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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.

The Message

“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.”

But…

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.

Really?

No way.

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.

Catcher in the Smoke

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.

My Not-So Silent Night and How I Recovered

Years ago, when my children were small, I set a modest goal of celebrating the return of light as it is practiced by most of the people of the world. My thought was that Winter Holiday was a chance to give my children an appreciation for global diversity at the same time they honored their own religious heritage. By Christmas Eve, what they had gained was a deep respect for Mother in Meltdown. Read More>>

To Gratefulness Leaves and Life as It Is

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I live far away from my blood kin, so we  created a new extended family right where we are. The same eight adults and eight children have celebrated Thanksgiving and other holidays for over twenty years together. We’re larger now that most of the kids have partners and some have babies. We’re pretty much like any other blood kin of aunts, uncles, cousins and great-grandparents, complete with both beloved and annoying traits. On a holiday these are often one and the same. Read More>>

My Economic Meltup

“Economic melt down.” The words have been reverberating for more than a month now.  When it all began, I went right back to the amusement park in my mind, but I ended up taking the Roller Coaster from Hell. Come to find out, I wasn’t alone there.

“The mind is a place unto itself. It can make a hell of a heaven or a heaven of a hell,”  John Milton said. The news of the last week, as well as the month before, has placed a whole lot of folks in the latter, direct from the thrill ride of the election ups and downs, regardless of which candidate they favored.

As in any crisis, my first response was to think of myself. Shameless ego. First question: So what does this mean to my life?  I noticed the  second thing I did was to envision my family and loved ones with nothing. Very uplifting.  Whole lives in the gutter. Pain and helplessness. This image soon dissolved, fading into photos of soup lines in the Depression. Grapes of Wrath. Superimposed with the faces of everyone I know and love and millions I don’t know but might love. In a new technicolor release. Twenty-first century hell. Read More>>

2015 Visualization

Ever since Election Day, I’ve noticed my mind’s been a carnival or an amusement park. There’s the roller coaster, with emotional highs (mostly) and lows (some), based on my beliefs about whether the best candidate won or whether the ballot measure is just. Then there’s the spinner,  which mixes the news up with my opinions about it, twirls it around and around until my brain is dizzy. And then there’s the House of Fear, which replays scenes from past elections and leaders, re-playing all the scariest images of political assassinations from my youth.

Yesterday a friend forwarded me a soothing email suggestion. It puts my mind at ease and helps me find a seat on the bench, watching all the amusements from a peaceful distance.  I have no idea who the author is, but I’m grateful, and it’s simply too good not to share with you.

The year is 2015.  You glance at the television one morning and see Obama having another of his many press conferences.  He has now been in office for almost 8 years. Read More>>

Letting Go of Encumbrances

Fall has long been my favorite season. Once I came across these words (by F. Scott Fitzgerald), and they seemed to encapsulate everything I love about the season.

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. The fall season allows us to see our lives reflected in the beauty of the land all around us: the rolling hills, the harvested fields. The sturdy trees and the thrill of their colors, the harvest moon, the intoxicating chill in the morning air, the farm animals as they seek shelter from the cold. As the trees let go of their leaves so we too must let go of our encumbrances. And as we let go of all that is superfluous and unnecessary in our lives, we receive the gift of inner peace. Ultimately, this is autumn’s greatest gift to us.

Today I canvassed door to door to remind voters of tomorrow’s election. As I crunched through the fallen leaves,  I noticed my mind racing with fear and anxiety about the outcome.   I could see the purpose of trying to get out the vote, but how was my  obsessive thinking helping my candidate get elected? I decided to see my fearful thoughts as encumbrances that were falling with the leaves. Within a couple of blocks,  I noticed my mind grew a little calmer. It didn’t slow me down in my efforts to get my candidate elected, but it was a much more peaceful walk.

What encumbrances of thinking would you like to release this fall? If you’re in the mood, take a walk and watch them fall around you, along with the autumn leaves. See what you notice. The ones that don’t want to let go, the ones that are ready and surrender easily. They’re all there to help you on your way.

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>>