that you can feel emanating from him, the joy that ignites your own inner joy, you know that it bubbles from someplace deep.  And yet, he loves this world around him, this world of things: the smile on his mother’s face, the smile on anybody’s face, a new sound — maybe a dog barking or a grandmother sticking her tongue out and making funny blowing noises — the warmth of the day, the wind, a book with photos of baby animals, his mother’s milk.  What would he do without his mother’s milk — and isn’t that a “thing” and doesn’t it bring him joy?

Before our shopping extravaganza at the Boot Barn, we had eaten at a Thai Restaurant in downtown Laramie.  I had ordered the Green Curry.  I love Green Curry, the blend of spicy and cool, sweet and zippy, as comforting to me as mother’s milk is to Viren.  And I love a full moon rising and a sky that is wide and spacious.  I love the black ruffled skirt that I tried on in this western store.  And I love that Pete found a belt that will be perfect with his professor pants and Shelly, a dress that is adorable on her thin post-baby body.  I love that Cam, who I haven’t heard sing like this in a long time, was lit up with his country  song, and the baby who was listening was lit up, too.  I love this world of matter, this world of things, the way it lights up and it matters, when we are living from the inside out.

Viren and Grandma, Laramie, Wyoming, Labor Day Weekend

Don’t think Too Much

(This blog post has just been sent out by snail mail to those on the Joy Center mailing list.  Happy September!)

This world is but a canvas to our imaginations.  Henry David Thoreau

It had already been a good day, a great day, that Wednesday in Salt Lake City two weeks ago.  Our son, Chris, had defended the thesis for his PhD in Applied Math, and now, hours later, the backyard celebration at his professor’s house on this balmy evening was winding down.  We had said our good-byes to Chris’s friends and colleagues and professors, and were helping our hosts to pack up the leftover food.  And that’s when I noticed the handmade patio table with its inlaid top, each tile colored in rich, earthy tones.  “Our daughter made the table, designed and painted the tiles herself,” Chris’s professor, our host, told me when he saw that I was admiring the handiwork.  “Claire is fearless when it comes to her art!” his wife chimed in as she beckoned me into the house.  She motioned me over to the staircase and pointed to the wall rising up to the second story – to the buoyant and varied exhibit of their thirteen year old daughter’s work.

It was quite a show!  Paintings on wood and paintings on canvas and paintings in swirling whirling colors and paintings that weren’t paintings at all, but instead lively installations using a quirky combination of unexpected mediums.  Claire must have heard me as I oohed and ahhed, because for the first time that evening, she left the haven of her teenage bedroom and joined me at the staircase exhibit.  And it was wonderful, listening to my new friend, this thirteen year old sprite, as she shared with me her creative process.  I was especially drawn to a series of colorful paintings with words scrawled across their paper.  The writing was loose and free and, yes, her mother was right, fearless.  It was exciting for me to see the two mediums, the visual and the written, dancing together in this careless, carefree way.  “Do you plan out what you’re going to write?” I asked.  And Claire’s reply was easy, and not planned out at all.  “I try not to think too hard,” she said.

Don’t think too hard.  It changed the way I wrote when I first applied that rule.  It was the late 1980’s, and it was Natalie Goldberg, and her book, Writing Down the Bones, that first invited me to keep my hand moving across the page, that gave me permission to write what I deemed “the worst shit ever written”, that instructed me to give things their specific names, and to write for a certain amount of time, and to not think too hard.  It was exhilarating, writing like this, picking a topic, any topic, and saying to myself, “go”, and letting it fly, the words, the thoughts, the great unexpected leaps.  And it didn’t matter if it was indeed “the worst shit ever written”, because it felt so good, so free to let the energy move through me like a wild river.  And I began to realize that shit is also manure and it can be composted and make the soil of a creative life even richer.  So when Claire said that she doesn’t think too hard, I nodded.  I knew what she was talking about.  And I felt energized exchanging ideas with this thirteen year old artist.  I felt inspired.

Not only do I want to continue scrawling words across  blank sheets of paper, but I also want to scrawl them across my colorful paintings.  I want to be fearless in other areas of my life as well, to sing my heart out in my tone-deaf voice, to let my inner comedian have more room to play, to go for the outrageous if that is what is calling to me.  And what better place to break through fears, to plunge into the new and the gloriously unexpected than at Joy Center, this safe, nourishing and beautiful haven that we, as a community, have created together.  This autumn, the variety of offerings is as rich and colorful as one of Claire’s paintings.  Come and explore your inner colors!  Come and have fun!  Joy Center welcomes us all!

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