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
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.
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.
“I know I said I just wanted a house on the water,” she intoned.
But…How would she put it so that he could hear her?
She tried again. “You know, darling, how much I love our little Cape Cod cozied into the bay.”
Maybe she should just come out with it.
She craved open waters, longed for the growl of surf. Her body needed it like air, like water. She was shriveling in the dreary, forested coziness of it all.
Now she had little memory of the end of her daily two-mile constitutional.
She was on her way to the open beach. She knew that much.
Her headstrong Cadillac simply knew what she needed. It was headed there of its own volition.
Soon she was filling her nostrils and lungs with the salty, sweaty, fishy wind of the ocean as her ears filled with the deeply repetitive rhythm that had brought her here.
One foot followed the other as her eyes embraced the full scope of it all. Nothing but silver movement and driftwood sculpture forever. She had the sense that she could be dissolved in it all and die empty, happy.
Now her feet took her further, stronger, longer, straight out toward Japan, she thought.
That’s it. She’d tell him,
Honey, you know how I’ve always been drawn to Japan? I’d like to move a little closer, dear. Right over there…on the horizon.
She was so drawn to the unknown edge of things that she stubbed her toe on it, just as she felt the moisture seep through her light canvas slip-ons.
It was nothing more than a green lip of something hard. Her fingers scratched through the wet sand, just as the tide reached her ankles.
A pull toward the sea. A yank toward land.
No. It couldn’t be. A bottle.
Seriously? A bottle with a cork?
By now she had it firmly in her hands. She had won the tug of war.
And what a prize!
As she rinsed off the sandy water, another surprise.
There seemed to be a message inside.
This was hers. Hers alone. Here was the sign she’d been praying for.
She looked over each shoulder to make sure she truly was alone.
Broke the neck of the bottle on the black basalt rock looming nearby.
As she shook it hard, a yellow paper tumbled into her open hand.
Her hands trembled, full of hope.
The figures were beautiful, exotic zen symbols of some kind.
A long, curved line. Something that looked like a roof of a house, and a figure that looked vaguely human, and female, walking away.
There’s another woman inside me, I’m discovering. Or, to be more accurate, other women. They tend to take over my dreams, ready to show me what I’m not seeing in my waking life, if I look into their depths. And lately they’ve been showing up in my writing. I’ve decided to share them here because each one seems to come with a gift. And they seem ready to be exposed to light.
And that’s what I invite you to do. Hold them up to light. See what each might bring to your inner self, those parts of you that don’t often get noticed. What other selves are living in your dream life or imagination? The offering is free, and if you feel like sharing your thoughts or reactions, well, that’s good too.
I wrote this piece a week ago. Last weekend, four days later, at a meditation retreat, I met a woman who had been evacuated from her home a week before. She lost everything. In retrospect, the similarity is shocking. Who knows where “she” might show up?
She was hot. She was smoky hot. Yes. Smoke was in her eyes. But more. They burned, but there were no tears. The tears hid in a secret recess of her too-large heart. Even though her heart was stitched to her sleeve most days, the tears stayed hidden.
She desperately wanted to cry. The forest fires that raged nearby, the sheer force of the burning, the helplessness as the distant hills were swallowed by the haze. All of it. It brought back each loss of the last years.
They paraded through her mind, one after another, each loss. She ticked them off. Death. Check. Betrayal. Check. Money. Check.
And yet. No checks by loss of partner, loss of child, loss of faith.
Her faith was in the world that she could not see. It was in the Force that had showed up again and again. It was that Force that had been there every time she had taken a leap into the unknown.
Her faith was in that. Yes.
Mostly, she thought, it was faith in that which always seemed to catch her when she got to the edge of what she had thought she could bear.
Call it The Catcher, like the Catcher in the Rye, she thought.
The Catcher in the Smoke.
That’s what it was. Just when she had given up on believing anything, just when she thought she would always suffer in a drought of the soul, her heart ticked a little extra beat. It took a leap.
What it felt like was surrender.
She thanked the smoke for the tears that slowly wandered down her cheeks. And for the veil that cloaked her as she allowed herself to be taken by the depth of her grief, trusting the Catcher to hold her sorrow as she dissolved into it.
There’s another word for the Catcher, she thought. I think I’ll call it Grace.