Reinvigorate your purpose and passion for life.

Archive for January, 2014

Ode to Joy

Remember: you are the only person who thinks in your mind!  you are the power and authority in your world.  Louise Hay

I’m not sure of the reason, but, late Sunday evening, when our plane bumped down onto the runway and braked to a halt in front of the terminal at our Marquette County Airport, the ground crew was unable to connect the jet bridge to the plane’s exitway.  So, as the flight attendant pushed open the door, we, the passengers scrambled to pull on coats and scarves and woolen hats in preparation for our walk down the stairs and onto the runway’s sheer icy surface.  And the coats and the hats and the scarves didn’t seem to do a bit of good — the descent out into that sub-zero air was a blast of arctic brutal.  The sheet of whatever it was that the Marquette crew had placed over the ice to keep us from slipping kept blowing away and the massive gusts of wind nearly blew us away as well.  And it didn’t get better.  The usual forty-five minute drive home from KI Sawyer Airport turned into a white-knuckle hour-and-ten minute thirty-five-mile-an-hour creep along roads covered with black ice and drifting snow punctuated every now and then with the howl of the wind and the swirl of the snow and a whiteout in which the road and the sky and everything else merged into a sheet of the whitest of white nothingness.  I moaned and I prayed and I didn’t feel joy.

A heated home and a dinner left out on the counter by a loving husband and a warm bed — these things do wonders for a shivery cold gal with jangled nerves. And there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to set one’s spirit on the feel-good path again, and nothing like a mid-morning e-mail to lift one’s spirit up even higher into the buoyant air.  The swirling snow and the black ice and the frigid cold became a distant memory as I watched the You-Tube video that my friend had sent to me.  It was a three-minute film of a recent flash mob in Canton, Michigan instigated by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the IKEA Store.  First, a few members, holding their instruments, made their way to the store’s center, grabbed chairs and began to play, then more members peeked out from the aisles — the strings and the horns, the whole orchestra, so many members of the orchestra playing with heart and with soul.  It was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy that they played, and the store, that huge store, it filled up with the music.  I think it soaked into everything, the IKEA furniture and the kitchen wares and all that merchandise stuffed onto those shelves, and I know it soaked into the hustling bustling post-holiday shoppers.  They stopped their hustling and they stopped their bustling and they stood there and they watched.  And you could see it on their faces and you could see it in their body language; they were feeling the joy.  Babies clapped and kids swung their arms and grown-ups laughed and held up their phones and recorded this unexpected and joy-filled interruption.

And I, after watching that video again and again, switched gears on a sub-zero windy no-school Monday morning.   I had written down quotes for the week’s yoga classes the day before as I sat on the plane making my way home from a weekend of visiting family and friends in Maine, good quotes, I thought at the time, I think centering around believing in yourself.  But now, now I was inspired.  I was a part of the flash mob mentality at IKEA.  So, on the top of a piece of paper I scrawled the words, “Ode to Joy.”  Ode to joy!  We can’t control the weather, weather too brutal for even we Yoopers, too brutal even for a gal like me who can ski in just about any conditions.  But we can control our mentality.  So quotes I found, joyful sweeping quotes — one that I especially loved by A.A. Milne about Christopher Robin enjoying a very good day.

And I thought to myself that I, too, want to enjoy a very good day.  And I remembered the hat that my cousin Abby, a milliner in New York City had made for me a few years back, a magnificent city hat for me, her country cousin.  It’s a warm warm hat and it’s steeped in family history.  The fabric that graces its ever-so-soft top is a piece of golden velvet that Abby had found in treasures left by our Great Aunt Mabel, our grandfather’s older sister who also made magnificent hats.  And the upsweeping design of a lotus on its front is a remnant of upholstery fabric leftover from one of my Aunt Jo’s projects, and the buttons are ones found in the family button box and given to Abby by her sister Diana.  I carefully took my family treasure out of its round hat box and pulled it down over my ears in a snug cozy fit.  And I remembered that I have warm mittens too, mittens so warm and thick that I can barely bend my fingers, mittens made from one of my Aunt Jo’s favorite wool sweaters.  So with  hat and mittens and bundled up clothes, I stepped out into my very good day.

And that evening in yoga, I told of the flash mob in Canton, Michigan and we envisioned our inner flash mob, all of our cells joining together in an Ode to Joy.  And why not?  Our cells can sing a joyful song and they can play their instruments in a buoyant upsweeping manner no matter what the weather is choosing to do.  And we, we can march and stomp our feet and make lots of noise if we want to — and that’s what we did in Monday night in perhaps the same way that Christopher Robin did during his very good day.

A warm warm hat made by cousin Abigail worn on a very very cold day!

A warm warm hat made by cousin Abigail worn on a very very cold day!

The grace to begin beginning. . .

All too often we try to push, pull, outline and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically.  The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.  Mystery is at the heart of creativity.  That, and surprise.  Julia Cameron

For today, all you need is the grace to begin beginning.  Julia Cameron

“There are so many reasons that I can see getting on board,” my friend said during a phone call this past weekend.  She was referring to the 100 Day Project — a community-wide challenge open to all of us interested in participating — that is intended to jumpstart our individual creativity by inviting us to choose a theme, create our own guidelines, and stick with a process for 100 days.  “There’s the tribal element, the desire to be part of something inspiring, to know that others are playing this 100-Day Game too, at the same time.  And there’s the discipline involved; to stick with something for over three months builds creative muscles.  And there’s the honing of our talents and showing off of our skills and perhaps seeing something familiar with new eyes . . .”  My friend began to list the possible motives that might propel a person into such an endeavor.

And I’m one of the people that has propelled herself into this endeavor.  Today is Day Five and I, along with over one hundred other athletes-of-the-arts have plunged into this creative marathon.  I’m not sure that I’ve plunged in, not like I used to plunge into the Y-pool in a wild cannon ball off the diving board back in my elementary school days, not with that youth-filled gusto, not on the first couple of days at least.  But I’ve dipped my feet in, and the water is feeling warm and inviting and I’m thinking that sooner or later I’m going to go for it, to dive under and allow myself to get completely wet.  And, as I think back to the conversation with my friend, I’m wondering about my motives for this toe-dipping into another creative project.  It’s not like my creative swimming pool isn’t filled up; the waters are running freely as I write my essays and gather the quotes for yoga and plan the Joy Center schedules, so it’s not about priming my creative  pump.  And it’s not about discipline either.  I was born under the sign of Capricorn, a goat gal who knows how to place one foot in front of another, and, step by step, make her way up those mountain paths toward whatever goal is waiting at the top.  It’s easy for me to stick with the practices that nourish and sustain and ground these Capricorn feet of mine.  But there’s another side to the earthy Capricorn and this might be the key to my motive for joining the 100 Day Crowd.  We Capricorns are also creatures of the water; we not only climb the mountains; we also swim the seas.

Each summer, we coastal Maine kids of the 1960’s moved downriver with our families to the ramshackle cottages that lined the coves and beaches and rocky shores of our state’s rugged coastline.  And we spent our days exploring the shoreline’s tide pools, splashing in the waves, diving into the high tide waters.  It was a given that we knew how to swim; it was written in our sea-faring ancestry, and, in September, when the cottage windows were once again boarded up and the pipes drained, we brought this desire for water-play back inland with us to our blue-collar towns.  It was the Y that provided our after-school entertainment.  Sure, there were the occasional art classes offered in a small class room beside the Y’s lobby and the trampoline and tumble-mats in the spacious gym, but it was the pool that watered our ocean souls.  There were swimming lessons and swim team practices and the swim meets that stretched out long on wintery Saturday afternoons.   And then there was Free Swim.  Every Wednesday, during my elementary school days, Sally and Maureen and Lynn and I, so many of us, the girls and the boys, would race home from school, grab our suits and towels and head downtown to the Y and the pool that was our home away from home.

It is Free Swim that I am thinking about now.  I loved Free Swim.  I needed Free Swim!  I loved swimming lessons, too.  There was something rewarding about the practice, the polishing of skills, the advancing from Pollywog to Fish to Flying Fish, the feeling in my body, the giant “yes!” when something I couldn’t do the week before became easy.  And being a part of the swim team was a pleasure.  The hour-long sessions of swimming laps, of kicking with paddle boards, of practicing the strokes — these things calmed my mind and were meditation for my soul.  And the thrill of the races riled me up again and brought me more alive.  There was a definite structure in both the lessons and the swim team that provided a groundedness in my young life and a lifelong appreciation of the power of practice.  And Free Swim, it was the perfect counterpoint for all this structure, all this practice.  Free Swim was just plain fun, sometimes over-the-top silly.  We showed off for each other — who could be the most wacky as we strutted or slunk or raced (when the lifeguard wasn’t looking!) off the board?  We pretended we were on the moon as we dunked under the water and leaped in great buoyant strides along the pool’s deep-end bottom.  We splashed water at each other and laughed under water and somersaulted and floated on our backs.  We played together and we played alone.  And it didn’t matter if our the form of our strokes was text-book perfect.  And it didn’t matter if we belly-flopped and our inner critics were playing someplace else and the Free Swims did, indeed, feel free.

So it’s the Free Swim that I’m after right now.  As I listened to my friend continue her list of reasons that one might join the 100 Day Project, I found myself nodding my head up and down — yes, yes, yes!!!!!  “And there will be those who just get on board because it is fun,”  she said.  That’s it for me.  I don’t want the metaphoric swimming lessons or the competition of a race where I’m expected to create something polished and trophy-worthy.  Not right now!  What I want is artistic Free Swim time!  I want to claim some time to play in the creative inner waters — to be outrageous if I want to be, and messy, too, and neat and tidy if that strikes my fancy, and to laugh at the bellyflops.  I’ve chosen a topic, “Fashion,” and I’ve instructed myself to claim a little time each day to play — using  whatever medium speaks to me in the moment.  And I’ll see what happens.  We coastal Maine kids didn’t have a formal plan on those Wednesday afternoons at the Y.  We just got ourselves in the pool and played.

I’m so glad I was born!!!

Trust the magic of beginnings.  Meister Eckhart

I could count on it, the mid-morning phone call from my mother on my birthday.  I don’t even remember when she started doing it, but throughout her eighties and into her early nineties, sometime between NPR’s Radio Reader and the morning music, the phone would ring, and I would know, I’d just know who was going to be on the other end.  “Happy Birthday,” she’d say in a voice more song than speech.  And as the years passed by and her words became more stroke-muddled and shaky, I’d think to myself, “Don’t take this for granted; this will probably be the last year.”  And I didn’t take her calls for granted; I savored each and every one of them.  Because, what can be more sacred on a birthday than a well-wish from the one who gave birth to you?

It was nearly two years ago now that my mother made her transition, so the phone call is no longer the obvious mode of birthday communication.  And this past Wednesday morning as I wiped the sleep from my eyes on my special day, as I scrambled around getting ready for a session of yoga, I remember thinking to myself, that, although I’m open and eager for a birthday wish from my mother, it wasn’t going to happen during that old familiar time of the day that we used to bless my birthday, that, at that magic hour when the music starts to play on Public Radio, I was going to be in the midst of forward bends and downward dogs and deep breath stretches.  And that’s what I was doing, reaching my arms behind my torso and clasping my hands together, knuckles pressed away from shoulders, heart blossoming open in yoga mudra, and I might have been saying these words, because I often say these words during a yoga session, “Be open to the gifts that appear at your doorstep.”  I might have been saying this as I guided us in stretching even deeper into this powerful heart-opener, might have been uttering these very words as the Joy Center door creaked open in the middle of a yoga class.

Who was this person who creaked the door open, who tried to sneak in with a class already in full swing, and no one expected to join us?  With hands still clasped behind my body and heart beaming forward, I stood up from mat and walked over to find out.  And it was my dear friend standing there in the hallway, dressed in her work clothes and holding a buoyant bag bursting with a fireworks of colorful tissue.  “Will you open it?!?” she said, bursting with that same fireworks of colorful enthusiasm.  And what could I say?!?  There it was — a gift that had appeared at my doorstep and my hands clasped behind me and my heart feeling open.  So I invited my friend in, right in the middle of the session, and we paused and sat down on our mats and I pulled out the tissue and peered into the bag of colorful goodies, a scarf in the deep coral color of a tropical flower, a mask with turquoise feathers, a dish towel for Joy Center, and something else wrapped in tissue at the very bottom of this birthday extravaganza.  It was deep red and glass and it was the perfect gift, and my friend, somehow she knew that it was her job to deliver it to me, this cardinal ornament, to deliver it at just the right time, just as NPR began its morning music.

It was a cardinal that came to me two years ago on a snowy morning a few days before my January birthday.  I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast and I might have been thinking about my mother, my mother lying in a hospital bed in Maine, her hip shattered, her lungs filling with fluid, her spirit ready to fly away.  I might have been thinking of flying myself, how my husband and I were about to leave for Maine to say our good-byes.  I’m not sure what I was thinking or if I was thinking at all as I glanced out the window into the white world of an Upper Peninsula winter and gasped.  Out loud I gasped at the shock of red, at the shock of a cardinal perched in our maple.  Cardinals don’t make their way to our north woods feeder.  They are my mother’s bird, a mid-caostal Maine bird, and, for years, it was my mother who found delight in the family of cardinals that nested by her cottage at Fish House Cove.  I called my mother that morning and thanked her for my birthday gift and I continued to thank her for the gift of the cardinal as I sat by her side two weeks later, gazing at the flock of cardinals that flitted and flew and perched on the pines and berry bushes outside her nursing home window, and weeks and months later, after my mother’s passing, as cardinals continued to show up in unexpected and magical ways.

So my mother came to me on my birthday morning this past Wednesday; at her usual time, she showed up.  And I’m appreciative beyond measure that I continue to connect with my mother in ways that are immediate and present in the present.  It was my mother who rode the waves of labor and pushed me out into this material world, this world of humming thrumming heart-breaking-open matter, and for that I’m beyond appreciative.  I love this world of matter, this world of glistening snow on a January morning, this world pulsating with song and side-splitting laughter and ocean-tasting tears, and I don’t want to shortchange it on my birthday.  Hooray for my mother who appears as a sweet glass cardinal.  And hooray for the messenger who brought me the cardinal.  For my friend who stood there at my doorstep bearing gifts.  Hooray for the gift of friendship, for phone messages and e-mails and well-wishing cards.  Hooray for a writing group that celebrated later in the afternoon and for the taste of chocolate, of many layers and textures of chocolate in a homemade cake, dancing on my tongue.  Hooray for the ability to dance and laugh and write and ski and play and, when the day is done, and the January full moon is peeking though a flurry of soft snow, to pause and to breathe and to soak it all in.

Genean's Birthday Cake for Helen at Christine's House: photo by Christine Saari

Genean’s Birthday Cake for Helen at Christine’s House:
photo by Christine Saari

The Best Day Ever!!!

Heaven is where you’ll be when you are okay right where you are.  Sun Ra

It was a snowy blowy Sunday evening, the kind of evening that you want to hunker in with a bowl of steaming hot soup and watch a good movie.  And that’s what we did at Joy Center, the seven of us, several weeks ago now, at the last Dinner and a Movie Night.  I thought that no one would show up, that it would be Cam and I and our pot luck offering of dal stew, the two of us watching the documentary, “One Track Heart” about “chant master ” Krishna Das.   And the evening unfolding like that would have been fine — it’s an inspiring movie and Cam and I enjoy each other’s company — but what a delightful surprise when three cars plowed into the drifting driveway and five friends, carrying pots of homemade curry and fresh veggies and cranberry pie, hopped out and braced themselves against the howling wind and into the warmth of the Joy Center’s  kitchen.  As the wind and the snow swirled outside, we, nestled into the cozy warmth of our Joy Center cottage in the woods, feasted on salad and curries and mango-rice pudding and a cranberry pie that was sweet and sour and a perfect-tasting conclusion to a perfect-tasting meal.  And then, filled with the the spice-filled curries and the homemade deserts, we dimmed the lights and sprawled out on the futon-thick yoga mats, with pillows and bolsters, and settled in as the movie, this journey of Krishna Das’s transformation from Jewish boy raised in Long Island to devotee of Hindu guru, Maharaj-ji, to the most well-known of the western-world’s singers of devotional Indian Kirtan-style music.

And, several times during the evening, one of the women, who, along with her friend, had made for us all the most glorious of green curries,  exclaimed, “This is the best day ever!!!”.  She came prepared for a relaxing good-time evening, for a best-time-ever-evening, in her colorful flannel pajama bottoms, with her enthusiastic smile.  And it was contagious.  Each time that she proclaimed that it was the best day ever, her arms would fly up in the air and we’d catch a whiff of it, the fun emanating from something deep inside of her, the joy bubbling up into the rafters, and this bubbling joy mingled with the joy emanating from Krishna Das, playing his harmonium and chanting his joyful heartfelt songs, in person and present for us projected on the Joy Center wall.  “This is the best day ever!!!”  We were all saying it, as we paused the movie for heaping helpings of more of everything, saying it as the movie came to an end, saying it as we slipped one of Joy Center’s Krishna Das’ CD’s into the CD player and began to dance, saying it as  we washed the dishes and basked in an evening well-spent.

I thought of that mid-December evening a few days ago as I celebrated the new year with some dear friends.  We were sitting around a table, exchanging gifts and setting our  intentions for 2014 when one woman cried out, with the same genuine enthusiasm as my pajama-clad friend at Joy Center nearly a month ago, “I’m in a happy moment!”.    And at least to my ears, it sounded as though she was emphasizing the “in” — not that this was a happy moment or that she was having a happy moment.  She was saying that she was in a happy moment.   I could feel it, the way a moment nestles around us, the way that we can hunker into it with the same level of ease that we hunkered into Joy Center on that snowy-blowy Dinner and a Movie Night.  The moments are ours to enjoy in that intimate all-embracing way and it’s up to us to decide whether we see them as happy or not.  Sitting in a circle with beloved friends who I have known for nearly twenty years, opening gifts and looking forward into 2014, I, too, felt the happiness of the moment, the moment that I found myself in.  And another friend who was a part of that circle commented that it is a string of these moments that make up a lifetime.

And so here we are, welcoming in a new year, a necklace of moments strung together into days, strung together into  years, into lifetimes.   I smile when I think back to our rollicking heart-opening evening at Joy Center.  I feel it in the present moment and it makes me happy.  And I  feel my heart open when I reflect on the way my friend, with such sincerity last Friday, proclaimed herself in a happy moment, and this moment, a moment after the last happy moment,  it feels happy, too.  And in this next moment, when I gaze out the window by my desk to a sky that is a clear blue at midmorning and think ahead to an afternoon ski in temperatures that are beginning to warm up, I feel happy.  And so it goes.  One moment after another.  And later in the afternoon, I plan to play with my toddler grandson who calls me “Amma” and is silly beyond silly and wise beyond wise and tonight I plan to meander over to Joy Center and create and bind my own book under the guidance of my dear friends, Amber and Raja, at a Book Art Evening, and somewhere along the way, at sometime today, perhaps while being silly with Viren or while skate-skiing through these frozen woods or while choosing the paper to cover my hardbound homemade book, I’ll be like my pajama-clad friend, and raise my arms and cry out to the world, cry out to myself, “This is the best day ever!”

Viren in a happy moment:  January 2014

Viren in a happy moment: January 2014

Tag Cloud