Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: An Ode to Fall

The other day my husband tempted me away from my desk with an invitation to take a drive. "Maybe we'll find pumpkins." He did not need to say one more thing. Besides, it was a gorgeous fall day, and I had already been at my desk for a chunk of the morning and after all, how many more days will we have to ride in his little car with the top down?

Off we went, and of course, we did find pumpkins. I asked the owner of the pumpkin patch and apple orchard if it is a good pumpkin year and he said quietly, "I am grateful for what we have." Ah, yes, to be grateful for what we have. 

I restrained myself, only adding to my pile of small orange and white ones for one of the apothecary jars in our sun room, but also selecting the palest of orange pumpkins for the front stoop. One more front step is now pumpkined --my apology to all word purists. 

             Summer's loss seems little, dear, 
             on days like these.
                                 Ernest Dowson

I love this season, and I know I am not alone in that. Sitting at my desk in the garret I see patches of red leaves, tempting the others to turn red and amazingly, when I glance up from my laptop again, it seems as if more have decided to join the red team. 
             Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to
             it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the
             earth seeking the successive autumns. 
                                  George Eliot

One year when we lived at Sweetwater Farm we grew pumpkins, and I filled our open front porch with them, inviting anyone to help themselves. Another year our son was marrying our dear Cricket, and we had the rehearsal dinner on a gorgeous fall evening at the farm. Vintage fall tablecloths and white pumpkins stenciled with hearts decorated the tables under the tent. Pumpkins were every where, for I had made many trips to my favorite pumpkin stand, filling the Jeep each trip. A bounty of friends and family joined us that evening to celebrate a new season of life. 

I remember the time a friend sent me a large box of bittersweet from the mountain behind her Pennsylvania home. I swagged the white picket fence from driveway to backdoor with an abundance of bittersweet. Our fall drives always included sweeping the landscape for signs of bittersweet, hoping we remembered the garden shears and if some were spotted, like the flash of a red tail hawk, that it could be reached without danger to life and limb. This year I am content to have a bunch hanging on the front of an old painted cupboard, loving the splash of orange against the faded aqua.

My decorating is more spare now, but there is still the urge to make sure the house knows the season has changed. On the entry table along with a bouquet of hydrangeas and pheasant feathers I have opened a vintage copy, given to me by a dear friend, of Thoreau's Autumn

          Some single trees, wholly bright 
          scarlet, seen against others of  
          their kind still freshly green, or
          against evergreens, are more 
          memorable than 
          whole groves will be by and by. How beautiful 
          when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit, 
          full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to 
          topmost spire, all a-glow, especially if you look 
          toward the sun. What more remarkable object can 
          there be in the landscape? Visible for miles, too fair
          to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but 
          once, it would be handed down by tradition to posterity 
          and get into the mythology at last.
                                    Henry David Thoreau

Vintage candles--pumpkins and witches and black cats, oh my!, make me smile from their perch on the kitchen windowsill. In the evening battery-lit glass pumpkins keep us company as we close the door and pull the blinds till morning sun returns. A throw on the leather couch, a tumble of velvet pumpkins, a candle with the smell of cinnamon--all reminders for me to pay attention to the change that is happening outside and to be mindful of changes going on in my own spirit. A tucking in. A release from the fullness of summer. 

The temperature has been summer warm today, and I enjoyed having lunch and reading at the patio table. A squirrel chattering at me reminded me, however, that it only had so much time to gather and hide nuts for winter, and I was in its way. Yes, there is almost so much time, and I, too, need to be mindful of how I spend it. Right now being present to the changing of the seasons seems the very best way. 

An Invitation
How do you mark the changing of seasons? What are you mindful of as you move from summer to fall? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Beginning the Day

Have you noticed how much longer it takes for morning light to appear? The bedside lamp needs to remain on longer than it did even a week ago or so it seems, and it is a bit harder to get out of bed into the darkness and the coolness. I linger in the warmth of our bed longer, even though I am awake. 

I wonder if this gradual movement from one season calls us to a different kind of movement; an inner movement. I invite you to think about the way you start your day. Newspaper? Coffee? Listen to the news? Are you starting your morning the way you always have even though your personal season has changed? Might there be a space in your morning to quietly greet the day? Would you be willing to offer a blessing for the gift of the new day and to ask for a blessing on all the day presents to you before you even stir from bed? What might happen if your routine included time with God, however, you define God, or with the best part of yourself? 

Consider using the lure of staying in bed a bit longer to begin a practice of morning prayer or meditation.

A Sampler of Prayers for the Morning Time

Beloved Friend, I open myself to be of service. Please help me be your arms and willingly hold those who need a healing touch. Open my eyes that I may truly see what you ask of me today. Open my ears that I may truly hear and respond to the cries of joy and sorrow from your children. May the words of my mouth be the meditations of your hear and may I sow peace wherever I go. Amen 
(An unknown source)

Two from Illuminata by Marianne Williamson

Dear God,
I give this day to You.
May my mind stay centered on the things of spirit.
May I not be tempted to stray from love.
As I begin this day, I open to receive You.
Please enter where You already abide.
May my mind and heart be pure and true, and may I not
     deviate from the things of goodness.
May I see the love and innocence in all mankind, behind the
     masks we all wear and the illusions of this worldly plane.
I surrender to You my doings this day.
I ask only that they serve You and the healing of the world.
May I bring Your love and goodness with me, to give unto 
     others wherever I go.
Make me the person You would have me be.
Direct my footsteps, and show me what You would have me do.
Make the world a safer, more beautiful place.
Bless all your creatures.
Heal us all, and use me dear Lord, that I might know the joy of
     being used by You.

Dear God,
Thank you for this new day, its beauty and its light.
Thank You for my chance to begin again.
Free me from the limitations of yesterday.
Today may I be reborn.
May I become more fully a reflection of Your radiance.
Give me strength and compassion and courage and wisdom.
Shed the light in myself and others.
May I recognize the good that is available everywhere.
May I be this day, an instrument of love and healing.
Lead me into gentle pastures.
Give me deep peace that I might serve You most deeply.

Two From Life Prayers, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon

May my feet rest firmly on the ground
May my head touch the sky
May I see clearly
May I have the capacity to listen
May I be free to touch
May my words be true
May my heart and mind be open
May my hands be empty to fill the need
May my arms be open to others
May my gifts be revealed to me
So I may return that which has been given
Completing the circle.
                           The Terma Collective

May all being be peaceful, happy, and light in body and mind.
May all beings be safe and free from accidents.
May all beings be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind, 
     fear, and worries.
May all beings know how to look at themselves with the eyes of
     understanding and love.
May all beings be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and
     happiness in themselves.
May all beings learn how to nourish themselves with joy each day.
May all beings be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May all beings not fall into the state of indifference or caught in
      the extremes of attachment and aversion.
                                        Thich Nhat Hanh

From "A Morning Offering" by John O'Donohue

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcomes the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

May I have the courage today 
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more. 

If one of these prayers resonates with you, lift it up. Perhaps there is a phrase or line or two that speaks to you.  If so, offer that to the wonders of the morning or listen to the words of your own heart, rising from the dark into the slowly growing light. In the quiet of the morning you may discover your mantra or inspiration for the day. May it be so. 

An Invitation
What is your morning routine? Does it include time for devotion or meditation? If so, how does that time prepare you for the rest of the day? If not, would you be willing to give it a try for a few weeks? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: The Routines of Our Life

What a gorgeous day it was! What a shame it would have been to not get out and enjoy it. Minnesotans are always talking about what's ahead of us, as in frigid temperatures and day after day of falling snow and icy roads. We remind ourselves of our dire future, I think, in order to justify our play time. After all, winter is coming and who knows how long it will be before we can put the top down again and wander country roads in warmth and sunshine. (An aside: Minnesotans, myself included, also talk about the coming winter in June, July, and August to show the rest of the world how tough we are!) 

This particular gorgeous fall day was a Wednesday and in the middle of the day, the middle of the week, Bruce and I were in his little car heading to a small town along the St Croix river. Ostensibly, we were in search of pumpkins, but really, we just wanted to do what we wanted to do, instead of doing what we thought we had to do when we thought we had to do it. When we returned home, we did what we said we had to do and nobody was the wiser. And what we said we had to do was still waiting for us. I don't even remember what that left till later task was. I am sure I eventually did it or maybe not.

The next night we went out for dinner with friends, and it wasn't even a weekend. A Thursday night. How decadent is that! We had a leisurely dinner in a fun new place and no one thought about the next day and what might happen because we weren't getting ready for it because we were out doing something fun. 

A New Time
It is slowly dawning on me that we no longer have to maintain the old routines, especially the ones dominated by the week and weekend division. True, Bruce is still working, but part-time, and his work hours are his own. He can work just as easily on an early Saturday morning, if he chooses to do that, as he can working on a Tuesday morning at 10:00. He is no longer on call --a factor in our earlier life that dictated much of what we could do and when or where we chose to do it. 

Still, however, it is easy to live according to past schedules and past demands and obligations. Even though I have not had a regular check-in with the boss kind of job for a long time,  I still divide my time into slots -- "work" during the day and "rest" or "play" on the weekends. Even my playtime is slotted, reserving weekends for time with Bruce and our friends and family, and if I get together with my friends on my own I am much more likely to do that on a weekday. In the past I have not retreated to my office to write on the weekends, designating that as a Monday through Friday assignment. 

A Time to Change
Why is that? Where did all these self-imposed regulations come from? When we were raising our children our schedules were dictated in large measure by school and their activities and trying to manage fitting in the stuff of life. Later, when we became empty-nesters, our work lives still dominated our calendar. Along the way, however, we developed habits and routines which have been reinforced at least to some degree by what we were taught as children about what was appropriate to do at what time. 

At least I don't follow a wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday kind of routine, as previous generations did. I do laundry when the laundry basket is full and I grocery shop when the refrigerator is empty and I don't know what to fix for dinner. I do have a very hard time, however, taking time out in the middle of the day to sit and read. I save my reading time for when I have done everything else on my list for that day--a list, I hasten to add, I create for myself. Often when I finish that list I am too tired to read--or I remember just one more thing I need to do first.  Somehow I still manage to read a great deal, but it is a reward for being a good girl and accomplishing my list. Unfortunately, no one is passing out gold stars for such behavior. This view of priorities in my day often means I don't spend as much time writing as I say I want to do nor do I take as much advantage of these beautiful days. 

The other day when Bruce suggested we take a drive, I hesitated, my mind flipping through everything I had planned for that morning. I asked myself, "What's the worst that could happen if you set aside your list for a few hours?" The better question, it seems to me, is what is the best that can happen by being spontaneous and staying awake to the richness of what is right now at this very moment? 

A Time to Stay Awake
This is a good question at each stage of life, but it is even more crucial as we age and as we set aside our careers and our responsibilities raising our families.  In staying awake to what is possible right now and what is calling us right now we continue to participate in the "grand act of self-creation," a phrase I read in a book about changing habits, This Year I Will… by M. J. Ryan. http://www.mj-ryan.com This is a time to look at our habits and routines in a fresh way and to open to what enhances ongoing growth. Who is it we are meant to be right now? 

We haven't yet gone to a movie in the middle of the day or even on a weekday evening, and I aspire to that, but I am more apt to pick up a book in the middle of the day just because I want to and I have been known to write a blog post on Sunday afternoon because that's what I want to do. I am challenging my view of when I can do something, but at the same time I am compassionate with myself when I slip into former ways of functioning and thinking. 

It looks like another gorgeous day out there, and I wonder how I will decide to live it. My prayer is that whatever choices I make, I will end the day feeling more alive and grateful for the choices I have made. 

An Invitation
What choices, habits, routines are you willing to challenge in your life right now? What is the worst that could happen? What is the best that could happen? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: A Year of Changes

The Little House When We First Met It Last Fall
A year ago at this time we were still house-hunting. Of course, we had no business house-hunting, for we had not yet sold our home in Madison, but in other ways the time seemed right. The time must have been right, for we found The Little House, and here we are enjoying our first fall in this house. 

When I think about the last year I am quite amazed at all we have done --all the changes we have managed and how settled we feel. Not only did we move into this house, but we moved my Dad from his home of almost 48 years into a senior living facility, and a few months later got his home ready to be sold, which it did quickly. We moved out of our apartment here in St Paul and then soon after that our home in Madison sold and we completed the move into this house. 

I have been living here full-time since the end of November, but Bruce commuted between here and Madison until the end of July, living in an apartment in Madison 4 days each week. Now he is here full-time, as well, and working part-time here at home. 

Then there was my broken ankle the end of March --a major and unwanted time-out. My healing has gone well, but is not yet complete, and at times I am frustrated by my own lack of speed and energy.

And, of course, as with any move, there have been house projects --new kitchen countertops and backsplash and major painting on the first floor, including all the woodwork and windows. Both projects dragged on for far too long, extending the feeling of unsettledness. Bruce has worked in the yard, thrilled to have garden space again, and the results add to the pleasure of being here, but now the garage project will begin soon. The tiny one stall garage, although cute and cottagey, will be replaced by a much needed two-car garage. We will need to overlook the mess and the noise for awhile. 

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind
I know many of you have had much more agitation and dis-ease in your lives than I have ever had, and I don't present this list of changes in order to encourage your sympathy. Our life is good--wonderfully good, and I am so grateful to be here and now. We have weathered the changes and while there have been periods of utter exhaustion and feelings of "what now?" for the most part we have put our feet in front of us and have done what needed to be done. 

Along the way we relish many joys. For example, Bruce picks up our grandson at the end of the school day and walks him back to our house. I fix him a snack of applesauce and a couple cookies (not homemade, unfortunately!) and the three of us sit at the table and review the day. I tell him what I learned about the wolf pups who had been rescued from a cave in Alaska and are now at the Minnesota Zoo. They will soon be ready for public viewing, and we will go see them. He tells us about his school journals--for math and reading and his daily journal. Then we sit in our sunporch, and I read him a few chapters in the new book we are reading until his Mom comes to pick him up. Our granddaughter Maren went home after school, instead of going to volleyball practice because she wasn't feeling well. She is fine on her own, but I told our daughter that we would be available if she needed to stay home from school the next day.

This is why we are here. This is where we are meant to be. Right now. These are the things, along with the time to be with my Dad and to reconnect with friends and family, that make the stresses in the changes of the last year all worthwhile. 

Experiences of Change
This past weekend we were with friends who are going through similar major changes right now. They have sold their home and are living temporarily in an apartment. Their furniture is in storage. They have bought a new home in another state, but are not able to start living in it for a few months. That means living in a different apartment in that new location. She has left her job and doesn't know what the next step is, and he is transferring to a different office and will do some commuting part-time and work at home, wherever home is, part-time. They said we give them hope--that eventually they, too, will be settled. We talked about master lists and the Big Picture. 

While out walking one morning I met a woman who has just moved here to be near her daughter and her family and to help with childcare for a toddler. Because her home sold faster than anticipated, she didn't have much time to find a place to live here. She is in an apartment with an absentee and oblivious landlord, and the apartment needs much improvement to be livable.  She still has needed items in a storage unit in her previous location. The disarray in her new place matches her emotional unsettledness. 

Many others in my life have experienced similar situations in recent years. We seem to know it is time for a change, whether it is  downsizing our homes and stuff or moving to be closer to family as we get older or to help with an even older generation. We have retired or have experienced drastic health issues or both. We feel pulled in more than one direction--to experience as much as we can before we can't and yet to slow down and find a new rhythm. Sometimes we are on the same page as our partner in life, and sometimes not. Some of us feel supported in our decisions by our closest family members, and some of us are on our own. 
Sometimes we have the good fortune of planning for change, examining the possibilities, making pro-con lists, and moving forward in the way we think makes the most sense, and other times life intervenes and forces the change. 

The Need for a Spiritual Practice
How do we cope? Fortunately, we have a great deal of life experience behind us at this point. We know how we have coped in the past and what has worked and what hasn't. With a little reflection we understand what our defaults are --what we do when we feel stressed--and by this time in our life, I hope we recognize our healthy and unhealthy responses and can correct the course faster than we did when we were in our 20's and 30's. 

This is the time, my friend, to stop and listen to how God, however you definite the sacred, the holy, is moving in your life right now. What is God asking of you, offering to you? How is God asking you to address your longing? And what can you do to enrich the possibility of knowing the movement of God in your life, of hearing your inner voice and living your essential being? This is the time to deepen your spiritual practice. If you don't have something you can identify as a spiritual practice, and the definition is broad, now is the time to invite a practice into your life and practice it. What is it you do with intention that opens you to the sacred? Name it and practice it. 

Of course, as a spiritual director, I also advocate meeting with a spiritual director, for that person can help you identify spiritual practices to match you and your life, and can listen with you to the movement of God in your life. I believe with all my heart that we do not make any of these life-altering changes alone, and cultivating a spiritual practice helps me recognize the depth of holy connection available to me. 

The changes will continue to happen--some by design and others because that's the way life is, but how we meet the changes is up to us. My prayer is when you feel unsettled, may you open to what sustains and grounds you and find peace and even joy. Here's to change. 

An Invitation
Think about the changes you have encountered in the last year or so. How have you met them and how have they prepared you for future changes? Are there spiritual practices you can strengthen or add into your life that will nurture your soul and allow you to live more fully?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Preparing for a Garage Sale

This weekend we are having our second garage sale since moving here, and it won't be the last. After over 40 years of happy antiquing, we are letting go of our treasures, but not of our memories. 

Antiquing has been our hobby. Some people play golf or tennis or have a boat or sew or paint, but what we have loved doing together almost from the beginning of our marriage is searching for treasure. We have loved exploring small towns and urban neighborhoods all in pursuit of pottery bowls and green depression glass and one more vintage tablecloth, oh, and something for the garden that will look just right next to the roses. We have eaten burgers and fries at small town drive-ins and oohed and aahed at valleys flowing into the next county or a farmhouse where we know we could be happy if we lived a different life. We have gotten up early on cold Saturday mornings in order to pass through the gates of a outdoor antique market before someone else buys just what we always wanted, but didn't know that till we saw it! We have taken home bits and pieces of those places--those lives--over the years and created our own version of home. 

Such wonderful memories I have, as well, of antiquing with friends who have shared the same passion. Friendships were deepened as we talked in the car or walked aisles of an antique mall. When a  long time friend and I invited my sister and daughter to join us as "Girls on Safari," awarding prizes for the first purchase of the day or to the person who got the best bargain, we enjoyed times of play and silliness. 

Letting Go

But now, as Joan Chittister http://www.benetvision.org in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully says, "The time for heaping up is over." (p. 90)
She also says, 
         Life, it seems, follows a relentless cycle: in our early
         years we accumulate, but in our later years we divest.
         Both of them have a place in life. Both of them are a
         struggle. Both of them are liberating. p. 89

The struggles in those years of accumulating were in the form of working long hours and of balancing family time with couple time and individual time and in making decisions about how we wanted to live and where and making that happen. At the same time growing our family and ourselves brought so much joy and love into our lives. How lucky we have been.

Now the struggle comes in the process of divesting. I hasten to add that my husband has been taking the lead with the garage sales, doing the vast majority of the work, and I am grateful. This is just one step along the way of lightening the load, however. Earlier I became the Queen of Craigslist and 1-800-Got Junk, and we have both made countless trips to Goodwill. We have gathered in over time, and it will take more time to disperse the booty, but we are on our way.

An Example from the Past
Many years ago, when our children were young, we were invited to a 4th of July party given by an older colleague of my husband's, another doc. They had lived in a grand, old home near one of the lakes in Minneapolis, but recently they had sold that home and built a much smaller and far more contemporary styled home on the back of their original lot. The home was stunning, and we were intrigued by what they had done. It was clear they were thrilled with their accomplishment. They had lightened their load and you could see it not only in the sparse furnishings, but also in the way they talked about their lives as being freer and less constrained, even though they were living in far less space. I admired them. I even recognized the wisdom of what they had done, but I wasn't at that stage yet myself. 

We have a long way to go before our load is that light, but we are making progress, and I hope the upcoming garage sale will bring us closer to the goal. I know I still love beautiful and interesting things and am not ready to let go of everything, but I am surprised as Bruce opens yet another bin how easy it is to say, "Yup, sell it all." I have no regrets about our acquisition process, although I wish this part of the process would be easier. That being said, even a garage sale brings unexpected pleasures, along with empty bins--meeting our neighbors and seeing two young boys' delight when they bought an ice cream maker or a young woman who bought a quilt because it reminds her of her grandmother. They are in another part of the life cycle, and that's the way it should be. 

The Reason for This Process

As I lighten the load, however, I need to keep asking myself, "What am I creating room for? What is important about clearing the space?" Yes, it will be helpful to my children if there is less stuff when the time comes to sell this house for whatever reason, and I know I don't want to spend as much time cleaning and arranging and hometending, and I would rather spend time doing other things, writing and reading and being with family and friends. Once again Chittister offers words of wisdom, 
          Little by little we begin to strip down a layer at a time…
          And little by little we become less of our outer image 
          and more of our inner selves." (p. 92) 

This is a time of spiritual acquisition--of deepening our relationship to God, in whatever way we define and name the sacred and the holy, as the people we were created. That is the true goal. 

An Invitation
Have you started this divesting process and if so, how is it going for you? What are you learning about yourself as you do this? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Traveling on a Stationary Bike

One of the therapeutic prescriptions for the ankle I broke the end of March was to use a stationary bike, and I have been doing that most every morning for almost 6 months. I pedal and pedal and yet I have not gone very far. In fact, I have stayed in the same place. The view from my bike is exactly the same as it was when I first started using it, and yet, I keep pedaling, content to stop where I started. I know, however,  even as I pedal in place, my ankle is healing, being restored, and in the process I am growing and changing and, I hope, improving. 

Sometimes we can go a long distance without ever changing locations. 

When our children were young, we spent many summer and fall weekends at my parents' lake home in northern Wisconsin. I remember our son Geof, when he was four or five, spending hours on their pontoon securely tied to the dock.  We would ask him where he was going and he would confidently announce New York or Chicago or even some place further away and more exotic. He knew he was still in the same place, Jensen Hus on Teal Lake, but that wasn't the point. In his imagination, he traveled from there to someplace else and back again and in the process he saw many sights and thought many thoughts and stretched his mind and spirit. 

Perhaps that saying, "wherever I go, there I am," which makes us smile in its obvious truth, holds more wisdom than it appears. Natalie Goldberg, http://nataliegoldberg.com the guru of writing practice, says "Awake is another country." When we are awake, when we are mindful, when we are open, we are in another state of being. Even when it seems we aren't going anywhere. 

Of course, I am not content to merely pedal for the assigned time or to wait patiently till the alarm on my I-phone rings. Instead, I read while I am exercising. Recently, I read a book of essays by Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections, that made me laugh out loud, delighting me with her observations and insights about life, especially aging. Each day I could hardly wait to join Nora for a morning ride. Now I am reading a book edited by William Zinsser, Going on Faith, Writing as a Spiritual Quest. If I were sitting in my comfortable reading chair, instead of on the bike, I know I would be underlining much of what I am reading. I would be taking notes and reflecting more about what these essays by people like Mary Gordon and Patricia Hampl have to offer. As it is, however, I just let their words float by and over and around me, being open to whatever needs to stick. 

The thoughts in these essays are like passing scenery. If I were really riding a bike from here to someplace else, I would see many things. I would pass people without knowing who they are or what they do in life or even where they are going. I would stop at red lights, and I would look both ways at intersections, but I would keep going. I would notice lovely homes and gardens and sites along the way, but I wouldn't get off my bike to examine what I see more closely. I would be satisfied with the impression, the overall picture. Yes, I would note some specifics. If an eagle flew over while biking along the Mississippi River, I would thrill in its majesty. I would observe subtle changes in the seasons. The sumac is beginning to change its wardrobe, for example, and I would smile at people on a bicycle built for two, hoping they are as companionable as they appear to be. 

But I would keep going, moving from here to there and back here again.

Sometimes it is necessary to stand still. Sometimes you know it is time to make big leaps. Other times trusting that whatever we are doing is the wisest choice, even when it seems we are not moving and nothing is happening. Sometimes our inner voice alerts us to be the observer and not the main player on the stage. Sometimes we need to just keep pedaling and pedaling, knowing eventually we will get where we need to be. 

An Invitation
Can you recall times when you were pedaling for all you were worth and nothing seemed to be happening? What did you learn and experience along the way? 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Transitioning into Fall

This wondering led to wondering what to wear. I stood in my closet, which is way too full, embarrassingly full. I know I should never, ever say, "I don't have anything to wear." I don't say that, at least not very often, but in these early days of fall, I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Is it time to put away clothes that are clearly summer attire and get out clothes that fit this new season better? Do I just dress in layers, knowing that at some point in the day I can shed a sweater and roll up long sleeves? Do I wear a summer blouse with jeans instead of capris or ankle pants? Will this be the year I break my mother's code of no white after Labor Day and wear the white jeans that have been my go-to pants so much of the summer?

As my sister says, this is a First World Problem, meaning deciding what to wear now that we have turned the calendar page is a trivial and minuscule issue, and I agree, totally and completely. However, what I know about myself is that these kinds of everyday and ordinary questions lead me to exploring bigger questions. 

These are days of transition. We aren't quite summer, but we aren't quite fall. True, the trees seem a deeper, denser green than they did  a couple months ago, but I see no sign of reds or oranges or golds yet. Lawns and gardens have that almost overgrown look to them, almost tired, saying "We have done our job, folks. It is time to put us to bed." There is still enjoyment to be gleaned from them, however, and frost is not yet predicted. True, we have not been using the air conditioner in our bedroom the last few nights, but it is certainly possible we will need it for a night or two this month, making it too early to remove it. True, the market is full of apples and squash already and making soup sounds delectable, but the ice cream truck still makes a sweep of our neighborhood every evening. 

Soon we will know we are in the midst of fall, and this past summer will be a memory. We will talk more about the coming of winter than we do the passing of summer. We will have made this seasonal transition successfully, and that is all in the natural order of things, but let's not move from point A to B without learning something about who we are when we know we are in transition. Transition is an ongoing fact of life. We are always in transition of some kind, so let's get friendly with it. 

As I stood in my closet this morning, surrounded by possibilities, I realized I am more indecisive when I am in transition. The choices, which are often opposite of each other, all seem plausible and positive. White jeans? Maybe. Sweater? I guess.  I have trouble committing. None of the choices seem quite right. What seemed like a good choice yesterday doesn't today. Before going to church on Sunday I discarded more than one total outfit, as if anyone would care. I was looking for my own comfort, however. I wanted to know what made sense for me in that moment and what would lead me into the next season. Lead me, not plop me there before the time was right. 

I am indecisive when I move from past to a new present. I normally make decisions easily and quickly, and I had not realized that is not the case when I am in a transition. 

Before fall was signaling its entrance and when summer was in control, I had a clearer vision of what I would be and do once the leaves were falling, but now in these in-between moments those plans and thoughts seem hazy to me. I want to hold onto the lazier aspects of the almost gone season and be able to say for just a bit longer, "This fall I will…" and "When summer is over I plan to…" Well, guess what? I no longer look over a hill at fall, I am standing right outside its gate. The other side of the gate with the goals I have set for myself and the classes I have signed up for (What was I thinking?) ready to start, I am having second thoughts.

That's what happens when we are in transition. The past seems more appealing no matter how hard we worked to leave it, and the future looks risky or empty or just like too much work. 

What makes sense in this moment?  

William Bridges in his classic book, Transitions, Making Sense of Life's Changes http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004ZY23TS offered wonderful advice, and I consult his words of wisdom often. Right now in this moment, however, what makes the most sense for me  is to be in the present moment as fully as possible. In the transition I can live in the blend of the summer that is fleeting and the fall that is awakening. I can recognize that my indecision is a way of noting the change. I can pause and catch my breath, trusting that what I have planned as a way of answering "what's next?" will unfold in its own time and way. And I can remember that this is just one transition in my life. I have weathered many in my 66 years and more are yet to come, leading to the most important one of all. 

An Invitation
How do you respond to transitions? What is your default behavior when you are in transition? Is that behavior a sign you are in transition? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Words to Live By

If you read my previous post, you will know how enamored I am of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache books, http://www.louisepenny.com/index.html including her most recent one, The Long Way Home. Good fiction is not just about a plot that carries you along or characters who interest you or a setting that makes you want to buy a ticket or get in your car. Good fiction also imparts wisdom; words and ideas that make you think and even examine your own way of living. With each succeeding book in the mystery series by Penny there seems to be more food for thought, more reason to pause and reflect. 

In this first week of September, which always feels like a new beginning to me, as perhaps it does for you, I offer you some words of wisdom from Penny's books, and invite you to reflect on their meaning for your life. 

Chief Inspector Gamache recites the following four statements to all his new agents as a pathway to wisdom. 

                 I don't know.
                 I was wrong.

                I'm sorry.

                I need help. 

Try saying these statements aloud. How do you feel as you hear yourself saying them? Is one harder to say than another? When was the last time you said and truly meant one of these statements and what happened when you did? 

Think about your life right now.  Is there someone in your life who needs to hear one of these statements from you? Is there a situation in your life that could change in a positive way if one of these statements was sincerely and genuinely expressed? Who is waiting for the next step from you? 

Think about a time when someone has looked you in the eyes and said one of those statements or written a letter saying, "I was wrong," or "I am sorry." How did that feel? Even if the words didn't wipe a slate clean or make whatever was damaged, repaired, did you feel some measure of healing? At least an intention of healing? 

One thing each of these statements has in common is the first word: "I." It is not enough to say "sorry," especially when the hurt is deep or the offense is serious--even if you don't know what the big deal is. What needs to be said and known is "I am sorry." Even though the statement begins with "I" and might seem to glorify the ego, the opposite seems more the case. When we say "I was wrong," for example, we become "freed from the imprisonments that keep us in exile from the true heart of another." (The Rebirthing of God, Christianity's Struggle for New Beginnings by John Philip Newell, p. 55) http://heartbeatjourney.org/j-p-newell/ These statements can be representative of "dying to the way in which our ego, both individual and collective, tries stubbornly to be in charge, rather than faithfully letting go to the Self who is within all selves." (p. 113) 

Our six year old grandson Peter often says, easily and casually, when you ask him a question, "I have no idea." Not knowing is not a source of embarrassment to him nor does he worry we might think he is weak or stupid. He simply doesn't know, and he doesn't try to fake knowing. He admits it, and we move on. I hope he will retain that ability to be so open, but life seems to teach us to cover up, to hide behind a facade of false self-assurance. Sometimes we don't even know what we don't know. I have no idea! 

Inspector Ganache's words of wisdom remind me of four other statements to live by:

            Please forgive me.

            I forgive you.

            Thank you.

             I love you.

Ira Byock, M.D., http://www.irabyock.org an authority in palliative and end-of-life care, offers these statements in his book The Four Things That Matter Most, A Book About Living. These are words, Byock maintains, that can mend and nurture our relationships and our inner lives and help us get through the unpredictability of daily life. 

Four statements. Eleven words. 

An Aside: At the book talk where Louise Penny spoke recently, she said that along with her husband saying, "I love you," the most important words he ever said to her was when she was struggling with the decision to quit her job and begin writing full-time. He said, "I support you." 

Just imagine if we each integrated Gamache's and/or Byock's words of wisdom into our daily lives as our spiritual practice or our rule for life. As we maneuver through the rough spots, the times when we feel out of control or too in control, imagine those words sitting lightly within always available when needed. Just imagine what could happen if we set aside our ego and met one another heart to heart.

An Invitation
What has your experience been with any of these statements? Is there a time you wish you had made one or more of these statements or when you wish someone had expressed them to you? What can you do about it now? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Gifts from a Favorite Author, Louise Penny

You never know when you will receive a gift and who will extend that gift. 

This past weekend a friend and I went to hear one of our favorite authors speak. On a gorgeous afternoon in Labor Day weekend while the majority of Minnesotans were at the State Fair or "at the lake," we went to a library and stood in line for an hour before the first come first served doors opened and then waited another 45 minutes until the beginning of the talk. Whom were we waiting for? A movie star? Rock star? Sport star? Nope. A literary star, a book star, and her cheering fans couldn't have been more delighted when she appeared. 

Louise Penny http://www.louisepenny.com is the author of the bestselling Inspector Gamache books, including the brand new one, her tenth, A Long Way Home.  When I finished the ninth book, I cried, for it seemed unclear if there would be a tenth book, and I knew I would miss the company of all the characters in her books, which are set in a mythical small village outside of Montreal, Three Pines. Penny's genre is crime fiction, but her books inspired by poetry, often Margaret Atwood's poems, and also by art are sensual books about love and friendship and intimacy and the nature of goodness in the world. 

Over the years I have been to many book signings and talks by authors, and I always learn something, whether it is about their creative process or more about the content of their books. Sometimes I am disappointed by the person who may be remote and unenthusiastic about being adored or are less articulate than what they have written. Writers are people, too, after all. However, reading and books are such a deep and significant treasure and pleasure in my life, and seeing and hearing someone who has added  to that dimension of my life is a bonus and often an inspiration. 

Louise Penny is as much a gift to her readers as her books are. She is funny and warm and attractive and smart and gracious. For example, nearly 250 people stood in line after her talk to have her sign a book. She shook each person's hand and offered to have her picture taken with each fan. I thanked her for being so gracious, and she responded that signing books and meeting her readers is her "reward." I added that this is her "harvest time" as well, and she thanked me for those words. She thanked me for MY words. See what I mean about receiving a gift?

First Gift
Her talk was full of gifts as well. (Listen to the full talk at http://clubbook.org ) She spoke of fear and overcoming fear. 
As a child she was full of fears, afraid of everything, but she found "solace in stories." When she was eight years old, she was reading Charlotte's Web and about halfway through the book, she realized Charlotte is a spider, and Penny was very afraid of spiders. That fear was lifted, however, when she realized how much she loved Charlotte. From that point on she wanted to be a writer, for she understood the healing power of books.

Not all fears dissolved, however, for when she made the decision to leave her work as a journalist and radio broadcaster in order to write a great novel, she discovered she was afraid of failure. What if she couldn't write? So she didn't. Fortunately, she met a group of very creative women who were producing art in various forms, not all good, and in fact, some of it was quite horrendous, she said, but they were doing it, and their failures didn't kill them. After five years of not writing anything, she finally started writing Still Life, the first book in what has become an amazingly successful crime series. 

The gift: You can survive failure. I can survive failure. I need to remember what I so often ask others, What's The Worst That Can Happen? Most of the time the "worst" is not so bad. Even after living into my 60's, I don't always remember that, and as I begin a big writing project, I need this gift. Is this a gift you need?

Second Gift
Penny wrote her first book and sent it to publisher after publisher after publisher without any positive results. She also submitted it to a contest for unpublished books and was shortlisted for that award. She went to the award dinner hoping to meet the agents she had learned were the top agents in the United Kingdom for crime fiction. Two out of the three were there, but one was not interested in her at all, and the other was drunk. However, she and her husband were invited to a cocktail party which was a fundraiser for an organization supporting women in Afghanistan, and at that party she met the third agent, whom she discovered had a post-it note on her computer with Penny's name on it! She has been her agent ever since. Penny calls this The Amalgamation of Small Things. I think of it as One Thing Leads to Another.

One thing doesn't necessarily lead to another, however, without active engagement. Penny did not want to go to that cocktail party, but her husband pushed, and they went. She had done her homework. She had entered the contest. She had written the book and followed her dream, not waiting for fulfillment, but working for what she wanted. And it happened.  

Think about your own life and how small steps, events, meetings, or thoughts have led you to something unexpected, but just where you hoped to be. When have you experienced The Amalgamation of Small Things in your life?

Third Gift
Penny admitted she started writing hoping to impress others--all the people in her life, as well as critics and potential readers. Eventually, she realized she needed to write for herself. She created a main character she would enjoy getting to know and having in her life. She understood that the writing, the creating itself, had to be enjoyment enough. At that point she really discovered herself as a writer.

I understand. Writing this blog brings me great pleasure, and if it didn't, I would stop writing it. Yes, I am delighted you read it and that what I write resonates with you, and yes, I would like more of "you," but that doesn't drive me. I write to discover and to clarify my feelings and thoughts, and writing is a way for me to be more present to my own life and the life around me. That doesn't mean I don't aim to do my best, to become a better writer, and to be aware of my audience, however. It all works together, and I am grateful for Penny's reminder.

I think at this stage of life we have a chance to really live the idea of doing what gives you pleasure and brings you meaning. Writing does that for me, but in order for that to be true, I must continue to grow and stretch. I need to find ways to use my gifts to connect with others and to live fully in this time and place. What brings you pleasure right now and how does that allow you to grow and to connect?

What a good day it had been --- with so many gifts.

An Invitation
What gifts have you received lately and what have those gifts inspired you to do or become? How have you energized someone else with your gift of life and wisdom? I would love to know.