Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Halloween Thoughts

Tomorrow night is Halloween, and I can finally open the big bag of candy I hid from myself in the pantry cupboard. I am actually quite proud of myself for not sneaking "just one." We will be at our daughter's house for their neighborhood chili supper and therefore, we will leave a big bowl of treats on our front step with a note to please, take one, and be considerate of other goblins. We have been told about a couple blocks in our neighborhood that go all out with decorations, and I hope the weather is warm enough for an investigative walk. I am not one, however, to go to Haunted Houses. I don't like being scared. 

This may seem like a big jump, but stay with me. Lately, I have been thinking about winter, and how this year I am not looking forward to it. I have always loved winter and not minded the snow and the cold. In fact, winter usually doesn't last long enough for me. In the past, winter has been a creative and deeply spiritual time for me, and the beauty of the bareness and white has inspired me.

I know where my lack of enthusiasm, even anxiety, comes from this year. The ghost of Christmas past is stalking me, and I am concerned about falling again. I broke my ankle at the end of March and it has been a long recovery, and, in fact, the bones have not yet fully healed. The orthopedist tells me at each visit that there has been more healing, but that complete mending takes a year. That means winter will be in full swing before my anniversary date. 

I know I am anxious, for I have mentioned how I almost dread the arrival of winter this year to several people. When I do that, I know it is time to sit with what is weighing on me. 

When I have admitted to my concern about winter this year the first response from others is to tell me to buy good boots. I appreciate that and will, for sure, make sure I have the right boots for our challenging conditions. After my fall a number of people quizzed me about how it happened in a way that made me feel I had done something wrong, had been negligent or reckless in some way and could have prevented the fall. Who knows, but I was wearing boots when I encountered the smoothest, slickest ice under the skim of snow,  and accidents do happen. 

I will take precautions this winter and be as smart as I can about what is the safest thing to do. I won't walk to my Monday evening class, which is several blocks away, on snowy and icy nights, but I don't want to fall prey to the kind of anxiety that will prevent me from driving to class, unless there are blizzard conditions present. That's the difference between being cautious and smart and being paralyzed. 

Here's what Harriet Lerner says in 
her book Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, Tackling the Anxiety, Fear, and Shame That Keep Us from Optimal Living and Loving:

          Usually, anxiety is a mean trickster. It signals you to
          pay attention, but it also turns your brain to oatmeal,
          narrows and rigidifies your focus, and obscures the
          real issues from view. Anxiety tricks you out of the
          "now" as you obsessively replay and regret the past
          and worry about the future. It tricks you into losing
          sight of your competence and your capacity for love,
          creativity, and joy. It tricks you into believing that
          you are lesser and smaller than you really are. Anxiety
          interferes with self-regard and self-respect, the 
          foundation on which all else rests. p. 54

Last winter was tough--it was unbearably cold and we had a ton of snow, which kept on falling, storm after storm, and winter seemed to drag on forever. The Farmer's Almanac says it is going to be another winter like last year's. Bummer! Last winter was challenging in other ways as well. I was living here and my husband was commuting between here and Madison on weekends. We sold our Madison house in January and had to manage that move. We, also started getting my Dad's house ready to sell, and all this was on top of lots of change and challenge the previous year as well. When I broke my ankle, I truly wonder what else could happen. My mind races back to all of that, and I feel anxiety move right in. 

I know that anxiety can be a signal to pay attention and can be protective and life-preserving, fear, also, can be debilitating. Lerner says, 
          The more you try to make fear go away (an impossible
          dream), rather than learning to function with it, the worse
          you will feel about yourself. You will mistakenly see
          yourself as a weak and impaired individual, rather than 
          as a strong, competent person… p. 55

How does this all relate to Halloween? Halloween is a chance to confront some of the fears lurking in our imagination. We have a chance to be brave, to go out in the dark where goblins and ghosts are around the corner. In our costumes, we can be in disguise and set aside our real world for a brief moment. Halloween isn't about who we have been or who we will be, but about answering the doorbell and seeing who is on the other side. "Trick or Treat."

Winter is inevitable. It will arrive as it always does, and I can't do anything about its length or the amount of snow or how low the temperatures plunge, but I can move forward bravely, remembering the love I have for winter's stillness and for the ways winter beckons me. This will be its own time, and my task is to open the door and respond to what is on the other side. 

An Invitation
What fears and anxieties do you have and how do you cope with them? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: I Love My Life!

I wonder how many times the sentence "I love my life," has bounced into my head, flowed through my heart, and sprung from my lips? Many, many times, and with good reason, for I have such a wonderful life, full of love and laughter and life-giving relationships and purpose. 

What interests me is when this sentence, "I love my life," is present. I don't necessarily have to be thinking consciously about all the good things in my life, but may be driving to the grocery store or folding towels or stirring the soup. I may be walking up the stairs to my garret office for an hour or two of writing time or plugging in my iPhone for recharging, and I will have to stop and take a deep breath, for I am so overwhelmed by what I am feeling in that moment. 

Yes, there are times of conscious reflection--when I meditate and then write in my journal or when I pray and address the state of my heart and the needs of those I love, known and unknown, when it doesn't surprise me to have that thought--one of intense gratitude-- but how do I account for all the other times when I am sure I must be glowing? I love my life. This feeling seems to be arising in my life even more frequently these days.

Last week I attended a training session at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts called Art Adventure, in order to volunteer at our grandson's school. I will be a Picture Person and help young people learn to "see" and to discover how art can bring joy and understanding into their lives. As I left the museum, such an amazing place, I could feel that familiar feeling of warmth envelop me. I love my life. The next day driving home from a quick trip to the grocery store I saw three yards completely covered in golden, end of the rainbow, pot of gold, leaves, and I almost had to pull over for the uncontrollable joy I felt.

What is even more amazing to me is that sometimes that sentence rushes over me when I am not as much in love with my life. When I was in the hospital after surgery for my broken ankle last March, I had a lovely young student nurse whose energy and open-heartedness lifted my spirits. I was in good hands and so would be everyone in her care. I may not have loved this new fact in my life, life with a broken ankle, but this new challenge was in the context of a life I love. 

"I love my life" is a form of prayer. A thank you. Sometimes, it is also an expression of hope, a way of opening to support and strength. I recall driving from Ohio to Minnesota early in December many years ago. My mother had been admitted to a hospice recently because she was dying from colon cancer. I had been back and forth many times in the recent months and only months before had had surgery myself for uterine cancer. I spent part of the time in the car composing her eulogy, crying as I did so.  As I approached the Chicago area and the challenge of driving through the city, I told myself to buck up and give my total attention to the road and the cars around me. I couldn't find a public radio station, but all of a sudden I heard Bing Crosby singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," and then, amazingly, every version of White Christmas was played--the Chipmunks, Glen Campbell, the Jackson Five, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and many others. I smiled and sang and laughed and yes, said to myself, "I love my life." I felt stronger, better able to cope with what was ahead, and more whole, and as if a piece of healing had spread over me. 

What I am beginning to learn is that when I am fully present to my life, fully awake and not in the past or the future, but just the present, my response is one of awe and almost ecstasy. I am in love with my life and am open to receive whatever is in that life. 

An Invitation
Do you love you life? When are you most aware of being in love? What are you doing in your life right now to open to the love in your life? I would love to know. 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: The Entangled Bank

Once upon a time a young girl who was a freshman in college was taking a biology class because she had to--in order to fulfill the distribution requirements for graduation. In her mind, it was better than taking a math course. One day while working in the lab dissecting a fetal pig or at least attempting to, the professor, who seemed ancient to the young girl, looked at what she was doing and very quietly asked, "Miss Jensen, what is your major?" She replied, "English." He said, "Good," and moved on. Somehow the young girl passed the class, but from that day forward science was not part of her personal curriculum.

Until now. That same young girl--now a woman over 65--is taking a theology class in which Darwin and his theory of evolution as explained in his famous treatise, On the Origin of Species is being explored. She still feels overwhelmed by some of the vocabulary and the ideas and the applications and implications of the theory, although she fully accepts it. The difference between then and now is not only that she isn't getting a grade, but she, too, has evolved and is more willing to struggle with what she doesn't understand easily. 

That young girl, obviously, was me, and I am the old woman now taking a theology class in which questions about the the value of the natural world within the framework of religious belief is being explored, and I find it fascinating. How about that, Dr, Lofthus?? The book we are studying is Ask the Beasts, Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A. Johnson, the brilliant academic who is perhaps best known for her book She Who Is, The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. She is not afraid to challenge what has been accepted or hidden or considered unimportant by the church. In her most current book she probes the idea that "love of the natural world is an intrinsic element of faith in God and that far from being an add-on, ecological care is at the center of moral life." 

Discussions at the Monday night class are always provocative and lively and even though I often feel totally overwhelmed, not only as a non biologist, but also as a lay theologian sitting with a group of intelligent and dare I say, radical Catholic sisters who have devoted their lives to the service of God and study of theological issues, I show up week after week, and I am learning so much.

In the last paragraph of Darwin's On the Origin of Species he writes beautifully of the world around him. 
          It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank,
          clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds
          singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting
          about, and with worms crawling through the damp
          earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed
          forms, so different from each other, and dependent on
          each other in so complex a manner, have all been
          produced by laws acting around us. 

The class has been encouraged to notice "entangled banks" around us, as we walk in our gardens or in a park or while driving in the countryside or along the nearby Mississippi River. The natural world is an amazing mix of life and growth, and I am in awe and grateful. Because I am who I am, however, the phrase, "entangled bank," has raised in me an additional response. A metaphorical response.

I think about the entangled banks in my own life. Foe example, my bookshelves. The bookshelves in my garret shelves are teeming with life--my version of plants of many kinds, 
birds singing, insects flitting, worms crawling. These shelves show my spiritual and theological history. How surprising to find Elizabeth Johnson sitting next to Robert A. Johnson who wrote the seminal book on dreamwork or my, oh my, Julian of Norwich is next to Jon-Kabat-Zinn, the famous proponent of Buddhist mediation in our everyday life. The author of Wherever You Go, There You Are. I suspect they have been having fascinating conversations all these years. Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal church and Malidoma Patrice-Some from West Africa, who wrote The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community, no doubt have enjoyed their alphabetical companionship. Books by Thomas Merton, who died far too young, is next to a book about creative aging. On the first shelf eleven books by Karen Armstrong spread out, knowing how important they have been in my personal theological development, and they know I will make room for any future books by her. 

I see great beauty in the mix of topics and ideas and backgrounds and practices and tools. All of these books reflect my interests and my spiritual and intellectual growth and change over the years. But there is also some chaos --the stacks of books I have yet to read and have not yet found their place on my shelves. Will other books need to be eliminated in order to make room for the new?

The flow of my life. My own entangled bank. 

My bookshelves are a visible and tangible entangled bank, but I think about other areas in my life over the years where there has been gradual change; where I have embraced diversity. At times the Big Picture has taken precedence over the specific, the particular. At times it has been difficult to sort through what feels like chaos in order to see the beauty and the potential. Right now, for example,  I am in an entangled bank of my own interests --all the things I want to do in this stage of my life. 

Darwin, much to my surprise, offers some guidance and reassurance, "There is grandeur in this view of life." To recognize and appreciate and honor the entangled banks of life keeps us stretching and growing.

An Invitation
As you move in the natural world, the outer world, notice the entangled banks. What do you see? Then think about the entangled banks in your own life? Where has there been diversity and change? Perhaps even some chaos? What looks different in your life today than it did a month ago or even yesterday? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Choosing Where to Work

I love writing, reading, and working in my garret, and I know how lucky I am to have this space. Bookshelves line the walls. I can see the top of the maple tree bending towards garage roofs, and inbetween the homes across the alley from us catch a glimpse of the occasional walker on the next block. When it rains, I hear it on the roof and when it gets cold, I wrap up in a shawl and pretend to be a starving, but brilliant artist. 

Lately, I have spent most of my daytime life here. Bruce says he never sees me, and true, I head up the stairs first thing in the morning and come down only for food and drink and the bathroom and when other aspects of my life require it. I need the time here since I am taking a demanding online writing course and a theology class, and I need the quiet solitude and freedom from distraction to move through the material. However, those are not the only reasons I have focused my writing and study life here in the garret.

I thought after being homebound when I broke my ankle the end of March and finally, being able to be out and about that I would overcompensate for the forced time home. I am not a hermit, and I am so happy I can enjoy a more normal and routine life once again, and at first, I did feel sprung from the physical restrictions, but for the most part I am happy to be home. Introverts often are. 

Part of the reason is that for almost a year and a half I was at the mercy of potential buyers for our home in Madison. I had a nice office in that home, too. My desk was the over nine feet long harvest table formerly our dining room table in our home at Sweetwater Farm. I could spread out on that expansive space and stack piles of books without interfering with my laptop and legal pads. Plenty of room. My current desk was once the vanity table in my walk in closet--a perfect space for hair and make-up gear, but a little limited in work space. I don't care. I am making do. I am doing that because no one else dictates how long I can be here. The potential of people walking in our home and making judgements about the space and the color choices and the use of rooms is over! A phone call to schedule a showing during my prime creative time is a thing of the past. I no longer have to pack up my laptop and notebooks and whatever else I think I may need and leave the house in the middle of a time when ideas are flowing. I revel in the fact that I can sit here in my flannel pajamas and slippers for as long as I want to on many days. Why would I leave?

Every morning Bruce leaves the house first thing in the morning and heads to his new "office," Grand Central Cafe. He takes his laptop and does his morning work while enjoying his coffee. Sometimes his good friend joins him. Sometimes our daughter is there, too.  Occasionally, he asks if I would like to join him or meet him there, but so far I like this arrangement. 

Sunday afternoon, however, I decided I needed a change. I had a notebook full of handwritten freewriting for my book project, and I needed to transcribe each piece into a computer file. Creative thinking was not involved nor was the need for quiet and stillness. In addition, I felt a need to be a writer in the world again. To feel myself part of a larger community, a visible community, even though I would not know anyone else sitting at nearby tables. I needed to eavesdrop, unconsciously, of course, on conversations about life and love, joy and sadness, the extraordinary in the ordinary. I needed to see connection --girl meets boy, women friends, families with little ones in strollers, students with bulging backpacks and headphones. I needed a different kind of energy from one I have created in my solitary garret. 

What a good idea! I spent the entire afternoon at Grand Central, which seems to be combination study hall for students at Macalester College and an extension of a workplace for others. I observed three students, each absorbed in their homework, only one on a laptop and the other two reading texts, underlining and taking notes the old-fashioned way. After an interval of 45 minutes or so, they would chat for a few minutes about their professors and their classes and worries about upcoming midterms and then they returned to their individual work. An easy, congenial rhythm. 

Not only did I finish the task I needed to do, but along the way I gathered a number of ideas for my book and noted ways to develop what I have already written. I felt stimulated. Natalie Goldberg, a huge proponent of writing in restaurants and cafe's, says in her writing classic, Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within, "…the cafe atmosphere keeps that sensory part of you busy and happy, so that the deeper, quieter part of you that creates and concentrates is free to do so. It is something like occupying a baby with tricks, while slipping the spoon full of applesauce into her mouth. Mozart used to have his wife read stories to him while he was composing for the same reason." I felt spoon fed with stimulation I didn't know I needed. 

Sometimes when I write in a cafe I pretend I am in Paris, especially if I have ordered chocolat au chaud, which is hot chocolate to all of you who are not sitting in a French cafe. Even before we planned our trip to Paris I was intrigued by a book called A Writer's Paris, A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by creativity coach, Eric Maisel. I know I could write stunningly if I lived in Paris and so why not imagine myself being there. "Remind yourself that writing in Paris is a brilliant way to make meaning and that you are absolutely on track... If necessary, treat yourself to chocolate." p. 50. See why I love that book!

I probably would have finished the task I set for myself even if I had stayed in my perch at home, but I suspect on that particular day, if I had not responded the the whisper of restlessness, I would have slipped into distractions along the way.  A load of laundry, time reading the New York Times Book Review, maybe a few games of solitaire online. What I needed was a slight change--one that wouldn't take a huge effort to make happen. I needed the nudge that often comes with a different place, sounds and views, and it worked. Monday I was back in my garret and happy to be there, but my Sunday experience reminded me how important it is to listen to one's self, to become acquainted with what adds to one's growth and what speaks to one's purpose and essence. 

An Invitation
Does my experience speak to you? How do you recognize and respond to some rising restlessness within you? Is there a call for new stimulation, a slight change? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Because I Can

An email from a friend one morning this week said she was still in her jams and reading "because I can and want to to be." Another friend, newly retired, said she intends to spend her days painting because she can. My husband and I spent a weekday afternoon with friends roaming river towns and enjoying the beauties of fall because we could. This morning I turned off my alarm and slept another 45 minutes because I can. 

What an interesting time of life--to so often be able to choose what you want to do, instead of doing what you have to do, need to do. Obviously, there are still things that are more on the side of have to do and need to do, for that is life, that is the way being an adult is, but aren't you delighted to discover all the choices you have now as your life becomes more spacious? Yes, I hear retired people say, almost gleefully, how busy they are, busier than they have ever been, but it seems to me it is a different kind of busy. Now the choices are made based more on passion and interest and a desire to connect or grow or give than on responsibility and survival. Or at least there is the potential for that to be the case. 

When talking about being retired I often hear the word "liberating." "I feel liberated," someone will say, especially if retirement has been a choice rather than forced in some way. To feel liberated, instead of lost, however, requires being awake to oneself and the present moment. 

As I often do, I turn to Joan Chittister's book, The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully.

      We find ourselves at the greatest moment of choice we've ever had, at least since we left home on our own, since we identified what we wanted to do in life, since we made the great career move, since we decided, finally, to settle down. Now we have to decide how to live without being told how it's done.
    The slate is clean. The days are ours. The task now is to learn how to live again. p. 28

     The truth is that this new stage of life liberates in a way no other stage of growth can possibly do. All the striving is over now. We don't have to have the way we spend our time approved anymore. We don't have to work, produce, or get ahead anymore. The only thing required of us now is the blooming of the self. Like autumn flowers, rich in color, deep in tone, sturdy in the wind, our lives, not only have new color, they bring with them the kind of interior depth a fast-moving world so dearly needs.
      If we decide that life is over once the accoutrements of middle age are over--the career, the title, the children, the climb up the social ladder--and that there is nothing else worth doing, that the very definition of who we are has been summarily foreclosed, then if course it will be. We have ended ourselves.
       But if we can bring ourselves to strike out now to try on the rest of ourselves, there is a whole new world ahead of us. Parts of ourselves that have been so carefully hidden from others during all the years of responsibility and productivity--and just as often as not hidden from ourselves as well--are now ours for the trying.
       And it is the willingness, the eagerness to try, that makes all the difference. pp. 46-47

      This may, in fact, be the first moment in our lives when we are really free to choose work that brings out the best in us and so brings out the best in the world around us. We become co-creators of the world." p. 151

I am still in my pajamas as I write this post and once I publish it, I may decide to fix a cup of hot chocolate and sit in my favorite chair and read the book I started last night or I may get dressed  and take a walk, a walking meditation, or I may choose to work on the assignments for the writing class I am taking. These are "because I can" moments. They lift me, make me smile, and often restore me, but they can also stretch my imagination and spirit and lead me to a more profound "because I can" opening in my life.  

An Invitation
What are you currently doing because you can? Are you living your life more from a perspective of because you can or because you don't want to? Do you know the difference? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Fall Days

Minnesotans are known for saying, "Enjoy these days while you can because winter is just around the corner." You hear that statement or similar ones not only in the fall months, but on a gorgeous summer day, someone is bound to bring up winter. "Just you wait," someone will warn. Then in the middle of winter, if we get a warmer than usual day or two, someone will always point out how we will be punished for the  blip in the temperatures. I don't know if that is a Midwestern thing or a Scandinavian thing, since so many of us have that background, but we always seem to have one eye on the creeping, approach of winter. October may be the month of ghosts and goblins, but watch out--for winter comes disguised as fall. So get out there and enjoy it--that's an order!!!

That's just what I have been doing. This weekend we spent an afternoon at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, along with everyone else it seemed, but the hordes of people did not detract from the glory of the day. The display of pumpkins and gourds satisfied the love affair I have with those fall fruits, although the scarecrows scattered in the gardens did not do their job--being more of a welcoming presence than a deterrent to garden thieves. The annual flower beds had been cleared, but we barely noticed the bareness as we were showered by a pirate's treasure chest of gold coins--leaf after leaf floating around us, fluttering in the breeze. The herb garden after the first frost had lost much of its vitality, but you could see what it had been, remnants of its youth. Even at the end of their useful days, there was beauty in the fading colors and withered shapes. I find hope in that. 

Sunday afternoon I wrapped myself in a shawl and headed to our side garden for some reading time in the sun. Just like all the doomsayers in our midst, I told myself I better do this one more time before winter forbids such luxury. As I shook the leaves off the cushion, I realized I had not enjoyed this outdoor space enough. How many excuses there were--it's too hot or too buggy or I think I will take a walk instead, or I will have more time for that tomorrow. Fall can become a season of regrets. I think about what I could have done, should have done and wonder how I am possibly going to do everything I want to do in the time remaining.    I sit with that question often these days, the fall of my life. 

Yesterday I drove to a town in Wisconsin about 90 minutes away from here to meet two long time friends. Only a week ago I had driven that same route, a familiar, often-traveled highway, but how different it seemed yesterday--so much change in one week. Where were those reds last week? The day was grey and overcast, and I occasionally needed to turn on the windshield wipers, but I was grateful for the misty moistness which allowed me to adjust to the intensity of the color. 

I eased into the red. Many years ago I had a stunning red hat and when I wore it, I would always get compliments from total strangers. I was noticed in a way I was not used to and not completely comfortable with. I decided to prepare myself for the attention by wearing the hat at home for awhile before leaving the house. The wispy veil over the reds yesterday seemed to be a practice session, too--just wait till you see us in all our splendor. 

The eagle I saw standing guard in an almost empty tree punctuated the day. Now is the time. Don't miss this. Don't wait. If not now, when? 

The squirrel who chattered at me while I sat in the garden the other day knows the importance of the present. He had nuts to gather. "Time is a wasting," he seemed to say, scolding me for being in his way. He proved his point, I discovered the next morning when I opened the front door and saw the damage he had done--I know it was him--on one of our pumpkins. Oh well.

Today is that day, I announce to the eagle and the squirrel and the leaves coating the front yard. Sun is promised, and we are going on a fall color tour with friends along the St Croix River. Such a senior citizen thing to do!!! Aren't we lucky, and besides, winter is just around the corner! 

An Invitation
How are you living in these fall days? What are you uncovering as the leaves fall? What does fall moving into winter mean to you? I would love to know.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Re-Entry

Laundry Time
What is your routine after you have been away from home for a few days or longer or even when you have just been doing some errands for a couple hours? We recently returned from spending several days with our son and daughter-in-love --a wonderful time, I might add, making us wish once again that we lived closer to each other. However, it is always good to get home. 

We like to resettle into home immediately. Without hesitation. We each unpack and before we know it the washer is going. We find places for anything we have brought home with us and put away our luggage. We go through the mail and stack the papers. We water plants, and if it is still daytime and the lawn needs it, Bruce will mow. I may head to the grocery store to replenish milk and other necessities and figure out what to fix for dinner. Before we know it we are each in our favorite chairs, comfortable in our pajamas. We are home --and life goes on. 

That's not to say that catch-up time is not needed after an absence. This week, for example, I am huffing and puffing to re-insert myself into the scheduled assignments and readings for the online writing class I am currently taking. And there are bills to pay and a long list of emails that need attention. Yes, I had my laptop and iPhone with me, but I devoted only minimal time to them. Only for the necessities. Plus, I have not seen my Dad for over a week and need to schedule more than phone time with him. 

But in this case re-entry does not add up to stressful moments, erasing the pleasures of the recent days. I wondered about that, thinking about past times of return. When re-entry means a return from a trip out of the country there is jet lag to handle and maybe a feeling of displacement. Where am I? What is it I am supposed to be doing now? Did that vacation really happen? Was I really just in Paris a few hours ago? There may even be a reluctance to let go and re-enter.

Several times, when we were trying to sell our house, a showing would be scheduled for just the time we should have been driving the car into the garage. Once returning from a week in Florida, I listened to messages as we disembarked the plane only to discover that we would not be going home, but would have to camp out at a coffee shop because of a scheduled showing. All we wanted was to get home, for once the direction is back towards home getting there, being there, sleeping in one's own bed becomes the goal, and sometimes one's energy is stretched to make arriving back at home possible sooner rather than later. Delays are not appreciated.

Now, however, the schedule is ours. Bruce is not heading back to work the next day no matter what time we arrive home. Now we have the luxury to treat leaving and returning as times in themselves--time to be in that moment of anticipating the days to come or to reflect on the days just enjoyed. There is time to be grateful. To notice the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

When we lived at our Sweetwater Farm in Ohio, my heart lifted and I started breathing faster as we approached home. I felt that way whether I had been gone for a week or only a few hours. I felt welcomed by that place as much as I hope we were a welcoming presence in that home for others. I always felt a sense of sacred re-entry there. I feel myself opening to that feeling here and now as well. Thich Nhat Hanh says, "The path around our home is also the ground of our awakening."

I try to remember to express a prayer of gratitude for our safe return, to do that as part of my re-entry routine, but I must admit I am often too distracted by heavy suitcases and bags as I cross the threshold. Later, however, as I re-bond with home, lighting a lamp, turning down the bed, folding the clean laundry, I know I at least sigh my deep thanks for the leaving and time away, as well as the return and re-entry.

An Invitation
Phil Cousineau quotes Trish O'Reilly in his book The Art of Pilgrimage, The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred, "…you are now back where you started and you have to know you've come full circle." What does that mean for you? Did you bring yourself back with you? Has something shifted for you while you were on the road and if so, how will you keep that awake in you now that you are home? How can you enlarge your circle because of the time you have had away? Are you more aware that the sacred is everywhere? I would love to know.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Is There a Writer in the House?

Recently, our two grandchildren, Maren (11) and Peter (6) stayed with us for the weekend while Mom and Dad were out of town. On Saturday Peter was busy with a soccer game and a birthday party, but Maren had unscheduled time. She slept late, which was not surprising given her new earlier school start time, but the rest of the day was open. I thought about things she might like to do while Peter and Papa were gone and had also told her she could get together with friends at our house or I would take her wherever she wanted to go. What she chose, however, was to stay here, sit at the dining room table and write. 

She and a good friend are writing a book, and each time they get together they write, fully collaborating on the characters, plot, and setting. They have filled notebooks with this project and now are transcribing it to the computer. That's what Maren wanted to do on a gorgeous fall day, a weekend day, a free day. Write. Work on her book. 

I had intended to spend the afternoon reading and maybe taking a nap, but how could I, supposedly a writer, who says I never have enough time to write, not be challenged by, inspired by my granddaughter's discipline and enthusiasm and belief in her work. I retreated to my office and yes, I, too, wrote.

Maren is now at an age when being with her friends is much higher  on her list of priorities and being with GrandNan is much lower. I get it. That's normal and healthy, but I miss her. Therefore, this summer I thought about ways I could spend time with her and have it be a win-win situation. The first key was to include one of her friends in our activities and outings, and the second key was to do something we would all enjoy. I thought about how I could share myself with her in a way that would be meaningful--and fun for her. Writing time! I write. Maren and her buddy Lily write, and, in fact, we each view writing as a valuable and pleasurable activity, so why not do it together?

With permission and encouragement from the Moms I planned three writing times for the three of us during the summer. Two half days and one all day writing marathon. My goal was to support and reinforce their writing interest and energy, but what I didn't realize is that our time together would reinforce and support me as a writer, as well. We were writers writing together. I provided some structure and ideas and facilitated our time, but those writing times were for me as much as for them. We talked about what it means to be a writer and how to practice our craft and what our hopes and dreams for our writing might be. And we wrote. And we read aloud what we wrote, hearing our own words as they hit someone else's ears. And we wrote some more. 

I am taking a challenging online writing course right now, which I hope will push me forward on a big and nebulous writing project, a book I am having a hard time getting my arms around. I am struggling and anxious about it, yearning to do it and yet at the same time resisting the commitment I know it will take for completion. My vision keeps shifting. I am unclear, and I have no idea what this book will become. 

What I have, however, is the memory of sitting with two lovely young women, excited and eager and trusting, and fully believing they will finish their book and it will be published some day. They are writers, and they remind me that I am, too. Who knows what else they will be as they move through the years, but their passion is a lesson for me -- to know what I love to do and to do it. Now. 

Maren was so happy, by the way, with all she accomplished that day as she sat at our dining room table. I was just as happy sitting at my desk in the garret writing, knowing we were both engrossed in one of our loves. 

An Invitation
What is it you love to do, but don't make room for in your life? Is there a way to share what you love to do with someone else, especially someone else who might just turn out to be your teacher or collaborator? I would love to know

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Ending the Day

Putting the House to Bed
My mother often said as she got older it took her longer and longer to get ready for bed. She had lovely skin and took good care of it, but that caretaking involved more and more products and steps with each year. She followed her end of the day routine faithfully, however, and she looked younger than her years, which was important to her. 

My father, who is 91, reads two pages of Luther's Catechism every night. Recently, he has started reading them out loud to himself. I have no idea how many times he has completed the book--how pleased Martin Luther would be--but he says he learns and absorbs something new each time. 

I like turning on the nightstand lamp before the bedroom is engulfed in darkness, but I delay lowering the blinds till just before going to bed. Winter nights I get into pajamas and robe and slippers soon after supper, preparing myself for an evening of cozy reading or watching television. Then when sleeps begins to overcome me, I am ready for bed. I may read a bit more in bed, but more often these days once I am in bed I close my eyes and say my final prayers of the day.

What signals your end of the day? Do you have a routine that leads you to bedtime and a night's rest? Are there tasks that are part of bringing the day to its conclusion? What brings you comfort at the end of the day? 

Benjamin Franklin started his day by asking himself, "What good shall I do this day?" and ended it with the follow-up question, "What good have I done today?" 

Just imagine what could happen in our world if we each held those two questions within our hearts and acted upon them each day? Joyce Rupp in her book The Cup of Our Life, A Guide for Spiritual Growth suggests we "wrap the day with the ribbon of prayer," using the following questions as a guide:
       1. How open or aware was I to the presence of God in my 
       2. What kind of nourishment did I receive?
           What kind of nourishment did I give?
       3. Does anything need to be emptied out in order for me to be
           at peace tonight?
       4. For what do I thank God as I prepare to enter into sleep?
                                                                  pages 17-18

The theological term for looking back over the day is called "examen," which is identifiable with an examination, but without the academic context. Richard J. Foster in his classic Prayer, Finding the Heart's True Home, says an examen is an "accurate assessment of the true situation." (p, 27) 

One of the values of developing the practice of examen is to become more aware, more awake as we move through our days from the beginning to the end when our head hits the pillow. Along with noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary, knowing that the examen part of the day is approaching, we are encouraged to remember, to hold onto what has touched us during the day. The process and gift of remembering the present is a valuable practice as we get older and tend to focus more on the past. 

Do we notice the flock of geese overhead? Do we enjoy the young child in the grocery cart ahead of us who tries to get our attention? How present are we to the neighbor on our sidewalk as we unload our groceries? What does the air feel like as we bring in the mail?  Do the leaves appear less green and more gold and red today? 

Who needs our touch today? Our voice? Our thoughts and prayers? 

Foster points out that using the examen, and there are many forms with varying questions to use in your private examination, is a way to go deeper within to your true self, using the outward experiences of the day. That may sound very self-absorbed, but Foster says, "No, it is not a journey into ourselves that we are undertaking but a journey through ourselves so that we can emerge from the deepest level of the self into God. As Saint John Chrysostom notes, 'Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.'" (p. 32) 

Here's what Thich Nhat Hanh says in Present Moment, Wonderful Mment, Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, "We can begin practice beginning anew at any moment of our lives…When we look deeply, we see that beginning anew is possible at any time of our daily lives, at any age." (p. 110)

He opens his meditation on ending the day this way:
          The day is ending,
          our life is one day shorter.
          Let us look carefully
          at what we have done.
          Let us practice diligently,
          putting our whole heart into the path of meditation.
          Let us live deeply each moment in freedom,
          so time does not slip away meaninglessly. 

One of my favorite end of the day prayers is from Illuminata, A Return to Prayer by Marianne Williamson:
         Dear God,,
         I surrender to You the day now over.
         May only the love remain.
         Take all else into the fire of Your transformative power.
         Release me, release others from any effects of my
              wrongmindedness or wrongdoing.
         Dear God,
         Return me to Your light.
         As I now give to You who I am, what I did, who I loved, 
               who I failed to love, please make all things right.
         Take all things.
         May I continue to grow in Your light and love.
         Tomorrow my I be better.

My post last Thursday, "Beginning the Day", offered possibilities for starting the day with a practice of prayer. May I suggest doing the same at the end of the day, creating spiritual bookends for your day. 

An Invitation
What is your night time settling in routine? Does it include a looking back, a letting go, and a moving forward? I would love to know.