Posts Categorized: Noticing

Fish, Fowl, and this Waiting Time

I’m not usually a political junkie, but this year seems more like a morality play than an election, and I’ve been hooked, finding my equanimity tossed around by the story line as well as the political implications. It’s a biting-your-nails kind of time for me and for so many others in the world.

Action usually helps, so the first thing I thought to do was to vote. So I did. And mailed it in. It’s something we do here in Oregon without polling sites, voting booths and lines. But I’m still not done with this democratic ritual we call an election. First, there’s more to do. And second, a guilty admission: I’m a little too hooked on the dopamine of the Barnum & Bailey sideshow that has characterized this year’s election.

There’s something familiar here, I think. I’ve always found the stories of ancient and universal human experience helpful in such times as these. So I wasn’t surprised when a couple of words pop through the fog: liminal time. These are the words I’ve often used to describe the state of being neither fish nor fowl, having left the old life behind but not yet having arrived at the new one. In anthropology it describes “a threshold during the middle stage of a ritual when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.” Neither fish nor fowl.

So I gave my Inner Researcher a job, and she turned up a gem. “Liminal time” is usually characterized by a quality of ambiguity or disorientation. During these times “continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.” Of course! We’re all in liminal time!

My researcher went on: “There’s a lack of the usual order of life during this in-between time. However, with a more fluid situation, new institutions and customs are able to emerge.”

Now I’m back to a turf I know for real. I’ve seen so many times how important a time of not-knowing seems to be for personal transformation. And so here we are as a culture, not knowing the future for a couple more weeks. Preparing for something new to emerge. I have seen this process again and again. Enough that I trust it completely. Now I know the territory.

When I work with clients, I remind them that this state of waiting can seem excruciatingly long. But again and again my peeps have found that the results are worth the waiting and the not-knowing.

This seems to be always the case. Patience and trust are not necessarily my strongest character traits, but I know I can do this.

We can all do this. Together. Not fish. Not Fowl. But some seaworthy and airborne combination of patience and determination worthy of what is to come.

From the Sweet Spot

When I was a preteen, I loved visiting all four of my grandparents the rural town of Sweet Springs, MO.  An active farming community, there was room enough to test my wings and my understanding of how a simpler world worked. My favorite place was a teenage hang-out called the Sweet Shop, a genuine fifties-style jitterbug place, still alive in the early sixties. Yesterday I drove through the town, and all the edifices are crumbling around the ghosts of my past, but the memories are still alive. During these “wonder” years I had enough time to create memories and enough brain space to give them permanent residency.

I also celebrated my fiftieth high school reunion last weekend at my real home town of Columbia. A large group of 200 or more showed up. We had a few memories in common, but mostly, we were all the same age, even though a neutral observer who was forced to guess might assume a twenty year range. Words from Ann Patchett’s book Commonwealth cycled through my mind: He was as old as the rest of them, but age arrived at different rates of speed, in different ways.

My friend Vicki shared her Sweet Spot theory, wise and worth sharing here. “There are three basic components of life: time, money, and health. When you’re young, you have lots of time and health but no money. During adulthood, as you create your life, there’s money (assuming you find a good job/career) and you’re healthy, but you have no time. Then, if you’ve planned ahead and have good fortune, there are some years where you have time, money and health. This is the sweet spot. (These are the years of early “retirement.”)

I’m fortunate enough to be able to see the truth in her words. And I want to be aware enough to remember the elusive sweetness of this moment in time, in my life. Most of my disturbing thoughts and memories have been put to rest. I’ve discovered, as Patchett says, “There’s a pleasure in a long life, the way some things work themselves out.”

And what is left can only be described as sweet.

Image by Chinese World Hotel, Beijing, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0

That Tall Distance Between Something and Nothing

Here on the planet floor, all the particular somethings of an autumn morning beckon me to stay here, now:
chipmunk balancing on snowberry bush, fawn tiptoeing through the green ferns, even a prayer of a very specific bird in flight.
Mind catalogues the beauty, the metaphors.

And how high would I need to rise to find the answer to the riddle of grave importance:
Where does something stop and nothing begin?
Above the clouds, I think.
Above the thoughts of species or meaning, I think.
Or don’t think.
Because now that I’m at this rarefied altitude maybe thought will fall away. So what of it?
Without thought, in this tall distance, I approach the intersection of Something and Nothing.

Here, without context, is the true Final Frontier.
I move in the spaciousness of Nothing.
Of not knowing, not imagining a future or a memory of past.
I float lightly in the freedom of space. Not just above but below, around this moment and leading to the farthest stars.

This is the Tall Distance I’m not thinking about now.
Very high. Fat. Open horizon.
Where nothing is no longer ignored but embraced.
In an opening this large
Anything is born of absolute and sacred freedom.

Remedy for Lost Souls (Labor Day, 2016)

What if you couldn’t lose your soul?
What if your soul just sometimes lost you?
What if it just couldn’t compete
With the list of what must be done,
Couldn’t be heard
Over the light speed whizzing of freeways,
The invisible waves of information,
Of entertainment and stimulation
Couldn’t find you, caught as you were
In the death squeeze of entrainment.
What if it’s looking for you right now,
Your soul that is. How would it catch your attention?
Could be a TV commercial or Google Ad would work.
It would have to catch you in the right place, at the right time.

How about making it easier on your poor soul?
Just. Stop.
Spend a day, an afternoon, an hour under  a tree. Any tree.
Take nothing but a blanket.
Gaze at the limbs, the teasing blue in the space between branches.
Move in or out of the shade, as needed.
Sigh once. Sigh twice.
Stare at a leaf.
Watch for chipmunks stuffing their cheeks.
Like a bird watcher, quietly wait for a sign.
Silvering light on an aspen leaf will do,
Purple clover or hairy yellow bumblebee.
A patchwork of green and light on the ground around you.
Hear the soft murmuring in the trembling leaves.

Now listen for the sound of your breath fully released,
Catching in the throat at your own shuddering surrender
Remnant of a sob.
The elusive soul’s welcome home.

The Rhythm of the Heart, as One

Our Hearts Beat As One says the T-shirt I pulled on this morning with pride. The logo and words come from a CD by my daughter. I’ve worn it before as I’ve sung the words along with her at various musical and spiritual events. But today was different. It was really true! During the last couple of years, as much as I wanted it, relaxed into it, imagined or envisioned it, my heart has not been beating as one. Not at all.

At first I barely noticed, what with all the things to do and people to see. Sometimes I could feel it going kinda fast, and sometimes it felt like there were little fishes flopping around inside, but I was totally shocked a couple of years ago when a hospital admission screening turned up A-Fib. I asked the technician to give me some time to meditate and calm myself, thinking this was the shift I needed, the one I knew how to do. But the results were still the same. Twice.

This year I’ve been investigating this tricky heartbeat and putting together the pieces, looking backward.  I’d been feeling generally sluggish for more than five years. Then I started running out of breath when hiking (at first) or, say, climbing a flight of stairs (later). I had chalked it up to the need for new knees and the getting of them, which had meant that I’d lost (and not yet found) most of my conditioning. I set reasonable goals and began to get back in shape.

But still my heart was not finding its own rhythm. In a nutshell, lots of the little confused triggers throughout the heart were overworking, trying desperately to do their part in keeping things going. It turns out there are lots of undesirable long-term outcomes, over time, when this isn’t corrected.

My electrocardiologist stopped and restarted my heart (twice). The second time, there was a steady beat for a few days. It got lost, and my doctor said the next step would be an ablation, a procedure which uses electrical energy/heat to wipe out the troublemaking triggers. He also suggested I go to an internationally celebrated doctor and researcher in another state because these little buggers have been around a long time, which makes them harder to eradicate.

I know a good metaphor when I see one. I started noticing all the triggers in my life, the “gotta do this NOW!” trigger, a habitual reaction to the urgent “needs”  around me. Then there’s They need my help. Or I must have that….. (fill in the blank. Junk food, coffee, whatever…) so that I can keep going. Or This problem in my face must be solved right now. By me.

I’ve been looking closely at how each one of these impulses takes me away from my own flow, away from the regular pulse of living my own life in an integrated way.  So I flew to Texas a couple of weeks ago for a cardiac ablation, where the rock star surgeon who was recommended by my local doctor has a clinic. That story is for later, and I’m still full of gratitude for all I learned and how well I was treated.

Today I’m sitting on the other side of the adventure, and my heart (and body) are slowing me down to the speed of healing. Which seems to require me to move slowly, eat almost nothing (for now), in a word: to stop.

Last weekend I spent in silence as I joined a retreat led by one of my wisdom teachers, Byron Katie.  Sitting in some very deep questions for long periods of time requires incredible patience, deep listening, lots of curiosity. It requires staying, digesting, trusting that reality, without being forced or pushed, will find its way to Unity. It also requires not knowing how healing will happen. In other words, a new surrender to reality, letting it have its way with this body while my opinions get out of the way.

This is how I spent my birthday week. And it is this practice that will continue to lead the way during the next year. A year of unification and steadiness in the face of an unknown future. And here is my birthday wish: May all of our hearts beat as one, and may we not forget this shared heartbeat as we move forward into an ever-more uncertain world. And may we place our faith in this, the vast intelligence that soothes our grief and guides us forward.

Worry Beads, Worry Dolls, Worry Worry

What comes to you when you see this guy? A denial based on ignorance? A cultural symbol for the naïve? For stupidity?

An excuse for burying your head during an election year?

I’ve been wondering: Why is it that “worry” is such a universal?

I’m not against taking life and the big decisions seriously. Trust me. But sometimes Worry seems to be a force unto itself. Without noticing, in a nanosecond, a fearful thought becomes a clench in the jaw, a knotting of the brow. A tightening of the gut, of the world.

Sometimes it’s called Anxiety (or panic). Even without a real reason, the mind can become totally crazy when it has the playground of an imagined future to worry about, especially when it’s got proof from the past that bad things will happen.

At that point thoughts begin to cluster. The YouTube of the past offers movies, either real or imagined. Catastrophe. Once there, all the thoughts that scare you come out to have their way with you. This is what I call worry.

Some situations just bring it on. Accidents or illness can set off a worry cycle.  Today I’m reflecting on my time with my son at the Burn Center when the entire staff was surprised he survived. And on and on through the litany of family crises.

The last couple of years we’ve had more than our share of auto accidents, and the physical injuries seemed to land me right back into my worry-go-round.

Now I’m remembering those ubiquitous worry beads called kolikoi that I noticed every man fingering while backpacking through rural Greece forty years ago. They originated with monks, much like the mala beads of yoga.  I’ve discovered a half-mala is just about what it takes to manage the inner worry wart when I’m meditating. Why not some kolikoi to jazz things up?

Mala beads also bring to mind my daughter. She’s a yoga teacher and chant leader. After being hit head-on last December, she’s still struggling with post-concussive symptoms. She’s an adult and doesn’t live with me, but she’s needed a check point as she goes about her normal life, as well as her musical career, these last few months. This keeps me busy enough that I’m not so likely to worry.

Sometimes to keep from worrying about worry, I look at it with a magnifying glass to discover its true nature. And my initial theory gets confirmed again and again. Worry seems to be an act of imagination. In a perfectly lovely present, my mind races forward to the future and imagines a frightening outcome. If I don’t believe everything I think, I’Worry dollsm way ahead of the game.

But just in case, I have some little helpers. Did I mention Worry Dolls from Guatemala? These tiny figures listen to our worries, take them off our hands, and go under a pillow to work their magic and dissolve those worries while we sleep. There’s nothing like tucking my worries away like they’re ultimately that little. They usually are in the greater scheme of things.

Infernal, Internal Beeping (or Why My Dog Sits on My Head)

It was 6:00 this morning, and my dog Calvin was sitting on my head. Lucky for me that he only weighs 16 pounds, I thought. He’s also very fluffy, so a head sit can feel oddly cozy. I started wandering back toward my dreams.

For maybe a minute. Because then I remembered that head sitting only happens on the Fourth of July, in thunderstorms, or for other such apocalyptic events. Then Calvin began pacing. On my head. He seems to believe that this is where “I” live. And I have no idea how he got that impression.

Okay. Enough. Time to listen. There was something amiss in the field. Not smoke, but a smoke alarm battery signal. A few years ago our son barely made it out of a house fire alive. First chance we got, we planted them obsessively everywhere. If I lay very still I could hear it: one tiny beep every minute. All the way on the other side of the house. Up very high.

This is how I came to be standing under the high beam in the living room wielding a broom, before the sun had come up.  I always knew those witching tools would come in handy, I thought. Eventually I batted down the whining smoke detector and searched for the switch. No such luck. In fact, no luck at all finding my way into the battery compartment or into anything else that made sense. The alarm box was locked tight, as far as I could tell. This is the point where I would normally call out to my ever-trustworthy fixer of a husband, George. But this time there was no quick salvation. He was out of town for a few days.

So this dilemma was totally up to me to solve.  I considered, and then rejected, the idea of dropping the white plastic case from a two-story window or clubbing it with my handy broom.

Still no smoke appearing anywhere, so I placed the box in the sunroom, already closed for the season.

Back through the house to the back bedroom and to the coziest universe I know, to the magic land that exists in my ridiculously soft bed.

One more chance for sleep; it’s still not too late.

Except for the head sitting. Which began all over again. And then the pacing of the soft white fur ball.

And that is how the thick blanket in the back of my yard ended up in the far corner of my garden. It peeps every minute, until further notice.  Or until I can find a Smoke Detector Shaman or magical directions from the internet ethers that will solve the problem.

But. Standing out there in the below-freezing weather, awake now, an amazing miraculous thing happened. I was actually fully alert for the glow that spread over the oak savannah across the way as the sun came up. I pulled a shawl around me and stood there. I was nothing. Nothing but receptivity in the moment.

And then while I stood bathing in the frigid beauty, the light turning pink, I looked across the meadow behind my house, and there it was. A rainbow.

Peace.

Then.

A minute later, the infernal, internal beeping started again.

Time to get going, it said. To focus on those goals. Get organized. Be productive.

But then, stillness. Another voice arose.

Is the desire to be in comfort, to stay asleep; is it stronger than curiosity?

How many times does a Call need to come when I’m not listening?

The Universe just keeps sitting on my head. Until. I. Get up. Get my feet cold. Do…however reluctantly, what is the next thing to do. The next thing, all day long. Follow the simple directions and listen for the beep when I don’t pay attention.

Ending the curse of the “If Only’s”

In my determination to crack open the safe that holds my Real Self hostage, I keep noticing I still have beliefs about what could be different “if only…” This usually implies an argument with my current life because of something in the past: If only…I hadn’t been hit by that car, hadn’t broken my ankle and then proceeded to ignore it and push on for years. If only I’d lost that extra 20 pounds I’ve been carrying around for too long.

The Princess and the Best Season of Your Life

I was a child during the Pleistocene era, television was a new thing. Howdy Doody time was a special time for a whole generation, as we were clumsily ushered into the age of media by a freckled puppet (he had one freckle for every state, which meant that there were 48 back then).

One of the main characters on the show was an “Indian maiden,” Princess Summerfallwinterspring. Since the host was Buffalo Bob, presumably she was a part of the Wild West theme of the show.

From my current perspective I can see this with a critical lens. The commercial culture was minimizing the ancient wisdom of many tribes. I’m guessing her name was even intended as a spoof of the Native American connection with the Earth. But in my six-year-old imagination something took root, buried deeply, perhaps. I’m still a big fan of the turning of the seasons.

A couple of days ago, along with hundreds of people in my town and millions of people on the planet, The Super Blood Moon eclipse captured my imagination. It was an astronomical event that got more press than anything in my memory since the Total Eclipse of the sun in the early 1980’s. But it’s not the hype that got my attention. It’s the simple fact that so many people would gather to watch something so slow, so silent. That fact is as rare as the event itself, given the attention-grabbing, high-stimulation lifestyle most of us can’t really escape.

Only poetry can capture this, I thought. Then yesterday I shared dinner with some dear friends who are embracing the last few days of one of their lives as brain cancer takes its ultimate toll. Her birthday is this weekend. We remembered the fall season as a series of the birthdays we’ve shared in the process of aging together. The meaning of autumn, of the eclipse, of the seasons hit me in the center of my heart.

Maybe it was a visitation from the seasonal Princess of my childhood. But I was immediately hit with the connection between the loss of my friend and the autumn season. And at a deeper level I began to see autumn’s special moon as a way to mark the passage of time. Once again I was nourished by the rhythms of nature, when closely observed. When I returned, I found an ancient Chinese poem I’d nearly forgotten:

Ten thousand flowers in spring

The moon in autumn

A cool breeze in summer

Snow in winter.

If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,

This is the best season of your life.

– Zen Master Wumen
11th Century

May you bring the moon of autumn into your heart during this season of your life. Be here for it. And feel the richness of a life lived as it passes. Don’t let it pass without notice.

When do I Shrink to Fit?

During my early years, 501 Levis were the only game in town. Shrink to Fit was their slogan then. It’s still their slogan. I was a roundish twenty-something, but I believed in their advertising. I desperately tried to see myself as a long, lean, hippie who could just slip into a random waist size and make it work around my thighs. Although the jeans didn’t fit me perfectly, the slogan did, in other ways. Having been raised in a large family, shrinking to fit has come easily. Too easily. It may work for denims (sometimes). But it’s not a great life plan.

The phrase has been running through my mind the last few weeks. During my daily self check-ins, planning my calendar, balancing my roles, working with clients, and talking with friends; it just keeps coming up. And as I’ve listened to my peeps during the last few years, I’ve discovered that this isn’t unique to me. It seems pretty ubiquitous. But my best point of reference is, as always, my own experience.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. If I’m not paying attention, there’s a tendency to make sure my plans fit others’ needs before my own. It’s so subtle it’s barely a whisper. And most of the time it works just fine. Because the reality is that I prefer peace and harmony to almost anything else. But I’ve often used my gift for blending in and making things fit as a short cut.

I’d be the last to dismiss compromise as a strategy. But I sometimes think I can read the mind of the other person and then simply fit into their thinking as I have imagined it. I’m not even stopping to ask me. But when I sit down to talk about a difference of opinion, having already compromised, I tend to take on more than is good for me, or I otherwise cut myself off at the knees.  And when I’m not able to take care of all of me, I end up hurting others, because eventually I get resentful. And let’s just say it’s not pleasant to be me or to be around me when that happens.

The cost of being out of my personal integrity isn’t always immediately obvious. But over a lifetime it’s had a cost. The last couple of weeks I’ve been taking part in a class offered by one of my teachers, Martha Beck. She calls it the Integrity Cleanse. Her approach has been helpful in recognizing some of the places (or relationships) where my jeans are still tight.

The Cleanse is an extreme version of clearing out places where you’ve been shrinking to fit, and you can look it up next time it comes around, but there’s nothing that works better for me than noticing moment-to-moment. When I bring the light of awareness into the pattern, it shifts. This is where the magic resides, ultimately. And this is my invitation to you.

Notice where you shrink to fit in your life. Just notice. Where do you say “yes” to get along, even as your gut gets tight and you hear a little voice saying “no?” Pay attention. In the moment, you might do what you’ve done before, which is fine. Or you could buy some time by saying, “I’ll get back to you.” With that time, you’ll be able to get clear about what fits and what doesn’t, and you can take the next step toward your own truth. No drama is necessary. Just the kindness of truth and a voice that can begin to say, “that doesn’t fit for me.” From this simple act of courage, everything can change over time. I trust this process as much as I trust the water in the stream near here to wear down the rock. Truth (and integrity) have a power of their own.