Sunday, March 25, 2012

Setting Intentions: Status Update

“Set an intention for your yoga practice today,” says the Not-Julie yoga sub at the beginning of Friday practice. My intention, I thought, is to not let your voice annoy me. I am judgmental. I will just own that. I have been called provincial by a former loved one, which seems to me is sort of another word for judgmental, with me being the province.

Here we are nearing the end of Lent and it is a good time to renew intentions set for the new year. If only I could remember what they were. I was going to
greet every day with five half-sun salutations. I forgot for the entire month of January; but since then I have done very well. And I was going to get back to Wednesday weight machines at the Y; I have not done well with that. Since the time changed I have not gotten to the cemetery for the sunrise very often; and consequently I have not been writing and posting One Sentence Mornings.

And then there is my One Little Word. I did the first month's assignment with enthusiasm, and waited impatiently for January to end so I could get the next assignment. I was less enthusiastic about February, and finally, just before month's-end, I figured out my own tweak to the assignment and finished it just before March's instruction came. And I don't like March, either. It feels too small--though small was the point. The instructor's experience has been that 
March is a month when participants lose interest, so she purposely made the exercise humble. But, I thought, small isn't working for me right now; I need BIG, so I wasn't challenged and I have not been purposeful. I see now, though, that the month has been chock full of small happenings involving my word, even though I did not write them down and set an intention to make them happen. I am a list maker, and I often add things to my list after I do them and mark them off so it doesn't appear that nothing has been happening. Which makes it a list of accomplishments rather than intentions. So my OLW in March will be an accounting of achievements without premeditation. Sometimes our work comes from deep within and our brains are the last to know.

I have been cleaning out closets and drawers and cupboards for the past several weeks. Every so often I get tired of things hanging around that are of no use nor value to me. I have never liked clutter. (Well, not for a really long time--since the clothes strung around the bedroom teenage years.) It's another bit of my judgmental personality when it comes to other people's homes, too. I can let it be okay, if it works for them (which I doubt), but I don't know how they can live in it. No, I am not OCD, I just like freedom from the detritus of life that doesn't add value. And I start thinking about what within me needs to be cleaned out. And what needs to make its way in.

Weeds in the garden don't add value. And the warm days and the plenitude of rain this week have resulted in a lot of weeds that need to be pulled. If it stops storming long enough. Perhaps today. Yesterday I run out of the house between showers to plant vegetables. Red peppers, spinach, yellow squash (which I realize now is the composted mystery plant growing in my birdbath planter), and grape tomatoes join the Brussels sprouts and snap peas.

What I notice most in the garden this week is the exchange of individual flowers that pop up victoriously through the hard ground and the cold of early spring, for the lavish clumps of color that are the hallmark of the current warmth and wet. March showers bring March flowers; the 2012 southern version of the traditional premise. The last of the hostas that I have been watching for, also make their appearance this week.

Moles, which couldn’t dig through the yard last summer due to extreme heat and hard earth, are making up for lost ground these warm, wet weeks. Greg Fischel shows proof on the weather trivia this week that there is no precedent for warmest winters leading to hottest summers. Uh huh. What about warmest winters followed by warmest springs? Then what is summer like historically? Even though we are only five days into spring, I am fighting turning on the AC at night; I can generally tough out it well into May.

On the upside of the weather (which honestly I have loved except for the night heat and the open windows that give entrance to the clouds of pollen) is relaxing on the patio with Smudge and the birds after work, enjoying my book and wine. Watching plants growing at rocket speed. Middle-of-the-night thunderstorms, which I love. Early morning fog. And a rainbow! Actually, a double one. Rainbows are so rare here. I just happen to be out of the office on Tuesday and there it is--full arch, all seven colors. A reminder of the intention of the One Who is More; which reminds me of mine. And it evokes in me the importance of setting intentions, so the swiftly flying weeks don't pass unnoticed and uncounted for. And what I have learned about intention-setting is to set them just beyond comfortable. I am looking forward to April's intentions...or accomplishments.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kaleidoscope Eyes

I love kaleidoscopes, from the cardboard cylinders with bits of plastic in the end that were birthday party favors and Christmas stocking leavings when I was small, to the multi-hundred dollar polished wood ones on stands with pieces of colored crystal that mix when the end is turned and fall into place when the twisting stops. My favorites, though, are those with clear prisms in the end that make patterns of whatever it is turned toward.  

This is a week of meandering, twisting experiences. Nothing seems to fit together. So much so that yesterday I don't think this post will have a theme. But that is what kaleidoscopes are: every movement changes the picture. Perhaps that is what Lent is about, waiting and watching for whatever comes. Life doesn’t always come together in a nicely wrapped tidy package; the days don't always fall into a theme.

Change is in the air and I feel unsettled, uncertain, unprepared. Fearful. Panicked. I read this on Saturday from Walking in This World, by Julia Cameron, and it helps: "If you are panicked, tell yourself, ‘Ah! Good sign: I am getting unstuck.'" You have to do some twisting before the glass settles into place; the panic transforming to excitement at the venture.

Here in the south this week, it is full blown spring (and much too warm for me). I observe the twists of the kaleidoscope. Each night it turns, and the next morning the scene is different.

The dogwood blossoms move from barely opening and invisible from the deck at the beginning of the week, to nearly fully busted out with the beginnings of leaves on the branches at the end. The lawn is full of buttercups  (well, yellow flowers) and violets and the tiny blue flower of the otherwise despicable carpet weed. Or maybe the carpet weed is the white flower and the blue another creeper. At any rate, the blue and the white are co-conspirators in the plot to take over the garden. (They have already won in the yard. I don't care.) I pull them by the handful, without gloves as usual and with the resulting splinters and dirt under my nails. I love the wild phlox, which pops up everywhere bringing bright spots to areas not yet in bloom.

The Japanese painted fern, the purple heart, and the Jacob's Ladder increase in girth daily. The bleeding heart has teeny half-inch hearts on the new plant; I don't remember seeing them on the immature plant in years past. These plants are clearly loving the warmth more than I am. The Japanese weeping maple and the more ordinary Japanese maples have transformed from bud to wispy emerging leaves to nearly fully open. The feathery loropetalum gets more and more thick with pink.

The banana leaves are climbing all in and over each other to unfurl. I am fascinated by these triplets born together, and struggling now to individuate.

The Rose of Sharon, the one here that I transplanted as a tiny seedling from the other side of the yard, contains the old side-by-side with the new. I ponder that, how even as we change and grow, we keep some parts of who we have been with us always, the new coming out of the old like this year's banana plant; and some pieces of ourselves, like the Rose of Sharon, we shed only as the new crowds it out. Other plants become completely empty, waiting barren through the winter for the new growth to emerge. We are all of these.

There will be many tall red papery poppies this year. Invasive, but so much fun and full of good cheer. This week, though, their beauty is in the holding of raindrops that sparkle like the glass at the end of the kaleidoscope.

I am in the cemetery on Saturday for both the sunrise after the early fog, and the sunset. I am honored to share this special place with my northern-transplant friend who has not been before. There are several rainy nights this week (and a fabulous thunderstorm and pouring rain last night), and I cherish the early morning damp air and the raindrops clinging to the plants.

I sit on the deck with wine and camera and wait for birds at the feeder. I do love cardinals. I Google them for facts and learn that they do not live in the Pacific Northwest (sad), and that they mate for life. Another website puts that last bit in perspective: "Cardinals mate for life; which sound like they spend decades of bliss together until they retire to some Cardinal condo in the [mountains]. Truth is a cardinal’s life expectancy isn't much longer than a year." However, you have to love this: Most female birds are silent, while the males expose themselves and announce their territory to the world. A truly unique thing about cardinals is that both sexes sing and both sound pretty much the same, and claim their joint territory.

Friday I take Smudge, my five-year-diabetic cat, and her three-pounds-lighter svelte body to the vet for a glucose curve, and she is declared in remission. No more insulin for now. I feel like such a good mom. I enjoy her pleasure in the sun and the new bug life in the garden.

There is a new employee at work, and I spend some time with her this week going over the financial details of her job (payroll specifically). She asks a question about sabbatical time that ministerial staff can take after three years. Administrative staff gets no such thing, and it gets me thinking about what I would do with an all expenses paid period of time to look at the world through different eyes. What would I point my kaleidoscope toward; what would I like my twist to settle into? What if I had a whole year?

Julia Cameron: "We cast our dreams and desires ahead of us, and as we move toward them, their content takes on solidity... A symphony moves both through and ahead of a composer. As he [she] moves toward it, it moves toward him [her]... As we commit to our dreams, something benevolent commits back." I am daring to dream.

The thing about kaleidoscopes is they don't work in the dark. If you hold yours up to the light and twist the end, where does the glass settle for you? Or maybe you have the kind without the colored glass; perhaps you need to look at what's already there and see how the pattern can change if you point in a new direction and look with different eyes. I am turning mine this Lent; pointing, dreaming, looking, watching, waiting.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Believing Mirrors

I would rather talk to D at the cafe than write this morning. In part because I don't know what I am writing about; mostly because I enjoy talking to her. We have lost time to make up for after years of seeing each other here and not speaking. We're old friends now.

I am feeling a void this weekend. Dry and uninspired. It is my experience of Lent: everything clears out, and from the quiet void I can see the beginnings of new life.

I do have an inspiring moment at yoga this week. Both Monday and Friday I do chataranga without putting my knees down first. Even as Julie instructs us to go to knees then lower our bodies the rest of the way, I choose the harder route. And I discover the secret: putting my mental energy into my arms. I'm not sure where it was before; I think I was willing my core not to drop me, rather than believing my arms do have the strength to hold me up. I feel super strong.

I read about Believing Mirrors yesterday. "Believing Mirrors reflect us as large and competently creative. They mirror possibility, not improbability." I think, "I can get something out of that to write about." Why do we look in the mirror and say of our physical being, "I am." But of our creative or emotional being so often say, "I can't"? Do we wait until we are some body before we believe in our reflection? Cinderella didn't see her possibility until her reflection included a ballgown. And even then perhaps what she saw was the possibility of a handsome prince in her future, rather than the possibility in her own sparkling self. 

I didn't have much time in the garden yesterday, so I don't get far with my musing. I do see the possibility of the garden, though. I have been watching for the bleeding heart and the ostrich fern to emerge. I almost miss them yesterday. You have to look close to see new life emerging. A scan of the bed from standing height passes right over both. But I bend down to brush dead leaves aside, and there they are. I believe in the bleeding heart and the fern.

The banana tree (are you tired yet of my banana tree?) is such a wonder. It puts out a new shoot--out of last year's stalk--and then we have a freeze and it mushes. Then the sun warms it and it immediately puts out another shoot out of the second frozen one. Then it freezes again, and out of the dead comes yet another new shoot. It simply won't give up. Each foiled try becomes the basis for a new attempt, layer upon layer building promise out of failure.

As a wander in my garden I find two of my trillium up (maybe it will bloom this year), and the dogwood buds just beginning to unfold. They are one of my favorite buds. They reveal themselves so slowly, like the ceiling in a planetarium or the curtains at a peep show, slowly sliding open to divulge the characters waiting to put on the show. As I stand marveling, a male cardinal above me begins calling. An answering call from a female comes from the other side of the garden. They call back and forth, until the neighbor's dog barks at my cat and the male flies off. I hope they find one another again. Toward evening, and again this morning as I lie abed, window open, I hear the hoot of an owl close by and the answer from the distance.
I spend Friday evening with dear friends and good food; sitting on cushions around my coffee table talking about our lives, our futures. And now it comes to me: friends are mirrors of possibility to each other. The see in us what we cannot believe for ourselves. Some people mirror negativity, it is true, calling out the worst in us, or casting doubt on our desire to explore our changing size and creative shape. They want to hold us to what they have known us to be, comfortable and predictable. But these good friends and others in my life over the past few years have been the catalyst for my writing self. They encourage and challenge and love this growing me. I look in the mirror through their eyes and see my ballgown. I can imagine the handsome prince in my future, looking for all the world like a hardcover book.   

I see several hawks overhead through the day, making lazy circles. I wonder what hawks symbolize and look it up before I go to sleep. "The hawk beckons us to hone our focus on the areas that are out of balance in our lives. They move between the seen and unseen realms gracefully connecting both worlds together." There are unseen realms in my near future; the hawk calls me onward, the banana tree inspires me to keep believing when I get cold feet, the bleeding heart and ostrich fern are proof that there is always and forever new life, my friends mirror my possibility--and I hope I show them theirs.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I love words that roll deliciously around in my mouth--that I can almost taste--before they roll off my tongue, slipping breathlessly into the air, or exploding onto the sound waves. To qualify as a favorite word, it must also have exquisite meaning (that's a good one--exquisite). My oldest and still most favorite is onomatopoeia. A newer one is pentimento; I wrote a post about that one when I learned it. A brand new word, given to me by a friend this week, is paraprosdokian: a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part. "Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?" Fun.

Another somewhat recent favorite is selah; a word I learned at church a few years ago. Selah is a word from the Hebrew Bible meaning (loosely) to pause in the reading of the text, or the singing of the Psalms. It tells us to pause and think about what we have just heard. A rest in lines of musical text is a selah. Julia Cameron in Walking in this World says: “'Rest' is a musical term for a pause between flurries of notes. Without that tiny pause, the torrent of notes can be overwhelming. Without a rest in our lives, the torrent of our lives can be the same." Selah.

Snow is a selah, covering all the nastiness in the world with a cloak of silent beauty and goodness; forcing us to take a rest and listen to the quiet; to let loose of the torrent of our lives. (We haven't had that this year, sadly.) Rain is a selah in this part of the world. I have often said that the constant sun and blue sky pushes me into more and more activity and exhaustion. Rain gives me permission to stop and take a breath. Selah.

I find a selah at the cemetery when the sun is rising; and in the five sun salutations I do each morning in my upstairs window looking into the Rose of Sharon tree, which today has tiny green nubs of bud that I don't notice when I hurry under it to the car to go to work. When I was a student at the University of Washington I sought out times of selah, though I didn't know the word for it then. One place I found it was in the dorm basement in the "practice rooms" where I went to play the piano for myself. Others played for the world to hear on the grand piano in the lounge. Not me. (I know you are not surprised.) Another was in the study carrels on the top floor of the cathedral-like Suzzallo Library, tucked into the dormers on the edges of the dusty stacks where no one ever went. Selah.

Like snow, fog is a visual selah. We have had fog this week. It hangs around the cemetery stones, and diffuses the sun's rays. Fog softens the world as sky comes down to meet earth and we have to look harder and listen harder to find our way as the outlines that define our markers are blurred. Even the moon loses its definition as it struggles to be seen, or maybe wishes to hide within its own selah, as I did in the practice room and the library. Selah.

I think of selah this week on Leap Day. The day is exhausting and crazy--and I hear that from several people; it isn't just me. And then it comes to me: Leap Day should be a selah--a pause, a day to stop, look, and listen. Instead we make this gift of an extra day every four years just another day to get work done, as we did the day before and the day after. Such a missed opportunity. Our souls need rest, but our egos resist. "Get it done. Produce more. Don't take a break. Go. Go. Go." Selah.

If Advent is adventure, a looking forward with anticipation and excitement for the day the One Who is More will do a new thing in the world, Lent is selah. Lent is a season that begs us to pause; to look closely; to listen. As I have said in this blog throughout past Lents, it is my favorite time both in the garden and in my living. It is a quiet time for me. And because of the quiet I hear the whisperings of my heart. God may do a new thing during Advent, but Lent is when I start noticing it. Selah.

It is not that nothing is happening during Lent--a great deal is happening. It is just subtle, sneaking in on little cat paws. Silently and with great strength pushing this year's giant hosta up through the hard ground in the garden. (It's not pretty, but its time will come.) The Lenten selah is producing buds on the dead-but-not-dead hydrangea canes. The purple anemone is up; and the pansies, happy but not flamboyant like the summer zinnias, continue to bring color to the drab earth, as they have all winter. I find the first azalea buds early in the week, and yesterday some have opened. I am not a fan of azaleas, especially eleven months out of the year; but I do love the magenta ones under my dogwood tree. I hope they don't expire before the dogwood blooms this year. The newly-planted false sea foam has a first opening bloom; the Japanese painted fern and the Jacob's Ladder continue their quiet expansion into the world. Yesterday I also discover the Green and Gold ground cover I planted last year has its first blooms and the Carolina jasmine is turning the porch rail yellow. Selah.

The Lenten garden is mostly close to the ground. Perhaps so the ground can protect it against any last gasp winter cold, like we will have this week. Not until summer will the garden reach skyward and be visible to passers-by. It reminds me of another close-to-the-ground selah: shavasana (another word that I love). The last yoga position, taken lying on the mat close to the ground. The time of the practice when we lie still, listening to and slowing our breathing, and let all that the practice has been sink into our bones. The time when we thank God above for all that our bodies have been able to do, and the earth below for holding us up. Selah.

So much of the new growth in the Lenten garden is visible only to one who pauses, kneels, brushes away the dead leaves, and examines closely what is hiding beneath. The garden is a journey, ever-changing. I have learned that if I only see the razzle-dazzle of the spring and summer bloom, I have missed the journey. If I don't engage in the Lenten selah, I have gone through the cycles of my living without breathing. I am a traveler in this life. If I miss the journey, I have missed everything there is. Selah.