Toes. Eyes. Live humans twinkle. Is that from light cast upon them or from light within?
Carl Sagan says that “we are made of star stuff”. My mother-in-law used to say that Jim was “shiny and pink” as a baby. He glowed with the vibrancy of good circulation and white-blond hair, I guess. I remember almost putting his eye out once when that twinkle made me just so curious that I wanted to touch it.
That spark of life. The cosmic, irreproducible result that drives scientists mad. “It’s ALIIIIIVE!” No wonder we want to add that vibrant energy to our winter days, when we’re thrown into the farthest arc and missing the summer sun.
How do you remind yourself of the shimmer that is our existence on this beautiful sphere in this living Universe? Do you surround yourself with round, sparkly things?
The lights are already hung. The magic is all around us, even now. Go outside and take a look!
in response to WordPress’ weekly photo challenge.
Treasure: what is it? I’ve worked at museums long enough to know what an artifact is. Usually, it’s an object that you find or dig up. It can tell you about the environment, what kinds of things lived there, what they did and when. Paleontologists like to say that archaeologists study garbage, stuff people throw away, while they study bones and fossils.
Some artifacts get handed down from one generation to another instead of being thrown away. There is a sense of value in the thing itself. It’s special to someone in some way. It carries attachment, and those attachments are preserved along with the object.
So, maybe ‘treasure’ is really about our attachment, the things we want to hold on to. Many times those things are ephemeral: feelings, living beings, pleasant moments in time. We know they will not endure, so often we transfer their significance to objects that may last a bit longer.
And, of course, this is just what we’re doing when we take photographs, isn’t it? But what is it that we actually treasure? Life and love. How do you preserve that kind of treasure? You can’t, really. What you can do is be absolutely present while it is within your grasp. Celebrate it, bring yourself to it, flow with it. Enjoy it, with all your heart.
Way back in February of 2012, I wrote a post titled “What’s Important?”. It was an essay describing the evolution of my ideas of “right” (as in “being in right relationship with”, “righteousness”) from the evangelical Christian tradition to a broader, Buddhist-influenced experience. It led to a string of great comments and word analysis.
My moral development has been challenged lately by the speakers, storytellers, and advocates I heard at the Wilderness 50 conference. What is “Right Ethic” or a right relationship with our planet? Where do we experience the emergence of this ethic? Does it come from the top down, imposed by authority in law? Does it bubble up from feelings of connection to places, plants, animals, ecosystems, communities? How do we evaluate our interactions with Earth? And how important or trivial is that interaction in our daily lives?
Having immersed myself in a 5-day arena of wilderness philosophy, it’s very strange to return to the Internet world and gaze on its landscape. Yahoo!
news articles bombard my senses: “How to Crack an Egg”, “Romantic Move Goes Awry”, “Horse Rescued from Pool”, J-Lo, Renee Zellweger, sports teams, iPhones, who wore it best, etc. Is this what life on Earth is about? Really?! Even gazing on the more thorny parts of the landscape seems a little flat. Is death news? Is human drama relevant or manufactured? And what about the lives of the non-human inhabitants of this planet? The life of the Ebola virus, for example. What do we really care about that, other than the way that humans are effected?
What is important about Life? Just my life? Just human life? Just life that I recognize?
The keynote speaker in many of the Wilderness 50 sessions was Dave Foreman. He is a much-loved, original eco-warrior who is now 68 years old and retains the spit and vinegar of his activist days. Raised in the Texas atmosphere of Biblical preachers, he knows how to tell a story and describe a cause. He used this illustration in a few of his addresses: he visited a ficus tree, of the fig and banyan family, whose broad canopy is one of the biggest in the entire world. It stretched over his head and spread out in a space bigger than a football field. And each limb supported hundreds of leaves. A massive thing, this tree! He likened it to the Tree of Life and stood in awe. And then he realized that human beings, our species, of which there are more than 7 billion individuals, represent just ONE leaf on this great tree. That one little leaf right….there. That’s us. How important are we? How aware are we of the rest of the tree? Of how we influence it and how it influences us? Do we think about that…often? ever? Or do we pay more attention to our celebrities, bank accounts and pet peeves.
What’s important? What fills your landscape?
Today is my mother’s birthday. She is 79. She is one of the most positive, enthusiastic, intelligent, and wise women I have ever known. She continues to inspire me. A week ago, she moved from her home of 36 years into an apartment at The Meadows, the assisted living facility where my sister and I worked as college students and where my father died in 2010. She is having an absolute ball collecting stories from the residents, entertaining dinner companions, playing the piano in the chapel and lobby, and making connections within her collage of life. She says that her Bucket List has been reduced to a Shot Glass List, and she’s grateful and content with all that she has enjoyed. She told me that she doesn’t ‘make’ New Year’s Resolutions, she allows them to ‘surface’. She shared that the phrase that is surfacing for her this year is “Live peace; take joy”. That conversation made me think of what is surfacing for me. What is surfacing is Shame. And I’m resolved to do something about it.
I have been thinking about shame for some time. Listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame has brought about some introspective reflection on my history and patterns. I was raised by a very authoritarian father, a devout and dogmatic Christian. He was an intellectual, and my mother very candidly told me last night that although he could understand rationally that our behaviors and social constructs must evolve and change and that they weren’t based in any ultimate reality, he didn’t know how to navigate the emotions involved, and so he would fearfully nail those down into a ‘safe’ corner to protect himself. What he then communicated to me, his daughter, was that we are all fallen creatures, sinners whose nature it is to be not good enough, and that we couldn’t be trusted, so to be saved, we must follow a carefully prescribed path and check ourselves frequently for deviation. Our wills are suspect; God’s will is perfect. My deepest desire was to please my father and to be loved by him, so I became a very compliant child. And I bought the idea that whatever I wanted was probably not good, or good enough, and that I would fail to be good most of the time. My best hope was to be obedient, and so I did that to the best of my ability. I became accomplished in being obedient. As I grew up and my father became less central in my daily life, I transferred that obedience to God, the Church, my husband. Finally, after my husband died, I think I took that authority and transferred it to myself, but I ended up carrying out the same message. Now, I tell MYSELF that I am not good, or good enough, and am likely to fail to be good most of the time. In other words, I have taken over my dad’s role in shaming myself.
Needless to say, this is not freeing me to take risks, be vulnerable, be creative, be self-determinant or self-reliant. Instead, it is keeping me in ‘customer service’ when Steve is itching to make me a full partner in a home business (or series of them) so that we can be self-employed and embody the values and lifestyle that WE find important. How do I make the changes necessary to gain this freedom? First, I have to stop telling myself that I can’t. Or shouldn’t. I have to stop shaming myself. I have to become aware of the times when I do it, and I have to let go of them. Like the bubbles surfacing in my champagne. POP! “So, here comes that shaming bubble. I don’t have to analyze it, give it power, or trace it back to someone to blame. I will just notice it, watch it pop and let it be gone.” That’s my resolution for this coming year. Take a cup of kindness, and stop shaming yourself, Priscilla! Then move on.
I am also posting my blog summary for 2013 today. I want to give big cyber hugs to my Bestest Blogger Buddies – Helen, Stuart, Jamie, Naomi and Elena. Thank you for supporting this vulnerable venture and helping me trust myself to create something. (Something ‘worthy’? Something ‘good enough’? STOP. You don’t need to judge it. Create something. And just leave it at that.)
And here’s a sample of what I’ve created on this blog this year. If you’re new and see something you like, please browse around!
It’s About Time
Marching on in the parade of days is today’s icon: time. Ever seen George Carlin’s stand-up routine “Does the time bother you?” from 1978? He goes into his typical absurdity rant about time, and as usual he asks a pertinent question in an impertinent manner. We get obsessed with time, we humans. It’s a construct we invented to cause ourselves anxiety, it would seem. Animals have no sense of time. They have seasonal behavior, but they’re not checking their calendars or pocket watches to know when to do something. We have this ability to conceptualize past, present, and future and make decisions about what to do when. What are we doing with this ability? How are we spending our time?
Coincidentally, Steve woke this morning to say that he had been dreaming that we were having a fight. “About what?” I asked. “Small fires,” he replied. To Steve, “small fires” are the things that take up our time or distract us from the important things in life. We have spent a lot of time discussing what we consider valuable and how we want to use the time we have. I consider it a big part of a working relationship to have those conversations that clarify how you will spend time. The trick is to have them in a way that doesn’t waste time. “Where are we going to spend Christmas Eve?” could cause you to fall into a vortex of possibilities and consequences. “What do I want to be doing at this time?” is a bit more specific.
For what do I make time? On what am I willing to spend a lot of time? When you ask yourself these questions, does a sense of obligation begin to settle on you? Are there a lot of things you spend time on because you feel you have to, even though you don’t want to? How much of that have you accepted unwillingly because it’s easier than making changes?
Years ago, I went to a workshop that focused on a book called “Unplug the Christmas Machine”. My church sponsored this event because there were a lot of women in that affluent community that took on an incredible burden of expectations and effort around the holiday. I would often be asked, “So, have you got everything ready for Christmas?” This was a conversation opener that often segued into a litany of tasks and obligations that they hadn’t completed and a lament of how stressed they were and how little time there was. It was a victim’s complaint. It’s taken me years to realize that victimization is often a choice. There is a way to live that includes deciding what you will and will not spend your life’s time doing.
Some things I will not spend time doing: watching TV. (I don’t own one, I don’t want one. I have plenty of things to look at and listen to that entertain me.) Networking on Facebook. (I already have e-mail and a blog, so this seems completely superfluous. Apparently, I am now in the minority in this country. Hurrah!) Working in a cubicle 8 hours a day. (Been there, done that, then lived without any employment for 11 months so far. I prefer being unemployed.) Showering and putting on make-up every day. (I shower a few times a week. I wear make-up to the opera. I still feel hygienic and pretty.)
I might spend time taking a TV apart. The insides are cool!
Some things I will spend time doing: cooking and dining. (The worst part about feeding a family of 6 when everyone is employed or a student full time is that no one has time to enjoy this necessary and basic part of being human.) Washing dishes by hand. (It’s reminds me of camping.) Doing laundry. (Going to the laundromat for 2 hours every 3 weeks actually takes less time than owning the machines and doing a load whenever I felt like it.) Sleeping. (I have always been a napper and a morning person. I go to bed by 10pm most nights. Did that even in college.)
What I really want to spend time doing: being outside, hiking, camping, traveling. Reading books and listening to music. Writing. Being aware. Being present, especially when I’m face to face with another living being. Learning and loving and being happy.
We don’t any of us know how much time we will have to be alive. We all have the responsibility and the opportunity to decide how we will live in whatever time we have. That’s an awesome gift. Jim’s sister quoted Abe Lincoln at the memorial service we held: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.” So maybe there’s no such thing as ‘time’, only ‘life’.
Community – is that a portmanteau of ‘common’ and ‘unity’? What is the unifying thing that all life has in common? Is it the everything particle? Is it a Divine Source? Would you just call it Life? Our community home is a beautiful, spinning sphere wrapped in a blanket of atmosphere. Sounds cozy! We dance atop this sphere with all kinds of creatures. A community dance, an every day Festival, a holiday (holy day)…on ice! Here’s where my stream of consciousness lands:
Whether you’ve got skis or boots or hoofs or paws or fins or feathers or roots, we are gliding together on a slippery path. Let’s hold each other up and work together in common unity!
Life never ceases to enthrall me. The will to take hold and thrive is powerful. Poor soil can take its toll on some plants, but others seem to do just fine clinging to nothing but rock. I admire the adaptability and tenacity of plant life. No excuses. Grow where you are, or become soil for someone else.
Hallelujahs all around! An all-inclusive Glory Be! Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsikov festival music with timpani and brass at breakfast. It feels great to be alive, any day! My Easter-oriented upbringing is always in the background, even though I’m facing Eastern lately. May JOY be universal, however you find it.
Today’s poetry prompt for NaPoWriMo was simply to go outside with a notebook and perhaps a camera and write a poem. So I did. I didn’t go any further than 4 steps beyond my porch stairs, sat down beneath the maple tree, and opened up. Miracles are all around.
Glorious ordinary wholly happy day
Treasure-hunting among the obvious
I shall not be in want
Fresh dandelions, wind-blown chimes
Bacon, my kitchen incense
Strawberries’ radiant red miracle
Greenery below, above; and vaulted space
A sanctuary innocent, unstained by shame
I call it Life.
Is life a problem to be solved?
I was raised by a very well educated mother who called herself a “domestic engineer” during the 70s when “housewife” was out of vogue and her peers were going out into the marketplace to get paying jobs. She is a problem-solver, and very good at it. She can load a dishwasher more efficiently than anyone I know. She used to draw up construction plans for my house showing ways to add another bedroom or maximize my kitchen space. She is a very useful person to have in your corner, provided you know what you want and what you consider a problem. Sometimes her energy would confuse me. Does my kitchen need to be remodeled? It wasn’t something I’d considered.
My kids are in their 20s now. They are making big assessments and decisions about their lives. Grad school? Marriage? Property? Career? The problem-solver in me wants to step in and draw up a plan for them. My wiser self steps back and urges them to draw up their own plans. My even more philosophical self steps back and says, “Why is this a problem to be solved?” The only way to answer that question is to know what you want.
I’ll use the photo above as an example. Some people would take a look at it and think that certain things have to be done. The bank needs to be shored up and supported, perhaps by concrete, so that the steps can continue. Some others might say that the steps need to be removed and ground cover planted to prevent erosion. Some others might say that a more effective barrier should be erected to prevent people from falling off the edge. And some would say, “Just let it be.” There’s a stream cutting through here, heading out to Lake Michigan. People want to get down to the beach from the top of the hill. Those are the situations. What do I want? What is my responsibility?
I want to take photographs. I want to get down to the beach, but I’m already on the other side of the stream where I’ve found steps going all the way down. I like this situation the way it is. To me, it is not a problem to be solved; it is a photo opportunity, a place to be enjoyed. If there was a two year old who was coming down those steps, it’d be a different story. But that’s not the situation here, so I don’t have to worry about that, even though I can imagine reasons to worry. I think I probably do too much of that.
So, kids, when you’re thinking about grad school, marriage, property, career and feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What do I really want? What responsibility do I want to take on?” Think of how you want to live life, not just how you will solve problems. Follow your bliss. The decisions you make are the threads in the fabric of your life, they will give it texture and variation and interest. Enjoy creating your very own!