“Back of the bread is the flour, and back of the flour is the mill, and back of the mill is the sun and the rain and the Father’s will.” So goes a table grace that I learned to sing at Girl Scout camp. Back of the photos that I post here is little ol’ me, with camera in hand, and often my companion on adventures, Steve. The challenge for this week is to Take a picture of yourself or someone else as a shadow, a reflection, or a lesser part of a scene, making the background, or — as in the example above — the foreground, the center of attention. Let’s see what I have in my treasure chest…
Oh, and here’s another one…
Kind of a goofy shot…had no idea my stomach had crept into the photo, and hadn’t really thought much about the composition. I was standing in the middle of an antique/rummage shop, trying to take in all the bizarreness around me, not sure where to look. I am an observer, and often passive. I am actually doing a lot of soul-searching these days, trying to be more intentional about what I do with my life. I have a habit of looking around, appreciating everything and not engaging with much energy in any particular thing. It’s kind of a surrender-based position. Not that it’s bad; it can be useful at times. It can also be very frustrating for Steve who wants to know more about what I really want. I have a tendency to fade into the background: social conditioning? lack of self-confidence? fear of commitment/rejection/judgment? Not that I want to promote my ego, but I do want to attend to values with some assertion. If I don’t stick up for what I think is important, then my days will be incredibly dull and my life energy not very well spent. As I get into my senior years, I want to avoid slipping into the routine of enduring and not enjoying my time here. How do I practice that daily? That’s what I’m hoping to figure out.
Photo credit: my little brother, aged 7. I set the shot up for him on my Canon AE-1 (a gift from Jim) and asked him to do this favor for me so that I’d have a picture to take away to college in 1980.
January 7, 1984
July 3, 1992. Recovering from open heart surgery. Mom tries to kiss it better.
December 2008. Eyes wide open.
The Kiss. What a photo challenge! How do you participate in a kiss and take a picture at the same time? Or if you’re not participating in the kiss, why are you photographing it? Are staged kisses different from spontaneous ones? Should kisses be documented, or should they be private? How many kiss photographs do I even have in digital format?
Well, that last one became the deciding factor. I have others in hard copy of my kids being kissed: as babies, on birthdays, at graduation and that kind of thing. I even have one of Hershey’s kisses that my husband arranged on the floor in a heart for the anniversary of our first kiss. These few tell a timely story, though. Five years ago today was the last day I kissed my husband. It was the day after Valentine’s Day. We went out to dinner at a local bar & grill, came home and watched TV, kissed each other good night and fell asleep holding hands. He never woke up. The clue to ‘why?’ is in the third photo. What’s different about the fourth photo? Different guy…and my eyes are open. Thirty years with Jim, full of youth and fairy tale and children and love and kisses, and I was often dreamy and often afraid. Four years with Steve, and I’m learning to face things, be aware, and take greater responsibility. Intimacy is even better when you’re fully awake. IMHO.
Steve had a headache; I have a head cold. We talked about celebration and seriousness, listened to Medieval motets and re-read John Keats’ The Eve of St. Agnes. We watched The Apartment again, and fell asleep shortly after midnight, listening to music. Thich Nhat Hahn talks of birthdays and other milestones simply as “continuations”. Life goes on; time is our own invention. There will be another occasion for champagne. Today we slept and listened to our bodies healing.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
from In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
blogged by thousandfold echo
The precepts of Buddhism are on my mind. I’m trying to be precise (aware) and gentle and graceful in this blog, but today, what I’m aware of is anger. And this is very uncomfortable for me because I’ve built up quite a habit of avoiding anger at all costs. I don’t like to find it in others, and I don’t like to find it in myself. However, it’s a very important part of being human. So, how do I face it gracefully?
Steve has some cassette tapes of Thich Nhat Hahn giving talks on relationships. He speaks (or whispers, practically) about how to confront your loved one by opening with, “Darling, I suffer…”
So, who is the loved one I want to confront? Yahoo! news.
Seriously, I am angered by a sense of false reporting that I feel every time I log on. Important issues are sparsely represented. Celebrity activity is ubiquitous. The site reeks of phoniness, of Lifestyle but very little Life. So, in my state of indignation, I wrote a kind of rant. I will post it here with the graceful prefix:
Darling Yahoo!, I suffer. Unemployment isn’t news. Celebrity divorces aren’t news. Pet tricks aren’t news. Death isn’t news. Where is the joyful message of Life? The new moon, the new day, the new leaf, the new mutation, the new energy, the new decomposition, the new layer of sediment, the new moment, the NOW that has never been before and will be over immediately so that the next NOW can appear? The earth, the stars, the Universe is moving and changing, and you’re afraid to report it. The one thing we’re not making up, inventing for our own fascinated misery, gets shushed and shunted because certain people don’t want to hear. What makes them so certain? Their belief freezes everything real, stops it mid-drip, or so they think. Nonsense. Wake up! Get your mind out of those delusions. You can make observations; you can’t make certain. Bring me observations of the Universe, dear Yahoo!, and less of the machinations of man.
Buddhism teaches me much about the interconnectedness of all things, about perspective in consciousness, about the dangers of dogma and claiming to know the capital T “Truth” about anything. What is this thing in front of you? You can give it a name, describe it with words and symbols, but that is not the reality of that thing. Those words and symbols are useful but limited. The experience of that thing is more, more than you can describe or symbolize, more than you can communicate. Yesterday, I went to Lapham Peak State Park and climbed a tower. Here are three different views of the tower. How do I convey the experience, the wind, the dizzying aspect of ascent, the vast horizon, the humor of humans who visit and the irony of our inability to depict our emotions and our consciousness of grand things? Perhaps these shots will give you a partial idea.
I have been reading a book called The Barn at the End of the World: the Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilley. It has been my companion for months now. I am reading very slowly, savoring each chapter as a separate essay, which it lends itself to very well. The author writes about her time with Thich Nhat Hahn at Plum Village as well as her time working with sheep in a barn. My birthday reading included this passage of notes she took on one of Thay’s dharma talks:
“Koans are buried deep in the unconscious, watered carefully like flowers. They do not respond to intellectual reasoning. Mind has not enough power to break the koan. It should not be answered, but absorbed and waited for in right mindfulness until it explodes and wakens again in the conscious mind as a flower. What did you look like before your mother gave you birth? …
“At Plum Village, our basic koan is What are you doing? The answer is Breathing and smiling. Often I ask a student, What are you doing? Often the student responds, Cutting carrots. I say, Good luck. Now, you don’t need luck to cut a carrot, but you need luck if you are going to get your practice back on track.”
My life is a koan. My life with Steve is a koan on live chat. Our relationship doesn’t always respond to intellectual reasoning. We want to be able to express our irrational emotions and learn about each other from them. We want to move through adventures and experiences and be aware of ourselves and each other in the moment. We want to be present, to “show up” with a genuine answer to the question, What are you doing? And we want to look up. We’re working on it, and we are truly glad to be doing so. And sometimes, I realize that it’s easier simply to cut carrots. And that’s a mystery, too. “How wonderful. How mysterious. I draw water. I carry wood.”
My birthday evening was beautiful. I came home to find flowers delivered — two arrangements! I opened a bottle of champagne, cooked dinner, listened to music, and let myself loose until I was sobbing all over Steve. I felt very alive.
And today, I want to check things off my “To Do” list, eat bad food quickly and hide from my partner. Is there a reason?
I started this blog 365 days ago. Today is the last day that I can claim to be “in my 40s”.
“What have you learned, Dorothy?” “I’ve learned that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. ‘Cuz if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?”
Umm…not exactly. My initial post said,”this blog is dubbed scillagrace to symbolize ancient elegance of manner, action, form, motion and moral strength. It is my goal to post entries worthy of the name. It is my goal to avoid being dogmatic and prissy. I want to challenge myself to go deeper into subjects that explore the ancient grace of life. It is a lot of name and a lot of subject, to be sure. We’ll see how it goes.”
Did I go deeper? Did I go beyond my own backyard? Here are my top ten Most Used categories: Awareness. Photography. Philosophy. Nature. Relationships. Writing. Psychology. Sociology. Education. Spirituality. I have 200 followers, but the most “likes” I’ve ever gotten on any post is 24. Which I suppose goes to show that you can’t please all of the people. Not even once. But statistics don’t tell the story. Numbers have no meaning; it’s the narrative that goes along with them, the interpretation, that gives any statistical information its significance.
Here is an ancient grace of life: deepening a relationship. I have made new friends in far away places through this blog. I have re-connected with people I haven’t seen for some time. I have bonded with my mother in a new way, and I’ve even come to know myself better. That will probably remain the enduring value of this blog. I have grown up this year, and I hope to continue to do so as I go on aging.
I am planning to continue to blog, but probably not as often. I am planning to get a new camera for myself and to spend more time writing. I will be going on a 3-week adventure in October when I end my season as a living history museum interpreter. There will be more change, more grace and, hopefully, greater awareness to come.
There’s something I do sometimes that drives Steve nuts. I know it, and I’m trying to stop, but it seems to be a deeply ingrained habit. He asks me to make a simple decision about something, and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is rarely my true feeling about it. It’s either, “Well, we could do that….” or a few practical reasons to do something, none of which is genuinely revealing. It’s like I’m protected my deepest self, the one that really wants something particular. I imagine this is a coping strategy that arose from being Daughter #4 in my family of origin. I probably didn’t experience much success simply saying, “I want that!” so perhaps I tried to come up with smart sounding reasons why giving me what I want was good for the general public? Maybe. Maybe the rejection of my true attachments was too painful, so I would pretend to be interested more in logic, which would appeal to my father. It’s an interesting head game, anyway.
It came up again this morning, as I was thinking about how to justify something that I’ve wanted for more than a year. I want a new camera. I have been using a little Lumix that I borrowed from Steve’s aunt. I had a Canon AE-1 which my husband bought for me when we were dating in high school. It lasted 30 years, and then a gear broke down, and I couldn’t advance the film. So I moved onto the digital point-and-shoot camera, but I’ve dearly missed the ability to focus manually with ease and get really sharp pictures. What’s been keeping me from just buying a DSLR? This weird thing I have about justifying what I want. I never buy anything for myself until I can think of a few practical reasons or some really sentimental reason that will please someone else. Pretty neurotic, actually.
The breakthrough this morning was that I thought of the last bit of rationalization I needed to move forward. It’s not enough that I just want a camera. It’s not enough that I am turning 50 years old in a week and a half and a birthday present to myself is due. It’s not enough that I have the money because I’m still only earning minimum wage at my seasonal job. It’s not enough that I’m planning to take a lot of pictures on my upcoming 3-week trip, and I want them to turn out well. What got me over the hurdle was thinking that Jim, my late husband, would have bought me that camera in a heartbeat. On credit, even if he didn’t have the money. The first camera he bought me was still working fine when he died. I can hear him now, “Look, dear, the life insurance money is for you, from me. I want to buy you a new camera. It would make me happy.” It would, I’m sure. And he’d throw in all kinds of extra gadgets just for fun. A macro lens. A carrying case. He was that kind of guy, generous and spontaneous to everyone, including himself.
Why do I struggle so with offering up a spontaneous decision when I’m asked?
I would like to change the world. I would like to see less violence involving guns. I would like to see more wild and rural land reclaimed from developed areas. I would like to see more tolerance and listening and compassion. I would like to see more curiosity and play and wonder and less capitalism, competition, and greed. I am never going to be an “expert” at anything, and I don’t want to market myself or make disciples. How can I make an impact?
“Integrity,” Steve says. Know your vision and live it. Don’t be afraid to do something and don’t be too busy to do nothing.
I can imagine myself being afraid to do something because I don’t have enough information, or I haven’t figured out exactly what the “right” thing to do is. I will never know the perfect solution, but I don’t have to settle for inaction. I can imagine jumping on some band wagon and stumping away at a project because others are encouraging me, without thinking critically or allowing time for observation to inform me. I can imagine myself feeling obligated or slipping into habit and just going on and on. I don’t want to do any of that. I really want to live out of a peaceful center, spontaneously responding with integrity to the issues that I face. And I want to be able to accept the fact that I may not be noticed…and that I may.
I am a visual person, too. I like examples, illustrations. Who lives like this? Gandhi. Thich Nhat Hahn. Pete Seeger. Anyone else? You tell me.
I observe humanity, myself included. What’s been in the news and on my mind? Landing a roving data-collector on Mars. The fatal shootings at a Sikh gurdwara here in Wisconsin. (My sister is a Sikh.) Drought and global warming. Conversations with Steve about who we want to be, how we want to live, what risks we are willing to take, what new modes of being we want to develop. Trying to see my inner self and assess it with honesty and compassion. Hoping and yearning for my children. Monitoring my energy.
We are living. We claim and generate energy, all the time. The flow of that energy is governed by our choices. (Ours and other living things’, although we humans are the ones who make cognitive choices. Plants, animals, planets and cosmic particles participate in that flow differently.) We are responsible for our choices. Are we looking carefully and critically at those choices? Are we blaming some other source for the results of our choices? Are we even aware of the results or do we look the other way?
7 billion people. We are making an impact on the Universe. Do we like the results we observe? Can we do better? Can I do better?