Sinking In

So fellow travelers, one of the things I value highly from being part of a creative community are the moments when one person’s contribution generates another work.  We call it the ripple effect.  Jackie Campbell,  a friend and fellow haiku writer (she posts one almost daily in her thoughtful blog) shared a story with a photo that caught my attention right away.

JackiesDock

Photo courtesy of Jackie Campbell

The image matched a haiku I wrote a few months ago but had not posted  because I had yet to capture an image to match the words.

Tide rises waves come
Hold fast to the shore my friend
Light and love are near

Most of my haikus are created out of the experience embedded in an image I capture, so the visuals usually preceed the words.  This haiku came out of some challenges another friend was experiencing. When I composed it, I sent her a copy on a hand decorated card and kept the original words in my blog drafts waiting to snap the right photo to go with it. Then this morning while wrestling with another post that felt heavy and awkward, I came across Jackie’s candid story and photo. Often when I feel I’ve hit creative quicksand, I will take a break and scroll through my WordPress Reader’s feed or check in on Instagram if only to lift my mood. Most of the time savoring the creativity of others not only raises my spirits, it sparks my own process and I get back into the flow of writing, just as Jackie’s piece gave me the boost I needed today.

Jackie’s honesty about feeling daunted by the process of learning to “get out of manual” mode when using her camera reminded me of how easy it is to doubt our ability to acquire new skills, particularly when technology is a component of the tools we are using. I’ve had my digital slr camera for several years now and there are still settings I have not ventured to experiment with. In fact on my last trip to the Pacific Northwest I chose to leave that camera behind and rely on my phone for photos. With trips planned to two national parks, it was an almost unthinkable choice, one made only because I know I will return to those those parks again in the next few years.

On recent trips I have felt burdened by the bigger camera and noticed most of the photos I like best were ones I captured with my phone. This trip I felt more present in the adventures I had, letting the experience really sink in without the requirement (admittedly self imposed) of capturing it “on film.” There were only a handful of moments when I missed the capabilities of my dslr and the depth of experience I gained by being present without it were well worth the trade off of less impressive shots taken by phone.

20170826_120556.jpgMt Olympus from Hurricane Ridge in Olypmic Natl Park.                                                         One of the moments I missed my dslr and extra lenses.

The fear we have of not creating work that is “good” enough, not getting it “right” comes from self imposed expectations. We just don’t give ourselves the benefit of making mistakes which are after all how we learn to do things better. Our expectations and tendency to compare ourselves to others not only in creative endeavors, but in many, too many, areas of life, fabricate quagmires of doubt. This is why I am grateful for the creative community I am part of.  Encouragement, advice and even an inspirational challenge from time to time (more on that in an upcoming post) are lifelines along a sometimes rocky journey to creative growth and deeper self expression.  We may not always walk side by side, but we are never truly alone. It’s a blessing beyond any measure of perfection.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Bridges and Walls

So fellow travelers, one day last week I had some time to enjoy a rare morning walk in the little Upstate NY village I live near.

The trees have been a bit shy about changing into their autumn colors this year. September was so hot and dry it seems most leaves simply curled up and dropped. It’s as if they were saying “We give up. We’re just too tired to get through the change this year.” My lawn crunches as if I am walking on broken glass, dark green rafts float across my pond, trees rattle like old bones in the afternoon breeze. As much as I love summer for all the adventures it brings, Autumn is my favorite season. Finding a pop of color by the bridge in the village gave my heavy heart a much needed lift.

Just as I lifted my phone to capture the image, gulls burst into flight over the river. I stopped to take in their raucous energy as they swirled in wild circles, laughing cries echoing over the water. Gratefully I let their apparent joy, ease the heartache of current events. So much sorrow, so much loss, so much violence and anger, so much judgement and blame and most of all, not enough listening.

Those feelings weighed heavily on me as I drove to an even smaller village further “up”state to spend a weekend with several good friends. We met originally in an on-line creative group which eventually began gathering at several annual events giving people who attended a chance to meet and get to know each other. The experiences generated both wonderful connections and, as often happens when communities grow larger, some challenging dynamics. Some of those dynamics seem to resurface once in a while in ways many of us find confusing. Our gathering of friends pondered some of these challenges during our time together this weekend.

When people are hurt, shamed, excluded or ridiculed by others the pain leaves a wound which can linger for years. When we are hurt by someone we trust, we yearn for the violators to acknowledge the pain they have caused, we want to hear them accept responsibility, offer a sincere apology and even promise not to hurt others.

Occasionally this does happen, though only in circumstances where the hurt is a result of a genuine misunderstanding, Most of the time the cycle of betrayal and hurt result from actions of people whose behaviors reflect internal issues they are either unaware of or are unwilling to resolve. So most people are left trying to deal with unresolved pain. “Walk away, move on,” people are told over and over without being offered an answer as to how one does that.

Art with a message found in a little garden 

The topic of bullying and toxic relationships comes up frequently when you work at a high school and being on a special ed teaching team it’s something we encounter all the time. At a workshop during one of the professional development sessions our school district holds each year, one of the facilitators presented the empowering work of author Kari Kampakis.  Kari teaches young people that everyone in our life serves a purpose and has something to teach us. When it comes to the way we are treated by others, some people teach us about the kind of people we want to be and others show us who we do not want to be.

We tend to create bridges connecting us to the people in the first category and build walls to protect us from the latter people, but Kari talks about “leaning into” the feelings from hurtful experiences. By this she means being aware of what they did to make us feel the way we did; was it their words, the tone of voice, their actions and what specific actions affected us? Then, take what we know and promise we will learn from their mistakes. “Make specific pledges,” she encourages kids, “Say ‘I will make sure others feel included,’ ‘I will listen when other’s are struggling and comfort but not try to fix them,’  ‘I will not expect more acceptance than I myself can give.’ “

Walls protect but they also confine and we can easily become trapped. When we allow the hurtful actions of others to teach us specific ways of how we can treat others with more kindness and compassion, we reclaim control over our experience because chances are the perpetrator is unlikely to change and the apology we seek will never come. Instead of constantly reliving the hurt, we draw strength from healing pain, take responsibility for our feelings and turn anger into positive action. Consciously choosing to judge less and learn more empowers us to walk away, move forward and get on with our own journey. Bridges, not walls aid that journey.

Here’s to walking bridges over no longer troubled waters

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Old Friends

So fellow travelers, once in a while I get text alerts from NASA letting me know the International Space Station will be visible as it passes over my location.

ISS in skyPhoto credit:  Society for Popular Astronomy

Ever since my first sighting a few years ago, I get a thrill from spotting this brilliant white speck as it zooms across the sky. Part of this is the challenge of navigating the directions to pinpoint the ISS location, part of it is sheer amazement at the accomplishment of sending and keeping something so substantial in orbit and a good measure of it is realizing as I look up there are fellow humans zooming along in that white beacon so far away.  How lucky they are gazing down at our home planet below as they do all sorts of fascinating scientific stuff. For a few minutes, I feel like I am part of the grand adventure.

This sense of wonder is so uplifting I have been known to rise hours earlier than my usual wake-up time for the chance to see the ISS. Of course, living near Syracuse, NY, which ranks in the top three on the list of cloudiest cities, there is never a guarantee of clear skies, so any sighting truly is a gift.

Earlier this week, luck graced my choice to rise early. A star studded crystal clear sky greeted me when I stepped out on to our deck. Steam rose from my coffee mug as I scanned the familiar icons.

The vshaped “head” of  Taurus, seven glittering sister stars of the Pleides cluster riding on his back, Sirius and Procyon the dog stars resting at the feet of their Master Orion. The atmosphere was so clear, I caught a rare (at least for me) sight of  Orion’s sword, a string of tiny stars dangling from the line of brighter more easily sighted stars in his belt.

These are constellations which reign the night skies in Winter. The reminder sent a chill through me but I smiled warmed by the thought that Orion connects me to some good people I once described* as  “old friends who’ve just met.”

I’ll be seeing some of those friends soon. True friendships unaltered by a futile battle of words intended to create division by doubt, forged like steel by trust which shines as constant as the stars.

Then zooming over the tree line to the west, the bright white dot of the ISS shot into view. I tracked it’s long graceful arc through the stars already beginning to fade in the predawn light.  It left me these words

orion

 

Orion rises

I’ll catch his stars with my heart

Friendship’s beacon calls

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  gatewaytotheuniverse.org

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*Postscript:  “Old friends who’ve just met” are words from a post written just three years ago; that it feels more like three decades speaks to the level of upheaval wrought as a friends struggled to separate from toxic leadership within a creative collective. A significant number of the original members split off into a separate community. It has been nearly two years since the first fractures formed, yet periodically the shock waves of those events still reverberate through both communities, fueled largely by anyone still harboring anger and resentment. Fear and doubt can be powerful challenges to communal ties if left unaddressed. The admins of the newer community are reasonably adept at fostering an open dialogue to address issues when they come up. Not everyone can tolerate the intensity of emotional discussion; some friendships have disintegrated. I am grateful the ones that matter most to me have weathered the storms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Safe Haven

“Hope rests on a foundation of understanding and happiness is sheltered by a roof of tolerance.” Hugh Prather

So fellow travelers, working at our local high school I see the damage that bullies inflict not only on their targets but on a community as a whole. Just last year, our community lost a very precious young life to the ravages of bullies. Every now and then I also encounter bullying from adults who should know better.

Always I feel at first a flash of anger igniting remnant embers of past hurts from childhood tormentors. Yet in my heart I know anger begets more anger, perpetuating the cycle of pain. Stepping back gives me a chance to gain perspective, refocus and respond rather than react. That’s easier to do when you are a bystander, a far bigger demand if one is the target.

Recently waves of hurt and anger rocked an online community I belong to, created by falsehoods lobbed by a very public persona with their own following.  It was just the most recent in an ongoing cycle of attacks cleverly veiled as righteous anger at fabricated injustices. The details are less relevant than the effects.

Here is where communities either stand or fall.

And ours, I am proud to say, stands not only united, but stronger and closer than ever.

Too often we are unaware of the pain a simple comment or action might cause others. Those who are hurting often do not realize their pain isn’t obvious until they speak up. When this most recent attempt to malign the characters of key members of the community surfaced it swiftly proved those accusations false simply by the honest, straightforward response of those attacked by this outsider.

Our community is stronger because people had the courage to speak up, share their pain, admit mistakes, ask for and receive forgiveness. When a space is truly a safe haven truth can be spoken on all sides. No single voice dominates or controls the dialogue. Then clarity and healing are possible because all voices can be heard. Our community has the blessing of this freedom because it was founded specifically to create a safe haven. I have no doubts about the integrity or intentions of those who lead the group and I am grateful to be a member.

Today, early morning light and heavy dew revealed dozens of tiny spider webs draped everywhere around my yard. It’s a common late summer sign of egg sacs having hatched and hundreds of tiny webmasters were busy working under the cover of darkness. Tiny strands strung with glistening dewdrops festooned my yard like the remanents of a joyous party.

 

Magic threads appear

 

Build bridges of trust and faith

 

Friendships strong as steel

 

 

 

 

A beautiful metaphor for webs of deception transformed into a celebration of friendship, iluminated by the Light of Truth.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may you find true friendship along the way.

 

 

 

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip: Conclusions

So fellow travelers, I can think of no better way to end a road trip than a day of visits with friends. My trip concluded with two days of such joys and I headed homeward filled with gratitude and a haiku in my heart

20170716_221645croppedHugs lunch and laughter

Tales of music grandkids dogs

Blessings of friendship

I arrived home in time to take my dog for a sunset walk.  It was good to be home, carrying a journal of notes and a portfolio of photos to sort through. Fodder waiting to form what became this series.

 

Writing and discovering the feelings embedded in the images I take helps me process my experiences. It is extremely difficult for me to weave together the narrative which creates the essence of the experience without sounding pretentious or full of hollow platitudes and trite banalities.

Take for example my experience with the Buddha at Chuang Yen Monastery.  When the experience began to crystalize into thoughts I could communicate I struggled with finding the words to do so.  I write often about seeking peace, finding joy, embracing hope and the Zen moments when I feel Light within me responding when I find them.  Honestly those moments are as fleeting and transient as the Light which inspires my photography.

20170713_093333

Most of the time I stumble through the commonplace pitfalls of getting through a day. Often I get stuck simply trying to get out of my own way.  Oh there have been periods of serenity and balance, times of joy and deep contentment;  I am blessed that they are becoming more frequent and inspiration is less elusive. Still a profound moment of near transcendence as I lived in the hall of the Great Buddha at Chuang Yen Temple is an exceedingly rare gift, something genuinely beyond description. I hope I did it justice.

20170716_084848

On the last morning of my road trip, which was a Sunday, I attended morning worship at Rupert United Methodist Church where my friend Tom Atkins is minister. It is a beautiful church with a small congregation of kind hearted people who are even more beautiful. Tom’s sermons are more spiritual encouragement and thoughtful discourse than exhortations for repentance.  If you have read any of his blog posts* which I have shared here, you have a sense of his honesty,  deep reasoning and lively sense of humor. He brings all that and more to his services at Rupert UMC.

By grace and good fortune, his talk that Sunday focused on the parable of seeds, a fitting reflection on the many kernels of insights I had gathered on my road trip.  The biblical narrative tells of seeds, scattered on different ground,  some landing on rocks, others on dry soil, others sprout but are choked by weeds and some land in just the right conditions to sprout, grow and bear fruit. Tom spoke about applying these analogies to our own spiritual environment. I saw rocks as hard and unrelenting anger, weeds as the habits which crowd out our potential and dry ground as fear which kills before inspiration can take root.  Tend to the condition of your spiritual dirt, Tom said, and you will find the seeds scattered your way will bring a plentiful harvest.  He had a flat of bright red salvia plants, end of the season “discards” from a local garden shop which he encouraged us to take home to plant as symbols of our committment to attending to our inner gardens.

Now I have several plants tucked in special spots around my pond and in my little herb garden, reminders of the gifts of friendship and the simple wisdom in the parable of the seeds. I sense there are many seeds gathered into my inner garden which will bear harvest throughout the coming year. There will I hope be much to share. Thanks for reading.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*Editors note: You can follow Tom’s blog on wordpress here.

 

 

 

The Gift

So fellow travelers, this graceful image greeted me this morning when I opened my WordPress reader feed.

The sketch is by a friend I first met in our online creative group.  Her post credits the original artwork as drawn from the photography of another creative tribemate.*

The image invoked one word

JOY

A simple yet deeply liberating key to to a question I’ve been working through for a few weeks.

And then a comment I started writing on my friend’s post turned into a haiku.

Ribbons of summer

Petals dancing joyfully

Gift of gratitude

Ripples of creativity flowing across the miles, connecting spirits, expanding joy. A reminder too, we need more joy in this off balance world.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editor’s note: color sketch by Kathy Cary from an original photo by Jeanette Randall. You can follow Kathy’s work on Instagram


Being the Buddha That Is

“When you suffer you should suffer. When you feel good you should feel good. Sometimes you should be a crying Buddha. And sometimes you should be a very happy Buddha.”
~ Shunryu Suzuki

IMG_4051

Buddhas in the garden at 金閣寺  Kinkakuji Zen temple Kyoto Japan 2014

So fellow travelers, a creative tribemate recently posted this quote.

Shunryu Suzuki was required reading in a comparative religions class I took in college. Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on acceptance of what is has always been both it’s most compelling and most challenging dynamic for me.

Accepting what is when one is happy or at peace comes far easier than accepting what is when one is suffering or sad.

Yet I know it is resistance to pain or sadness, the struggle to be other than what is which intensifies and prolongs suffering.

During the years I endured migraine headaches, I learned a meditation technique which allowed me to find an empty, pain free “space” within the headache. I was never able to maintain it for more than a few minutes at a time, but those few minutes often provided essential relief when I most needed it. To get there I had to sit with the pain.

As the school year is drawing (thankfully) to a close I am begining to reflect on it’s chaos and realized I needed to “sit with the pain” so I gave myself a day of being with the full range of feelings embedded in the past eight months. In essence I stopped struggling to be anything other than frustrated, angry, disappointed, confused, sad and tired. This allowed awareness to shine through the darkness.

IMG_4414

Fountain in Nikko, Japan 2014

Suddenly it was clear so many changes had happened in such rapid succession I never had time to recenter before the next onslaught.  In essence I have been in “survival mode” for eight long months. Even the reset function of both winter and spring breaks had been offset by situations which blindsided our whole team within days of returning from each school break.

Maintaining confidentiality protocol I’ll refrain from specifics. From a mindfulness perspective the details themselves are irrelevant. Response is more relevant than details. The difference between mindful response and mindless reaction is crucial to establishing Inner Equilibrium. Becoming aware of how difficult it has been to stay in response rather than reaction mode it is clear I have some adjustments to make going forward. 

Just the thought of going forward makes me a happier Buddha.

IMG_1030

Rest then go forward

Step out on the mindful path

Buddha heart within

 

 

 

 

 

Jizo, Buddha of lost souls.  Japanese Gardens, Portland Oregon 2014

Walk gently on the path my friends and may peace bless your journey.

 

 

 

Random Bliss

So fellow travelers, work has been whackadoodle (shout out to fellow blogger Tom Atkins for finding the perfect descriptive terminology.)

Going into week three of this chaotic spin it’s starting to take a toll on me.  When incidents I’d normally consider as “outliers” keep happening,  I find myself starting to question my perception and grasp on reality.  Tom’s blog piece brought me back to center with his reminder we have to keep seeking peace.

So on my way to work yesterday morning when I caught a glimpse of the waning crescent moon, in the velvet pre-dawn sky, I stopped to take it in. Diamond bright in the crystal clear frost bitten air it sat cradled perfectly in the arms of the giant sycamore that stands as our front yard Guardian Spirit.

I did not go back inside to get my camera, but I did take the time to fully absorb this moment of bliss and then, mindful there was a poem stirring in all that joy, I snapped a shot with my phone.

Bliss

random

fleeting

yearning

listen

calling

hear me

find me

see me

 be me

heart lit

holding

mem’ry

soul filled

 Thank you

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 


 

 

 

At a Crossroad, Again

So fellow travelers, thanks to freezing rain,  I have been given the rare gift of a few extra hours this morning before I have to slide into work.  Since the call from our district office came just as I was headed to the garage to pull out my car, obviously I’m a cup of coffee or two past going back to bed.

So my dog and I are taking advantage of the chance to watch the sunrise create a beautiful painting framed perfectly by the large picture window in our living room.

Angels watching the sun rise

Since the first day of this year, any time I have been graced with a clear view of sunrise or sunset, I’ve felt a deep sorrow in my heart. I’ve felt strong emotion at day’s beginnings and endings before, as the significance of each passing day rises to my  awareness.

This is a different experience, broader in range, stretching further into the future, reaching deeper into my soul. This time, the effects of impending change impact a much wider circle than me and my immediate family.

 I am not one to take a “things are ok in my life, so no need to worry” stance. Nor am I prone to give in to the alarmist doom and gloom headlines that have become increasingly pervasive. I am made of stronger stuff or so I thought until the plot twists of history shook my faith in my fellow citizens, some of whom I consider friends or call family.

This morning, given the grace of a few extra hours to process those feelings which rose with the sun, I confronted the sense of foreboding head on.  Words heard last night echoed in my memory and it finally hit me, 

Eight years ago, we did “change the world.” We changed it enough to create the angry push back we see now. Bully tactics are cruel but lack the lasting power of true community; such systems eventually collapse under their own weight. 

In the meantime, anyone who is resolved to create a community of equality and freedom for all who seek will need to stand firm in the face of injustice and misinformation. Already, there are signs the push back to authoritarian rule may not have as much support as feared. As a true leader just quoted his wise mother  Reality has a way of catching up with you.”

So, while the colors of sunrise melded with the grey winter sky, I sat down to write. I did not make any New Years resolutions this year, yet I see clearly my ability to focus was clouded by fear.  Now I see, I feel and I know the task before me.

As we cycle back through this spiral, I am resolved to deepen my practice of compassion. I will seek out every opportunity to make a difference, to bring hope to those in need. And when reality hits hard, I will  extend a hand in kindness, reaching out across dividing lines with compassion. I know I cannot address every issue that will raise it’s ugly head, but I can find my points of focus and begin there.

A year ago I stood at a crossroad and made a choice to walk away from a path which wandered too often into personal  darkness. Today I stand a week away from another turning point. As a member of a spirited community of honest creators of Light I feel empowered to yet again choose the path of hope.

Anger may have taken the wheel for a few years, but it won’t be my driver . 

Walk gently on the path my friends and and may adventure find you ready.

Tending the Fire

The world is violent and mercurial–it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love–love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”–Tennessee Williams

So fellow travelers, I rose at dawn in anticipation of catching the first sunrise of the year. First light revealed a sky obscured by heavy gray clouds.

Undeterred, I waited as our dog deciphered last night’s news from around the yard. Judging from the criss cross pattern of tracks left behind in new fallen snow our resident critters had quite the New Years Eve revelry. Suddenly a flock* of crows rose nosily from a stand of trees, drawing my attention to an intense burst of red light visible through a small gap in the clouds, just above the horizon. I found myself thinking of the saying

Red sky  at night, sailor’s delight.  Red  sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.

As suddenly as the racuous chorus of crows had  broken the sacred silence of this first morning of a new year, a thousand doubts shattered my peaceful solitude.

Had this first sunrise arrived with a warning? Is our world, as Tennessee Williams claims, a house on fire?  If we have lost sight of how to live with our differences how can the love we have for each other, for our work, for our art be enough? Is who we are, who I am enough?

Fear and anger may have shaken my resolve enough to give doubt a temporary foothold in the final months of 2016’s crushing conclusion. This morning the crows shocked my sense into awareness.  I will not be paralyzed by doubt if the world burns around me.  I do not know how to “save love” as Tennesee Williams directs. I do know how to be love by making kindness the foundation of my choices. And I know compassion will not direct my actions if I am driven by anger and fear.

So if there is to be a fire burning, let it be a fire of hope, a fire I can tend in turn with others who create from the love which ignites their spirit. There’s a lot of us out here. Join in,  I’ll save a spot by the fire for you.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editor’s note: *I contemplated using the descriptive term “a murder of crows” until, in keeping with my resolution to fully vet what I disseminate, I discovered the phrase is more venery (ie: a “delightful quirk of the English language“, as described in this article on audubon.org which I know to be a reliable, clickbait free source) so a flock it is.