After the Storm

So fellow travelers, it has been a week of intense storms.

This afternoon a dark, violent outburst flung powerful cracks of lightning with thunder claps close enough to rattle windows throughout the house. Thankfully a quick survey of the yard revealed no damage other than a few large branches down here and there.

As sunlight breached a gap in the dispersing clouds, raindrops glistened everywhere in my garden while chirping goldfinches descended on a patch of diamond studded sunflowers.

Rain storms cease and now

Only soothing bird songs fall

From newly washed trees

There have been storms of a human nature around me as well, fall out from long standing issues with which I am not directly involved, but find myself deeply concerned for the emotional well being of people I care for as much as my own family.

Just like physical injuries, neglected emotional wounds fester and mar our ability to engage in healthy relationships. Unresolved trauma and grief give rise to fear which often explodes as anger. Anger blinds us to the consequences of words spoken in fury; trust shatters, hearts fracture, bonds break. Only the power of love can call us back from the brink and only if we stop raging long enough to hear and heed that call.

Someone has to dare raise a voice, perhaps more forcefully than expected, to be heard above the raging storm. Stop! Listen! Anger, like thunder, is a warning to disengage, seek refuge, find safe haven. Let the storm pass, let tears bring relief, so the wounds of the past can finally begin healing and love shine like diamonds of cleansing rain.

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


A Different Choice

So fellow travelers, a series of winter weather fronts has laid down layers of thick ice concealed beneath pristine, powder soft coatings of fresh snow.

Walking even a few steps has become a treacherous undertaking; I fell hard in my driveway getting out of the car a few days ago. Fortunately the fall resulted in nothing more than a bruised knee, sore wrist and a stiff back which was easily tweaked into place by our most excellent chiropractor. So now I use my Kahtoola NANOspikes even to walk the short path to refill my back yard bird feeders.  

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Frequent visitors to the backyard feeders

My recent newsletter from the Cornell Ornithology Lab informed me that chickadees can lose up to 10-15% of their body weight overnight trying to stay warm. Since their bright chirruping keeps my spirits up through our long cold winter season, I feel it’s the least I can do to keep these winter residents supplied with the fuel they need. The marauding squirrels are welcome too, as they provide our dog’s primary entertainment on days when it’s too blustery to walk.

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Now where did that squirrel go?

There have been too many of those this winter, at least that is how it feels but then I usually feel as if winter has dragged on long enough by the time Mid-February brings us the gift of a week off from school. “Winter Break”  is when I begin to wish Winter would give us a break. It rarely does. A quick search my blog history reveals post after post of February Blues entries.

Winter Break week does offer the blessing of getting to sleep in a bit, which has resulted in some truly bizarre pre-waking REM states.  This morning’s “ visions of surviving after a meteor strike” epic brought up this Haiku

Deep in winter sleep

Phantom demons rise and fall

Awake in the Dream

Lucid dreaming has not happened for me in quite awhile and this episode brought out some deep fears which I have been contemplating after morning meditation.The dream kept producing moments where I had to make split second decisions in the midst of absolute chaos. When I woke up I was struck by the parallel feelings I gathered from a recent blog post by my friend and accomplished writer, Jennifer Bowman in which she called for more tolerance of our darker emotions, particularly depression. The idea of allowing space for those times when depression is a natural result of the stuff life throws at us.

Jennifer also pushed back a bit at the concept that we can choose how we feel and called out the social media trend of memes which invoke “Choose Joy” as an admonishment, particularly of women, to take responsibility for their emotional states. Someone faced with the struggles of coping with a potentially fatal diagnosis,  the sudden loss of a loved one, a major career change or dramatic financial shift, these are not likely helped by such admonitions. Another friend, Tom Atkins, who writes often about the daily challenges of clinical depression speaks honestly of the void of positive thinking this state creates.

Perhaps it is less about choosing the emotion and more about choosing how we think about that emotion- a point made by both my friends. Whatever the feeling is, depression, rage, sorrow, bliss, wonder, it is not good or bad- it is at that given point in time quite simply what we are feeling. To layer judgement on top of the feeling obscures the potential within that emotion- if it is “good” we may begin to fear any change which might bring it to an end, if it is “bad” we may try to gloss over it or bury it deeper to avoid facing it.

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So then, instead of the pressure to choose “joy” or any other feeling we judge as “better,” what if we allow ourselves to “choose comfort,” to find what would ease our struggle enough to sit with the sadness, pain, anger or depression long enough to hear what it is trying to tell us. In truth, no matter what they are, our emotions are always telling us something about what it is we need. If we choose to listen, we have a chance to meet those needs and that chance can give us just enough hope to take the next step forward.

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

Journey

So fellow travelers, I find myself navigating airports, car rentals and unfamiliar highways this weekend on an unplanned journey

This is a trip prompted by a calling of the heart, a response to a feeling, an inner directive this is a time when hugs need to be given in person.

After two consecutive major winter storms which disrupted air travel and shutdown major roads in the Midwest and East Coast, Mother Nature blessed my flights here with clear weather.

Even with a snowy drive to reach my destination last night, the morning brought a cold but beautiful sunrise, complete with a halfmoon cookie in the sky.

The memorial I am here to attend is a tribute to a friend’s husband, a man I never met in person yet feel as if I now know well through the wonderful stories his colleagues and friends gave at the celebration.

And what a beautiful celebration this has been. A room full of so many people, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, callings and professions all touched by one extraordinary human whose life has been dedicated to kindness, family and joy.

Oh yes, and pie

~ lots and lots of pie because he loves pie just as he loves others, all kinds are equally awesome.

“Loves”, in the present tense because as a family friend said in her tribute, the essence of who he was as a person, his energy, still is. She referenced the Law of Conservation of Energy, a basic principle of physics and her words proved true.

Love, kindness and joy filled that room, embraced my friend and her two young daughters, already working to mend their broken hearts. Their lives, forever changed, will go on supported and surrounded by the “bigger circle” he created for them.

Ducks at a park nearby.

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

Walking Towards the Light

So fellow travelers, even after hitting “publish,” the last entry felt incomplete, yet I had resolved to start writing again, so I pushed an ending onto it and posted the first entry for the year. It felt more like the final entry for last year and on thinking so, this quote came to mind:

So the last shall be first, and the first, last: for many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16 ) King James Bible

It is no less mystifying to me now than when I first heard it in Sunday school over five decades ago, so rest assured I am not going to veer towards biblical pontification here.

All I know is when the phone call came this morning saying due to weather (ice this time instead of snow) school was closed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and the opportunity to sit down and review. After the final edit, I rarely re-read entries once they are posted because like an art teacher once taught us, there comes a time to put down the paint brush and walk away. Yet as I said there was something which felt incomplete, so I began re-reading and as I did, two things became clear
~ I am tired of being upset and angry about the past “situation” at work.
~ I am processing grief on several levels, past and present, and this process is weighed down by the unresolved anger so I need to attend to that first.

Traditional Japanese New Year’s decorations

Early in my exploration of spiritual paths, a group of friends and I learned a technique for working with challenging emotions. After going through the basic breathing for focus and relaxation, we visualized ourselves in a safe and sacred space. Once settled there, we would invite the emotion to enter the space, where it would be present but unable to hurt us in anyway. This allowed us to have a dialogue with the emotion to discover what it “needed” from us. The session had fascinating and for some, profoundly moving results. This morning I decided to sit with this unresolved anger and see what it had to say.

Often when I practice this technique, my anger appears as a restless, pacing tiger. Today it showed up as a snarling badger. My first thought was “I miss my tiger,” probably because while I respect the potential danger of a tiger’s power, they are after all simply big cats and I have almost as much affinity for cats as I do for dogs. We would have several if our current resident Diva was more accepting of cats. My tiger has become familiar, this badger was a mean, unpredictable intruder and it let me know in no uncertain terms it was RAVENOUS. When I asked what would satiate it’s hunger, it told me it wanted to eat my heart. No, I said, my heart holds all my hope and joy and you cannot have that. The badger screamed so loud it startled me,  but I also felt myself propelling all my frustration into that scream until there was nothing left. The badger** looked at me calmly, turned and walked away. I came out of this meditation with my heart racing and sense of release so powerful, I started sobbing.

It is time to relinquish my efforts to get any response from the district adminstration about the systemic failures which allowed a volatile situation to continue for so long. I will walk away from my career next year knowing I did what I could and hope the changes needed will come before any one is seriously physically harmed.

My time and energy are better given to other needs calling for my attention. Last year ended with a heartbreaking loss for a colleague, a young teacher whose first child was stillborn at seven months, something very close to my own experience 31 years ago. We began this year saying goodbye to an elder family member who had made the passage beyond life just before New Year’s Day. The carnations at her burial brought sudden memories of her sister ( my mother-in-law) who left this life two and a half years earlier.  A few weeks later our younger daughter returned to Portland, to continue her search for a way forward, her future more uncertain than this mother’s heart can abide. So those tears ran wild until there were none left give, running with my hope their salt can heal the fractures into a stronger spirit. Strength I will need for the journey come, because life goes on and it is time to set out on the path again.

Winter Light on a favorite path

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

**Postscript: In fairness to the many taxidea taxus who inhabit our region it should be noted that although they are omnivores who consumer small rodents and birds when they can catch them, their diet consists mainly of earthworms. I think my heart is safe.

Reflections

So fellow travelers, 2018 draws to a close and time spent sorting through photos has me reflecting on the vast expanse of experiences this year brought.

Sunrise in the High Desert

For all the darkness of the low points which framed the first half of the year, I am beginning to glean the significance of the growth and insights gained. There is still healing and integration in progress, but this year definitely concludes on more hopeful, uplifting notes.

Seventh (or was it Eighth Lake?) in the Adirondacks

The last few weeks have brought some losses for people around me, and I have felt their grief more intensly than expected. Perhaps this is a measure of the extent to which challenging experiences have deepened my capacity for compassion. Yet at the same time, this intensity has not thrown my equilibrium off as it might have; I take this to be a measure of personal growth, not that I am resting on any laurels. Six decades plus a few more revolutions around the sun have taught me to avoid complacency.

Idyllic summer morning

Spending time with extended family over this holiday week points to some indicators of changes to come. A change in options at work has pushed my retirement plans out by one more year; it’s ok, I accept it as more time to bank resources for a future cross country road trip I’ve been plotting out.

Meanwhile there are plenty of adventures on the itinerary for 2019. Fortified an attitude of gratitude, a desire to continue seeking joy, and a deeper committment to practicing kindness for myself as well as others I will turn the calendar page with a heart wide open.


METEOR sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center Joshua Tree National Park

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

From a Distance

So fellow travelers, out walking with my dog late yesterday afternoon I caught glimpse of a certain kind of light~

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Sure enough, after walking a bit farther down the street I found it’s source

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Look closer, see it?

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The setting sun, casting rose gold across the world


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Sad news of a tough loss had arrived via work emails, a loss which awakened deep emotions healed but not forgotten. Heartbreak and hope woven into memories of a Christmas past.

Back then I would have given almost anything to not feel that grief, yet now, three decades forward, I am grateful to be able to offer comfort from a place of knowing. No words, just heart felt honest hugs and a promise to be there if and when I’m needed. 

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

Make a Joyful Noise

So fellow travelers, navigating major highways in heavy rain requires a kind of intense focus which you don’t realize is exhausting until you arrive at your destination.

It’s an apt metaphor for the level of focus and energy my job has required for several weeks now. Often at the end of the day I arrive home so thoroughly spent, a nap is required to take Delilah out for our afternoon walk. Bless her sweet soul, she has learned to be patient, curling up on the couch with me. She even developed the habit of gently nudging me awake after about half an hour which is about the longest I allow myself to rest so I won’t be up too late that night. When I wake, no matter how tired I still feel, we leash up and head out, whether on a brief patrol of the neighboring streets or a longer hike of a nearby trail to scout for birds (me) and woodland critters (Delilah) these walks help me hit the reset button. A sudden scattering of light through newly leafed trees, the bright call of a warbler, a sight of an osprey gliding high overhead on a lakeside trail, auditory and visual moments of joy and wonder. They serve as reminders that the failings of the educational system are not the be all and end all of my purpose.

As I drove through the rain I let a whirlwind of thoughts rattle around in my brain like raw stones in a tumbler, hoping some gems of wisdom or at least chips of sparkling insight might emerge.

They didn’t.

The drive took a bit longer than anticipated; I had just enough time to check in at my Air B&B, change for the concert and head to the venue where I found two of my friends had graciously saved me a seat. My mind was still a swirl of contradictory lines of thought so it was just as well we did not have much time to chat before the first somber measures of Verdi’s masterpiece drifted over us.

Choral music is rarely my first choice for musical repose, even when I am inclined to listen to classical music, which I do fairly often. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have had the good fortune to hear our friends perform in. This performance was a rare opportunity to see all three friends singing together. One sporano, one tenor and one alto tucked among over two hundred members of four diverse community choral groups, accompanied by talented student and long term musicians of the Putney Orchestra under the superb direction of Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson.  (rehearsal photo courtesy of The Keene Chorale.)

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Seated just a few rows back on the ground level of Bennington College Greenwall Auditorium, we had a close-up view of all four star soloists. Cailin’s emotive movements did not “conduct” so much a conjure a vortex seeming to suspend the reality of space and time. Transfixed, we who listened were drawn into the swells of despair and hope as the music poured into every fiber of our presence. We felt the wrenching sorrow of Verdi’s grief, terror of final judgement and healing angelic blessing of grace as the words and music wound through the text of the Catholic Funeral Mass on which he based this tribute to his friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a much loved and publically revered writer of the time.

How significant to realize friendships had brought me to this moment even as friendship had driven a creative force so powerful and moving it was impossible to experience without feeling the Divine Presence behind Creation itself. I know I felt Grace and Healing completely enfold not only my own weary spirit but the entire performing space and every soul within it. Music affects me deeply, but rarely as profoundly as this performance. One week later I sense I am still absorbing the impact. My dreams have been intense and vivid, my sleep deeper and more restful than it has been in months and the fallout from continued chaos at work has rolled off my consciousness like wax dripping down the side of candles on an altar.

To remain under the grace of this experience for whatever time I am granted I remain profundly grateful for Verdi’s gift born from profund loss. I wish him Lux Eterna.

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

Seismic Shifts

So fellow travelers, five weeks to go in the final stretch of this school year.

Like marathon runners “hitting the wall” going into the last quarter of the run, our team is digging deep to find the energy and willpower to see this through. Resources depleted, we keep each other refueled and focused as best we can. Requests for additional support and questions we ask go unanswered but recent events may force some issues to a critical point. Time will tell and until it does, we forge on.

Cold wet weather was keeping me and my trusted four legged companion Delilah off the trails and slowed the return of spring migrants to a trickle. No hiking, sparse birding, minimal walks had me plodding along in a fog until a sudden tragedy jolted me back to awareness.

We received news a close friend suffered a tragic, unexpected loss leaving her family reeling in shock. Tragic news has a way of setting seismic shifts in motion. When a friend is in need, all concerns about other matters are dispersed by the call to be of assistance; it does not matter whether this assistance takes the form of action or the gift is simply being present to listen. To be silent and strong when someone feels their world shatter around them, to be the one who can take action when others are immobilized by shock, anger or grief is what it means to “be there” for someone reeling in disbelief at the chaos life has sudden thrown at them.

To be present for others requires us to shift our focus outside ourselves even as we reach within for strength and compassion.

As the priest spoke of departed souls being near in times of loss, three large turkey vultures swooped over the trees. The black messengers circled the graveside gathering of family and friends several times gracefully spiraling higher and higher into the air carrying with them the prayers of the grieving and heart broken.

I no longer pass off such moments as mere coincidence and in the instant of accepting the sign, comfort took form in these words.

Dark raptors soar high

Ancestral spirit blessing

One soul welcomed home

There can be lessons in times of loss. Healing and grace, forgiveness and awakenings, gifts embedded within grief.

Walk gently on the path my friends and  if you too are grieving a loss, may peace settle on your hearts.

Perspective

So fellow travelers, on the road this weekend again and I’m struck by the picturesque contrast of bright spring greens against stark hillsides.

Persistent rain and swaths of fog veiled the views in light too flat for decent photos but I did catch one image at a rest stop on the way to Philly for the weekend’s family brunch to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Cold wet yuck to some

Life giving rain to others

Perspective matters

I’m grateful to be spening the weeken with my Mom, even as I count the days until I can visit with my own daughters whom I miss so much when we gather as a family here. Yet some close to me are struggling with the heartache of loss as Mother’s Day arrives. Whether recent or over years a loss suffered in motherhood or from mothers now gone becomes more acute at times when so many are celebrating. If tears, like rain must come, my wish they bring healing to those whose hearts ache an this healing blesses the life still waiting to be lived.

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

The Twenty-first Crossroad

So fellow travelers, people often speak of kids growing up “in a flash.”

That has not been my experience as a parent.

The passage of three decades from the birth of our first child to this moment of Favorite Youngest Daughter reaching adulthood has felt more like a marathon, one I ran far more willingly than any actual foot race. My husband is the marathon triathlete. I am more likely found on a 5 mile hike than a 5-K run (yes, I am fully aware 5K is actually 3.1 not 5 miles.) But I digress.

Anyone who has undertaken the daunting responsibility of raising kids knows that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Yet nothing in this life I have accomplished has been as rewarding as the adventure of watching our two daughters grow from curious high spirited little girls into creative, independent young women.

 

 

And even as we skyped with Favorite Youngest Daughter last Sunday on her 21st birthday, it’s clear the adventure is far from over. In many ways our lives are beginning a new phase of this grand journey, a stage where my daughters and I relate as women, supporting one another as we take on the dreams and goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Still, as a awesome writer and friend of mine recently blogged “We are never quite the same after someone we’ve loved leaves our everydays.” While Ms Dingle is referring to her grieving the recent passing of a cherished family member, it occurred to me as I read her post I too have been grieving. I realized this process began the morning I left Favorite Youngest Daughter standing on the platform in a train station in Tokyo, two years and six months almost to the day of her recent hall mark birthday.

The memory is a vivid as if it has just happened this morning. I can still feel the effort it took to walk away after giving her a long hug goodbye.  My eyes tear up just as they did that moment,20150831_212415 as I willed myself not to look back, knowing if I did I might run back to stay with her and make the parting impossibly difficult for both of us. This was her moment to step onto the path she had chosen, I had to be strong enough to let go because letting go said “You can do it, I believe in you.”  Still, sitting on the train which would bring me back to our hotel, I had wild thoughts of not getting off, of riding the train until it circled back to her station, of  not going to the airport or getting on the flight that afternoon which would take me and my husband back home. My heart hurt so much I could barely speak when I did arrive at the hotel where my husband had remained to check out while my daughter and I made a pilgrimmage to a sacred memorial which held special meaning for both of us.

In retrospect I see now that was the moment when the heartstrings of full time motherhood fully broke. Yes once a mom, always a mom but from that moment on I would have to learn how to be a long distance mom for both my daughters.

Favorite Youngest Daughter had stepped into independence in a way far different from her older sister. Favorite Older Daughter’s crossing into independence was more gradual, evolved closer to home and by the time she left for college, she had already found her ally and partner for life, the devoted young man I now refer to as Favored Son-in-law. The moment those heart strings began to release came as I watched them get ready for her senior ball. In the way only a mother’s heart can know, I sensed it was a glimpse into her future.

 

 

Our younger daughter’s break from home came as an all-in-one major leap of faith which took her half way around the world for her first solo flight. She has never looked back. Oh, she’s been home a few times and those visits have been deeply rewarding, as have our visits to Portland each summer when we reconnect as a family with our older daughter and her husband.

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Recently the inevitable goodbyes felt surprisingly harder; I hugged my kids tighter, longer, my tears stung sharper. Insights from my friend’s writing granted me a fuller awareness of the grief embedded in this change from full time motherhood to long distance mom. Looking back I find it’s been there in my writing for a while.

With clarity comes the gifts of perspective and acceptance. Those “everydays” Lisa writes about are the void we must reframe and reclaim as our own and as I said before, our adventures as women on life’s path are far from over. Acceptance allows me to see the sign posts pointing the way to undiscovered adventures and whether I walk those paths alone or with friends and family I am eager to set forth on this next stage of my own journey.

 

 

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See you on the trails.

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