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Archive for November, 2012


Come dance with the west wind and touch the mountaintops.  Sail o’er the canyons and onto the stars.  And reach for the heavens and hope for the future, and all that we can be, not what we are.  John Denver, the Eagle and the Hawk

In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, I dreamed that I arched my back into a full wheel bend, and, with my heart wide open, faced upward to the sky.  And from this expansive position, one that has never come easy to me, even as a child, in my waking life, I  lifted off and floated above the ground.  Up off the ground!!!  And it was natural in my dreamstate to bend backwards and to float like this, free from the constraints of gravity and the limitations of what I thought was humanly possible.

And I’m not sure why my sleeping self conjured up this floating backbend of a dream.  Perhaps it was because Cam and I, after landing at Denver’s International Airport the day before, had driven north then west through Wyoming to Laramie as the sun was sinking low, and the sky, the huge all-encompassing sky of the high plains, lit up for us with a sunset that was beyond anything we had ever seen.  White fluffy angel wing clouds and peach and lavender swipes of a watercolor’s brush gave way to bold fuchsia mackerel backs and flaming rainbows tucked within the billowy horizon.  In the passenger seat, I craned my head in one direction, and then another, oohing and ahhing as the ever-changing show entertained us for well over an hour.

Perhaps that was it — this wide western sky, so much more expansive than the forested one than I am familiar with in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — perhaps that was the reason that I floated, back bent with the flexibility of a Cirque de Soliel performer, in my Thanksgiving morning dream.  Or perhaps it was something else; maybe it was the pot of gold at the end of our rainbow-sunset-drive along I-80 that brought me into a state of heart-opening flight.  And, indeed, it did feel like a pot of gold on Wednesday evening to open the front door of our son and daughter-in-law’s home in Laramie and to be greeted by Pete and Shel who we adore and our four-and-a-half-month-old grandson, Viren, who lifts us over the moon.

And although this baby sweeps me up when I sweep him up, and I feel myself swooning on a baby-induced high, perhaps it was his on-the-floor antics that inspired me to bend backwards and float above my bed in the Fairfield Inn in the early hours of the next morning.  We weren’t in the door more than a few minutes on Thanksgivng Eve when our grandson showed us some of his power-baby moves.  Although he is one forward motion away from crawling, and this is his greatest passion, it was the lying-on-his-back yoga pose that really impressed his yoga-savvy grandma.  It’s one of his specialties, a yoga move extra-ordinaire, to lie supine, looking skyward, to heave himself up and arch his strong little back, to thrust himself forward, again and again, from this back-bending position.  And I certainly took note of my yogi-of-a-grandson’s strong back, and that might have made its way into my uplifting dream.

I think it’s more than this, however.  I think I was getting ready for lift-off days before we lifted off into the air on that jet carrying us westward for a Thanksgiving weekend with our son, daughter-in-law, and the baby.  These past few weeks, I’ve been taking my own flying lessons, my own heart-opening lessons.  It was my theme in yoga classes; it made its way into my monologue at November’s Joy Center Out Loud, this notion that we can argue for our limitations, focus on what is lacking, or we can dream the possible into being.   And what better time to practice this expansive way of thinking than around the holidays?!?

It’s easy for me to focus on holidays’ past, on those childhood Thanksgivings when the six of us — mother, father and four kids — piled into our old rusty ’57 Chevy and headed south three hours to the Boston suburb of Wayland, to the sprawling house of our aunt and uncle and cute older boy cousins, to a weekend of family feasts that included the aunts and the uncles and the great aunts and great uncles and all the cousins and the grandmas and grandpas.  The love in those Thanksgivings was as sprawling as the house we all called home for the weekend.  And the later Thanksgivings, when our boys were small, the years that we traveled to Cam’s parents’ home in Grand Rapids, the years of perfect turkeys and Cam’s mom’s stuffing, and Cam’s dad’s raw oysters, of a love that was also palpable, those memories are easy to hold my focus as well.  And the more recent Thanksgivings, the ones where we gathered in the towns of our boys, with Cam’s mom and his sister and her two kids, those are precious in my mind.

So this year, when our son, Chris, and his girlfriend, Diana, decided that what they needed most was a relaxing camping-type Thanksgiving with their two dogs in the wilderness mountains near their new home of Knoxville, and when Cam’s mom also decided to celebrate closer to home in Grand Rapids, I admit I had a moment or two of honing in on what was going to be missing in this year’s celebration.  And that’s where my flying lessons came in, my practice sessions of focusing on the possible.  It didn’t take long to envision the sweetness of a small family gathering, of a quiet Thanksgiving with the new parents and their baby at their home in Laramie.

And I carried this sweet sense of the possible with me on the plane to Denver last Wednesday.  I wrote the words in my journal as we flew west over Iowa and Nebraska, bold brave words, that this was going to be the best-feeling weekend I’ve experienced thus far.  These words are pregnant with the possible.  They are as wide as the Wyoming sky.  And they hold it all — the memories of Thanksgivings’ past, the appreciation of loved ones both living and no longer in body form, both present in the flesh and camping in the Smokies.  These words hold it all, and they hold it in the glorious present moment.  So it was a wide expanse of sky that was on my mind when I slipped off to sleep on Thanksgiving Eve and a baby who lights up a room with his smile and a family who I adore and more friends than I could possibly count and a heart that was bursting with appreciation and thanks giving.

And that feeling of opening up so wide, of a heart so light that it lifts me right off the ground, I want for that to stay with me.  I want to remember that it indeed is possible.

Shel and Viren after her running race: Thanksgiving

Pete and Viren on Thanksgiving morning

Dwell in Possibility

I dwell in possibility.  Emily Dickinson

It came to me on a walk two days ago, on an afternoon brisk enough to haul out the cross-country skies, a snow-less gray-sky day in which I had to settle for boots and the paved bikepath in Marquette, instead of the groomed ski trails that I am eager to push off on.  It came to me as I worked my arm and leg muscles to stay warm, as I worked my mind’s muscles to stay positive.  At first it was a flash of memory from last Friday, how a friend, in the midst of a discussion concerning the Election, had said that she is choosing to release old beliefs that keep us stuck in the status quo, beliefs that don’t feel good to her, or limit her thinking, and to turn her attention forward, to what is possible.  And this flash of memory felt warm against my wind-stung cheeks and it attracted to me another warm flash of memory.  The same friend had left me a phone message a month ago with a quote that she had heard on a broadcast: “Don’t argue for your limitations; argue for your possibilities.”  At the time, I had written this quote down, had filed it as a good one in “the good-quotes-file-cabinet” in my mind.  It was yesterday, however, as I braced myself against the November wind, that I began to embody its powerful message.

I felt energized as I headed back along Superior’s shore toward the warmth of my car.  How empowering it is to let go of our limitations, the ways in which we grind our tires into the muck and stay stuck, not only as a nation, but, also as individuals.  How empowering it is to rev up our imaginations and feel our engines humming and drumming and our tires moving us forward and new possibilities rising up right in front of us and beckoning us into places more wonderful than we had previously considered possible.

That’s what happened five years ago when I turned my attention from my limitations and dreamed Joy Center into being. I had loved my small yoga business, the one that had thrived in the renovated basement of Cam’s dental office.  It had been a perfect set-up, as our two businesses co-existed in the same building for several years.  It was only in the late spring of the seventh year that I began to feel antsy.  I wanted more space, a place where I could teach yoga more often, and writing workshops, a place to perform, a place where others could perform as well.  And that’s when things began to change, when I stopped feeling stifled, and turned my attention, instead, to what might be possible.  I made an appointment with a realtor to look at a small business for sale.  And that appointment led to more clarity – and, to the brainstorm, one stifling June afternoon, when I remembered that Cam and I already owned a piece of property, a deer path away from our house in Ishpeming Township.  And a wild possibility, one more expansive and wonderful than I had previously considered do-able, rose up that June day like a fiery phoenix.  And I shared it with a friend, this wild-winged dream, and it began to take form.  And this is the best part of the Joy Center-being-born story; this is the part that we forget to remember.  It was easy.  I didn’t have to figure it all out, how, this dream, that seemed so expansive to me, and overwhelming, was going to become a physical reality.  I just had to follow the inspired steps forward.  One at a time.  So I made an appointment with our financial advisor, and, not only did he become a cheerleader for my new endeavor; he also led me to Paul, the young builder who was eager to jump on board and dream this dream into being.  And that’s what we did, Paul and I, and his band of young brothers and friends; we dreamed Joy Center into being, one step at a time.  And you can feel it, five years later – it’s in the foundation and it’s in the walls and it’s in the banners that gloriously sweep across the ceiling of Joy Center’s main room – the way that this place holds the vision of possibility.

So, the other day on my bikepath walk, I felt an aria of possibility growing inside of me.  As I headed back on the homestretch, I felt light inside, almost as if I was skate-skiing on that bare pavement.  I love remembering the Joy Center Story.  I love dwelling in the deliciousness of possibility.  I love wondering what else is possible and what else and what else and what else.



















My Heart is open Wide . . .

Can you surrender to how beautiful you are? 

I was frazzled as I screeched to a halt in the car rental return line at Denver International on the final leg of a recent trip out west.  Somehow I had missed my exit onto the toll road, had spent forty-five minutes trying to find my way through the maze of streets and shopping malls that all looked alike to my discombobulated eyes.  So, by the time I did find my way onto 470 and into this Alamo parking lot at the airport, I was uncomfortably, desperately late for my connection.  And there had been no time to fill the car with gas and it was down a third of a tank and, a few days before, I had read the sign in the Alamo office that threatened we renters when we didn’t return our cars gassed up.  The penalty was double the price at the gas stations.

That’s what was on my mind – the exorbitant bill I was about to owe and the plane I was likely to miss – when the man in the Alamo jacket approached my car.  And when he asked how I was, I blurted out something about being late with no time to get gas and being up Shit Creek without a paddle.  He calmly asked for the keys, sat in the car, turned on the ignition, and punched some buttons on his receipt computer.  And while he was doing this, he said, “Don’t worry; I’ve got your back.” And when I heard his words, the fingernails that had been screeching across a blackboard in my mind, silenced themselves, and I felt my shoulders relaxing a bit.  This hefty man with the jet-black hair, he had my back.  And then he handed me the receipt and told me that he only charged $15.00, the price I’d have paid at the gas station.  “You are wonderful!” I sang out to him, meaning it with every fiber of my being.  And then something unexpected happened, something I, a frazzled nervous-wreck-of-a-person, didn’t see coming.  He looked at me and, with conviction and kindness, sang those words right back in my direction.  “You are wonderful!”  And a laugh, a relaxed joy-filled laugh, rose up from some place beneath my frazzledness, and I let the words soak in.  I am wonderful, too!  And this gesture, this man’s ability to see someone deeply, to see me deeply, beneath the surface circumstances, carried me forward through check-in and security and onto the plane moments before the doors closed.

It is while traveling that I deeply soak in these gestures of kindness, these precious human connections.  It’s not that I don’t experience kindness and connection in my at-home-in-the-Upper Peninsula life; I do.  Every day, in so many ways.  My life is saturated with sweet moments and I appreciate them wholeheartedly.  On trips, however, especially when I’m traveling alone, when I’m in the company of strangers, there is a spareness, a space between these gestures.  I spend a lot of time in airports these days, especially in Detroit’s, with its long terminal corridors, and, as I walk the length from one end to the other, this song, one that I learned years ago at a Sonia Choquette workshop, often surfaces from some juke box of tunes inside of me and I sing it silently: “You are so beautiful.  You are so wonderful. My heart is open wide to let you in.”  And I love the moments when the lyrics become true for me, when I really do see how wonderful we all really are.

A week and a half ago, I flew south for a three-day visit with my son, Chris, and his girlfriend, Diana, in their new home-city of Knoxville, Tennessee.  On the way, I had a long lay-over in the Detroit Airport.  And, after my usual laps in Terminal A, I found a quiet space against a wall, scooched down and relaxed, watching the people bustle by.  It was a little girl, a toddler in a stroller who caught my eye.  There was something about this little girl – perhaps it was her squinty blue eyes or her wayward blonde hair, or perhaps it was something deeper, something I don’t have words for – I’m not sure what it was, but she reminded me of me.  And, as her parents scurried forward, I, sitting at her eye-level, smiled and she smiled back a wide whole-face smile, and she kept on smiling as her parents pushed her by, kept on smiling with her neck twisted around until she sailed out of sight.  I live for moments like that, moments when I feel that connection, when I melt into a place of love.

All week in yoga, I’ve been telling the story about the Alamo man, how his kindness has stayed with me, how my heart has felt a little more open, how I’m remembering something.  I’m remembering that it doesn’t matter how lost I sometimes feel, or frazzled, or late.  I’m remembering that I am wonderful – and, this remembering, I’m happy to say, it feels wonderful.


The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.  Joan Didion

For more than thirty years, the phone conversations that I shared with my mother consisted of weather reports, mine from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and hers from the cove in mid-coastal Maine.  I used to think it was because we couldn’t think of anything else to say, and that I knew it was a safe topic, an easy topic because we both lived in places where the weather was lively.  I would call with details about the first snowfall, sometimes as early as late September and would make my reports as dramatic as possible, sharing how the winds howled and the slush stuck to the roads and the Lake Superior waves thrashed against and over the breakwall in Marquette.  And she would ooh and ah, an appreciative audience to my weather stories.  And I would do the same, nudging her forward as she shared her vignettes of thunderstorms and northeasters and the gales that sometimes snuck up on the fishermen and had their way with the lobster traps and boats that were moored in the cove.  We shared our fair weather stories as well, how lovely the sun felt on a February morning as my mother sat on her south-facing deck, how fresh the breeze was off the Lake as I clamored over the rocks on Superior’s shore.  At least once a week, we picked up the phone and reported in, a dutiful mother/daughter meteorologist team.

And through all these years of mother/daughter weather reports, I thought my mother was the one who was obsessed  with the weather, that, sure, it was fun to look up at the gray billowy clouds and feel the shift in wind and know a cold front was blowing in from the north, but that was just a normal interest, a fun detail to share with a weather-hungry mother.   But now that my mother has passed, is no longer available in the concrete-pick-up-the-physical-phone-and-talk-type-of-way, I’m realizing that I am my mother’s daughter, that I, too, am obsessed with the weather.  I’m realizing that I probably always have been a weather girl.  I think it happened by osmosis.  The sky above the cove in Maine was big and the clouds were a constant source of entertainment for us coastal kids as we played on the cottage lawn or floated on our backs in the sea’s buoyant waters.   We learned to recognize the fair-weather puffs of white on blue-sky days and the mackerel-fish clouds that signaled a rainstorm moving in.  And it was easy knowing which way the wind was blowing; we just had to look out over the water and notice the bows of the boats, whether they were pointing toward us or out to sea.  The ever-changing weather breathed color and life into the landscape of our childhoods during our growing-up years in Maine.

And I now see that the ever-changing weather also breathed color and life into the multitude of conversations I shared with my mother, that we were not just exchanging the snapshot pictures of the days’ weather essence, though that felt sweet and tender; we were also acknowledging that weather is a force stronger than we can comprehend, an energy that we can breathe into, that moves through us, an energy  that  can enliven us and can shake us to the very core of our being.  And these days, I usually get my weather reports first-hand as I step out into the cold or the warm, the calm or the windy.  I usually feel it on my skin, the sun or the rain or the pelting sleet or snow.  And if I want to share it with my mother, the report of the hour, I just think about her and smile and trust that she gets the message.  It was different this past week.  On Monday, I did something that is a rarity for me; I turned on the weather channel, many times.  I couldn’t help it.  I was transfixed.  And as I watched Superstorm Sandy heading for land, for the northeast, I wanted to call my mother, the old fashioned way, on the telephone.  I wanted her to be sitting in her easy chair in the cottage with the phone on the table beside her.  I wanted her to pick it up  and give me the play-by-play updates.  That’s what she used to do when Maine was threatened by wild weather.  But Monday, I was keenly aware that I needed a different approach.  So, I e-mailed my siblings, younger brother in the Washington D.C. area, sister in Connecticut, older brother on the property in Maine, and my cousin in New York City, my penpal writing sisters in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, my friend, Muriel, visiting grandkids in Vermont.  And all day, I raced to the computer for the latest  news.

As I read through the e-mails that were popping up from friends and relatives on the east coast, I imagined what my mother would be saying.  “This is terrible!” she used to cry out when an impending storm was on its way.  “You’d better be prepared for something big!” she’d often add.  And I’m sure she would say that this is the biggest one yet, this superstorm threatening the whole Atlantic coast.  And I agree with what I imagine my mother would be saying, that weather like this is filled with terror, filled with a wildness that shakes our homes and our power lines, and blows to bits the tidy boxes of control that we place ourselves in.  And yet, there’s something else, too.   You could hear it in the undertone of my mother’s storm-preparation words, “This is terrible!”  There was a quivering hint of excitement, a wondering just what this terrible might look like as it blew into her coastal nook.  And I admit that I felt it on Monday, that quivering excitement underneath the terrible.  It felt good to be in contact  with those who were experiencing it, to know that they were safe, and to hear their particular storm stories, stories, not only of brute-force destruction, but also of human kindness and connection, stories of people plugging into their personal power when the outer power came to a halt.

And the next day, it was our turn in the Upper Peninsula to feel Sandy’s force as the storm’s edges connected with a high pressure system from the north.  Granted it was a watered down version of what the east coast had experienced the day before, a safer version in which the wind gusts hit fifty miles per hour, the lights flickered but never died out, and the precipitation was a mere flurry of slushy snow.   It was a day to turn off the weather channel and return to my familiar methods of forecasting.  I could feel it in the air, the brisk bite of impending snow, and the way the wind was blowing, I could sense it, that the waves on Superior would be huge.  And they were.  You could see them as I crested the hill by Walmart on my drive into Marquette, the white caps breaking on our gray inland sea.  And at Presque Isle, our local gem of a city park, those waves were wild, thrashing over the breakwall, splashing up onto the Black Rocks, flying high up into the air.  And people were lined up in their cars, and people were bracing themselves against the wind and the brisk wintery air, and people were snapping photos, and people were smiling and whooping and staring with awe.  I let the wind, this howling gusting wind and the sound of the fury, blow right through me, as I stood there on the rocks, as I felt the power of something so great.  And later, as I walked to the harbor part of Presque Isle, I watched the surfers, cloaked in their hooded full-bodied suits, paddling way out into that frigid wild water, having their way with those waves, the waves having their way with them, and I thought of my mother, and smiled.

Waves breaking over Black Rocks: Presque Isle: October 30, 2012
Photo by Mary O’Donnell

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