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Archive for October, 2015

Homage to the Body

If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.  Walt Whitman

And your very flesh shall be a great poem.  Walt Whitman

The challenge is not be perfect.  It is to be whole.  Jane Fonda

I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on the water.  Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

My father created a playpen, a glorious gigantic playpen that wrapped around the white pines and spruce trees and had a floor of pine needles and tree roots and was as big as the world to us, the two younger siblings.  My little brother was a baby the summer my parents built the cottage at Fish House Cove and I was three-and-a-half and it made sense to find a way to keep us from toddling down to the beach and into the sea that swept its shore.  But, we never felt penned in in our pen of pine needles and dirt.  Quite the opposite.  The beach rose up to meet us in our handmade sandbox.  And the ocean — we could fly over its horizon like the grandest of flying ships on our sturdy swing that hung from one of the trees.  And I knew that the sparkle on that blue summer sea and the silver shimmer of light on the needles of the pine and the rich smell of earth beneath our feet was sacred, that God lived in the trees and in the sea and in the firmly-packed rooted soil.  I knew it then, as a little girl, even before I had the words for it, and I knew, too, that I also was alive with God.  How could I not be filled with something so wonderful when I could feel it, the thrum of it, as I clutched hold of the thick rope and pushed off in a mighty thrust and pumped my little girl legs in and out and breathed in the smell of the sea and swung and swung and swung?  Yes, I knew it, at age three, knew it before I knew I knew it, that my body shimmered with that sea-sparkle too, that my body, like the sea and the trees and the earth and the sky, was also a sacred temple for the divine.

And that little girl, the one who swung out over the horizon and climbed up to the crook in the sprawling pine and dug holes in the earth all the way to China, has stayed with me over the years, has reminded me that this body, my body, is humming,  drumming, thrumming with sea-sparkling glory glory hallelujah God-giving life.  And it is when I embrace her, this part of me, this tangled-haired pre-schooler with the knobby knees and the bountiful spirit, that I most remember that indeed this is a divine temple I’m inhabiting.  I feel it, the holiness of body, when i’m writing and the words are flowing and the energy behind the words is pushing them forward through this body home of mine and out onto the page.  I feel it when I stretch, a long full-bodied stretch in yoga, and then pause and allow the flood of energy to soak in deeper.  I feel it when I push off in great skating strides and ski on freshly-groomed trails through crisp cold winter woods.  I feel it when I float on my back in the ocean and the salt holds me up and the sky is wide and blue and the summer-warm day is stretched out before me.  I feel it when I hike up a dusty trail out west and the world smells of sage and sun, and those magnificent mountains beckon me toward them. I feel it when I snuggle close with a child and smell the goodness and a torrent of love pours through me.  I feel it often, and when I do, when I relax into it and allow the floodgates to open and the divine to enter, I see it, the way I saw it when I was a little girl, that the whole world, this world of matter, of bone and flesh and earth and sky, this whole world is lit up with the sacred and i am a part of its whirling dance.  It is a good feeling to remember that I am a part of it all.

I can’t say I’m always there, in the good feeling.  Sometimes, I’m uptight or worried and the floodgate of divine energy doesn’t stand a chance of flowing through a barrier like that.  Sometimes, I’m on overdrive and forget my body is a temple at all.  And sometimes, I turn in the opposite direction, become compulsive about keeping this body temple of mine neat and tidy and perfect.  And what temple can thrive when it is expected to be neat and tidy and perfect?  And what does that even mean?  I skinned my knees in our gigantic playpen by the sea.  And the blackberry bushes that slithered their way through the playpen fence scratched my legs and pine pitch stuck to my hands and my face was often dirty and I didn’t care. The little girl in me still doesn’t care.  The little girl in me welcomes the wild and the unwieldily, the scratches and the bruises.  The little girl in me is not interested in perfection.  She reminds me that we are all whole and holy, that our bodies are perfectly imperfectly perfect vessels just as they are.  She reminds me, too, of a poem I read many years ago, a poem by a poet from the Northwest, David Wagonner, a poem about another American poet, Walt Whitman.  She reminds me that I loved this poem, “Walt Whitman Bathing”, this snapshot view of Whitman, not the young Walt Whitman exalting the world around him and within him in his collection, Leaves of Grass, but instead a Walt Whitman whose body has suffered a stroke and is old and withered and moves more slowly as he finds his way to the river to bathe.

And it’s not the poignancy of an old man, in an old man’s body, shuffling down to the river on stroke-inflicted legs that touched me most as I read this poem all those years ago — my little girl reminds me of that now.  It was the way that he stripped down to nakedness, dipped his aging body into the river, felt the life force of water flowing against him and the God energy flowing through him.  It was the way that he loved the river and the sunlight and his body with the same attention and vigor that he did in his youth.  It was the way that he pulled himself out of the stream and dried himself off with a holy reverence, the way that he danced in the sunlight on those shuffling legs — that is what I loved in Wagoner’s poem.  Walt Whitman embraced a body that was new in the moment, a body that he was getting to know again, one that could dance on shuffling feet.  I thank the little girl in me for the reminder of this poem that I love.  And I thank her for her constant presence, thank her for the way she loves this body home that is a temple, that is new in every moment, and for the way she lets loose in a dance whenever I allow it.

The Slow Time

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.  — Proverb

What is lost in our fast-paced society is depth.  What is lost is not only the chance to reflect on our stories, but even the thought that we should want to reflect on them.  In turn, what is lost is wisdom.  Earnie Carson

A few days earlier, my husband Cam and I had spent New Year’s Eve jammed among the crowds, cheering with what seemed like the whole world as that iconic Parisian tower lit up like a sparkler at midnight.  And now, here we were on the fast train — the TGV from Paris to Nice, headed south to the sun and the sea and the romance of the La Cote d’ Azur.  It felt good to be on the fast train.  It felt good to charge ahead with a momentum that would carry us forward to our destination in a mere matter of hours.  And, as we peered out the window, we glimpsed the French countryside: the farmlands, the hills, a river, a village with a stone church . . . .  It was the fast-track, for sure, and yet the view was still fine and we were satisfied.  And then, in the distance, there they were, the Alps.  And as we whizzed by them, we could almost feel ourselves reaching out of that fast train’s sleek picture window and grabbing a hold of those snow-capped peaks.  We could almost feel ourselves jumping off and savoring a slow moment.  You see, we knew the Alps; we knew them intimately.

Just six months earlier, we had walked miles through those mountain valleys and up the winding roads to summits.  It was in Barcelona that we had rented the compact-style Euro motorhome, then traced the coast of Spain and France on our way to the mountain stages of Le Tour de France.  And it was on a mountainside on the Col d’ Galibier where the narrow road widened slightly that we parked our home-on-wheels for more than three days, and our feet became our transportation.  When you slow down to foot speed, your little patch of world expands and you become friends, not only with your neighbors in their compact-style Euro motorhomes, but also with the cows and their tinkling bells who live in the valley below and with the restaurant where you eat as one big family at a common table.  You become intimate with the pavement below your feet as you climb up up up the mountain pass to the most gorgeous view you’ve ever seen of snowy jagged peaks that reach into the heavens.  And you become intimate, too, with the short-cut down, on a path where your feet carefully navigate the loose rocks and step nimbly over logs and across river beds, where your mind presses into memory those purple wildflowers growing along side the trail,  and your breath becomes a song floating through this fresh clear mountain air.  Yes, there is something delicious in the slowing down.

And that is what I have been telling myself this autumn, that there is something delicious in the slowing down.  I had been riding life’s fast train for some time, squeezing trips to visit family and friends on the east coast and on the west coast into a packed schedule at home where a creativity center under my tutelage was rollicking with activity most days a week.  For a long time, I enjoyed the view from the fast train’s window; it was colorful and exciting and my energy felt in sync with its speed.  Until it didn’t anymore.  And I’m not exactly sure when the shift happened, when something within me wanted a pause, when the train ride began to feel clunky and out of whack.  So this autumn, when a medical challenge brought the train that was already feeling clunky to a halt, it offered me the opportunity to step right off the the train’s fast track and take a deep breath.  And you know what?  I have discovered that a deep breath is a song for body and spirit not only in the French Alps, but also at home in your very own room.  And I have unwrapped the gifts that only can come when you stop the train all together.  There is the gift of a cat, a fluffy white not-so-young-cat-anymore, who is more than willing willing to cuddle if you just take the time.  And there is a husband who you have always loved but you now appreciate beyond measure.  And there are the trees, the shocking red-leafed maple beside the gleaming white-barked birch in your own backyard.  And there are the slow walks, as your back heals, step after grateful step, on trails through these autumnal woods where the colors are more brilliant than you remember from the fast train’s window.  And there is your own mind and your own spirit and your own body’s wisdom, and, it is in the slow, the savory that this wisdom arises.  Yes, it is good sometimes, to step off the track and just be.

Cam and I didn’t stay stopped on our little patch of mountain road in the magnificent Alps forever.  On Day Four, we packed up, set off again in our compact-style Euro motorhome on our Adventure de Le Tour.  There were salt marshes along the coast and lavender fields inland.  There was a castle and a narrow one-and-a-half-lane road with no guard rail and drop-off edges that a motorhome, even a compact one, had no business exploring. There were sunflowers and sunflower-sunsets.  And it felt good to be moving again, to be picking up speed, to be taking in new sights.  And it is like that after this autumnal pause as well.  I feel myself growing antsy, wanting to move again, hungry for something new.  And that’s the beauty of stepping off a train.  You are free to choose what to do next.  Maybe you don’t want to get back on the fast train, the one that felt so right to you for such a long time.  Maybe it is a different train that is appealing to you, moving in a new direction.  And who says it has to be train that you choose as your metaphoric vehicle?  Maybe you’re remembering just how fun it is to travel in one of those compact-style Euro motorhomes.  The choice is yours!!!

Garden Quan Yin: My own front yard, October 2015

Garden Quan Yin: My own front yard, October 2015

My own front yard: October 2015t

My own front yard: October 2015t

My own back yard: October 2015

My own back yard: October 2015

My own two feet: October 2015

My own two feet: October 2015

Stories for the Journey

If you become aware that you are the creator of your story, you can choose to create a masterpiece.  Using your faith, your will, and your intent, you can change your story at any time.  Don Miguel Ruiz

We are the storytelling animal.  Salman Rushdie

I carry stories like stones in my pocket, touchstones that comfort me, that provide inspiration, insight, and the energy to carry me forward.  I love the way that I can lift a story out of my pocket, rub it between thumb and forefinger and discover some new nuance in it, something relevant for the moment.  I recently was reminded of three stories, stories I had shared with others that came tumbling back in my direction.  And these three, I quickly gathered up in my arms and now hold dear again as reminders of gifts to bring with me as I journey forward:

The Gift of Magic:

It was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, that first introduced me to the concept of the God Box, a place to tuck away images and words that reflect your heart’s desire.  It was in the mid-nineties, a decade before I more clearly understood the operatings of a vibrational universe, how everything in this wondrous world is pulsating, thrumming, vibrating at a certain speed — everything! — and only vibrational matches, like to like, are attracted to each other.  Back then, I sort of got it; that is, I would place something in the God Box and let go and and go on with my living, and then be astounded at the way it would manifest in seemingly magical ways before my eyes.  For example, I cut an image out of a catalogue of two dolphins intertwined and spiraling upward and surrounded by a beautiful aura of soft colors.  And I pasted it on an index card and wrote a wish on the back– that Cam and I would find ways to strengthen our relationship as our kids entered their high school years.  And then I forgot about it, until my next trip to visit my mother in Maine.  After our initial hellos and our catch-up time, she had instructions for me.  “I bought you something,” she said. “Go look on the bed!”  And on the bed was a cardboard tube and in the tube, there it was!  The exact poster image that I had cut out of the catalogue.  You have to understand; my mother is not a poster type of gal. “It just called to me,” she said.  “I thought it was perfect for you!”  These things happened all the time for me. They still do.  And the magic seems to be in the surprising and creative ways that the Universe responds to your outpouring of desire.

So this is the story that was gifted back to me a few weeks ago.  It was in that same era of the God Box, and it takes place at a weekend writing workshop at Fortune Lake Retreat Center that I was co-leading with a friend.  It was the first night.  We had gathered for introductions, eaten our dinner, completed the first writing exercises, and now we were settling into our bunks for some writing/reading time and sleep.  One of the participants, a woman who I met for the first time that evening and now has become my dear friend and writing buddy and the reminder of this story, hauled out a gadget, a traveling reading light like i had never seen.  “Wow!” I said with gusto as I watched her clip this thing onto her bunk.  “That is really cool!  I sure wish that I had one of them too!”  And then, for some reason, I reached behind the mattress and felt something wedged next to the wall.  And, it was literally within the blink of an eye — the blink of an eye!!! — that I. too, held a traveling reading light in my hand.  It’s powerful, this Law of Attraction, this way that we put some desire out there and the Universe dances back with a response. So, as I journey forward, I’m going to remember this powerful law, and this reading light story, and I’m going to be conscious of my desires and I’m going to state them in clear fashion.  And I know where I’m going to put them.  I’m going to put them into my God Box, and I’m going to allow the magic to happen.

The Gift of Authenticity:

It seems to happen when I’m nervous, out of my element, am wanting to make a good impression, when I’m caring about what people think.  I get obsessed with clothes.  I start ordering from catalogues. and talking to friends, asking for opinions.  What does a gal wear to a wedding or a funeral or a professional event that isn’t taking place at her own creativity center?  What does a gal wear when she really wants to look like she has her act together?  Back in the early nineties, our poetry graduate class traveled downstate to a conference to present for the first time.  Our professor helped us to weave our papers into this beautiful tapestry with a common theme, we rehearsed with gusto, and i bought myself a two hundred-and-fifty dollar suit. That was a lot of money for a suit back then, especially for a gal who isn’t really a suit person!  And off we went in the school’s van on a Friday afternoon, revved up for this presentation that would take place the next morning.  Saturday morning.  We didn’t know then that Saturday morning wasn’t ideal, that it was, in fact, far less than ideal, the very end of the conference, that our audience would consist of a grand total of two casually-dressed professors and that no one, no one at all would give a rip what i was wearing.

So, a few years ago, I found myself in one of those spots where i was obsessing about what to wear again.  A good friend recently reminded me of this story.  This time it wasn’t a conference I was attending, but it was on a college campus, and it felt even more important to me than the event I had participated in in the early nineties.   It was at Amherst College in Massachusetts, the opening of an art exhibit and lecture focusing on the life work of a premier etcher from the early twentieth century, and the artist, Ernest Haskell, was my grandfather.  I hadn’t known this grandfather who died in 1925 in a car accident, and this afternoon of honoring him was an opportunity for me to get more intimately acquainted.  I was flying east from Michigan and my cousin was taking the train from New York and our plan was to meet at the gallery and spend the afternoon together.  I was nervous and excited and i wanted to be at my best, present for my grandfather and present for my cousin and present for myself as i breathed in the stories about him and his art and his life that I had known in mere snippets.  What does a gal wear to such a thing?  “Something artsy,” friends would say.  “Black and sophisticated,” others would pipe up.  I packed my bag filled with options: flowing tops, leggings, scarves.  Nothing seemed perfect; nothing seemed sophisticated or art exhibit-y enough.

And then I dressed for the plane ride, in my adorable mauve tunic top with the lace hem and the dark jean-colored leggings and the olive sweatshirt that has an amazing ruffle of a hood and the cutest of lines, and the scarf with the flowers that ties it all together and my cute winter play boots with the buttons, in the outfit that i wore ALL THE TIME that winter, the outfit that took me from the yoga studio to the ski trail to the airport, which is exactly what it did that day — and then onto the plane where the flight attendant gave me the two-thumbs up for this adorable ensemble, and to the Detroit Airport where there were more compliments, to my motel room in New Hampshire and to the next day and to the car ride to Amherst.  I kept wearing my comfortable “Helen” outfit, this outfit that i loved, and figured that I would change in Amherst before the exhibit. After all, I had a suitcase filled with options.  I arrived in the town early, figured that I didn’t need to take off my “tried and true” right away, found Emily Dickinson’s home, explored the campus, then stopped at a boutique.  Perhaps, there would be something even more perfect than what i had packed in my suitcase.  Perhaps I would find the holy grail.  But lo and behold, all the owner could focus on was my sweatshirt and my old buttoned winter boots.

And then it was time to meet my cousin, time to gather for this event, time to honor my grandfather, time to soak it all in.  And there was no time to change.  And i didn’t care.  My cousin and i held hands and we listened to this beautiful tribute lecture and we met the young woman who had curated and researched and done such a beautiful job at bringing our grandfather and his art to life and we walked the campus together, filled to the brim, and i found my room for the night and i fell into bed, too tired, too filled to take off my clothes.  And the next day, I hauled my suitcase to the car, a suitcase i had barely opened, still wearing the outfit that I loved.  It certainly wasn’t clean at this point, and i don’t think I’d showered since I left home, and yet, the compliments kept flying, from TSA to flight attendant to guy on the ski trail where I stopped for a quick lap on the way home.

So, is this just about clothes?  Or is this about the skin beneath the clothes?  About being comfortable in my own skin?  What a huge one for me!  To let go of giving a rip what others think and wearing what feels good to body and spirit, to let go of giving a rip what others think and letting my body be as it is today, what it feels like today.  To let go of image and just plain BE.  Enough.  Magnificent.  Perfectly imperfectly perfect.  I’m taking this story to heart as I journey forward, remembering how good it felt to just be me, as I am, in the NOW.

The Gift of Fun:

I was raised by a father whose middle name should have been ‘fun’.  And for this upbringing, I am deeply grateful.  He knew how to squeeze fun out of the most mundane moments, how to make the ordinary into an adventure.  From boat rides, to the hanging of art exhibits, to the hauling of brush from the woods to the beach, fun was his set point.  And it comes easily to me too.  Especially when the sailing is smooth and there is an even keel and the wind is coming from the perfect direction to fill the sail.  But what about during the wild-wind times, the bumpy and turbulent times, when things are shaken up and the ride isn’t so smooth?

Here is a story gifted back to me by a friend who i met during one of those wild-wind times — a template for moving forward.  It was indeed a stormy night, the snow flying sideways and the wind howling like a wolf, a no-picnic-in-the-park time as the six or seven of us ducked onto the plane in Detroit, the old propeller type of plane that we used to take up to the Upper Peninsula before the jets moved in.  The flight attendant instructed us to sit in the back, all of us, for weight purposes, and warned us that this was going to be a ride filled with bumps.  i was jittery.  I was scared.  And yet, there was something else.  Perhaps it was this nervous energy that brought out a giggle.  Perhaps there was something about being sent to the back of the plane, the back of the bus, that brought out a junior high humor, not just in me, but in all of us.  It is easy to be “bad” when you’re in seat Number Twelve.  It is easy to start heckling and talking too loud when you’re clumped in the back.  And the flight attendant, she joined in.  She loved our junior high vibe.  She played along.  She became the teacher on a field trip who can’t quite control her class.  And as we bumped and as we swayed and as we tipped this way and that, and we did a lot of tipping this way and that, we laughed and we were raucous and and we demanded more snacks and we had a blast.  And when we landed, we cheered a hearty cheer and were glad to be safely on the ground, and we left that plane more energized, more full of ourselves, more in touch with a spark of junior high fun that set our spirits flying.  So that’s what i’m taking with me as i make my way forward, that spark of junior high fun that is just waiting to emerge, even in — maybe especially in —  the turbulent times.

What gifts I carry in my pocket!  Magic.  Authenticity.  Fun.  And now I share them with you, so you too can carry them forward on your journey.  Here’s to the adventure!

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