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Archive for October, 2012

This is the moment!

(The following is the letter I sent out snail-mail with the November/December Upcoming Events Schedule.)

A happy life is just a string of happy moments.  But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they are so busy trying to get a happy life.  Abraham-Hicks

I saw them coming down the path towards us.  It was a Sunday afternoon in the middle of May some years ago, and Cam and I were hiking the Lake Superior shoreline from Wetmore’s Landing to Little Presque Isle.  My friend, Roslyn, had mentioned to me earlier in the day that she and her husband, Kevin, would be out in that area also.  And there they were, still far away, but close enough to bellow out a friendly hello to my friendly friends.  And so, that’s what I did.  In my loudest, most enthusiastic voice, out into the quiet of a sunny Sunday afternoon, I raised my arms to the sky and I hollered the words, and I’m not sure where they came from, these particular words that I hollered.  “This is the moment!” my voice boomed out over the Lake.  “This is the moment!” my voice boomed out to these people, this couple who were coming into clearer focus.  “This is the moment!” my voice boomed out to these people who, I now saw quite clearly, were not my friends, Roslyn and Kevin.  And I looked over my left shoulder to the place that Cam had been walking just a second earlier, hoping that he would bail me out or at least accompany me as I faced this couple who were approaching at what seemed like a rapid speed, but, no, he had stepped back and his expression was stone-faced and he was pretending that he didn’t even know me, this person who bellows out to strangers on the trail.  He was swallowing his laughter until these two people, who were also stone-faced, passed by and were well out of sight.

It was the words that I had hollered that made this story so funny for me.  “This is the moment!”  What did I mean by this?!?  Where was the standard “hello” that I usually haul out when it is time to greet someone?  I was telling my writing group about the encounter the next week, and it was Ward who was most tickled.  “Helen, that’s profound!  You got it in a nutshell!  This is the moment, the only moment!”  And for months afterward, every once in a while, the phone would ring and I would pick it up, and, a voice, as loud and booming as my own, would greet me, the male voice of my writing buddy.  “This is the moment!” Ward would shout out and then he’d hang up.

This story came back to me this morning in yoga.  It does that; it bubbles up, fresh and new and ready for me to share again.  And I still think it is funny.  And I still think it is profound.  Because Ward is right, this is the moment, the only moment where our power is.  And why not bellow it out for all to hear?!?

I’ve been telling people that I’m on fire with a writing project this autumn, and I am on fire, burning bright as I work with Stephanie at Globe Printing, laying out a book of essays and poems and short snippets that I have written about my mother and the cove in Maine, a book that also includes my mother’s creative efforts, her art and her nature observations and her recipes.  And although it is easy to become engrossed in the moment, fully present, when working on such a project, there are times when I want to spurt ahead to the finish line when the book is printed and bound and ready to read.  But then I stop myself – why would I want to skip one precious part of this creative effort?  Why would I want to skip one moment of this precious life? And besides, guess what awaits at the line that we think is the finish?  Another beginning.  Another moment.

And so, let’s raise our arms to the sky and shout out, “This is the moment!”  And then let’s live these moments in a way that feels good to us, that feels great to us.  Joy Center is a safe place to shout out these words, a welcoming place to embody these moments, a place where the offerings are as rich and varied and filled with possibilities as we are.

Unleash what is blocked!

Joy comes out of physically unleashing what is blocked.  Toni Bergins

I found myself a little jealous when Pia announced that her husband and his cohorts had taken the day off, followed the wind south to the town of Escanaba and Lake Michigan for a spacious day of mid-October flying-through-the-air-with-a-wild-spirit-kite-surfing.  It was a gift morning, mild and sunny and sweet, last Wednesday – the meteorologists had forecasted a week of cold rain and somehow the gods had smiled down at us and brought us a mid-week reprieve.  So, as we started our waking-up session of yoga, as I breathed into my day that was scheduled to the max, my mind kept wandering south, kept wondering what it would be like to claim any hours for something as exciting as kite-surfing.

It wasn’t just the act of flying out over the lake that poked at my jealousy gene; it was a day that was unstructured, a Ferris Bueller Day Off Type of Day that was coloring me green with a case of envy.  And, thank goodness for yoga, the way that it always calls me back to the moment and my body and to a place inside that feels good. “Helen, what are you complaining about?!?” my mind asked me as we twisted and stretched and breathed deep belly-expanding breaths.  “The window is open and the breeze is blowing in and it’s a warm life-sustaining breeze and the sun is shining and Krishna Das is singing from the CD player his joyful chants and you are alive, and, if you pay attention, while you stretch your hamstrings and strengthen your core, you will sense it, that you are flying, too.”  And it worked!  I could feel my enthusiasm building; as I lifted my torso off the ground into a backbend in Bridge Pose, as I pressed my heart and my solar plexus toward the sky, as I peered out at the others with their hearts pressed to the sky as well, I could feel it, that rush of energy, that whoosh of wind blowing through.  And, I used the metaphor often that morning, inviting us all to go through our day with the enthusiasm of a kite-surfer, with the ease of someone with all the time in the world.

And the feeling stayed with me on that mild filled-with-activity Wednesday.  As I surfed from one to-do to the next, I felt a lightness, an inner giggle, as though it wasn’t work at all.  And, it was in this mood, that I checked my e-mails, and my inner giggle became an outer laugh.  My daughter-in-law, Shelly, had sent a photo of Viren, freshly taken that same morning.  And Viren, at three and a half months old, certainly isn’t capable of kite-surfing, not yet, anyway.  But does that stop him from trying?!?  Does that stop him from flying?!?  No way!  He is appreciative of any movement forward, ecstatic that he’s upright, ready to take off in his bouncy chair.  And no one can tell him that he’s not flying, that this isn’t as wild a joy as kite-surfing.  One look at his face and we know it.  And if Viren can do it, find joy, kite-surfing joy, in his moment in a bouncy chair, so can his Grandma Helen.  And I brought that photo of Viren over to Joy Center that evening for a three and a half hour writing retreat.  I propped it up for all to see and I shared my aha! of the day, that any activity, when we release resistance, has the capacity to feel that good, Viren-bouncy-seat-good, kite-surfing-over-the-lake-good.  And nestled in a chair, in a room with fellow writers, I wrote my heart out.  It didn’t matter what it looked like on the outside.  On the inside, I had found my bounce and I felt myself flying.

(Viren poem written on Wednesday, October 18, at Joy Center’s Finding Your Way Home Retreat in a short timed writing.)


 It’s Viren who brings me to me knees

When I’m offering him a bottle and he’s latching on to it

and he’s sucking with all his might,

sucking mother from the bottle

of his mother’s milk, 

he’s appreciative.

He’s not saying

Grandma, you’re not my mother

Grandma, this picture is not right

He’s saying,

Grandma, thank you

Grandma, I’m looking into your eyes

I’m looking into your eyes and I’m pulling

out the best of you, the you that you want to be

the you that feels your own Grandma breasts swell

with all this love.

Viren is like that,

he knows how to draw out the mother’s milk,

the grandmother’s love

He knows how to pull the singer

out of the tone-deaf grandma

I don’t care, he says

Sing to me in whatever tone you like

I love your singing, he says

I love your stories, he says

I’ll look into your eyes forever, he says

and I’ll help you forget that you ever

found it hard to love.




‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘Tis the gift to be free . . .  Shaker Song

Amber and Raja are staying in a yurt for the week, house-sitting for the cats while their friend, Jane, and her three year old daughter, Isa, travel west on a vacation.  They shared this with me at Joy Center the other night as we were packing up the leftover food after the Healthy Harvest Potluck.  I felt myself sighing deeply, envisioning what it would be like to spend five days nestled inside a small circular home in the middle of a hardwood, pine forest on the banks of a clear fast-moving stream.  It was easy for me to imagine myself in Jane’s one-room dwelling.  She and Isa had visited Joy Center a month ago, and had shared their story and described their home in an evening presentation, how it was a dream of Jane’s to live more simply, to heat with wood that she had chopped and split with her own hands, to bathe with water from the nearby stream, to become acquainted with the creatures of the forest and to watch the stars each night through the opening in the yurt’s ceiling.

And so, I was excited for Amber and Raja, that they, too, would have this opportunity to go basic, to turn off the cell phones and put aside the computer and T.V., and, instead, to listen to the wind and the rain and the coyotes who visit each night, to feel the warmth of a woodstove and the warmth of a beating heart, to pick up a pen and a journal and write down the poem that comes through you, because a poem is bound to come through you when you’re Amber and Raja and you’re living off the grid.  I could feel it as I talked to Amber and Raja, the gentle mist and the crispness in the air, and I could smell it, the rotting leaves and the hint of pine in the damp autumn woods, and I could hear it, too, the call of the crow and an inner silence so deep and spacious that I could roam in it for days.  And, is that what I was wanting?  Is that what I was seeking as I found myself right there with Amber and Raja, envisioning the gifts that such a week could bring?  Did I want to shut off my computer this week, too, shirk my commitments, and take off like Thoreau for the quiet of the northern woods?

And I admit that I was heading into a five-day flurry of activity, of outer commitments that had the potential to chew up and chow down my precious creative time, that I was singing to myself, humming it out loud, “’tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free . . .” , that the yurt idea was like a seductive siren.  And although I have never followed the siren’s call into an off-the-grid yurt, I do know what it is like to live close to the earth, where the power flickers and dies at the hint of a gale, where the ocean rolls up to your doorstep when the winds of autumn howl.  The year that I was entering Junior High, my parents built their dream house out on the Point, on the rocks that we had named, Fourth of July.  And as a teenager, although I loved the sound of the sea lulling me to sleep at night, I didn’t appreciate these frequent power outages that complicated my adolescent life and I missed the warm thrum of the nearby town and our big sea captain’s home where we used to spend nine months of the year.  Later, however, after my mother had moved back to the cottage and the cove and I had moved west to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I did appreciate my frequent visits east.  They provided for me the kind of respite that I was envisioning this week for Amber and Raja.  Each time that I pulled into my mother’s driveway and stepped out into that salt air, I breathed a coming home sigh and sunk a little deeper into my bones.

I loved my weekend visits at the ramshackle cottage.  I will hold them dear to my heart forever.  I loved sitting in my mother’s old easy chair facing my old mother, who was sitting in the other old easy chair facing the sea. There was a simplicity in our days together and it slowed me down, grounded me, to climb into camp clothes, clamber out onto the rocks, come back hungry and ready to cook something easy and basic for my mother and I.  As I tuned into the rhythm of the tides, I found myself more in touch with my own inner rhythm.  And, after a few days of this slowed-down life in the cove, each time, I would find myself satisfied and happy and salt-filled, and, I admit, a little fidgety, ready again to step back into my own hand-crafted life and the flurry of activities that sustain me.

And that’s how it was for me the other night.  Somehow, it was enough to imagine myself at the yurt, perhaps nestled in a chair, soaking in the warmth of the woodstove, writing poems in my journal.  It grounded me to have such a thought at the start of my busy week. And so, the yurt-idea, while perfect for my friends, isn’t what I was needing right now.  I love my handcrafted life, a life, this particular week, that might look hectic, even frenetic, to someone peering in from the outside.  And that’s what I’m realizing, that simplicity isn’t a peering-in job; it’s something that we find on the inside.  And this week, there’s not one activity that I want to shirk as I find this inner simplicity.  When I do the things that ground me, maybe not five days of house-sitting at a yurt in the north woods, at least not right now, but a walk each day on the paths by my home, not a complete “no” to cell phone and T.V., but a movie that nourishes and delights, maybe not a night of lying in bed and gazing at the stars, but a pause as I step out of a yoga class at ten at night into Joy Center’s parking lot and peer up through that circle of trees and soak in the immensity of a star-filled night, not whole days to write, but short spurts throughout the week, enough to stoke the inner fire.  And when our inner fires are stoked, it doesn’t matter where we find ourselves.  We know that we are home.

A long hike with Cam at Pictured Rocks
Saturday October 20, 2012

Celebrate Your Existence

Celebrate Your Existence.  William Blake

I was the one who named my little brother.  Sort of.  He had an official name, a name with heft and history, a name he shared with our father and our father’s father.  Ernest Haskell III was the name written on his birth certificate.  But since our father was fully inhabiting the “Ernest” part of that name when my brother was born on a golden-leaved day in mid-October, and since our grandfather, the long dead, but not forgotten artist of etchings and watercolors, also inhabited that name, our parents decided that my little brother needed a nickname, something that he could wear lightly until he, a seven and a half pound baby boy, grew in earnest into the Ernest.  And it was “Skip” that they decided upon, like skipper of a boat, and skip with glee, and it was “Skip” that I, at two and three-quarter years old, couldn’t pronounce.  It didn’t skip off the tip of my tongue, even when I tried really hard.  And I remember trying really hard, and it seems like a memory to me, not something I’ve been told.  We’d be sitting in the car, my mother and I and that new baby brother of mine, and maybe my big sister and brother, too, in Bath’s municipal parking lot, the one behind Senter’s Department Store, waiting for my father’s shift to end at the Iron Works, when my mother would instruct,  “Say Skippy,” she’d say.  “Kippy,” I would carefully repeat.  Over and over, I would repeat it, to the best of my ability. “Kippy.  Kippy.  Kippy.”  And that’s how it happened that my little brother, the one who is no longer little at six foot two, became Kippy.

And he remained Kippy for the whole of our childhoods.  And we remained good friends, my little brother and I.  In school, we were two grades apart, and, from the time we attended Newell Elementary through his first year of college at University of Maine, our peer groups often overlapped.  But it was during the summer months, the months of mackerel fishing and early evening boatrides, of barefeet and scraped knees, the months that we settled into the ebb and the flow of the tides, settled into our cottage home at Fish House Cove that we really bonded.  We didn’t have a choice.  We were our peer group.  Our big brother was far too old to play with us.  And sure, our big sister, five years older than me, joined us in bunkhouse games and supervised our high tide swims as we paddled around the cove.  But it was Kippy and I who traipsed through the woods together, climbed the ledges, explored the tidepools, Kippy and I who made forts out of the root balls of the fallen evergreens and climbed the pines that were still standing.

Those summer days of playing in the cove and out on Sister Point blend together now, glimmering treasures in a treasure chest of memory.  And I’m not sure why it is this memory that is rising up right now, but it is.  I’m remembering a day – I think it was morning and the tide was high and we were paddling around the cove in our red plastic boats.  We loved these boats, these roundish swimming pool-type kid boats that our parents had bought us at K-Mart, boats that made us feel free and grown-up like our older brother and sister who had their own wooden skiffs.  I can’t remember whether we had both crammed ourselves into one boat, or were paddling our own, but I’m sure our mother had told us that we needed to stay close to shore and that’s what we were doing, hovering the shoreline.  And I can’t remember who noticed it first, but all of a sudden there was a fin circling around us, a fin!  We were Maine kids, and it didn’t faze us to cozy up to jellyfish and the schools of mackerel and the lobsters and spiky scalpin who crawled on the ocean’s sandy bottom, but this was a fin!  And we shrieked and we hollered and we called to our mother and we laughed; that’s what I remember most, that it was thrillingly funny to be paddling around our cove close to shore with a fin circling around us.  Now it wasn’t a big fin, not the fin of a Great White on the lose; it was a smallish fin, the fin of a wayward dogfish.  But it was glorious to magnify its power, to feel a sense of danger and excitement, all the while certain that we’d make it to shore.

Somewhere in those years, after the red boats had cracked one too many times for our father to mend with fiberglass, maybe after our father was no longer living and able to mend our own adolescent cracks, Kippy became Ernie to most people.  I still hung in there, called him Kippy through high school and into college, was the last to abandon the nickname ship.  And then, he became Ernest.  And then, I moved to Michigan.  And he moved to Germany.  And we both got married and we both had kids.  And now our kids are grown and it is mid-October and I was thinking about him the other day, about Ernest on his birthday, as I traipsed though the autumn woods.  I was thinking about the red plastic boats and our encounter with the shark and the safety net around our childhoods that kept us from being gobbled up as we sought out our thrill-filled adventures.

And, as I walked along the path the other day, very present in the lively autumn present, I thought of my own boys, how during those years of not seeing very much of my brother, I was mother to two brothers, and it was familiar ground to me, thanks to my brother.  And when my son, Pete, and his band of adolescent troubadours became enamored with Monty Python, I could laugh right along with them, even when their classmates didn’t, because I’d already lived that humor, laughed that humor with my own little brother.  And my son, Chris, there were many times, when he spoke in a certain way or teased in a certain tone, that I called him Ernest by mistake.  And when our house filled up with the testy edgy funny sharks-in-the-cove energy of a tribe of teenage boys, I’d been there, paddled those waters, could feel the thrill and offer a safety net even stronger than the one that was wrapped around me all those years.  And my brother, when raising his kids, I’m guessing that he got a dose of his big sister as well – because, while my house was an athletic surge of testosterone, his was whooshing in the estrogen waves of sisterlhood.  While I was calling my two boys “Ernest” by mistake, I’m guessing that, once in a while, he might have been calling his three girls, “Helen”.

So there you have it, isn’t it great when someone, someone who you once helped to name, has a birthday, and you’re able to think back to the nickname years and smile, and to realize that it all blends together, that the Kippy lives in the Ernest, that our kids remind us of our siblings, that the sharks never got us, that the safety net is alive and well, that in one flash of appreciation, it is possible to celebrate the existence, the whole package of a person you love.

Love is a place

love is a place & through this place of love (with brightness of peace) all places   yes is a world & through this world of yes live (skillfully curled) all worlds        e.e. cummings

I love seeing you through the eyes of Source!   Abraham-Hicks

For one week in August, each summer during my little girls years, my family packed up the old powder blue ’57 Chevy stationwagon, said good-bye to the cove and the salt air and the big red lobster boat that took us out on all our ocean adventures, and we traveled inland and west for two hours to the White Mountains on the Maine/New Hampshire border, to our Swedenborgian church’s summer camp in Fryburg, Maine.  I loved Fryburg — that’s what we called the summer camp and all the fun that we had there.  I loved the smell of the white pines and the sound of the June bugs on our cabin’s screen window.  I loved the grapefruit juice that we drank for breakfast out of tiny paper cups and the ice cream sandwiches that we ate each evening for desert.  I loved swimming each afternoon in the fresh mountain waters of the Saco River.  And most of all, I loved the expansive front porch connected to the camp’s main building that overlooked the lawn and the river and the mountains beyond.  It wasn’t the actual porch that I loved with its rocking chairs lined up in a row; it was the old women who sat in those chairs.   There was Grandma Helen and my Great Aunt Florence and Miss Spinney, so many old women, not just my grandma but all the grandmas and great aunts and the spinster women who became like aunts and grandmas to us kids as well.

It was like a giant hug to scamper up on that porch and chat with the old ladies.  And they did seem like old ladies in their silken dresses and sensible shoes, with their canes and their walkers.  I don’t remember them moving around much.  I don’t remember them joining us as we traipsed down the pine needle path to the river  for our afternoon dips, or as we ventured out on mid-week Excursion Days to climb Jockey Cap or visit Storyland or Wooley’s Animal Park.  What I do remember, however, is the line-up on the porch, the way that these women were present and eager to hear about our adventures.  It was up the hill and a beeline to that porch that I ran the day that I paddled and kicked, my mother at my side, out over my head and across the river the summer that I was seven.  I couldn’t wait to tell my grandma and my great aunt and all the other women.  They were my cheerleaders.  They were my Sunday School and my God connection.  I, the squirmy on-the-go girl, leaned up against Grandma Helen and breathed a little deeper as I watched her knit and watched her purl, knit and purl, knit and purl.  And we talked about things, the old ladies and I, and somehow, I, as a young youngster forged friendships with these women in their seventies and eighties that reached far beyond the boundaries of summers at Fryburg.  Miss Spinney sent me presents, all the Little House books and a beautiful baby doll, and I, in my early elementary school scrawl, wrote her letters.  Aunt Florence, who lived near Harvard in Boston, and I shared a love for baseball and the Red Sox and Yaz and Rico, and we, too, wrote each other letters.  And now, all these decades later, it is in my cells, in my body’s memory, that smell of that mountain air mingling with the smell of Jean Nate, mingling with the sound of shaky sweet voices and a love that flowed freely, that still flows freely as I think about the porch and Fryburg and the old ladies who exuded this love; it is a generous dependable love and I now carry it forward into this precious life that I am living.

And it is precious, this life that I am living, so rich and full and expansive.  And there are moments and days in this precious life that feel like desert, the ice cream sandwich days of a well-lived life.  I’ve just had a string of those delicious ice cream sandwich days, just returned from a visit to another mountain range, not the eastern range of my childhood summers at church-camp, but a western one, the Rockies.  And now, though I carry her with me, I’m not the little girl visiting the front porch at Fryburg, but the grandmother, and it was Viren, my twelve week old grandson, who I was visiting.  For three days, while his mom, Shelly,  was focusing on some work-related things, I had the honor of hanging out with Viren, just the two of us, for hours on end.  And although I like to think of myself as a hip modern grandmother, the 2012 version, twenty years younger than the women in the chairs on the porch, a grandmother whose sensible shoes are Tiva flip flops and Merrill barefoot runners, a grandmother who loves to be on the move and dreams of jumping around in a punk band, I get it; I’m with them, the old ladies of my youth.  I’m saying to them, “Oh, I see now.  This is what it is like to adore someone, to witness their delight and feel your own, to soak in the way that they love and trust and see you as the soulful sacred being that you really are, and know that you, too, are capable of loving them back.  I get it, that the boundaries are blurry, that you are not just the giver, but also the receiver of so much love.”

I’m with the old ladies of my youth as I venture into this new grandmother territory, and, yet, I’m not needing to mimic them.  I, the squirmer, the chatter, the lover of movement, the grandma, who never quite caught on to Grandma Helen’s knitting and purling or her ability to sit still for hours, did just fine being me, did just fine being me as I soaked in Viren being himself.  He loves to stretch on the floor, to reach his arms behind him and straighten his muscle-pudgy legs and grimace a grimace of pleasure.  And sometimes I love to stretch out, too.  And sometimes we would stretch together, and sometimes he’d lie there with his head cocked to the side and watch as I grimaced my pleasure-filled grimace and stretched my body long, and then he’d smile, that charming Viren smile that he shares so generously.  And he loves to talk, sometimes softly, in a coo and a gurgle, especially when he’s tired and cuddly or satiated after a feeding.  And sometimes he shrieks and squeals and squawks as loudly as any punk rocker, and I, like the cheerleading ladies of my girlhood, revel in his stories and songs.  And always, I’m not kidding you, when he is awake, his eyes are bright and  blueberry blue and they see right into you and I realize now that it doesn’t matter what he is saying, doesn’t matter what he is doing.  When you love like that, when you see someone through the eyes of Source, it’s as good as an afternoon on the front porch, as good as a white pine breeze and an ice cream sandwich for desert.

Viren’s roll

Grandma and Viren at the Farmer’s Market

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