Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fall in all its Glory: Thursday's Reflection

I love working in my garret space, and most days this is just where I want to be. My only view, however, is our garage roof, and some days I just need more atmosphere. Some days I need to know what it is like outside. Some days I need to leave the isolation and quiet of my comfortable space and get out!

"Let's go to the arboretum," I suggested.

I packed up some writing work and off we went to the Minnesota Arboretum. Needless to say, we weren't the only ones with that idea, for it was an iconic October day. Carloads of people in the Third Chapter of life had the same idea, along with mothers of children not yet old enough for school. Strollers and walkers!

We were all there to breathe the fall air and catch a glimpse of leaves drifting from one reality to another. We oohed and aahed at the colors, still lush, not yet fading.

Can you spot the human pumpkin?
And the pumpkins and squash! All the creative displays made me think I have not done nearly enough fall decorating at our house. 

I unpacked my writing materials by a window in the dining room that looked out onto a patio and after an early lunch, I tackled a current project. Used to working alone in the garret, I wondered if I would be distracted by all the people chatting around me or if the view would demand all my attention. But, instead, I eased into the surroundings. I felt renewed and more alive to the beauty around me. 

I am back in the garret, as I write this, and I am happy to be here, but my arboretum time reminded me that routine can easily become a rut. If I choose, I can discover all sorts of places that amaze and delight; places where I can even work. 

Sometimes a bit of a change is all we need. 

      "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."
                                                     L.M. Montgomery

Minnesota Arboretum

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Loss of a Pet: Tuesday's Reflection

 Some days are just sad.  

True, there are reasons to be sad most days. The news of deaths in Somalia and ongoing losses in Puerto Rico and California and everywhere where there is suffering from natural disasters or manmade violence makes us sad. 
Other things make us sad, too. Disappointments in our work or at school. Regrets about what we now realize we could have done, perhaps should have done. 

But today in our family we are sad because Ralph, who belonged to our daughter and her family, has come to the end of his life. He was a rescue dog, about fifteen years old, and was a gentle companion with a sweet nature. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Ralph because his favorite spot was the front yard where he received pats and rubs from many who passed by. None of us were ready for this loss, but I suspect Ralph was. 

And so the family said a reluctant good bye, and now is a time to be sad. 

Marianne Williamson in her book Everyday Grace, Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles retells an old Buddhist story about a monk who cried at his master's grave.  He was asked why he was crying. Wasn't he enlightened? He responded, "Because I am sad." 

In order to transcend our grief, we need to feel it. "No situation can be transformed until it is accepted as it is." 

But some days it is too early to see glimpses of what we are to learn from our sadness, even if it is the gift of becoming more compassionate to others in their grief. Some days are just sad. Some days we are just meant to be sad. 

An Invitation
What has made you sad recently? Did you allow yourself to be sad? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Right Words: Thursday's Reflection

How often do just the right words land in front of you? "Just what I need" words.

This week that seems to be the case for me.

          Use what you have, use what the
          world gives you. Use the first day
          of fall: bright flame before 
          winter's deadness; harvest; 
          orange, gold amber cool nights 
          and the smell of fire. Our tree-
          lined streets are set ablaze, 
          our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples
          bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, 
          cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into 
          wild color just before they die are the world's oldest 
          performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one 
          last violently hued hurrah before the black and white
          silence of winter.
                                          Shauna Niequist

Now, I love fall and I love winter too, and rejoice in the glories of both seasons, but this quotation reminds me that whatever the season, I have what I need, as long as I am awake to what is around me and am open to use what the world offers. 

            I press on toward the goal for the prize of the
            heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
                                            Philippians 3:14

Re-entering the work of revising my manuscript has been difficult (!) since returning from our road trip, but these words, which concluded the reading of the First Lesson on Sunday, reminded me that my goal of writing a spiritual memoir is a response to the call of God. Later that day I heard writer, teacher, and writing coach, Elizabeth Jarret Andrew say "God continues to create through my life," and I felt myself open again to this long and complicated and often arduous process. 

              ...our own path is for us alone to explore. We have
              gifts to offer that no one else can offer in quite the
              same way and so we are called for our own sakes and
              for the sake of the world. The more we awaken to our
              deep self (the place within where God dwells), the 
              more we bring that to the collective energy of 
              awakening consciousness of our fragile planet.
                                           Christina Valters Paintner

These words encourage me to examine the energies I may be neglecting to share with others and also to take time to use my energy in ways that both nurture the person I was created to be and to support the people and causes that matter most to me. 

               Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater 
               our integrity and awareness, the more original
               and creative our time will become.
                                            John O'Donohue

Yes, I know this to be true. 

Teachers and lessons, encouragement and clarity abound if we open to and integrate them. I know this to be true, too.

An Invitation
What words have spoken to you recently. I would love to know. 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Re-Entry Notes: Tuesday's Reflection

What's your routine when you return home after being on vacation 
for days or even weeks? After a twelve day road trip to attend a niece's wedding in Vermont and also spend times with our kids in Cleveland and friends in the Boston area, we returned home early last week. I am basically a homebody and oh, how wonderful it was to cross the threshold of our sweet little house.

My husband and I both do well with the initial re-entry tasks: unloading the car, unpacking our bags and treasures acquired along the way, doing the laundry, sorting the mail and paying bills. That first afternoon I even went grocery shopping. 

But then the resettlement slowed down. 

During my morning meditation time, which had been hit and miss during our time away, my mind wandered to the back roads we had travelled: the fields of sunflowers in Indiana, the white steepled churches nestled in hills of small towns, the hints of fall color, the front porches of farmhouses, the barns, somehow elegant in their architecture. And mums and pumpkins everywhere. 

I was more there than here. 

Plus, I thought about all the good conversations we had with loved ones: our son's new job and also development of his own design business (Both Feet Designs); our daughter-in-love's growing expertise and presence in her work; fill in the blanks conversations with many dear to us. And, of course, all the happy talk focusing on the bride and groom. 

A good time.

While on the trip I divorced myself from my laptop (brought it, but only opened it once) and Facebook and email, only checking occasionally to make sure there wasn't something that needed immediate attention. I have yet to return to Facebook.

But once home, it was time to resume writing in this blog.  I intended to write a new post for last Thursday, but that clearly did not happen. Instead of writing, I bought pumpkins and decorated for fall. I rearranged my closet, moving from summer to fall. I sat in the snug and read one of the many books I bought on the trip in two excellent independent bookstores (Concord Bookshop in Concord, MA, and Phoenix Bookstore in Rutland, VT). I wrote thank you notes and got out soup recipes. 

I was more there than here. 

Shortly before leaving on our trip I outlined a new structure for my book on my dryerase board, and I was eager to start the revision process. I assumed I could jump right back when I got home. Wrong! For several hours on two different afternoons last week I sat with my hands poised over the keyboard. I looked at notes about possible changes. I deleted a few words in an opening chapter and changed the tense from present to past, but that was it. I stared at the dry erase board. Nothing. 

Finally, I read a post in a writing blog I receive once a week from the author and teacher, Mary Carroll Moore.

            The book disappears from your consciousness after
            three days so you might not be able to spend the 
            next writing session actually moving forward. You
            may be spending half your time reacquainting 
            yourself with the book.

Duh! I had been unconnected from my book not for just three days, but for almost two weeks. "Give yourself a break, Nancy," I told myself. "This is going to take awhile."

Here's what occurs to me: not only did I need to reacquaint myself with my book, but after separation from home, I needed to reacquaint myself with my life here, my surroundings, my normal routines. I realize not everyone has that luxury, and I certainly remember the days when we returned from a vacation one day and the next day we were back to work. That is not true for my life now during these Third Chapter years. 

I can take my time. I can enjoy the re-entry process, as much as the time spent seeing new views and being with friends and family we don't see often enough. I can consciously integrate the gifts of those days into these first days back home.

I can be there and here at the same time. 

An Invitation
How do you handle re-entry? What is easy and what takes a bit more effort? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Spiritual Practices: Tuesday's Reflection

NOTE: I am going to take a brief break from posting in this blog. My plan is to begin posting again on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Watch this space!

I was the speaker at our church's adult forum this past Sunday. My topic was Spirituality 101. During the forum we wrestled with the meaning of spirituality and also explored the ways to engage with spiritual practices. We barely touched the surface, but I am grateful to be part of a community where questions like these are part of an ongoing conversation.

I suggested to the group that the essence of spirituality is the way you experience connection to the sacred aspect of life, the spirit of life. You might connect
                   To your own inner, creative core.
                   To other people.
                   To nature.
                   To God and to the faith we profess.

Or you may connect to any combination of the above. And your spiritual connection may change throughout your lifetime.

Thomas Hart, a spiritual writer and family therapist, suggests that  where the action of our life is, God is present and active with us. 

That means God is in the car pool with us when we take kids to school or at the kitchen sink when we wash dishes or when we collapse into a chair hoping to read a few pages in a good book before a nap overcomes us. It also means God is with us in the challenges, the big ones --caretaking an elderly loved one, facing a health crisis in ourselves, losing a job, becoming an empty nester, wondering what the purpose of our life is now that we no longer can do what we have always done. The list goes on. 

The key question is: How is God moving in my life right now? How and when do I feel and know the presence of God? 

These are spiritual questions. 

So much more I could say and perhaps I will as time goes on, but I want to close todays's post by quoting Anthony de Mello's take on spiritual practices.

          Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
          As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning?
         Then what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
         To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.

An Invitation
What would it look like to live more spiritually right now? I would love to know. 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

One Never Knows: Thursday's Reflection

"What should I write about today?" I often have a number of ideas or possibilities when I sit down the day before I publish one of my posts. That was not the case this time, however, but I trusted that my morning meditation time or walk would bear some fruit.

I opened my Bible and read the reading assigned by the Brian McLaren's We Make the Road By Walking.

             Look at the birds of the air; 
            they neither sow nor reap 
            nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly 
            Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 
            And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to 
            your span of life." (Matthew 6: 26-27)

I sat with the familiar scripture and with the accompanying devotional material, and then I turned to the other book I am reading, Ripening Time, Inside Stories for Aging with Grace by Sherry Ruth Anderson. I read a section in which the author describes how she reaches out to touch her husband when he stops snoring during the night to see if he is still alive. And he does the same to her. She writes, 

              Death has begun to feel like a continual murmur, 
              an intimate consultation I do with the end point 
              that is coming. It's not something I talk about, but
              a kind of certainty is here now, making the time
              distinctly different from my middle age. p. 97

I had just finished reading those words when Bruce called up the stairs to me, saying there was an EMT vehicle and three police cars in front of our next door neighbor's house. I joined him outside, and we knew the news was not good when the EMT people left the house and the police stayed. 

 Our neighbor, a man of our age, had died. Apparently a heart attack. 

Later we delivered fruit and rolls for the gathered grieving family. We held our neighbor who is in that stunned, shocked place. She briefly told us the story she will repeat many times about finding him on the kitchen floor when she got up in the morning. 

I ache for her. 

This could be me. This could be you. 

Eventually, I returned to the garret and finished reading the chapter in the Anderson book. She ends the chapter with these words:

                  It's so important to contact the depth in ourselves
                  while we still can, find our connection with the 
                  universal ground. p. 103

One never knows.

An Invitation
What will you do today to live more openly, more compassionately, more authentically? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Noise: Tuesday's Reflection

I prefer silence to noise. 

That's not unusual for someone who considers herself a modern-day contemplative. 

I love my morning meditation time before most of the world is awake. I sit in the garret and pray and write and read and breathe and gradually enter the days. I do that against a background of silence. 

But I must say I enjoy the presence of some noise in my life these days. 

Our neighborhood seems to have come alive with the noise of children playing. I often hear people commiserating that children don't play outside anymore. Well, that is not the case on our block. During the hours between the end of the school day and bedtime, groups of kids call to each other, as they race down the sidewalk on bikes and scooters. Some of the older kids stand on both sides of the street and toss a football or baseball back and forth. I hear, "Red Light, Green Light" or "Red Rover, Red Rover send Tommy right over." Yes, kids still play those games. 

Sometimes I hear the sound of the newest resident on the block. Fiona was born in July, and occasionally I hear her crying. Instead of being bothered by her demands to be fed or changed or held, I love knowing there is new life present. A little girl who will one day join the sidewalk party. 

The other night I heard cheers coming from a crowd. Most likely it was from a football game at the local high school or one of the colleges in our area. The wind carried the sound right through our windows, and I hoped the home team was winning.

Much to my surprise, Sunday morning I even welcome the noise of happy chatting in the sanctuary before church starts. My desire has always been to sit quietly in meditation before the service's opening hymn, but I love how welcoming we are to each other and how eager we are to see and check in with one another.

Other sounds certainly are not as pleasurable: barking dogs who have been left outside unattended for long stretches, firetruck,  ambulance or police sirens, signaling a crisis of some kind, or even the sound of garbage trucks rumbling through the alley. For the moment my concentration may be broken. Oh well. That's the way life is in an urban neighborhood.

Don't get me wrong, I will always treasure the quiet moments, the measured rhythm of stillness, but as I age, I think I am more able to listen and appreciate the sounds of happy activity. The sounds of love, of connection, of life. 

An Invitation
How about you? What are the sounds in your life? What are the sounds that enhance your life? I would love to know.