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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

My Mother, Myself, and the Shoe Worship Lineage

Today I’m packing for a pilgrimage back to the Midwest. First, I’ll be connecting with lifelong friends at a big number high school reunion. There’s always news at these events, but mostly it’s a simple celebration that we’ve made it through life’s obstacle fields and we’re still here.

As I put my turquoise shoes into the suitcase, my 87-year-old mother is already with me. She’s the biggest reason for the trip. Living far away from her as her memory fades, I’m reminded of a line of a poem by Lyn Lifshin: She was like a kite whose string I’d lost hold of, getting smaller and smaller.

I’ve been feeling a bit untethered myself lately, living halfway across the country from her.  So this trip I want to remember every minute the gift it is to spend any time together. We have so few opportunities left. This brings me to the subject of shoes. They’re the one thing that’s guaranteed to tether us to the present moment, to strengthen that string. Last spring, my mother fell in love with the very shoes I just packed. I mean serious love. These love affairs run deep in our blood, a part of our ancestral lineage.

Or it could be that it’s a little vein of rebellion within our sturdy German peasant ancestry.  My German-speaking great grandmother wore black lace-up oxford heels, a style that looks far more chic on models in magazines now than they did worn with her cotton stockings. Her mother was “Grossie” and as a child I thought this was a mean comment about how she looked in the photos, in dowdy flower prints and crocheted collars and lace-up boots. I later found out the name was commonly used in the German farming community as a form of respect.

My grandmother, her daughter, bought shoes of every color and style to show off her slender legs and ankles. We all called her Imelda, especially when we were packing up her pumps and heels in every style and color. Vanity was something she never surrendered during her ninety-plus years.

My mother should wear Mary Janes or tennis shoes that she can count on as she pushes her walker. But she’s not satisfied with these when I visit. Lately she’s insisted on getting exact copies, in style and color, of whatever shoe I’m wearing. Tan sandals with ankle straps, red slip-on wedges. Without the support at her arches, they fall…or she does, which might mean the dreaded breaking of a hip and all that entails at her stage of the game.

I’m torn between practicality and pampering as I think of savoring the time we have together.  So maybe during this visit I’ll wear straps and laces, red, purple, or pale, pale yellow. And maybe we’ll take a long, slow jaunt to her favorite shoe store and look for some turquoise.

Finding Carrots, Finding Hope

It’s officially Autumn. The slanted light cuts through the sky to wash the world in gold. This year, more than many others, I’m remembering to stop and notice. It’s easy for mind to get tangled in the muck of the newsfeed . Sometimes it takes all I have to remember what’s right in front of me. But the other day I stood as a friend dug up root vegetables from the soil, where they were growing tucked into the dark.

I decided to stay focused on what’s in front of me (as opposed to the stories in my head: the latest tweet or outrageousness to emerge from the news). At first look, the clump of dry brown dirt was kind of ugly, just like so many of my stressful beliefs about how things aren’t right. But (I reminded myself) my job was to watch. And it seemed like these particular carrots gradually appeared to remind me of something important. Of hope.  I wrote this right afterwards:

Finding Carrots

It doesn’t take a lot of watching for the beautiful, gnarled, brilliance of carrot to Become.

What happens below the soil line in the depths of the darkness is an alchemy that we come to trust.

When the swollen roots are unearthed, sheathed in dirt still, even then the miracle of beauty remains hidden.

In a handful of dirt and a few undefined rheumatoid clumps.

But beneath that ugly surface there they are:  waiting safely until the time is right,

until the right hand comes along that will carry them to light, to water, who will dice through their tender hearts and reveal

the glowing fuse at the miraculous center of life.

When the Outside Messes with the Inside

I was just so proud of myself a month or two ago. I was fairly convinced that I’d figured out the major puzzles of my life. Or at least one major puzzle, the tendency to put stuff in my mouth when I wasn’t hungry.
I honestly believed that attending Geneen Roth’s residential retreat and living the Women Food & God Way had brought such a bolt of enlightenment that I would never eat compulsively again.
That was before I started moving everything out of half of my house for a long-anticipated remodel. Before I began traveling and celebrating the freedom of summer. Before I started working on a book project, or at least before I experienced my favorite procrastination technique.

Returning Home to My Wise Body

I just spent more than a week at the Oregon coast, a place I usually feel instantly at home. Being on the ocean simply returns me to source. It’s a short cut for me.

So when I decided to go there to get started on a book I’ve been wanting to write, I expected a vacation. It was a vacation, all right. I vacated my body and moved right into my head. The mental work of framing my ideas and beginning such a large project had me set up housekeeping in the world of the mind, which happens to be what I was writing about. I got a good start on the book, but I’ve had a series of headaches from the mental strain. Not an accident, I think.

“If you lived in your heart you’d be home now.”

This is my newest favorite bumper sticker. It says in so few words what I often take longer to articulate.
I’m in the midst of a radical home remodel now. My home is a haven for me, under normal circumstances, and the intention of the project is to make it MORE of a haven. Or maybe a heaven. But in the meantime….it’s feeling more like a hell, with pounding and sawing while I’m living and seeing clients in the Oasis. They seem to feel it as an oasis from their lives, but I’ve been having some trouble experiencing that.

The Cafe at the End of the Search

I’ve spent a whole lot of my life in a search for truth, beauty, goodness, The Way. Much of what has motivated me has been from that deep longing that propels each of us to connect with the sacred in life.

No regrets. But lately I’ve been thinking of calling off the search. Because it feels like peace. (What better reason would there be?) When I’m craving something to eat, drink or do that will fill a hole, I’m usually believing that my current state isn’t okay.

Peace Beyond Belief

I’m about to head off for a 5-day retreat at my favorite hot springs. (Here in Oregon at this time of year, hot springs are perfect because we’re still in our long spring season). I’m preparing the materials, going to the Farmer’s Market for local flowers, flowing from here in the valley to there in the mountains.
Peaceful. As long as I remember to notice when beliefs would pull me out of the flow.

Change on Unseen Levels

I’ve become more and more aware of how change shows up in the last few years, working with dozens of clients and mentoring many of them over an extended period of time.
What one principle emerges from this work? This: Change happens on unseen levels first. I learned early on that focusing on a problem (say, weight loss or clutter clearing) as a first focus just doesn’t usually work. Yes, there may be improvement out front, but it usually doesn’t last. That’s the not-so good news.

Is It Kind To Just Let Yourself Be?

There’s wisdom in the advice to “let yourself be.” As in: to get off of your case, stop pushing/judging/blaming. There’s kindness there.
But when does it stop being kind? When “letting yourself be” means sliding into the same old groove, the patterns that are creating the results that keep you feeling stuck.
“Letting yourself be” isn’t kind if it’s a strategy for avoiding the discomfort that comes from taking action and moving out of your default self. The best way to get unstuck doesn’t always feel kind. It can feel very awkward. It can require staying with whatever’s coming up instead of going robotic in an old tried (but not so true) way.

Default Self, Default Body

I’ve been on a big binge since I returned from Geneen Roth’s residential retreat last week. I’m binging on self-observation, doing deep inquiry into the very archaic patterns I slide into so easily when I’m not paying attention. The one I created when I was almost too young to remember.
My default self has a life of its own. One of the biggest defaults I experience is believing that I made a mistake when I’m confronted with unexpected events. Yesterday I got through half a session with a client who called on the wrong day because I assumed I’d made the mistake. I recovered with time enough to (barely) make it to my strength conditioning class, which was originally on my schedule. Missing this would have been staying with my default body.

Retreating to Advance

When I tell friends I’m going on a retreat, they tend to think of beach walks, massages, “pampering me” time. Or maybe those are the images that get me packed up and out the door. Some retreats are like that, but that’s not the kind I usually choose.

Retreats with a lot of silence and meditation time always bring me home to my own being. So I know the healing powers of quieting the mind in a retreat setting. What I tend to forget is all the resistance of my hyperactive mind. Also the fact that inner work is work. The movement to stillness is usually fraught with the noise of all the annoying thoughts and beliefs that want to be heard and questioned. What I do know from experience is that lasting change begins within, in the silent realm of the unseen. So I have proof that it’s worth it.

During Geneen Roth’s five-day retreat last week I was moved once again by the power of retreating from daily life to discover what I don’t take time to notice in my usual daily flow. Roth eloquently described this magic several times, and I jotted a few things down to remember the next time I believe it’s not worth it to uproot myself and move out of my comfort zone. As I reflect on my experience at this retreat, I find tons of evidence to prove that all the following statements are true. With a capital T. So, from her mouth, here’s a concise list of why I’ll continue to retreat in order to advance toward my true nature.

Married to Amazement: Geneen Roth Retreat

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

These lines by poet Mary Oliver were a theme threading through the retreat with Geneen Roth. Although I’d read the poem many times before, it was a qualitatively different experience to sit with the words, to drop into deep amazement. This morning the state that they invoke feels like the biggest “takeaway” from the event.

From a place of amazement I drop into deep curiosity about what my unique body and self are doing here in this life.