Do you remember when your baby teeth fell out? Do you have any memories of being without central incisors, lisping and whistling when you spoke, unable to bite into an apple or an ear of corn? How much do you remember of the physical changes associated with your passage through puberty?
Would you ever choose to re-live those changes? (I imagine in response a loud chorus of ‘Noooo!’ and laughter.)
Why do we find change so awkward and uncomfortable? Why do we imagine a state of perfection achieved and unchanged, and why is that stasis desired? Consider this: change is natural; metamorphoses are observed and documented in every species — birth, maturation, reproduction, aging, death, decay, absorption, and birth. All around us there is a process of movement, going from one thing to another, losing some properties and gaining others. This is Life. It is dynamic; it is not good or bad; it is. Often, however, we decide we like where we are. We want to stay put. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. But we are, in fact, stuck, and it takes a great deal of energy to stay there, resisting the current of Life all around. We feel drained, exhausted, spent, sapped, worn out. We want to feel the flow of energy again, but in order to do that, we must make a change. Fear holds us back. This is a pivotal point of decision – we must choose Change to choose Life.
The Old Testament talks about having youth renewed like the eagles’, about mounting up with wings as eagles and being borne on the wings of an eagle. Golden eagles populated the Holy Land, and their lifespans were observable to the ancient poets. I have seen bald eagles in the wild on a few occasions now, but not before I was 45 years old. What do I know of an eagle’s life? I did a little research. Southwestern Bald Eagle Management told me “In their five year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird. During its first four weeks of life, an eaglet’s fluffy white down changes to a gray wooly down. At about five weeks, brown and black feathers begin to grow. It becomes fully feathered at 10 weeks of age. In its first year, the mostly dark-colored juvenile can often be mistaken as a golden eagle. However, the bald eagle progressively changes until it reaches adult plumage at five years. Notice in the pictures how its dark eye lightens throughout its first four years of life until it becomes yellow. Also, see how its beak changes from gray-black to a vibrant yellow. It is believed that the darker, more mottled plumage of a young eagle serves as camouflage, while the white head and tail announce that it is of breeding age.”
Renewal is for the purpose of maturity. It is not about going back to a juvenile state. It is about soaring with the movement of Life toward the next place of energy. It is not about resuscitation; it is about resurrection. We shall all be changed.
My daughter recommended to me a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The author is a medical doctor and a gerontologist. He tackles the real and practical implications of growing old and dying in this culture: nursing homes, DNR orders and advance directives, heroic life-saving surgeries, hospice and what it is to live with meaning and dignity. This book terrified me. I read it in small doses. It made me face denial and delusions head on. It was not a comfortable read, but I would recommend it to anyone. It puts Change in the forefront and invites you to get real. I would not have been able to read it 7 years ago, right after my husband died. I wasn’t ready. The book I read then that helped me to accept change was Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart (which I recently discovered is a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”).
Where are you in the flow of Life? Where are you stuck? What are you afraid of when you face Change? How have you embraced Maturity? How have you run from it? What images of Peace in harmony with Change are meaningful to you? These may be your symbols of Renewal. Here are a few of mine:
This article is featured in the blog magazine The ‘B’ Zine. Please click on the Zine link to view the rest of the Renewal volume and support my Into the Bardo & Beguine Again colleagues!
If you’re just visiting this blog for the first time, you’ve stepped into the fourth day of my birthday project for my mom, who is turning 80 years old on New Year’s Eve. Today’s list of 10 things is about Parenting Principles. My mother is, naturally, my primary example of mothering. She and I both became parents for the first time at the age of 22. She raised 5 children to adulthood; I raised 4. Wisdom doesn’t come with numbers or statistics, though. Wisdom comes in the actual practice of decision-making in love. It’s not about adopting a “right way”, it’s about living out of your values and making choices that you deem appropriate. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 ideas of mothering that Mom communicated to me over the years.
1) Your marriage comes first. This piece of advice she always attributed to her mom. The simple logic is this: your family starts out with just the two of you and will end up with just the two of you. That twosome is the foundation for all that happens in the middle. Obviously, this arrangement isn’t what everyone chooses or how events transpire for all. But in the throes of child-rearing, it helps to keep a perspective on who you want to be. If you want to be all about the kids, then it’s likely they will grow up happily at center-stage and leave happily stage left, and you’ll be left standing unhappily onstage with a stranger. Keep the action going between you, and let the other characters come and go.
2) Learn to feed yourself before feeding your family. This is like the airline adage, “Place the mask over your own nose and mouth before assisting other passengers.” After her wedding, my mother immediately took up the challenge of feeding her new husband “in the manner to which he was accustomed”, meaning that she taught herself how to make recipes handed down from his nurse/nanny, Agnes. Her time of early experimentation and solid study in the culinary arts led to her success as an accomplished gourmet later. I had planned to have 5 years of marriage under my belt before attempting motherhood, but I got pregnant 4 months after the wedding. I was immediately nauseated by the smell of food before I’d even learned how to cook on my own. I lost weight in the beginning of the pregnancy and rapidly after the baby was born. Postpartum depression reduced me to 98 pounds while I was trying to breastfeed. I was literally struggling for survival. Bottom line: learn to cook and eat, even if it seems like the last thing you want to do.
3) Prepare for delivery. My mother is a model of responsibility in many ways, not the least of which is her health. She educated herself about her body and her options in childbirth and made her decisions with my father, I’m sure, but not based on his participation. He was not ready to be one of those Sensitive New Age Dads who goes to Lamaze or presides in the delivery room. He stayed at home in 1957, 1959, 1960, 1962 and in 1973. I’m sure he had other options by the last birth, but his choice was to let my mom “carry on”. For her first four births, she had her labor induced. Why? Well, she was living on the Marblehead Neck and could be separated from the mainland by a storm at any time. She prepared.
4) Breasts have a clear purpose. In America in the ’50s, scientists tried to impress society with ‘modern’ and ‘better’ ways to live. It was all about innovation and technology and product placement. Sound familiar? Mom wasn’t buying. She was also not washing and sterilizing and mixing formula. She had the correct equipment already on hand, thank you. And she intended to use it. And when she turned 50 and the doctors told her that her equipment was sprinkled with carcinoma in situ, she said, “Well, I’m not going to worry myself into a state while that progresses in any way. I’m done using them. Take them away.” She’s 30 years cancer free. A survivor, a pragmatist, an example of responsibility to me.
5) Cotton is best. It’s natural, it breathes, and it doesn’t irritate your skin. Use cotton diapers, cotton balls and cotton clothing. No plastic diapers or synthetic wipes or flame-retardant coating. Following Mom’s advice, I used a diaper service that delivered fresh, clean cotton diapers to my home every week when I was raising babies in California and Illinois in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I was amazed to find 4 years ago that there are NO diaper services AT ALL in metropolitan Milwaukee any more.
6) There’s always room for one more, especially in your heart. This is an attitude of abundance and inclusion that is very generous and non-anxious, which I like. However, with 7 billion people flooding the global eco-system these days, it begs careful examination and consideration. Make your decisions accordingly. Mom gave me some “outside of the box” advice when baby number 4 came along while we were still living in 1050 square feet of house in Southern California. Lacking another bedroom, another crib, or even another bassinet, The Domestic Engineer suggested we could always pull out the bottom dresser drawer and line it with blankets or use the bathtub.
7) Don’t think you’re too old for one more, either. My mother gave birth at 39 to her last child. The gap between me and my brother is just 3 days short of 11 years. Everyone was surprised, even Mom, but the pregnancy was never ‘an accident’, and she finally had a son. You’re never too old for one more plot twist as well. I became pregnant after my husband had had a vasectomy, when my youngest was 6. It was certainly unexpected, but I was thrilled. I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks, which was not entirely anticipated, either. Stay light on your feet.
8) Never miss a teaching opportunity. When my brother was borne home from the hospital, I was 11 years old and my sisters were 13, 14, and 16. We were ripe to learn babysitting skills at least and mothering skills for the future. It went over well with prospective employers to tell them that I had been helping care for an infant at home for a year before I started babysitting other children. As my brother grew, I watched my mother’s parenting from a different perspective. I noted how much time she took with him, reading to him, letting him explore, listening to his talk, getting involved in his schooling, etc. I saw patience and willingness and diligence and, yes, worry. Parenting is not easy; it is complicated, and it requires effort. But it is rewarding on many levels.
9) Even worst case scenarios are teaching opportunities. My mother has survived the number one stress on the parenting list. On any list. The death of a child. Alice was technically an adult at 20, but she was still my mother’s child. She was driving from California to Ohio to begin her senior year at college. Alice fell asleep at the wheel in Nebraska, going 80 mph on Interstate 80, rolled the car and was killed instantly. I was her only passenger. I saw my mother’s grief first hand, also her capability. She flew out on several connecting flights to reach me the morning after the accident. She comforted me in my confusion and shock and made all the legal and practical arrangements to get us back to California. She navigated the complex waters of all of the ripples and storms caused in that one, tragic moment with grace, with authentic grief, and with compassion for everyone affected. Somehow, she did all this without a therapist, too. I think she’s always been good at knowing herself, at learning and communicating, and at being patient and allowing healing to arise. That makes for good parenting, for your children and for your own inner child.
10) Trust yourself. A happy family isn’t beyond you. Just remember, you have to allow your idea of “happy” to be fluid. My mother came to the dinner table one night before my sister was killed, and recounted a visit with some door-to-door evangelists. She had told them proudly that we already had a “happy Christian family”. Many things changed beginning that night and afterward that challenged that idea, many more than I can go into here. Nevertheless, my mother remains happy with her family. That is her, again, taking responsibility. She is not a complainer. She is not dogmatic about attachments and expectations. She allows herself to create, co-create and re-create happiness as life unfolds. Her progeny goes beyond the children she has produced to a host of other projects. Parenting is about life-giving and life-nurturing, a worthy work for a lifetime. I think my mom is doing a great job….still.
Joy to the World
Gift of the Universe #22: JOY!
I truly believe that joy is available to everyone. No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful. Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.
“Joy is not in things; it is in us.” – Richard Wagner
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” – Joseph Campbell
My late husband was ill for many years. He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31. He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control. When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick. I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy. I choose happy. Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.” I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it. The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner. Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me. We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches. Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her. Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV. When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light. We fell asleep holding hands. He never woke up. And he never complained. Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”. I don’t buy that. Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.
Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle. Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” – Julian of Norwich
This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today. My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”. Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is deeply felt.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” – George Bernard Shaw
I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering. I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful. I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being. Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!). I always felt that mothering mattered. That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world. I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged. Never underestimate the effect of a smile. Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
My joyful (and crazy!) kids
Are you smiling every day? I’m sure I am. I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background. He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me. I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself. Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”. I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement. I so don’t need to be. There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.
Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along. Rejoice, my friends.
Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:
To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even. ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605
All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own. ~Plutarch
I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree. They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it. I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.” Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed. That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open. How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.
The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process. Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence? If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary? It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy. I’d be afraid to scare it off.
Many people contend with sleep. I do a bit. I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding. It’s not really the same, but I could do worse. I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early. I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping. Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious. And I dream.
I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above. In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up. He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead. Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel. I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t. He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking. This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death. I still don’t have it figured out. I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”. Performance anxiety is a big theme. I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class. When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other. I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context. I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that. I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare. My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams. He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams. I just get upset and wake up.
I did have a nightmare two nights ago. I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs. “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream. So I was eating myself. It was unsettling for my brain. My stomach was already unsettled. Peculiar how the sleeping mind works. I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream. The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream! Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…” Yup. Absurdity. It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.
I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning. Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss. Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder. Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.
Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed. Think I’ll take a catnap.