Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Navigation Skills

The summer I was twelve my family drove from our home in southern Minnesota to South Dakota, a family vacation to see the Badlands and Wall Drug, and Mt Rushmore. The five of us all took our usual places in the car--I was seated behind the driver, my father, of course, for this was 1960 and who drove was never in question. Before we pulled out of the driveway, my father handed back a map to me and said, "Get us there." I became the navigator and quickly learned the mysteries of map-reading. I don't remember much about that trip, except I took my job seriously, certain Dad was dependent on my directions to get us to our destination. Oh, and I remember the name of one teeny town we passed through, Pumpkin Center, South Dakota. Perhaps that is when my obsession for pumpkins began! 

I will always be grateful for that teachable moment.  

Fast forward many, many years, and my husband and I are driving with our twelve year old granddaughter Maren to Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes (See the previous post.) and Bruce hands Maren the map and says, "Get us there." Actually, they looked over the map together, and he pointed out features on the map--how to read it and what valuable information it shows. This was a new experience for her, as it had been for me 55 years ago, and she did a great job, even when we were forced to take a detour because of a major accident on the highway. 

When Maren was just five years old, and we would be going somewhere in the car together, we played a made-up game called Pilot to Navigator, Navigator to Pilot. I tested her knowledge of left and right, and I had her point out various landmarks. I hoped to develop an awareness in her of where she was and how we arrived there. And with her newly acquired map-reading skill she can now figure out how to get where she wants to go, as well.

Isn't that what we are all trying to do? 
      Understand where we have been. 
      Know where we are. 
      Know how to get where we are going. 
Now what is so hard about that? 

Obviously, that is the work of a lifetime. 

Perhaps now, as those of us who identify as Christians approach the beginning of the Easter season and those of the Jewish tradition approach Passover, it is a good time to look at our life maps. As you look back, how would you describe your relationship with God, the Sacred, the Holy, and how has God led you over both rough and smooth terrain? 

Reflecting on the miles travelled can reveal an "inner map of the feelings life has roused in you, the decisions you have made along the way, and the way you have made them." You can see more clearly "significant landmarks along the way where you feel that something grew inside you, and significant people who have walked alongside you at different stages of your journey and brought you closer to an understanding of yourself." (Inner Compass, An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf, p 17) 

Now is a good time, regardless of your beliefs, to stop and look at the map and mindfully take stock of where you are. Is this where you want to be --in your relationships, in your work, in your inner growth, in the way you live and move in our world? And if it isn't, how will getting where you want to be even be possible? Do you even know what that means? 

As you know, if you read this blog, I am a big proponent of developing a spiritual practice--a practice of meditation or journal writing, or walking meditation or whatever you choose to do in an intentional and mindful way--and that spiritual practice becomes your map. That spiritual practice leads you to an awareness of who you are and the journey that led you to where you are. Knowing who you are can clarify for you the person you want to be, the person that lives within. We're talking lots of miles here, but such a journey it can be! A pilgrimage. 

One more story: When our son was just a little boy, not yet school age, he and I would go for walks in our neighborhood. He stopped to chat with the various neighborhood dogs and wave to cars passing by and he told me about his own personal and often imaginary adventures. When we were blocks away and it was time to start the return trip, I would tell him to "get us home." At each intersection, I asked him, "Left? Right? Or straight ahead?" Sometimes there were wrong turns, but we always got home. 

In our lives we need both navigators and pilots, and we each have that opportunity to be a navigator or pilot as well. Knowing where we have been and where we are and using our inner maps can help us find our way. 

Happy travels!

An Invitation
Are you a good map reader? What map reading skills do you need to improve? Do you know where you have been? Where you are now? And where you want to go? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Sandhill Crane Watching

I don't have a Bucket List, for to me such a list implies doing something for the sake of having done it. Check--did that. Check--did that one, too. But that's just me. However, there are places I would love to visit and things I would love to experience, feeling that in someway those places and events would resonate with my soul. This past weekend was one of those opportunities, something I have wanted to experience for several years-- a chance to see the sandhill cranes as they rested and refueled in Nebraska's Platte River Valley during their spring migration from Northern Mexico and Texas to their breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Thousands of them. As many as 60,000 in one area alone during March and early April.

A Few Facts
According to a brochure from one of the nature centers near Kearney, Nebraska, sandhill cranes have come to that area of Nebraska for centuries. In fact, fossils of sandhill crane wing bones dating back nine million years have been discovered in Nebraska. Sandhill cranes are considered living dinosaurs. 

They come to this area because of the abundance of waste grain in corn fields which allows them to build up depleted fat reserves needed for migration. Also, the Platte River is narrow and shallow with sandbars that provide safety for them at night or as the brochure says "secluded loafing areas for rest, bathing, and courting." The cranes enjoy their R&R in the area for about three weeks. 

Like all cranes, sandhill cranes mate for life, and the females typically lay two eggs per year but usually only one chick survives the first year. A group of cranes is called a sedge or a siege, according to our Google expert, granddaughter Maren who was with us on this trip. 

Our Journey
Our home in Madison was near a nature preserve, Pheasant Run Conservatory, which was home to many sandhill cranes, and most non-winter mornings when I went for a walk I could hear their haunting, other-worldly call. We often saw them in the skies or gathered in corn fields or along Pheasant Creek. For some reason it was always thrilling. I could feel an inner vibration when I saw or heard them and hoped someday to see them in even larger numbers.

This was the year to do just that. Bruce's sister Sue, who lives in Omaha and is an avid photographer, invited us to make the trip with her. We packed our binoculars and boots and umbrellas in case of wet weather, and I did some internet searches about where to go and what to expect. We invited Maren to join us since she was on spring break and we headed to Nebraska.

The first time we saw masses of cranes in the air we all let out our own version of a whoop. I must admit there had been some momentary trepidation --what if we don't see any or if we only see a few? Well, from that moment on we saw cranes everywhere --on the ground and in the air. We stopped along country roads, and Sue took lots of photographs (Thanks, Sue!), and the rest of us marveled at how many there were, clustered in the fields snacking on all the leftover corn. Oh, and by the way, we certainly weren't the only ones--everywhere we went, including the nature centers we visited to learn more, we saw other crane watchers, just as dazzled by the sights as we were. 

In the evening at dusk the sandhills vacate the fields and bunch together on sandbars in the Platte River, a stunning and astonishing sight we were told, and we certainly wanted to experience that. The first night we went to a state park we had seen on a map as a good viewing sight and stood on a bridge over the water, along with  a hundred or so other hopeful souls. As the sun set, we saw group after group of cranes fly above us, but none landed where we were. Cameras were ready, and for the most part the expectant crowd was hushed as if in a place of worship. We were waiting for the ritual to begin.  

Some, however, expressed irritation that what was supposed to happen didn't. One person reminded those of us around her that dusk was scheduled for 7:47 and the sandhills should be here by now. They were there, but just not landing there. I wondered what made her think cranes should be "on demand" similar to watching our favorite television shows whenever we want, "on demand." 

Others seemed more interested in socializing, and we learned a lot about how a mother and her daughter happened to be in Nebraska, looking at grad school for the daughter. We heard about traffic and weather in the Washington DC area where they lived and how they didn't know anything about cranes (Duh!) but had heard this was something they should do as long as they were in the area. They seemed like friendly, bright people, but at the same time were not attuned to the reverence of the moment. I yearned for silence and needed to reach deep within to create my own sanctuary oblivious to the manmade distractions. 

Yes, I would have loved to see the cranes swooping down to their nighttime monastery, but that was not to be. Eventually, we all left the bridge and hiked back to our cars. At least we saw them in silhouette against the night sky. A sight in itself to behold. 

The Next Night
We studied the maps and inquired about other good viewing locations and off we went, grateful we had another chance. We gathered on another bridge, not quite as secluded, but where others had assembled, although fewer people and not as clustered. We began to see and hear the cranes lifting from nearby cornfields and we watched strings of them in the sky. Sue had wandered to another bridge close by and discovered a small group of cranes on a sandbar in the distance. We changed our position and were rewarded for our patience. String after string of cranes joined the first group on a sandbar. Each time there was adjustment of those who had already landed--the more the merrier they seemed to say. Nevermind that we were spying on them. They knew what to do.

The sun set and so did their haunting calls. Like a baby talking to itself in a crib, the birds quieted themselves as well. It is time to rest. It was not easy to pull myself away, even when I could no longer really see them. I had felt a sense of the liminal--moments of being in-between time. Not past. Not future or even present, but all time. Not here or there, but everywhere. This was a time outside the ordinary and part of something greater. I felt connected to the Universe, but at the same time so inconsequential in the bigger picture. 

In a way this was a pilgrimage, for it was a time of engaging with life, letting life beyond my own being and the lives of those I love enter me. I felt wonder. I felt restored.

An Invitation
At what times in your life have you felt wonder. When have you felt out of time and place? I would love to know.

Photo credits: Sue Kelly

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Spring Snow

I'm in the car. I've been in the car since 8:00 this morning, and it is now 6:00 Sunday evening. We are returning from a trip to Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes as they refuel for their trip from Mexico and Texas to points north (Note: Thursday's post will be about seeing the cranes.) We, my husband Bruce, granddaughter Maren and myself,  should have been home by now, but we are in the middle of a spring snowstorm, and we are slogging along the highway. 

Normally, I view snow as magical, but today, not so much. Each day we were in Kearney, Nebraska, the temps were in the 70's. Maren wore shorts, and we all relished walking nature center trails in the warmth of the sun. This morning I blithely checked the weather forecast of St Paul. 30's and SNOW!

Last week at home we had been so sure spring had arrived. Get out the sandals! Take the dirty coats to the dry cleaners. I had almost removed the small shovel from the back of the car before starting our road trip, but my wiser, older, more jaded self said, "Nope."

As we drove through Iowa today I noticed how fluffy the trees were getting. Frothy with impending spring. Iowa seems beyond the in-between, the transitional stage of winter to spring and actually to be in spring. But I also noticed the temperature steadily dropping. Quickly. Before crossing the Iowa - Minnesota border we filled the car with gas, and I spotted a car at the opposite pump wet with slush. We knew what was ahead.

Almost the minute we passed the "Welcome to Minnesota" sign, the snow hit. Ice slicks the highway. Cars dot the white ditches. Red lights of highway patrol and tow trucks flash through the white. I am grateful Bruce is at the wheel. Granddaughter Maren has her headsets on, and she listens to her playlist while sending her friends  pictures of the grey, snow-filled skies.

My job is to stay calm and breathe. 

My book is on my lap and I read, but I stop every few lines to note where we are in case we need to call AAA. Before returning to the book, I focus on slow, even breathing, breathing in Bruce's stress and breathing out calm and ease. 

Slow, but steady we get closer to home.  

We have had an easy winter. I'm not whining about this early spring snowstorm. Really, I'm not. Winter is not over till its over. We know that about Midwestern winters, but I would prefer being home, instead of going home. 

I think once again about what our Grandson Peter said on a miserably cold night recently, when I said I was hungry, tired and cold. He replied, "GrandNan, at least we're not sick or dead.  (See  http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2015/03/tuesdays-reflection-spring-almost.html ) 

Ah yes. And so we creep along, but we are fine, and we will get home. Later than planned, but home, and in the meantime I breathe and send prayers of safety to the cars and trucks who are just as eager to reach their destinations. 

May all be well. 

An Invitation
Stop right now and breathe and send prayers of safety to someone, known or unknown, who could use thoughts of well-being. How does doing that make you feel? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Maintain Peace of Mind

The other day I was forced to leave my comfortable garret and spend the day writing someplace else. 

I used to love writing in coffee shops or bagel places or even a MacDonalds where I had access to all the refills of Diet Coke I might want. I would follow Natalie Goldberg's http://nataliegoldberg.com rules for writing in restaurants to go hungry so you will want to eat and leave more than the ordinary tip, for you are staying longer than your turn. I agreed with Natalie that writing in a cafe' can improve stimulation.
          …the cafe atmosphere keeps that sensory part of you
          busy and happy, so that the deeper, quieter part of what
          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.
                               Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer
                                Within, p. 92

However, my desire to write some place other than in my garret has changed. For almost two years our home in Madison was for sale. Two years! I have lost track of how many showings we had--selective memory is a good thing, sometimes--but we had many, many, many. And every time there was a showing, I had to be out of the house. I grabbed a book I was reading, my journal, a magazine perhaps, and whatever writing project I was currently doing and I headed to a Panera or our neighborhood Prairie Cafe or even a Culvers. I always left the house earlier than the scheduled showing time, for it was always uncomfortable if I was still there when the realtor and prospective buyers arrived, and I gave them plenty of time to tour our house and didn't return till well after the planned end time, for often they ran behind schedule. I wanted them to love our house. I wanted them to buy our house. 

That was a great deal of out-of-house time for me during those two years. I wish I could say I produced the equivalent amount of pages. 

Now we are settled, and there is no need to grab my books and laptop and escape, and I am thrilled to stay home and write. Everything I need is right here, including Diet Coke, and instead of wishing I had remembered to bring  x, y, or z with me and who knew I would need x, y, or z anyway, I have it at my fingertips. I am not a recluse, and I do leave the house most days, whether it is to do errands or see my father or pick up one of the grands or meet a friend or even roam with my husband, but my writing time is here.

I was forced into temporary exile the other day, however, while central air conditioning was being installed in our home. Mind you, I am thrilled come warm weather that we will have this luxury. We became used to having it in our previous two homes and know it will add greatly to our comfort. That's the Big Picture. The whining immediate picture was anxiety about completing all the required pieces for the grant I am applying to. I have never done this before, and this feels like a sign of my commitment to this big project. More Big Picture thinking. 

I was assured the installation would only take a day and they, the AC crew, would do any necessary moving of our furniture and all the clean-up. The night before I thought carefully about what I would need to complete the day's 6 pages of the required 20-30 pages for the writing sample and told myself the change of scene would be good for me.

The next morning was more of a rush than anticipated since the crew arrived an hour earlier than we had been told, but I managed to shower and get out the door before the work began. I headed to the cafe' where my husband likes to go to do his work, and I settled  in at a table by the window, plugging in my laptop, spreading out notebooks and folders. I ordered breakfast, a quiche, even though I wasn't really hungry, but remember what Natalie said, and I started to work. But I was agitated and irritated, and started to worry I wouldn't be able to focus on what I needed to accomplish that day. 

That's when a simple spiritual practice rose within me. Breathe. Just breathe. As Thich Nhat Hanh http://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/ teaches, one breath to let go, one breath to be here, one breath to ask now what? 

One of my all-time favorite books of spiritual guidance is The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit by Christina Baldwin, http://peerspirit.com and I especially love what she says about maintaining peace of mind.
          To pause and breathe deeply literally sends more
          energy to the parts of our bodies we most need
          to access for peace of mind. Inhalation leads to
          inspiration….Peace is all around me; my job is to
          bring my mind to peace. p. 17

More than once during the day away I needed to repeat breathing for peace of mind. Let go. Be here. Now what?, and of course, I met my page quota, even though I wasn't in my beloved garret. I even enjoyed observing those around me and hearing bits and pieces of conversations, and I was grateful to have a pleasant place to be, away from the noise and activity at home.

Now here's where I need to self-disclose. That peace of mind didn't follow me home. While I was relieved to discover that day two would not be needed to complete the installation, I was distressed to see the garret, including my walk-in closet, completely dismantled. In order to meet my quota the next day there was nothing to do but get to work and put everything back in its place and do a thorough cleaning in that space. I have still not tackled the fine white dust everywhere else in the house, but that is not my priority right now. I surprise myself with that statement, for my normal inclination would be to do whatever I had to in order to have a totally clean house. I think this shows my commitment to the Big Picture. 

More self-disclosure: I huffed and puffed my way through the evening and went to bed exhausted, but didn't sleep well. When I woke up the next morning, I needed to have the same talk with myself. Let go. Be here. Now what? I am so glad I did for I was able to move ahead with an open and grateful heart ---and complete 6 more writing sample pages. 

An Invitation
Is there some time recently when using Thich Nhat Hanh's reminders to let go, be here, and now what? would have been useful? What do you do to keep the Big Picture in mind when you are feeling anxious? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Spring Almost?

Mary Oliver refers to the "lust of the season" in one of her poems, "Spring" (Owls and Other Fantasies, Poems and Essays, p. 4) and that's exactly what these early days of "almost spring" seem like to me. 

We lust for the warmth of the sun and for the freedom from heavy jackets and boots. This is the time of year when children are apt to lose mittens and hats, taking them off as they walk to school, even though it is still cool in the morning. They are sort of stuffed into pockets without thought to next winter. When you take your next walk, you may see some of those lost mittens, soggy and forlorn in pools in melting snow.

Back to lusting. We lust for the days growing longer and for green and for light rain without fear of icy roads. We lust for pussy willows and forsythia and for cotton pajamas, instead of flannel, and for salads instead of hearty soups. We lust for April and May and pretend that March is almost over. We lust for the sound of lawnmowers, instead of snowblowers. We are happy to see ice rinks turn into small seas of  evaporating water. Ice skates and hockey sticks are replaced by bikes and snowboards. The cardinal in our yard sings determinedly in the morning, staking his claim to this patch. He'll get no argument from me, but I wonder who else lusts after this space and who will win. 

We lust for clean windows and even cleaner cars. We think about cutting our hair and wearing something other than black. Is it too early to take our good winter coat to the dry cleaners? 

The biggest lusters of all, however, are the gardeners, who have been paging throughout seed catalogs since January and with each walk from the back yard to the garage door envision future plantings. If you are a gardener, are your fingers itching? Is your nose twitching? I don't mean to squelch your eagerness, but do remember the month is still March. 

Still, there is this:
        Listen! In the earth, the seeds are stirring and making 
        noise, like the birds whose song has been silenced by
        winter. Now the snow is being devoured by sun, our
        elder and in the branches, the persistence of our
        prayers is bringing the birds to life.
                           Nancy Wood, Shaman's Circle

As you lust for this new season, what is it that needs to come to life within you? Just as we begin to see the river flowing once again, what needs to thaw in your heart and soul? What is ready to unfold within you? What nudges do you feel? What signs of creativity and growth do you begin to feel? 

        Like the springtime land, so the inner land is thawed 
        and re-energized. A sense of loving and being loved 
        warms the interior places that were cold and dormant 
        in wintertime…There are times when spring enters the
        heart dramatically. An unexpected insight can bring 
        about immense clarity and encouraging self-revelation.
        A song, a vivid dream, a piece of poetry, meeting a
        kindred spirit, a walk through the woods can become a
        beautiful inner rising akin to a resurrection experience.
        When these spring-like encounters take place, our inner
        search is blessed with a new and invigorating sense of
        purpose and direction.
                     Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr, The Circle
                     of Life, The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons,
                     pp. 67-68

I have always been a winter person, content in my cave, but this year I feel more prepared for the lustiness, the gushiness of spring.
My inner landscape is changing, and I welcome the rush of warmth and fresh air. I am not young, but I am not yet in the waning winter months of my life, at least I don't think I am, and I feel myself awakening in surprising ways. Spring is a time of surprises, after all, and I might as well join the band. 

An Invitation
What do you lust for as spring begins to arrive? What needs to thaw within you in order to be present to this new season? How will your inner growth add to the growth we see all around us? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Second Wind

Sometimes when we are with friends and clearly it is time for the evening to end--we are all tired and we have had enough wine and have covered many topics--I will get my second wind. I revive and suddenly am ready for more conversation and connection. That can happen as we are standing at the door with our coats on or when my husband is clearing the dessert dishes. "Beware her second wind,"my husband says. I am not sure why it happens, but I know even when I am home alone or spending a quiet evening if I don't get myself to bed in order to have the needed eight hours of sleep, I am apt to get my second wind and will read or watch tv or write late into the night. I seem unable to stop doing whatever absorbs me, and I don't want to let go.

Sometimes that second wind is productive. 

This time of my life feels like a Second Wind. 

I have written in this blog lately about fullness, rather than busyness, and now I find myself evaluating most everything on those terms. 

Am I merely creating ways to be busy or is what I am doing adding to the fullness of my life, of my being?

Is what I am doing and how I am being adding to the fullness of the world? 

How will I use this second wind and let it use me?

A second wind seems different from a second chance, although there may be elements of that, but rather a second wind is energy  asking me to be more of the person I was created to be. A second wind asks "What is the new horizon in you that wants to be seen?" to quote John O'Donohue http://www.johnodonohue.com in To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings. 

A second wind says I'm not done yet. 

One day when my mother was close to dying, but not yet confined to bed, my father was going through some drawers where she kept boxes of stationary and note cards, and he brought them to me and asked if I wanted them. That didn't seem like the best timing, but before I could respond, my mother said with more feistiness than we had seen in recent days, "I'm not dead yet." 

A second wind comes to remind us of life still unlived. 

Recently on a very cold night, we took our grands out for pizza. Peter, one of the wisest seven year olds, I know, and I were hustling from the car to the restaurant, and I commented that I was cold, hungry, and tired. His immediate response was "At least we aren't sick or dead, GrandNan."

I know he's right because I can feel a second wind blowing around and through me. I'm not sick. I'm certainly not dead, and in this time of freedom there are so many ways, essential ways, profound ways, to ride that second wind. 

Joan Chittister http://joanchittister.org in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, doesn't use the words Second Wind, but I think she would approve. This is what she does say in the chapter about freedom:

          Freedom, in childhood, may be the right to be totally
          self-centered. In adolescence, I am engaged in the fine
          art of concentrating on myself, until I know who I am 
          and what I am capable of being. In midlife I am free to
          become skilled, to become prepared, to become expert,
          to become independent. But freedom in old age is the
          ability to be the best of the self I have developed during
          all those years. It is the freedom to gather everything I
          have learned up to this point and to put it to even more
          exciting use now. It is the freedom to give myself away
          to those who really need me, in ways I have never had the
          chance of doing before. I am free to be important to 
          people with real needs. And with that new role in life, I
          become one of those rare people who know what it takes
          to go through life, survive its dislocations, outlive its
          expectations, and negotiate its shoals…
               When I realize that freedom really is the right to be
          me, rather than someone else--perhaps for the first time
          in my life--the liberation of the soul begins. And with it
          the unshackling of the mind. I can become something
          new, as well as simply more of the old. Because what-
          ever path it was that got me here is not the only path I
          have ever considered, ever been fascinated by, ever
          wanted to explore. So, why not now, when the
          exploration is boundaried by both common sense and
          a lifetime of experience?  pp. 110-111

The last few years much of my energy has been spent coping with having a house for sale in Madison and buying a home here and doing all that is involved in moving and re-settling. I needed all the energy I could muster to do what was in front of me. Now, however, a second wind blows gently around me, calling me into a new time of creativity and authenticity. The freedom I have now is to embrace my second wind and see where it takes me. 

An Invitation
Do you ever get a second wind and if so, what do you do with it? Do the words "second wind" resonate with you as you think about this time of your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: A Day of Roaming

This past Saturday was one of those days my husband Bruce and I most love. In the morning he attended a men's book club at church in which they discussed Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark, and I enjoyed cleaning the house. No, I am not exaggerating. I enjoyed moving from room to room, spitspotting and shining and straightening here and there, bringing a springier look to the house. When Bruce got home, he wondered what I had planned for the rest of the day. Now truth be told, if he hadn't asked the question, I would have been content to retreat to the garret to write, but he asked, so I knew he had roaming on his mind. 

That is something we do well--roam. We are not Point A to Point B people. We are people who know there are many unexpected points between where we start and where we think we might want to end up. We aren't big risk-takers, but we do like to see what is around the next bend.

I said I would like to go look for a new ceiling light for the bathroom. I know that sounds dull, but doing that led us to several shops we knew would tease us with treasures. Not only did we find a small blingy chandelier, which will be perfect, but we stopped in a florist shop, Martha's Gardens, and bought two small pots of miniature daffodils and grape hyacinth and had a charming conversation with the owner, too. 

Then it was time for lunch. Now, we could have gone to one of our favorite neighborhood spots, but why not try some place new--on the other side of town. Off we went, kind of, sort of knowing where it was. I should say that we are not GPS kind of people. Maps, yes, and even Google maps, but we are more apt to ask "That looks like it might be the way?" and take a chance because who knows what we will find.

What we found was Yum! Kitchen and Bakery. Yes, there was a long line for ordering at the counter, but that gave us more time to see what everyone around us was ordering and to have a friendly chat with the woman standing in front of us who could be a best friend if we lived next door to each other. We almost exchanged phone numbers. We each ordered the krabby patti, and sat at a communal table where I flirted with a one year old and overheard the mom's friend announce she was pregnant. It was hard not to interrupt with my own congratulations, but I resisted. 

What we didn't resist was ordering dessert to take home with us for our evening meal. Coconut cake. The only question is when will we return to try something else?

At that point we could have returned home to our various solo activities, but I suggested going to The Open Book which is where the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts, The Loft Literary Center and Milkweed Press are housed. Once again we headed to another part of the city, this time not far from The Guthrie Theatre. I had been to a meeting at The Loft earlier in the week and was intrigued by the rehabbed building, but didn't have time to snoop in the gift shop or enjoy the exhibits in the gallery or sit in the coffee shop. Why not today? And off we went, taking the long way round and why not? 

Finally, we ambled our way home, driving through what had been our loop of life when we lived here before--the area where Bruce did his family practice residency and where he had his practice until we moved to Cleveland over 20 years ago. Such changes there have been, including a boutique in the building once called Smiley's Point, which had been home to the family practice residency program. 

As we crossed the Mississippi River into St Paul, we spotted an eagle soaring over the almost open water, signaling a shift in the seasons. What a good day.

Bruce and I have always been good tourists wherever we have lived, but now there is a spaciousness to our roaming. Busyness has been replaced by fullness in our lives. The limitations of work and other needs have been replaced with a more open-ended feeling. Our pace is different. There seems to be more space around each thing we choose to do. Time to breathe. Time to divert and go down an unfamiliar street. 

Bruce is still working, but he is no longer "on call," and now he works at part-time at home, creating his own schedule, adapting to his own energy and agenda. I have set writing goals for myself, and we are both becoming involved in a variety of activities plus we love our kid care assignments, but we have the ability to flow in a way that was not possible in our younger years.

I like the term "thinning out," that Toinette Lippe uses in her book Caught in the Act, Reflections on Being, Knowing, and Doing. I heard someone say recently that she wasn't retiring, but instead was just changing her activities, and I like that, too, but this feels to me more like a time of re-engagement. It seems to me that implies choice and intention and also awareness of who I am and what I have to give and how I can best do that. How exciting is that!

An Invitation
What have you noticed about how you choose to spend your time? 
Are you busy or are you living a life of fullness? Where are you roaming? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: The Fullness of Life

My current morning meditation and devotion time book is The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski, http://www.thesacredyear.com/splash/sacredYear.html and on a recent morning I read this about the spiritual life in the chapter on the practice of pilgrimage. The spiritual life trains us to
          intentionally watch and wait for all the ways God
          is at work in the world, all the ways God is at
          work in us, to bring us all into the fullness of life.
                                                    p. 221

I felt a little gasp inside when I read that, a little whoosh of wonder. 


My life feels very full right now and when I came home from an informational meeting at The Loft Literary Center https://www.loft.org about applying for a grant that would support the writing project I have started, I felt more overwhelmed than full. Almost panicky. The deadline for the project is April 3, and I am not sure, not sure at all, if I can do what the application requires before that date. Before that time we will be out of town for a few days and I am also preparing to lead a retreat early in April and there is volunteering at our grandson's school, writing this blog, being involved in church activities, spending time with my Dad, and providing Kid Care as needed. That's the short list, and it is all good, but, my, the days fly. It has always felt like a cliche when retired people talk about how much busier they are than when they worked full-time, but now I understand the truth underneath the cliche. 

The question arises: Is this the spiritual life? Are these full days what is meant by the "fullness of life"?

I asked myself this question as I stood in our sun-filled sunporch, the room we call the snuggery, this morning. The day before it had snowed --one of those light, fluffy, cleansing kinds of snows--but the sidewalks were clear, thanks to March sun, which is so different in warmth and intensity than January or February sun. I bought two bunches of forsythia earlier in the week, and their presence seems to herald spring, which always comes, even when we think it won't. I noticed more yellow blossoms than the day before, almost in defiance of the recent snowfall.  A sign of spring as winter lives on--now that is fullness. 

In fullness we live with more possibilities than one.
In fullness we live in the present, remembering the past and open to the future.
In fullness we live with awareness, responding to the gifts around us and the gifts we have within ourselves.

Fullness is not the same as busyness. When I feel overwhelmed, it is because I am too busy and maybe even proud of or attached to that busyness, and not because I am living in fullness. 

Being full is not the same as eating too much, but rather is about eating just the right amount. 
Being full is not about having no time, but, instead, is about living the time we have. 
Being full is not the opposite of emptiness, but, instead, is living with an attitude of spaciousness.

I know I need to sit quietly and consider the choices in front of me. 

How do the choices I make lead me into the spiritual life, support the spiritual life, and lead me into the fullness of life? How different these questions are from studying the pros and cons of a particular situation or dilemma. At this stage of my life I am asked to live deliberately, intentionally, always with my eyes, my whole being, in fact, awake to God's presence within and without. 

Being full grows not out of fear, but from love.

Perhaps, these prayers from John O'Donohue's To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings, http://www.johnodonohue.com/books can be a guide as we move towards fullness in our spiritual lives.  

                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.

                May I live this day
                Compassionate of heart,
                Clear in word,
                Gracious in awareness,
                Courageous in thought,
                Generous in love. 

An Invitation
Are you full or are you busy? What does fullness of life mean to you? Are you living a spiritual life and what exactly does that mean to you? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday's Reflections: Vintage Handkerchiefs for When Tears Come

One of my traditions when someone in my circle of life dies is to send a vintage handkerchief to one who mourns. For when tears come. 

Over the years of collecting antiques I have gathered quite a lovely stash of these colorful floral and holiday-themed hankies. Carnations, roses, tulips, lily of the valley. Scalloped or lace-edged. I  recently washed and ironed the heart-filled Valentine hankies I used in February, and when I put them back in a drawer, I noticed hankies wishing a Happy Birthday, given to me by friends who know I always have a hanky in my purse and one tucked in a pocket. I have a few state-themed hankies--Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio--and recalled how I had attempted to collect one for each of the 50 states, but they are long gone, having sold them in garage sales or at one of the antique mall booths we used to have. One especially fun hanky in my collection illustrates the calorie count for favorite foods like strawberries  or almonds or even a scotch and soda! In the square with a picture of a box of candy it says "danger." Too cute. 

When I packed for my trip to attend this recent funeral, I ironed a fresh hanky to fold into the sympathy card for my dear friend whose husband had just died and one for me, too, for I knew it would be hard to hold back the tears when I saw my friend in her newly-widowed state. 

When I unpacked after returning home, I added to the pile of laundry the rumpled, slightly damp hanky I held onto as I approached my friend during the visitation before the funeral itself. She has been a good and faithful servant. Steadfast during her husband's long illness. I don't know the whole story, and I don't need to know more, but perhaps someday I will, if it is helpful for her to share it. If and when she does, I hope I will have hankies handy. For when the tears come.

Sometimes when I sit with a spiritual director, tears fill the eyes--hers and mine. Sometimes the directee is embarassed, and if so, I try to reassure that if tears come, it is because they must. They signal a moment of truth, of light, of release, of depth and new understanding, of love and connection. 

In a way I am not surprised I have collected these vintage hankies, for I am someone who cries easily. I cry when I feel something deeply and when I am touched by the poignancy of someone else's feelings, whether I know them or not. Sometimes my tears have gotten in the way of complex and sometimes painful conversations that need to occur, bringing a difficult discourse to a halt. Long ago, however, a therapist told me I could learn to talk through my tears. Having a hanky in my hand helps. 

Unfortunately, my supply of these vintage hankies is diminishing, and I need to replenish my supply of sympathy cards routinely, as well, for the need seems to arise more frequently. Yes, we  are touched by loss more often the longer we live. That can't be avoided, and it is good to be ready. Therefore, my handkerchiefs are folded neatly in a pile in a drawer scented by a lavender sachet. For when the tears come. 

An Invitation
What loss or event or feeling has caused you to cry recently? What do you do when the tears come? I would be honored to know.