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Wise in This Lifetime

Last week I made a lovely connection with a young woman by surprise. We were participating in an event where the leader requested my very least favorite group exercise: gazing in the eyes of a stranger.

I realized it would be far easier to drop my opinion and see what happened than to keep my story.  As it turned out …(drum roll)…there was nothing to hate about it. In fact, it was quite sweet. Quiet. Present. Love. This was the groupie thingee that  I’d been hating on for the last…oh…thirty years?

Fascinating.

After five minutes or so, we talked.

“You have had many lifetimes as a wise woman,” she offered, adding that she had a gift for seeing past lives.

I’m an agnostic on the subject of past lives, but I was honored by the compliment.

“Right now I’m just working on this one,” I responded with more than a touch of irony.

She seemed to want to be helpful. “You should develop the confidence to go for it. Let people see your wisdom.”

I noticed that being willing and confident to share wisdom is no longer a problem for me. I’m comfortable now in that identity, as long as I’m not pretending to know more than I do or to “step up” to an image of being a Wise Woman.

Once I take on that identity, I’m in trouble. I have to pretend wisdom when sometimes I’m not feeling it so much.

On the other hand, I sometimes experience deep gratitude…and grounding, by the wisdom of my female ancestors, those wise women who came before, from my personal family tree as well as the human tree of life.

All of us come from many lives of Wise Women. No problem there. Just such a rich pool of deep connection with all that was, all that is.

And then, there’s this life.  Where we (or I) are sometimes “off,” grouchy or irritable. Where I still sometimes fight with the reality right in front of me.

In the end, what’s worth remembering is that I AM still working on it. It this lifetime. And I’m glad.

What wisdom of the ancestors inspires you today? How do you find your way back to your Wise Person, in this life? Where are you challenged to be as wise as you know how to be? Turn it around: Where are you challenged to not be wise when you think you should be? 

Image PD-1923

Slow-Mo Life in Mid-Mo

Last week I made a cross-country plane trek to visit my family in mid-Missouri. It’s nearly impossible for me to make the trip without leaping into high gear. From the details of preparation beforehand to shuffling bags from car to flight to shuttle, by the time I arrive at my mother’s  “gracious adult retirement center,” I leave skid marks.

And then I’m there. With my mother and about a hundred other folks in their eighties and nineties. At first it feels like I’m moving underwater, or I’ve become a character in a slow motion movie. My mind leaps and bucks at being so tethered. It seeks a job.

It turns out the major league baseball playoffs were just the thing: My hometown is right smack dab in between St. Louis, home of the Cardinals, and Kansas City, home of the Royals. Both had made it to the very last round. Go Cardinals! I heard as I arrived to a “beer,” peanuts and baseball hats party.

Wait. Not looking so good for the Cardinals. Now Go Royals! The slow pace of baseball was perfect for me and my new peer group.

Once I began to adjust, I kinda liked the slow-mo way of being. A lot. Yes, there was a long line for the elevator, and we had to take it in batches, since the walkers took up a fair amount of space. And then there was the confusion when I assumed that the maroon walker was my mother’s. (This was before I noticed the other twenty or so like it. How was I to know that one with the curly fuscia ribbon wasn’t hers?)

But. Once my mind had a good dose of Slow Mo, things just got better and better.

On our Sunday drive, we ended up at a nature sanctuary near the river.  The trees on the bluff were in full regalia. That’s what I thought we’d taken our Sunday drive to see. But then, in the spirit of Slow Mo, we stopped the car. Rolled down the window.  Our nostalgic chatter died away. In its place, the caws and shrieks and lilting of hundreds of birds. Egrets on the right. Dozens of water birds on the swamp. A baby eagle swooped toward some geese. We moved the car a mile. Stopped again. Quiet. Birdsounds. Again and again. For two or three hours, we watched birds ride the dusk into the wetlands. As the skies turned purple and mauve, about a thousand red-wing blackbirds swooped over the car to their evening gathering spot.

“This is like I hope heaven is,” my mother said.

“I never did this when I could drive,” she added. “I usually just went to the mall.”

I wanted to slow the motion down even further, to stop the clock, to stay there in the heaven of the true Heartland with my beloved mother.

But I had to pick something up at the mall for my flight back the next day.

The funny thing is, part of me didn’t leave. Any time I want, there it is, that Slow Mo life. And once again it’s all about the remembering.

Check your mind’s file for slow-mo moments that have taken you to your core of peace. Create a mental slide show of those images. Which ones reliably take you back to that remembering? Update the file and keep it handy.

The Last Blast of Summer (or of Anything)

It’s October. Last week I built fires in the woodstove to take the nip out of the early mornings. And then the last few days, here it is. Indian Summer. Temperatures in the eighties, hawks soaring above in the balmy breeze. The sun offers its light on a slant, making it feel even more stunning and precious.

And how very precious it is, this Last Blast of Summer. Called by different names in as many cultures, humans have long celebrated this brief but intense return of the warmth of the growing season. For me this means incorporating the season’s basil in some ratatouille and savoring the last tomatoes as I remember Greece in a salad. These are the simplest ways to honor the season.

I’m also making use of the nurturing strength and the warmth that is here, now. At this time of life, I have daily proof that the golden light will not stay. I experience the creaking of my own body and watch my friends transformed by life-threatening illness. And what I see is that there’s something about this rare light of autumn that makes being alive even more precious.

This has given me the inspiration to let some of that light shine on the shadows (and the shallows) of my own heart. I’ve asked sources seen and unseen to show me those places I’d usually like to ignore, to deny, or to overlook. An unkind thought, a crappy little island of my life where I still haven’t quite made peace. The things that I look past in the busy-ness of summer so that I can live in the light of the abundance that that season brings.

Who knows? This may be the Last Blast of those old, self-defeating patterns I could really live better without. The crabbiness and lack of clarity with my spouse. The sneaky habit of eating what my mind thinks it needs rather than listening to my body.

From deep curiosity and presence, it’s good to truly see each of those things. Because if they’re on their way out, I sure wouldn’t want to miss that. Or the peace that follows.

Find a moment or two this week to notice the unique light or the movement of the clouds. Is there a way to experience that “en-light-enment” in your life? To allow that moment of presence to show what would like to leave. What would you like to embrace as if it’s a dear friend who’s about to depart? An experiment. What do you notice?

Image by Muramasa/CC-BY-SA-3.0

A Mind-Clearing Habit

Pond rippleI have a habit of throat clearing. It seems there’s often a froggy sensation that simply must be cleared. Until the other day, I’d never thought of the possibility of clearing other parts of the body…or the psyche, at least in any kind of routine way.

An idea came up last week when we co-hosted a couple of amazing musicians. Their names are Gina Sala and Daniel Paul. Both are highly respected for kirtan, a kind of meditative music most people associate with yoga classes. Kirtan is sometimes described as “yoga for the voice.”

It’s a form of chanting that becomes a meditation for the heart through song. I’ve noticed that it’s also very useful for the mind. According to many ancient traditions, chanting the names of God brings us closer to him/her/the mystery. I’m all for that, in theory. But in reality, sometimes my mind balks a bit.

Two or three members of my family play and sing kirtan at events and festivals. So I’m around it a lot. And I’ve come to appreciate the meditative repetition of the songs. Except when my thinking gets in the way. When my mind is convinced it has people to see, things to do besides settling into the practice. Some days that’s 90% of the time. But meditation has taught me that there’s always hope for people like me. For the thinkers.

All that mind chatter we do can get very tiring. So Gina shared a perfect mantra for the head. Here’s how it goes:

Pat your head gently, sweetly thanking it for all it gives.

Next (repeat while bringing the hand over the face from the top of the head): “Oh sweet mind, I love you.”

When I do this, it seems like my thinking mind just loves to be recognized. This is part of the magic.

But, even better, by repeating this phrase to my head, I remind myself that I’m not my mind.

It’s a little wake-up tap.

A blessing. And not a bad habit, either.

The habit of remembering.

What habits do you have for remembering what’s important to you or who you really are? Prayer, rosary or mala beads, breath, writing, singing. Anything can become a way of remembering what’s deeply True for you. Not your mind. You. The sweet essential being that is You.

A Celtic Beginning

November 1st. The Halloween ghosts and goblins have gone home to divvy up their treats and  harvest festivals are upon us. Today (which actually began last night at dusk) is  Sawhain, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The word “bonfire” comes from the fires that were lit everywhere for safety from wandering spirits. The bones that were left after the New Year’s feasting were cast on the fire to burn.

I love all the pieces of ancient folklore I picked up in the twenty years I taught mythology. Every year at this time I celebrate coming indoors. In the shelter and protection from the rain and cold, I am grateful.

The first month of the new year was called Samonios, meaning “seed fall,” a reminder that from the seeds of darkness, new life will spring. Today I wonder what seeds are being nurtured within me.  It’s too soon to tell but I notice the mystery lives in that not knowing.

It’s in that spirit that I’m writing my first official Oasis blog. So instead of a post-sugar hangover this year, or in spite of it, I light a morning candle wondering and waiting, committing to the patience and curious to see what will come of this new beginning.

The Big Zero and My Aging Brain

What’s the big deal about approaching another decade?  Six-Oh. Six-Oh. Six-Oh. A few months away now, but increasingly the numbers echo in my brain.  Why does the simple zero at the end of a number give it so much power, especially when it’s applied to age? In fifth grade, I learned that a zero was a nothing, just a place holder. It can’t be multiplied or divided and it doesn’t count when you add or subtract.

But put it at the beginning of a new decade, like what was long ago ‘the big four-o” or more recently “the big five-o,” and it rises to a whole new level of significance. Greeting cards focus on these marker years. Their already lame jokes get less funny the higher you can count and the closer you personally come to the next big O. Read More>>

Who Would We Be Without Our Stories? (or How I Found Inquiry)

I love stories. I was an English teacher for twenty-five years; I taught mythology, where my first lecture always defined human as meaning-making animals. How did they make meaning? Through the stories they told each other about themselves and their world. Throughout my career I encouraged teens to read stories to each other, to themselves and to younger children. We told our own stories and then wrote them down and dived into the oral tradition by telling myths as they were meant to be told, in a circle with the lights off.  I created classes where kids could share from their deepest being the stories that they had lived, crying together and then creating new, healing stories.

Up close and personal, my own drama-filled story continued to teach me about something deep, archetypal, powerful.  I told my stories again and again wrote them down, and groped my way into meaning in the process. The stories I created about my stories had deeply changed my own life. And I knew the human bond of love that forms when people share their stories together.

So what attracted me to a process that asked the question, on bumper stickers yet, Who Would You be Without Your Story? I don’t know, except that when I first heard the question a gong rang deep inside.  Who would I be without my story?  The question was a silent opening beckoning me inside a new relationship with inner life. Read More>>

Navigating the Twilight Zone of Caring

It’s 4 A.M. The phone rings.  Your mind jumps into hyperspeed. Do you know where your child is? Your ailing parent? Your spouse or best friend?  Although you get to the phone before the answering machine picks up at ring five, the trip seems like slow-mo underwater ballet. You receive the dreaded news. This is bad. Real bad. Maybe you go to the room at the hospital with the puffy couches before they tell you how bad. But at some point soon it’s clear that someone will need to be fully available to manage the emergency for the foreseeable future.

You have just entered the Twilight Zone of Caring (TZC) that most of us will visit in our lives more often than we like to believe. Your world suddenly has nothing in common with the mild-mannered life you had been navigating only the day before.  All you know is that, for a time, you will need your best wits about you, perhaps served up with a little divine intervention, to be able to do truly help someone you love.

I’ve been to this netherworld more than once in my life. In fact, I’ve found myself there way more than you want to know. And in the process I’ve discovered amazing pools of reserves, a deep and calm wisdom, and a lot of good news in the middle of crises. The last time I made the trip was just this year, when my single twenty-something son was badly burned and lost everything in an apartment fire. When I first talked to the doctor at the Burn Center, he said we were about to begin a marathon. A marathon? I thought. Don’t people usually train for those? Read More>>