Thursday, January 30, 2014

End of January Reflection: Pajama Party

On one of these recent cold days when school was cancelled, I invited grandson Peter to come for a Pajama Party. Maren was going to a friend's house for the day, but Pete was mine for the day. Daughter Kate on her way to work delivered him still in his pajamas and once out of all his outerware, he added his robe and slippers. I was in my pajamas, too, of course. With temperatures well below zero, we weren't going anywhere all day! 

What's a Pajama Party?
Pete asked what we do at a Pajama Party, and I told him we can do whatever we want, as long as we stay cozy in our 'jams. "Cozy" is one of his favorite words, and he then knew exactly what he wanted to do. "Build a fort." 

Since the dining room didn't yet have a table, I arranged four of the chairs and found a duvet to cover them with and voila, Pete had a fort. He and his special buddy, Wolfie, cuddled under the fort, telling stories and singing. Later on he brought a project into the fort and then listened as I read a chapter from the book we are currently reading. A cozy pajama day.

First Things First
My inclination all my life has been to have everything in place before I relax, before I have fun, before I write or get together with a friend. The house needs to be in order. I need to have a context in which to carry out all the other aspects of my life. When we moved to Ohio and then to Madison, it was easy to focus on the mission of creating home, for I didn't know anyone. I didn't have a clear plan or direction for what I wanted to do with my days, let alone my life, but this move has been very different. And finally, perhaps, I am learning to flow, to enjoy the mix, to shift gears, to even thrive in the midst of the unfinished.

This seems so basic, doesn't it? But it is a lesson I have needed to learn over and over, and these past weeks have given me lots of opportunities to deepen my learning.

Life Doesn't Wait
I'm not suggesting that I need to bend or give in to someone else's priorities. It doesn't mean that what I want is unimportant and can be blithely discarded. No, this is about paying attention, waking up. Peter isn't going to stay 5 years old while I arrange the bookshelves. My father at age 90 is not going to always be available for lunch. Maren, age 11, won't always be available for a Saturday morning event.  

And so Pete and I had a Pajama Party. We watched a movie, and put together a mosaic picture of a pirate ship, and made cookies, and read more chapters in a book that is getting very exciting, and we just hung out together. Surprise--I still managed to do some of the things on my list. By the end of the day I had done the laundry and changed our bed, and cleaned a bathroom, and paid bills and filed a bunch of papers and posted several items on Craigslist. I wrote emails and read several chapters in a Barbara Pym book I am rereading and made notes for this blog post. I ended the day by meditating. 

Here's what Bernie Glassman says in his book Instructions to the Cook, A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters:
          Usually, we function with a split between what we want
          to do and what we're actually doing, between what we
          wish we had and what we have. This division creates
          a loss of time and energy, and that loss actually wears
          us down. Since the mind wants something other than
          what's happening, it creates the delusion that there's
          not enough time or that time is running out.

          But when we eliminate the gap between our 
          expectations and what we'e doing, our energies
          all go into what we're doing at the moment. We're
          not wasting our energy on what we think we should
          be doing. At that point, all of a sudden, the notion
          of time disappears. It's no longer a question of having
          not enough time or a lot of time. The very notion of time,
          duration or interval, is gone.

          The magic secret is to do just one thing at a time. 

I will say this, however, I can do just as much wearing my pajamas as I can when fully dressed. 

An Invitation
Do you need a Pajama Party in your life? Does your feelings about not having enough time get in the way of living fully? How have you dealt with time issues in your life? Join the conversation. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Not a Home Decor Blog

Clearing the Space is not a home decor blog, although I read and enjoy a number of those blogs. I lived vicariously through those blogs when our house was for sale and we were living in an "unreal" stage set and then during the Christmas holidays when we had just started our move into our St Paul home and all our Christmas decorations were tucked in the furthest corners of the rented storage unit. 
No, I don't write a home decor blog, but I have written frequently about living in an unsettled space and time as we inched our way towards our return to St Paul. Recently, I shared pictures of our new home as it was being painted and the idea of being settled felt remote. Well, the painters are gone, and it seems only fair to give you a glimpse of where we have so happily landed. 

We are still in progress. You can see  unanchored chairs in the dining room, awaiting delivery of a table, formerly my Dad's kitchen table, and now painted a crisp white. However , reading chairs are in place, and books fill the bookshelves. We are thrilled with our color choices and how expansive the newly white woodwork makes the first floor feel. The art work by Wisconsin artists we have collected in recent years seems as much at home as we are. 

Not Our Norm
However, this move has been unlike any other we have experienced. Our typical method of operation is to work and work and work until no box is left unpacked and no picture is unhung. Cupboards full. Clothes organized in closets. Create home in record time. For example, I have such fond memories of our daughter Kate on the second day in our Madison home standing on the kitchen counters and arranging the colorful 40's pottery we had collected in Ohio on top of the cupboards. That pottery is still in the storage unit and who knows how long it will be there, for there is no room for it in The Little House. 

There is not room in this house for many of the treasures we have collected over the years, and our challenge is to allow this house to evolve, practicing simplicity as a new form of abundance. How easy it would be for this house to become The Overstuffed House, instead of The Little House. And so little by little we make decisions about what works in this house and what will add to our pleasure in this house. 

An Ongoing Process
Each weekend Bruce will bring a load from the storage unit in Madison, and we will sort and decide what to keep, what to continue storing, what to donate, what to sell. The process sometimes feels like one step forward and two back, but in reality it is another opportunity to practice patience and intention. 

We are attempting to listen to what this space, but also this stage of our lives calls for and offers us. And while the Big Picture has been clear for some time, the particulars, the specifics, of how many bowls I really need and have space for in my small kitchen and which lamps will light our way and which ones will only get in the way is not always so obvious. Instead, of pronouncing the house "done," and announcing we are settled and open for the business of living here, we are living in the evolution, in the ongoing process. 

How fortunate we are! How happy we are! 

An Invitation
What are you in the midst of that feels like a new stage? What is evolving for you? I would love to know. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

January's Interview: Penny Andrews, Collaborating With Life

On the fourth Thursday of each month I will introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirit. 

This month meet Penny Andrews whom I met when we moved to Madison and Marian Methner, a dear friend from my spiritual direction training program, mentioned she knew someone in Madison.  (Marian was the subject of an earlier guest interview. ) What a gift meeting Penny was for my life in Madison.  Penny became part of the Wise Women spirituality group I started, lending her wisdom, broad experience and ever growing perspective to our gatherings.

Penny has worked in the fields of medicine, education and mental health and is certified as a chaplain and social worker. She has an M.A. in interpersonal communication and received her D.Min in spirituality. She has been a presenter at the national, state and local levels on topics related to self-care and families, aging, creativity spirituality, and mindfulness. In 2000 she founded the MinGei Center for Co-Creation Spirituality where the current focus is the meaning of the New Cosmology in our lives. She also delights in the study of permaculture, the Transition movement for communities, grandparenting, and cooking. Meet Penny.

Penny, I remember meeting you for the first time--how generous you were to take time from your busy hospital chaplaincy schedule to meet with me--and thinking, "This is a woman whose spirituality is not only wide and deep, but is becoming wider and deeper. What were the beginnings of that growth for you?
At age 25 I took a class in Human Consciousness and at 27 I attended an all day introduction to Zen Practice. Those two experiences opened wide the power of breath work. I began a journey to become present in my life with this exposure.

Breathwork has remained my primary modality for getting out of my own way. I use it with every activity I allow conscious self-awareness to accompany me. As this permission to empty grew with time and practice, it allowed me to see more and more aspects as spiritual. In so doing, it allowed me to follow the 'clues' or 'signs and wonders' along the way.

I know you studied with Matthew Fox at the University of Creation Spirituality as our mutual friend Marian did. Was that a 'clue' you followed?
Yes, especially the afternoon learning time which was called "Art as Meditation." That opportunity opened a door for ease and further breathing into my creativity. 

Life is my practice, whether I am connected to the present or distant from it…I am a student of Life and a student of my life.

I almost want you to say that again, slowly and loudly. Where has this commitment and revelation led you?
One of the directions this has taken me is to study the Universe Story and the lessons and alignment with Life this offers. At the University of Creation Spirituality I studied with Brian Swimme, a student of Thomas Berry and of the Teillhard de Chardin lineage. 

This direction invites us to look at ourselves through the Creation story that birthed the Universe. Since we are part of that lineage, what can the Universe's unfolding teach us humans about living in greater harmony with Life and our own life?

Our Earth is challenged by our human choices, we have become a dominant species, when in reality, we need to be collaborators with Life. This is a pivotal time in how we choose to evolve. We live in a time when so much profound understanding is being offered us, and it is both thrilling and heartbreaking.

How do you stay grounded to meet the challenges of this time?
I remember what Alan Watts said, 

      The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a
      disorder, and manifests itself in the acute feeling of separation
      between "I" and my experience. the brain can only assume 
      its proper behavior when consciousness is doing what it is
      designed for: not writing and whirling to get out of present
      experience, but being effortlessly aware of it.

This is a time that calls us to let our hearts grow larger, to become more fearless and follow where our own spark of the 'breath of God' leads.

What truly amazes me about you is not only your ability to be present to the Present we are living, but your ability to share and to open the present, the Present to others. Please explain the work you are doing now.
Paula Hirschboeck, a Zen teacher and retired philosophy professor, and I are offering workshops on the 10 Powers of the Universe. The 10 Powers are manifestations of an ineffable source Brian Swimme names as Seamlessness, the Ground or the Source of all being. These 10 Powers, such as Emergence or the ongoing sequence of creative events, are arising and changing simultaneously throughout the cosmos. 

These workshops encourage participants to know these powers AS ourselves, asking the question How do we 'touch' these power and then actualize them in daily life grounded in contemplative action for the world? 

It is life changing as one glimpses at the largest understanding of Life and apply it to my own life. It is the practice that will take the rest of my life to unfold.

Penny, I am so grateful for your unfolding and your willingness to share what you are learning and practicing.  

Empowered by the Cosmos, The Ten Powers of the Universe, An Opportunity for Personal and Collective Awakening is being offered by Penny and Paula Hirschboeck March 14-16 at the Siena Retreat Center, Racine, WI.

Penny recommends the following resources:
The Journey of the Universe, a DVD
The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry

An Invitation
What intrigues you about the work Penny is doing? In what ways are you present to the Present you are living, we are all living? What 'clues' for discovery are teasing you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Settling In?

"Are you getting settled?" That's the question I am asked most frequently these days, and the answer is, "Yes, but no."

The answer is "yes," when I interpret the question to mean, "Are you happy to have made the move from Madison to St Paul?" "Do you feel like you made the right decision to move back to where you raised your family and where your grandkids and your 90 year old father live?" I answer a resounding "yes," to those questions.

However, the answer is just as resounding when the question refers to unpacking boxes and finding the right spot for all our stuff and putting the house together as if we have lived here a long time. "NO," I answer without hesitation, but, I must admit, with a weary tone. 

We were on our way to being settled. The bookshelves in my garret-office on the upper half story are all unloaded and arranged alphabetically, and my desk is in position. My closet is organized and one bedroom looks serene and inviting---that is, when the plastic curtain is removed at night after the painters have gone home.

You see, right now we are sharing our home with a great crew of painters, and thanks to my decision to have all the woodwork on the first floor of this 1920's house painted, we are living in what feels like an isolation ward. I won't go into the involved process, which involves spraying rather than brushing on the primer and other needed coats, but suffice it to say, I am not settled.

The plan had been for this to be done before we moved in, but life intervened for our painter, and the plan needed to be revised. I absolutely understood and after all, I am practiced in thinking Big Picture. At some point the painting will be done, and I will be able to fix a good home cooked meal again and I won't get up in the middle of the night and trip on the plastic sheeting on the floor. 

At some point there will be no more boxes in the bathtub and I can even take a bath. What a concept! However, allow me to whine. I am a tired of taking the long view and am eager to luxuriate in being settled. 

Words of Wisdom
I need a pep talk. 

Here's Melody Beattie in Journey to the Heart, Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul to the rescue:

      Whatever you're working on, whatever you're in the midst of doesn't need to be finished, in perfect order, with all the loose ends in place for you to be happy.
      For too many years, we worried and fretted, denying ourselves happiness until we could see the whole picture, learn the entire lesson, cross every t and dot each i. That meant we spent a lot of stressful time waiting for that one moment when the project was complete.
      Enjoy all the stages of the process you're in. The first moments when the germ of the idea finds you. The time before you begin, when the seed lies dormant in the ground, getting ready to grow. The beginning, and all the days throughout the middle. Those bleak days, when it looks like you're stuck and won't break through. Those exciting days, when the project, the lesson, the life you're building takes shape and form.
      Be happy now. Enjoy the creative process--the process of creating your life, yourself, and the project you're working on--today. Don't wait for those finishing moments to take pleasure in your work and your life. Find joy all along the way.  (p. 37)

I need to remember that three months ago we didn't own this house in St Paul; one month ago we had not sold our Madison house and we were in the thick of packing to move into this house; and just 10 days ago--we were on the eve on the movers coming to move us here. No longer do I wonder when our house will sell nor do I daydream about where we will settle in St Paul.

In a week, a month, our life in this home could, most likely will, look quite different from the way it looks now. Each day brings progress towards the look we have envisioned for this house, and I feel so fortunate to have these excellent craftspeople working to make that happen

And in the meantime I feel more and more settled into a life here--being with friends and family and reacquainting myself with favorites from the past and discovering the new. I'm not unpacking boxes, but I am writing and reading and meditating. All that is cause for great joy. Now.

An Invitation
What unfinished project seems to be preventing you from feeling joy today, right now? What can you do to live with joy now. I invite you to share your recipe for joy even as your current life feels unsettled. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January's Book: The Not So Big LIfe, Making Room for What Really Matters by Sarah Susanke

Many people I know are in the process of sorting through and letting go of mountains of possessions--either their own or their parents' or other relatives. That is the reality of this time of life, and the process (Note the word "process.") can be daunting and laden with regret. 

Why haven't I done this before? Why did I gather all of this in the first place? There is a tendency to scold ourselves or the parent who has closets packed full--scary full! Or there can be the tendency to ignore--to be aware of all that is hidden away or even in plain view, but not wanting to tackle it. 

Decluttering, Shedding Our Stuff 
What we have accumulated, mindlessly or not, has been gathered over the years, decades for most of us, and there is no reason to believe that simplifying our stuff will happen over night. Not unless a dump truck pulls up in front of your house and you indiscriminately dislodge your hold on everything you own. 

Although there are lots of books to help you figure out how to sort and disperse and prioritize and let go, such as Organize for a Fresh Start, Embrace Your Next Chapter in Life by Susan Fay West and SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, A Four-Sep Guide to Getting Unstuck by Julie Morgenstern, no book will do it for you. At some point you have to open the closet door and make decisions and DO IT. 

Moving into a much smaller house makes this process a necessity, and frankly, I welcome it, even though it takes time and energy and focus to cut through all the layers of accumulation. 

Creating a Not So Big Life

What I realize is that with the sorting comes evaluation and reflection. And that's where The Not So Big Life, Making Room for What Really Matters by Sarah Susanka can be a touchstone and guidebook. Susanka, an architect and visionary of the "not so big" philosophy in homes, encourages us to "identify what stands in the way of living the way we'd like to be living," and suggests that our "love affair with stuff is a surrogate conceited by our heads to obscure the real longings of our hearts."  Perhaps that seems harsh or that it doesn't apply to you, but now is the time to ask yourself "what would happen if we stopped to consider the possibilities inherent in the word 'enough'?

In this book Susanka addresses not only our accumulated stuff, but also how we use our time and energy. She proposes "life-remodeling," and not just house remodeling, because "the real problems are not the ones we can name and therefore do something about with relative ease, but the ones that are hidden from view…to make your life Not So Big means to be free from the driven, automatic behaviors that keep you asleep at the wheel, while propelling you willy-nilly through your daily routine." 

 I think of the Buddhist term, "Hungry Ghost," which is a metaphor for the part of us that is always unsatisfied and ask myself the question, What does the decluttering in my life free me for--not just from?

Reading the Susanka book reminds me that it is not enough to reduce the stuff in my life, but that I need at the same time to discover what is truly life-enhancing for this stage of my life. I am someone who thinks chronologically--first I get rid of x, y, z, and then when I have cleared the physical space, I can explore what is fulfilling now. Instead, this is a time of "both…and." 

A Paradox

How does one do that? Well, no surprise, Susanka recommends creating stillness in your life, meditating, and being intentional about deepening your acquaintance with your true self. The paradox is that living a life in line with your true self means setting aside the attachment we have to our "small self." The Not So Big life is actually one that is vast, limitless and without our own self-imposed boundaries and lowered expectations. 

How exciting is that! Bring on the dumpster and create more room for life! 

An Invitation
What a good New Year's book this is and one that can accompany you with its wisdom and guidance throughout the new year. I would love to hear what living "the not so big life" would mean for you --and how your own decluttering is proceeding in your own life. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: A Love Letter to Madison

 If all of a sudden you were not living in your current location, what would you miss? When someone from another part of the country visits, where do you take them? What represents "your place" to you? What in future years will you reminisce about? "Remember all the good times we had when we went to…." 

Besides all the special people in your life, what is it about your town that is unique and interesting and what do you love about your life there?

Along with all the wonderful friends we have acquired, we have loved so much about living in Madison:
*The renowned Farmer's Market filling all four sides of Capitol Square.
* The miles and miles of conservancy areas where prairie is being restored, offering frequent glimpses of sand hill cranes. Even if you can't see them, you can hear their plaintive calls.
* Areas of fun shops and restaurants--Monroe Street, Willy Street, and State Street which extends from the capitol to the University of Wisconsin.  
* Proximity to charming small towns, including Mt Horeb, Prairie du Sac for eagle watching and Spring Green. American Players Theatre in Spring Green with both its outdoor and now also an indoor stage never fails to offer excellent theatre and a memorable experience. Just bring your bug spray! Taliesen East, Frank Lloyd Wright's school and home, are located just outside Spring Green, too --always a good spot to take visiting friends, but frankly, our ongoing favorite Spring Green spot is Arcadia Books. 
* The Arboretum where I volunteered in the book store, and Olbrich Gardens.
* UW's Union Terrace on Lake Mendota with its primary colored chairs. I spent hours there on warm summer days reading and writing. 
* A wonderful orchestra and coming from Cleveland and it's world famous first class orchestra, that is saying a great deal.
* Holy Wisdom Monastery just 7 minutes away from us. A place for retreat and classes and worship.
* Door County only four hours away! 

Well, the list could go on. We know we haven't discovered all there is to do here, and we have taken some, but not enough advantage of being so close to Chicago and Milwaukee. Still, we have been good tourists while living there,  even surprising friends and colleagues who have lived there for years or even all their lives, but have never done some of what we have enjoyed. 

Being a Tourist
There are good reasons for the tourist activity. When you first move some place and don't know many people or even how to get around, exploring fills your open time and makes you more comfortable in a new place. The first few years here we had lots of out-of town company, and it was fun to introduce our new home to them. Plus, when the grandkids spent time with us, we loved taking them to the Circus Museum in Baraboo or on a tour of Randall Park where the UW Badgers play and of course making a stop at  Babcock Hall for homemade ice cream. We have been tour guides, planning field trips for ourselves and others. 

All this has been fun, but there are greater lessons here--the opportunity to see with fresh eyes, to remain open, to deliberately learn something new and challenge yourself with change. You don't have to move to a different place in order to do this. In fact, when we are present to our own lives and to the lives around us, we are bound to see things in a new way. When we are willing to peek beyond the comfortable boundaries we have created for ourselves, who knows what can be discovered. Being a tourist in your own home may make you feel more content or you may decide it is time to move further afield, physically or intellectually. Or spiritually. 

We have now returned to St Paul where we raised our children and much feels familiar and there is comfort and ease in that awareness, but I am eager to be a tourist here, too. I wonder what I will discover, what new paths there are to discover and who I will meet along the way. With each move I have made throughout my life, and there have been many, I have enlarged my view of the world and of myself as well. My intention is to keep expanding and growing. Even before all the boxes are unpacked!

An Invitation
What's waiting to be discovered and explored in your familiar territory -- and in your life? How present are you to what is in your own back yard? How willing are you to expand your comfort zone? Let me know what you learn.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

January Reflection: Getting, Being Organized

Note: I wrote this post a few days ago, and tomorrow it is finally moving day. Because Thursday will be more than busy,  I am posting this a day earlier than my normal schedule.

Boxes in the Bathtub!

Clutter in the Kitchen!

Cartons in the Corners!

I know that January is the month when we are supposed to get our homes and lives organized. Every magazine bursts with ideas about what to do with the excess paper in your life and how to rearrange your pantry cupboard and your closets. Plastic bins of every size are on sale. This is the time to redo your address book and line up all the receipts and statements you need to pay taxes. My father, for example, told me the other day that he had put everything together for his accountant on New Year's Day while he was watching the football games. 

It's a New Year, after all, so let's get organized.

Delayed Organization
Well, friends, it is going to be awhile before that is a reality in my life. 

Organizing and being organized normally is not particularly challenging for me. I love figuring out new systems and reworking the ones I already have. Happiness for me in the years I was working full-time was getting new Franklin Planner pages and filling them in on New Year's Day. Also on New Year's Day I would reread the Christmas cards and write follow up notes. I would make lists of areas in the house that needed an organizational redo or upgrade. With the new year has always come energy to cut the clutter and freshen my surroundings with greater efficiency and ease. 

Not this year! As I said, there are boxes in the bathtub, and clutter in the kitchen and cartons in the corners--every corner! 

Eventually, I will feel more organized. Soon I will be unpacking boxes and finding just the right spot for everything. Even though we are downsizing --really downsizing--I am confident I will get our new home comfortable and functional and organized. Some day.

Right now, however, the challenge is to endure the chaos, to keep the Big Picture in view. And living in such disorder is not easy for me. While my husband tends to get a bit manic, I tend to slow down and get even more methodical. Thank heaven, we balance each other and understand which parts of the process we are each best suited for. And somehow it evens out, and we know eventually we will accomplish what needs to be done and soon contentment in our new surroundings will be ours. At times, however, it has been hard to see it through the Great Wall of Containers! 

Delayed New Year's Day
As I write this, moving day is almost here. I woke this morning thinking for perhaps the first time that everything we need to do before the moving truck pulls up will, in fact, be accomplished. We have worked hard and occasionally been tested, but kept our eyes on the prize, and have not faltered in our plan, our dream, even when it was taking so long to come true. Waiting now to get organized in the new year doesn't seem so bad. 

I have written in year's past about my intentions for the new year, but I am not going to do that yet--maybe February. After all, a new year can begin in a moment, any moment you choose or the universe says, "Now!", and that may not be on New Year's Day. 

Right now my intention is take one step at a time, fill bags for donations to St Vincent de Paul, empty the refrigerator, and begin cleaning the house for the new owners. 

An Invitation
What is inviting to be organized in your life? Perhaps it is a desk drawer or a closet or two, but maybe something inside feels cluttered and needs to be cleared away? What new year thoughts are you having today? I await your thoughts. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Surprise!

I am not someone who relishes surprises, and I happen to be married to someone who not only loves to surprise, but is expert at planning them. For example, for my 40th birthday he planned an elegant surprise luncheon with my lovely women friends as guests. More recently, he flew in my dear friend from Ohio for a surprise birthday weekend at a luxurious spa. What could have been more generous and loving. However, there was also the time very long ago when the kids were young, and I was working full-time in a demanding job, and all I wanted for my birthday was a quiet evening reading in bed. All of a sudden friends were in our bedroom shouting "Surprise!" I faked my delight. 

I understand my discomfort with surprises has to do with loss of control, but I also know how much I love the anticipation and even the preparation, leading to something special.

A Surprising Question
Therefore, I was surprised, yes surprised, when during retreat time at the beginning of 2013, one of the questions that arose during my quiet time was, "Will it be a year when I surprise myself?"

It is one thing for someone to surprise you, whether it is with a totally unexpected gift or perhaps a response you would not have anticipated, but quite another when you surprise yourself. 

The Surprise of Letting Go
Now that 2014 has arrived, I have been thinking about this question and yes, 2013 was a year when I surprised myself. The first surprise that comes to mind, of course, is related to our move to St Paul. One of the tasks we have had to do because we are drastically (and willingly, even eagerly) downsizing is sell or dispose of large pieces of furniture. Antiques we have loved and used in a variety of ways. The one I most dreaded parting with was our harvest table bought for our 1802 farmhouse. In our Middleton house it did not fit in the dining room, but instead became my desk in my large lower level office. I loved spreading out my work on that desk, books and papers and laptop, a candle and other treasures, and while I worked, I could recall memories of Thanksgiving dinner at that table or gatherings of my women's spirituality group or easy meals at one end for just my husband and myself. We had added our own patina to that simple farmhouse table, and I thought parting with it would be wrenching.

Reluctantly, I listed it on Craigslist, along with many other items, and surprise, it was the first item to sell. A bigger surprise to me was that I had no trouble letting go of the table or any of the other things I had loved and enjoyed over the years. It was more than recognizing that it was only "stuff," I was letting go of, but it was recognizing that in order to move on, I needed to shed layers of our material life.  In our case, a lot of things!!!! And that process will continue for a long time, in order to live more simply and sparer in a much smaller home. 

The desire to move forward, to be where we want to be, to focus more on the people in our lives, rather than taking care of possessions, and in my case, to create spaciousness for writing and other growth-giving, life-sharing endeavors, is stronger than clinging to the "stuff," and then mourning its passing. I hasten to add that I loved the process of gathering and have great memories of wandering country roads in search of antique shops, and then finding just the right spot for the acquired treasure. I hope our home will always be a place of beauty and comfort and now in this new little house, I once again am happily home tending, creating our nest. 

At the same time, I surprised myself with my ease of letting go. Of course,  I realize letting go of stuff is not anything like letting go of people whom I love or as time goes on of my own abilities or capabilities or vision of myself, but now is the time to learn the skill of letting go.  

Words of Wisdom
Here's what Joan Chittister says in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully as she describes this stage of life being one in which we "travel light."
     When I look around the crowded room and wonder why I
     am keeping the large desk when a smaller one would do 
     just as well, something inside of me is beginning to change.
     When three sets of dishes are two sets too many, I have
     begun to need more than just things. When the house is
     too crowded and the car is too big and the perfect lawn
     too much of a bother, I have begun a whole new adventure
     in life…It is the shaping of the soul that occupies us now.
     Now, consciously or, more likely, not, we set out to find 
     out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what
     we care about and how to be simply enough for ourselves
     in the world.

She adds:
     A burden of these years is the temptation to cling to the 
     times and things behind us rather than move to the 
     liberating moments ahead.

     A blessing of these years is the invitation to go light-
     footed into the here and now--because we spend far too
     much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying
     the present.

An Invitation
How do you respond to surprises and what has surprised you about yourself recently? How are you challenged by the idea and process of letting go? What are the fruits of letting go for you? I am eager to know.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

January's Meditation: Beginning the New Year

Many of us begin the new year with resolutions to lose weight or save more money or read more and watch less television, and there is certainly nothing wrong with any of those intentions, but I invite you to begin this new year with the gift of a retreat. A retreat to uncover your heart's desire and a direction for the new year, as well as time to understand the learnings, the losses, and the gifts of the past year. 

Creating Your Own Retreat
The most important aspect of retreat time is carving out the time for retreat. Perhaps you will choose to go to an actual retreat center or a hotel room or someone's cabin in the woods, but your retreat  can also be in your own home; a time when you can be alone or at least undisturbed in a room away from others. You may choose to retreat for a whole day or more or for a couple hours at a time over the course of the month. Look at your calendar now and decide on the time or times and fill in the square with red letters, "My Retreat." 

Your retreat time is not to include any routine tasks like doing dishes or laundry or answering the phone (Turn off your phone!!!!!) or checking email or answering questions from your spouse. This is your time, and you need to guard it, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so. 

"Packing" for Your Retreat
Here's a list of items you might want to have with you.
*Your journal and a pen.
* Basic drawing supplies and big paper.
* Music that inspires or relaxes you and a way to play that music.
* An inspirational book.
* Comfortable clothing (If you are home, you can stay in your pajamas all day, if you want, for you are NOT going to answer the door if anyone appears.) Consider clothing that feels nurturing or an item of clothing that represents your creative side--a colorful scarf, for example. Yes, you can wear the scarf with your pajamas. 
* A touchstone or talisman other object--a stone, a cross or Buddha or shell--something that will help you focus on this time you have given yourself and remind you that you are not alone. 

Beginning Your Retreat
I invite you to sit in a quiet place and close your eyes lightly, not tightly. Take a couple deep cleansing breaths and allow your body to relax into slow, even breathing. 

Read the following poem slowly silently or aloud for your own ears. 

The Map You Make Yourself

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today
choose the door
that opens 
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center 
of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim's way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired. 
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deepen in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need;
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are 
is holy
and you are welcome
             Jan L. Richardson

Being With Yourself
Here are some topics, prompts, questions to consider. Feel free to adapt or ignore or use these in anyway. Perhaps find one or two that resonate with you and explore them. See where they take you. Turn off your inner censor.

What arose for you during the beginning meditation time?
What did you bring with you today?
What did you leave at the door?
What questions are you carrying across the threshold?
What is quietly resting or hiding in your heart that needs new life?
What have you lost and what needs to be refound?

Reread the poem, "The Map You Make for Yourself."
What words or phrases resonate with you?
What comfort is there for you in this blessing?
What challenges or opportunities are there for stretching?
What would a map of yourself look like?
What might a map of your coming year look like?

My hopes for this retreat are…
When I think about the new year, I…
As I let go of 2013, I feel…
As I move into 2014, I…

Continuing Your Retreat
Allow yourself some rest time or perhaps take a walk between dedicated reflection and meditation times. Doing this will create a space for clarity to arise. 

Once again begin with meditation time, closing your eyes lightly, not tightly and taking a couple deep cleaning breath, allowing your body to relax into slow, even breathing. 

Consider these prompts and questions:
Topics, questions, ideas, thoughts and dreams I need to explore further:
Because of this retreat time, I…
What have you learned about yourself today?
Is there an intention, plan, or goal or dream becoming clearer to you? If so, what?
Brainstorm or imagine how to move forward.
Envision for yourself your life in 2014. Allow yourself to play with this.
What words of wisdom have appeared for you?

Ending the Retreat.
Of course, the ending is only the beginning, and only you will know what you are called to do as a result of this time. Perhaps you have not experienced any great illumination, and I encourage you to not let that upset you. You may still be percolating. Let the retreat time rest within and unfold with time. 

It is important, however, to bring closure to the retreat time. Perhaps you will reread the poem once again. Or meditate again. Or take a walk and then re-enter your home. Make some sort of offering of gratitude for your retreat time by counting your blessings or gifting the retreat center in some way. Create a symbol of this retreat time that will be a visual reminder of your retreat. Whatever you do can be simple, but as you entered retreat time with intention, be intentional about ending the retreat time. 

A Blessing For This Time

That you will see
the pieces of your life
with clarity.

That they will meet 
in ways you hardly
dared imagine.

That they will make
a way better still
then you ever dreamed
to go. 
                Jan L. Richardson

An Invitation
Obviously, this post is an invitation for you to create retreat time for yourself. I hope this has been helpful, and I look forward to hearing about your retreat time. 

A Resource
The Woman's Retreat Book, A Guide to Restoring, Rediscovering, Reawakening Your True Self--in a Moment, an Hour, a Day, or a Weekend by Jennifer Louden