Sunday, January 27, 2013

Drenched with Possibility

On the first Sunday of the new year I shared my word for 2013: Possibility. This week I began my formal exploration of my word. There are many more definitions of Possibility online than there are in the family Random House, the dusty oversized dictionary that has resided for decades in my family home on a special slanted shelf my dad made for it. There is the common one: “the fact or condition of being possible." But my favorite is: “Potentiality for interesting results.” That one beckons me into a wide open future. It peeks, mostly hidden, from around the corner with hooked index finger. It teases me toward exploration. It sets me dreaming.

Next I pull out synonyms that roll on my tongue and bounce around in my heart: plausibility, potentiality, feasible, achievable, realizable, attainable.

And then my favorite beginning exercise: finding quotes about my word. I love the internet. I find several to record in my notebook, to pull out when I need inspiration, or a kick in the butt. Again, I have a favorite, by a woman who proclaims herself an "idea-whisperer," which is pretty cool itself: “I have a habit of letting my imagination run away from me. It always comes back though...drenched with possibilities” (Valaida Fullwood). Drenched with possibilities. Wow. That is how I want to live. Drenched, like the valley on Wednesday when the rising sun turned its winter drab to gold. Drenched, like the first rain in twelve days left the trees and moss smelling green again.

Six years ago, at about this time, just before Lent (the season that I still my busyness and make space for whatever it is I have been ignoring), I thought about Possibility. What if I bought a house? I made a list of what that would mean for my life. I didn’t so much consciously decide to do it as I did follow the beckoning finger to the garden that changed my life. Neither a garden nor a changed life were on my list. A year ago, having turned that possibility to reality, I set my sights on returning to my soul home. It was a Bold Venture. It isn’t time yet for my next venture, and I don’t know when it will be; but it’s always time to be drenched with possibility.

I just read a friend’s blog post about her annual
week-long gathering of a group of women. At their first day check-in they each shared what their busy and productive year had held. Until the talking stick reached the group’s 86-year-old elder. Contritely she confessed that she didn’t know what good she was doing in the world. Everyday she goes to the coffee shop and tries to be friendly, “to make sure everyone gets a welcome as they come in the door.” One day she rocked a fussy baby so his mother could enjoy a cup of coffee. “You know,” she went on, “people just need to be seen. Just need someone to look up and say, ‘hi; glad you walked into the room.’ Mother Teresa said the greatest disease in the world is loneliness, that if she could heal anything about being human, it would be to cure loneliness with love. I try to be like that, to bring a little love into the space around me. But I feel old. I don’t have the hearing, the energy, or the big ideas I used to. That’s all I got to say.”

Selah. I invite you to breathe deeply and read that again, slowly.

Wow. Wow. I can imagine it was hard to speak in the room after that. After a selah, my friend, with permission to comment, offered this: “You are doing exactly what the elder in the village is supposed to do! You are tending what’s right in front of you. This is the fulfillment of your days—the capacity to slow down, to see what needs to happen next, right here, right now—with the young mother, with the baby, with the barrista, with the regulars from town, with us in the circle. Through these gestures of kindly attention offered into your daily surroundings you are a messenger of your deepest values. Every one of us who is moving faster, who is busy beyond managing, who is hooked into the necessities of technology, is counting on you being here amongst us moving at the pace of guidance and paying attention in the ways that you do.”

My mother is this elder to me. Because I am her family, with all the history that comes with a parent-child relationship, I don’t always see it. But everyone she meets is enchanted by her. People tell me all the time, “I love your mother.” She embodies kindness and hope and grace. She is proof that you don’t have to do anything earth shattering to change the world. Her nearly sightless eyes smile behind her dark glasses as she straightens her ever-so-slightly bent body and speaks a kind word to a restaurant patron. That person smiles at the child at the next table, because kind attention begs to be passed on. The child stops fussing and shyly smiles back, before giving her mommy a hug. And on and on into limitless possibility.

My mother and my friend’s elderly friend are preparing our elder places. Through them I see the possibilities for my own old age. But first things first. Right now I have today. Today I can dream about the possibilities in my still-energetic years. What I choose today will pave the way for tomorrow. And tomorrow’s possibilities will set the course for the next day. And all the while I will remember to smile at strangers. It could transform their day. It could call them to possibility.

My sister recently sent me this poem by Rabbi Yael Levy:

What is it that calls us forward,
To lift our eyes
And see that everything is possible?
Just for a moment to feel a strength beyond ourselves,
A love beyond ourselves,
And imagine we can step into the river
And change its course?

Perhaps it is remembering
That everything we do
Shapes the future
For the children we will never know.

Everything we create
Fashions a world for the people who will
Some day call us ancestor.

Netzach (victory) teaches
Raise up right action
And aim toward love and generosity.
Eternity exists in each moment
There is no separation between us
And what will be.

Drench yourself with possibility today. Selah.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Let Your Breath Fill the Space

Out of frost-white meadows
of Scotch broom
tall firs rise ghost-like
over the interstate
gray aside naked poplars
their tops disappearing
like breath into
foggy mystery
white on white on white.

Gulls fly out
from the mystery
beyond the yoga window
for once hushed
and silently glide
over mist that floats
like breath
above the still lake
breath on breath on breath.

Fog. I love it. It creates space within me by shutting out all the distractions that are “out there.” It is foggy often here in my new old home. Many days I awaken just to the space extending to the first line of trees. No valley floor, no hills, no mountain, no town lights, no sky. Just me, my breath, and the ghostly trees.

The times in my living when I have felt my most authentic self, are the times I am in the spaces. Sitting high in the big leaf maple tree of my childhood, walking alone in the woods and to and from the school bus stop; sitting at a campsite by a river in the Appalachians, hiking around Mt. Rainier with only the birds and animals for company, driving across the expanses of this land. It is then that I am most awake, most aware, most connected. Yoga teachers remind us often to stay connected to our breath. The breathing that makes space in our chest and between our vital organs. Perhaps it is that reminder that makes me aware of the space as I drove to the coast last Sunday. 

The sky dawns blue, but a mist lingers above the frosty ground and cold lake and escapes from my mouth, reminding me again of the life-giving breath. Hoarfrost clings to all that is cold, tiny ice crystals expanding the chain link fences, vegetation, even spider webs into the space surrounding them. I am as aware of that space as I am of the objects. I look at the webs and see the spaces between the thickened strands. The ducks float in and out of the mist, taking up tiny silent space in the expanse of water. I drive out of town past the poplar plantation. The frosted trees glistening against the azure sky are beautiful, but it is the perfect empty spaces extending in straight rows in all directions that keeps me riveted as cover the mile of road between them and me, until I am beneath them and see only the unoccupied space. The swans standing in the marsh, perhaps sensing my presence watching them from the side of the road, slip soundless into the water, gliding into space among reflections. Even the frozen trickles of water dripping from the rocks are motionless, waiting, patient in the drop zone between their origin and their destination, taking time to breath before the warmth of another day sends them on their continuing tumble.

Perhaps it is the connection to space that often keeps me tuned into themes. Like this week, beginning with my road trip and continuing through the many foggy days. On Wednesday, as I drive to yoga through thick fog, the trees keep a sentinel watch over the mystery hiding in the unseen space.

In yoga, amazingly, the theme for the week is “letting your breath fill the space.” Inhale into your abdomen, bring your inhale up to your chest, expanding as you go to make space...drop your thoughts to your heart...use the strength behind your heart....

On Thursday evening, at the drawing class I made space in my life for, the lesson is on negative space. We practice drawing the space around the subject, rather than the subject itself. When the spaces are all drawn, the rocking chair and the big-horned sheep and Frida Kahlo magically appear out of the emptiness of the paper.

My sister sends me a blog post this week: “Breathe deeply. Our breath is our most immediate and vital connection to the life force that sustains us moment by moment. Let yourself be filled with awe and wonder at the marvels of this intimate gift.” Breathing, filling the space with nothing but our breath. As I write this post, my phone signals an incoming message from my other sister. She is struggling with her ongoing love/hate relationship with technology. She can’t send email from her new computer and she would like to not care. She is wistful for the lost days of simplicity (except it wasn’t really, of course) when everything was done with pen and paper and the phone was not so damned smart and stayed connected to the wall and didn’t even have an answering machine to tell you what you missed. There was more space, more time to breathe when we weren’t connected every moment of the day and night.

I catch up on my daily email from Writers’ Almanac and find this poem from one of my favorites, May Sarton, excerpted from “New Year Resolve”:

The time has come

To stop allowing the clutter

To clutter my mind

Like dirty snow,

Shove it off and find

Clear time, clear water
For it is now or not

As old age silts the stream,

To shove away the clutter,

To untie every knot,

To take the time to dream,

To come back to still water.

The time is now to embrace the space, to concentrate only on the breath, to find the strength in the space behind your heart. The time is now to discover what makes your heart leap up.  The time is now to create space for possibility; to make space for mystery.

There is a Portuguese saying that I used many years ago as a salutation on letters (both the pen and paper type and the electronic): Tomando canta. It non-literally means to take care; to drink care, perhaps to breath care; to fill oneself up with special and gentle attention. Drop your thoughts and your breath to the space around your heart. Spend time there.

Tomando canta, my friends.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Power in the Stretch

If you are a follower of this blog, you know that one of the plants missing in my garden since I moved to the PNW in July is a just-right yoga class. I found the studio I love, and a teacher I like, in Olympia; but the class has not challenged me. Well. They started a new class this week, Yoga 1 and 2. I got my challenge; days and several Advil later my pectoral muscles are almost recovered.

I never would have chosen to place my mat behind the cute young thing that came in late and put her mat in front of mine, her yoga clothes showing off all her well- developed, clearly cared for parts very nicely. I groaned. Great. I know it’s not a contest and I am supposed to keep my eyes on what’s happening on my own mat, but I couldn’t help watching her. I couldn’t help it because when my 60 can out-yoga someone’s 20-something, I am going to pay attention. Maybe it was the first time she had done yoga, but I accept all affirmation. We did five full sun salutation vinyasas. I haven’t done even one since last spring. Mine weren’t pretty, but I kicked her cute butt.

In the middle of a warrior pose with a serious hamstring stretch, the teacher reminds us to gently stop the chatter in our head-the chatter that takes our mind off the discomfort of the stretch. “Keep your mind with the stretch, that’s where the power is.” The stretch is where the power is. That phrase has been singing through my mind, along with the sore pecs, all week.

After living alone for eight years, living with Mama is stretching me. It’s stretching her, too. Living in community, and doing it well, is not easy. Living with a blood relation is hard. Living with someone who is in a very different life-stage is challenging. Knowing that I am on a fast track to that same life stage is terrifying. What it is, is opportunity. Opportunity to stretch, to learn, to be curious. For that to happen, I have to keep my mind on the stretch, that’s where the power is. That’s where the opportunity is.

Mama says something that comes from a place of who she is, and it pushes a button in me. Perhaps a button from childhood, perhaps one that takes me back to an adult experience. I react out of that long ago, probably unexplored place of pain. Most of the time I shove my riposte away without voicing it, but I feel it well up before I let the mind chatter cover it. As is my way of being, I let it fly away and never look at it again. Ignoring feelings is learned behavior; learned in this very home I am again living in. I wonder how I would better serve myself to be curious; to stay with the stretch. Like: “Wow, where do I feel that anger that rose up in me, or that fear? Oh, it’s in my chest. I’m going to feel that, stay with it, investigate it.” Or come back to it. Stay with the stretch, it’s where the power is.

The last time I returned home from Seattle, the snow-covered Olympic mountains were glistening on the horizon against blue sky. I sped down I-5, skirting the city, and could glimpse them beckoning to me behind the Space Needle. It was morning, I wasn’t really in a hurry, and I thought about getting off at the Seneca Street exit and driving through the city center in workday traffic to the market on the shore of Puget Sound where I could get a full view. Robert Frost flitted through my mind: "stopping by the woods on a snowy evening," slowing down, taking time to enjoy beauty. But I was on the interstate fast track; it felt like too much energy to really think about getting off. I kept going. As soon as it was too late, I regretted my non-decision to stick with inertia. I didn’t keep my mind on the stretch to get off the highway, I let the opportunity pass me by. I read this somewhere a few days later: “Anytime we lop off the fantasy and romance from our daily lives we are hacking away at the quality of our existence.” I just lopped off that longing, and kept on going.

Spontaneity is not in my repertoire. Friday, after the fog dissipated and the day became crystal clear, after Mama’s physical therapy appointment, after lunch, as my head chatter tried to tell me it was too much of a stretch to spontaneously take off exploring in CuRVy-maybe I should curl up with a book-I remembered the missed opportunity in Seattle. I grabbed my camera and took off over the hill. I had no plan; I even forgot the Lewis County map. I didn’t know where I was going or what I would find. I wasn’t disappointed.

There is no power in the status quo. I’m developing my muscles and learning to keep my mind on the places that stretch me: physically and spiritually. The new day is dawning…I have a full tank of gas.



Sunday, January 6, 2013

One Little Word for 2013: Possibility

I have seen several exercises for starting a new year on my friends’ FaceBook pages and blogs this week.

❧ A list of what you want to do more of and what you want to do less of.
❧ What you do on New Year’s Day sets the tone for the year; choose wisely.
❧ Check in with your map (have a map!).
❧ A list of what brought happiness and what brought disappointment or sorrow in the year past.
❧ Choose a word for the new year; and, if you had one, review how your word in the old year informed your living.
❧ Set intentions, intentionally. Create your new year.

I have done, or am doing, all of them. They seem more helpful for creating intentional living than random "resolutions." I hope looking back isn’t restricted to December 31 and looking forward doesn’t have to be completed on January 1. If it does, I’m behind. The way I see it, the first half of 2013, for me, needs to be spent in this way. It is the second half of my gap year. Time to assess life past and dream life future into being.

On New Year’s Day, I didn’t know it was the day to set the tone––to touch on, in one day, all the things I wanted more of in my life. Still, I wrote a poem that I liked, I went for a walk up the snowy road, I went to a two-hour yoga workshop with my sisters, I read, I tried to be nice. And at the very end of the year I had gone exploring into new places in the mountains. Not bad for not being intentional.

My word for 2012 was Venture. It was a little bit of a cheat, because I already knew I was going to sell my house and move across the country. I even knew in my heart of hearts that I was going to drive with my cat in an old car (though I was still considering options). That right there had pretty tremendous potential for a big adventure. (And just as an aside, it turned out to be the second best time I ever had in my life; and the other best was also spent driving cross-country). But in choosing the word, I explored many ways to venture into the new and unknown. It was a perfect word. It gave me courage to keep moving forward through the fear and doubt.

In the yoga workshop on Tuesday, I got my word for the new year: Possibility. The future is before me, and the possibilities are wide open. They will not be the last choices for where I live and what I do with my living. But they are the next, and I want to choose carefully. Also at yoga, after we considered in two breaks from asanas who we are and if the manifestation of ourselves is in alignment with our deepest purpose, the teacher said one of those things you have heard before but suddenly hear again for the first time: “You are already the person you want to be.” She is in there, I just have to let her out. As I told my sisters, I only need to get out of my way.

After dropping my sister off at SeaTac on Thursday, I stopped at Tacoma Mall. The day was crystal clear––Mt. Rainier sharply silhouetted against the cerulean sky in the east, the snowy Olympics glistening in the sun  to the west, acting out the gloriosity of the PNW. I had planned to drive to Steilacoom, a historic town on Chambers Bay that my local sister had heard might be a possible fine place to live some day. The western state psychiatric hospital is close by, too. I might need to check in there. I came out of the mall and headed back to I-5. I knew there had to be a closer way than the way I knew, which entailed circling the mall; how hard could it be? I got lost. I finally turned on GPS Phoebe who got me there.

To get to Steilacoom I had to go south and then back north, past miles of razor wire and camouflage of Fort Lewis/ McChord AFB, then more miles of soaring stately fir trees that lined the road and tickled the blue sky; then down the hillside above the Puget Sound inlet that sparkled behind the ferry terminal in front of the stupendously spectacular Olympic mountains' backdrop. Not much of a town, I can remove it from my Possibility list for living in; but that is not the story.

I thought I would let Phoebe lead me out, maybe there was a better, or at least different, route than the back yard of the military base. Like the wisepeople of old, I was open to returning home by another way. Where she took me was ridiculous. I kept saying, “Really, Phoebe?” I even saw the sign to I-5; but I was curious, so I went with Phoebe, heading farther and farther north when my destination was south. I finally smacked my hand against my forehead in realization that she was following my first “get me out of here” request. The one that started at Tacoma Mall. She was taking me through Lakewood (the biggest, ugliest strip city I ever saw; and where the mental institution actually is––of course it wouldn’t be in a healing environment like Chambers Bay), back to the mall and then to I-5, instead of starting from where I was. I had failed to put a new search. I had listened to another's voice instead of reading the road signs in front of me.

So now I am wondering: what are the possibilities if I start this year from where I am right now? A fresh start doesn’t have to mean forgetting who and where I have been, but it is so easy to get stuck there. “I can’t [fill in the blank] because [fill in the excuse].” If I think about that, the excuse always circles back to who I have been in the past. Who and what can I be starting right here and now? I can put in a new search.

It seems overwhelming to have the whole rest of my life spread out in front of me with the only real restrictions being my own fear and self-doubt. But in yoga a couple of weeks ago, Mo led us through asanas by breathing into release then exhaling into a little bit deeper place. “Micro movements achieve micro adjustments,” she said. Micro adjustments add up to significant change. That awakening was reenforced on NPR the day after New Year’s when a caller into the program I was listening to extolled the idea of making “one degree of change.” One degree, and then one more, that’s double the change. Two degrees is just that easy.

I pulled up to the coffee shop today, thinking about small steps and the map I sort of drew for myself a year ago, and returned to one of things I had wanted to do, just for the fun of it: learn how to be a barista. Never know when that might be a useful skill here in the land of all things coffee. Why haven’t I done it? All I have to do is ask someone if they would teach me, and offer something in return. As friend Amelia said in her recent blog post, “My map! I had forgotten to check my map.”

Possibility is achieved in small steps forward, not giant leaps that might land you in a crater out of which you will have to slowly extricate yourself. But first, the map. I don’t have to know the whole route, I don’t have to know the exact roads. But let the exploration begin. Where do I want the next stop to be? What do I want to pack from my past into my suitcase? What do I want to give to a thrift shop, or bury in the landfill? What new clothes do I want to pack? And is my map in my front pocket where I can check it easily?

A dear friend sent this Blessing for Epiphany by Jan Richardson. I am studying.

The Map You Make Yourself

You have looked

at so many doors

with longing,

wondering if your life

lay on the other side.

For today,

choose the door

that opens

to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way

of all:

the path that leads you

to the center

of your life.

No map

but the one

you make yourself.

No provision

but what you already carry

and the grace that comes

to those who walk

the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing

as you set out

and watch how

your rhythm slows,

the cadence of the road

drawing you into the pace

that is your own.

Eat when hungry.

Rest when tired.

Listen to your dreaming.

Welcome detours

as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.

Ask for the guidance you need.

Offer gladness

for the gifts that come

and then

let them go.

Do not expect

to return

by the same road.

Home is always

by another way

and you will know it

not by the light

that waits for you

but by the star

that blazes inside you

telling you

where you are

is holy

and you are welcome