Through the Eyes of Love

So fellow travelers, some thoughts born from recent human interactions.

When I was a little girl I would see batches of Rudbeckia (commonly known as Black eyed-Susan) growing in empty lots along the side of the road. Growing up in the Bronx, you don’t get to see many fields of wildflowers, so these bright yellow flowers dancing in the breeze of passing cars, really caught my eye. When I asked if we could please stop and pick some I remember being told,  “Oh those are just weeds growing in dirty places.”

My gardening friends often post memes about weeds and two of my favorite quotes are:  “Weeds are just flowers growing where we don’t want them” and “God sees flowers where we see weeds.” The memes always have pretty images of  flowers like thistles and dandelions (which are actually healthy for lawns because their deeper tap roots bring minerals closer to the surface, replenishing what shallow rooted grass needs.)

Our judgements about other people bear similarities to our attitudes about weeds. 

We have expectations about how people should look, dress, behave and live their lives. Much of this is driven by culture and as the world has become increasingly connected through social media, those cultural boundaries are tested often to breaking points. Shifts in social norms also test generational boundaries and just as Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s 1970 book “Future Shock” predicted “too much change in too short a period of time” has created massive disorientation. Ironically, the more connected we are on-line, the less connected we feel individually.

True connection requires going beyond the quick “scroll, click thumbs up or down” patterns of social media feeds. The relative anonimity and illusion of safe distance makes it too easy to spout off a bit of vitriol, hit “comment” and move on without having to take responsibility for our words. Authentic connection requires us to take the time to understand the hows and whys of other people’s behaviors. Those behaviors are outward expressions of how humans feel about themselves. This is particularly true of children, whose ability to express themselves with raw, unfiltered honesty usually triggers a negative response in adults. Acceptance of differences is hindered by our fear of “otherness.” This is where bullying begins; bullies are terrifying because they are terrified. 

Working with differently-abled students and having transgender children within our own circle of family and friends has granted me the opportunity to become more aware of my own judgements (many of which, I will admit, focused more on the parents than the kids.) This in turn has allowed me to be more mindful of my judgements towards all other people. When I find myself  upset, disgusted, hurt or angry about someone’s words or actions it is a reminder to stop and ask myself what my feelings are telling me about myself. Those feelings alert me to something about myself I am either ashamed or afraid of. 

Fearful of our own imperfections, we are quick to point out the flaws in others. Our judgements are a diversion tactic, “Quick look over here at the terrible behavior of this other person lest you notice this other terrible flaw I carry inside me.” God knows I’m no saint, judgement comes to my mind just as quick as anyone’s. I am particularly adept at judging people who are judgemental.  There’s a poetic irony in that trait isn’t there? What I’ve learned is judgement of others is really about our own feelings of unworthiness. At the core of judgment is this fear our errors are unforgivable and our flaws make us unlovable. Judgement separates us from the grace of God and by this I do not reference the “God” of any particular religion. My experience of God is the Universal Power of Love which flows in, through and around all life here and beyond. 

Clover blossom

Our fear of being seen for who we are, in all our imperfection, with all our hidden secrets and shame, prevents us from seeing others as God-who-is-Love sees them.  If we allows ourselves, we too can learn to see flowers where we once saw weeds.

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

Home and Back Again

So fellow travelers, fueled by a good strong cup of coffee to remedy jet lag from yesterday’s return trip,  my morning meditation by our pond stirred up mixed emotions swirling like fish gliding in and out of the water lily leaves.

Portland Street Art

~

Sudden flash of gold

Revealing hidden darkness

Morning Reflections

~

Oppressive heat and humidity welcomed us on our return, adding to my longing to be back to PDX where each summer I feel increasingly more at home. Instantly I missed cool misty mornings, I missed 60% humidity, I missed random glimpses of Mt. Hood shrouded in hazey clouds, I missed innovative brunch menus and bird themed drinks, I missed eating dinner and playing board games with my kids.

Only one thing could ease all this yearning.

The happy yelps and ecstatic wiggling of one very happy dog.

In some ways it is good to be home here too. 

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

Faith Full

So fellow travelers, being aware it’s easy to pass off yesterday’s ardent post about my week with Switchfoot as the spellbound babble of a star struck fan I wanted to follow up

Photo courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway ©2019

because these exceptional musicians are such genuinely accessible humans they allow us to feel more like family than fans.

Drew Shirley gets some Millie Grace time with her parents.

Photo Courtesy Switchfoot Getaway 2019 ©

Take for example the day on the itinerary which I most look forward to which, it may surprise you to know, is not necessarily one of the musical performances the band graciously shares with us throughout the week

My front center view for the sunset concert cruise

nor is it the outstanding fun and excitement of the beach day where the guys hang out with us decorating souvenir magnets, building sand castles and surfing right alongside beginners as they navigate the waves~

Photos courtesy Switchfoot Getaway 2019 ©

or the tour when they invite us as small groups into the sacred space of their private recording studio and each member takes time to share their creative process, answer our questions and let us experience the joy of recording a little chorus, which they will mix into a song and then send us to download as a keepsake~

Photos courtesy Switchfoot Getaway 2019 ©

all these bring waves and waves of joy which will carry me through the challenges of the space

Westward Home

So fellow travelers, this past week brought waves of joy, healing, grace and some damn fine rock and roll

I am still integrating the experience and as the insights begin to take coherent form those will be shared with my favorite images of the week’s events and memories.

For now, having traveled to PDX, I am supremely content to catch up on rest, laundry and time with my kids. Greeted by the welcoming sight of Favorite Older Daughter’s guest room, these words rose from my grateful heart.

If adage is truth 

And home is where the heart is

Then I have arrived

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

Eggs-istential Hunt

So fellow travelers, it seems this morning’s little haiku has opened a gateway to a lot more words and an awareness of what was missing.

As more experiences in my daily life connect to my inner journey, it has become impossible to filter Spirit out of my writing. Close friends and fellow creatives tell me my writing has always been infused with spiritual perspectives yet I have often been hesitant to write about my direct relationship with Spirit, lest it be mistaken for religious sermonizing. Reflecting on my recent drought of creativity I’m aware this essential aspect of my experience has to be expressed if I am to write from my heart. Going forward I will tread carefully as if navigating a path through newly sprouted wildflowers. Light and Love are gentle, patient energies found in quiet spaces and I wish to be respectful of the beliefs others hold close.

~~~~~

I have a muddled relationship with religious observations.


Sacred altar in Luzerne Vally CA

Bear in mind I am that little girl in Sunday School who wanted to know why; for example, if Jesus had risen from death, why was he still dead on the cross in church. Fortunately Lutherans do not ex-communicate, but I did obey the directive to stop asking questions. One can say the most important lesson I learned in Sunday school was to keep my spiritual inquisitiveness in check at least until I was old enough to seek answers in my own. Meanwhile the Lutheran church has graciously adopted the Cross of Resurrection as its focal point in their churches.

Even as a very young child, the Christianity I was taught made no sense to me. How on earth could one put faith in a Father who would sacrifice his “only son” to save people who seemed bound and determined to keep acting in ways which required such an extreme measure in the first place. There was also quite a bit of conflict between what I was taught and what the Voice I heard in church told me. Yes, you read that right- in moments when focused on the beautiful music, mesmerized by the colors of the stained glass windows** there would sometimes be a Voice which spoke in my head.

Before we call for a psych eval know that this Voice did not “speak” in words so much as impressions or thoughts and always spoke of the importance of love and kindness. It was a Voice which, even at a very young age, I knew did not originate from my own mind. It is the Voice which, when I choose to listen, guides me to live from my heart, to choose compassion over judgment and continues to lead me to profound, if fleeting, experiences of the Presence of Light and permanence of Spirit.

Yeah, I know

Pretty wHeird.

And trust me, as an adult, for many years, I did everything I could to disprove the existence of this Voice. Except the more I did, the more the things this Voice told me proved to be true. Things like~

~ forgiveness releases you from the prison of holding others guilty

~ hatred is toxic and accomplishes nothing; it can and will kill you

~ most anger is self directed; letting it go brings healing

~ gratitude increases joy

~ peace is possible, see all of the above

So, in this season where tradition would have us reflect on the meaning of sacrifice and the concept of resurrection, I came back to those unanswered questions from my Sunday school days. The celebration of Easter itself has a complicated history, interlaced with pagan traditions of decorated eggs and an 18th century mystical egg laying “Osterhaus.” Much like the secular garb of Christmas, these are glittering distractions which we must go beyond to find deeper meaning.

In the spring season we grapple with resurrection and rebirth, two significantly different concepts. Rebirth is a new form of life, generated from something other than itself. Resurrection on the other hand is raising what was once dead to live again as itself. Easter, which always occurs after the Spring Equinox, is a time to be mindful of what we might resurrect in the annual cycle of rebirth. Awakening lost memories, buried wounds or guilt entombed long ago can create shock waves which unnerve our resolution to move forward. Yet, much like the contemporary “Easter eggs” of digital media and video games, these hidden elements can reveal new levels of awareness which help us live more fully in the present. To live our dreams, we must emerge from the shadows of the past and embrace the person we have become. In essence, while the past has shaped us it need not continue to define us. We can resurrect lost dreams infused with the energy of who we have become.

So fellow travelers, whatever beliefs you hold as truth, I wish blessings of this holy day to you . May the Easter eggs you find on the path bring gifts of joy as sweet as jelly beans .


Favorite Younger Daughter circa 2005

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

**Photo Note: WordPress new block format randomly refuses to place some of my photo captions where I want them, so here is the caption for the window photo: The beautiful stained glass windows at Rupert United Methodist church. Several times a year I have the blessing of visiting this wonderful faith community where my friend Tom is minister. You can find his blog Two Tiny Churches at this link.

Easter Blossoms

So fellow travelers, today is Easter Sunday and it dawned appropriately shrouded in mist.

Being in a bit of a fog myself lately, this mood of ponderous mystery felt somewhat comforting, as if the gods and goddesses of earth and air had gently acknowledged my dispassionate sentiments. Unable to voice the emotions eddying within and around me, my writing has trickled into silence. So, Delilah and I have spent as much time on the trails as seasonal rains permitted. We’ve been blessed with relatively warm weather which has cleared most of the snow from our favorite trails. Although spring migration is in its earliest stage, we’ve had some excellent waterbird sightings and yesterday evening a small gathering of white throated sparrows singing close by our yard spoke of the promise of more warbling visitors soon to come.

Those dots are various water birds like mergansers and scaups visiting Onondaga Lake

When I cannot write, I seek solace in the wild. Often my experiences on the trails open up the block and words begin to resonate, but even my usually reliable haiku companions seem to have gone on hiatus. I have a dozen or so incongruous attempts and several narrative blog pieces which read flat and worse still, miss the mark of my intended reflection.

This morning I sat in deep meditation by my pond; finally, overnight temps are consistently above freezing so we can safely run the waterfall filter. As far back as I can remember, that sound of gently flowing water has always created joy in my heart. A handful of juncos and chickadees trilled their thank you’s for the fresh seed  just placed in the feeders. One perched on the branches of a quince bush full of newly emerged pinkish buds. Among them, at last, were words which sang true.

Peace waits silently

Seeking but an open heart

Joy ready to bloom

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.

2016curious

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.

Atmospheric Pressure

Your thoughts are the atmosphere through which you move.” Hugh Prather

So fellow travelers, the quote above was the recent thought for the day from an inspirational calendar which sits in a spot I walk by several times a day.

It syncs nicely with this line from a book I am reading : “What are you saying to yourself ABOUT yourself?”  (Crabby Angels No Bullshit Guide by Jacob Glass*)

As one might surmise from the title, Jacob’s writing style is down to earth, pull no punches, cut through the C*R*A*P with a perfect balance of humor and genuine kindness. The message is, yes indeed, we can put on our grownup boots and get on with living our best life while being kind to others and more essentially to ourselves.

I downloaded his book to my kindle to take along for my recent trip to the Midwest, anticipating extended wait time at airports, as I was traveling through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I know, who does that midwinter, right? Still, I had a specific reason to head that way, at that time and I counted on those Crabby Angels, as Jacob calls the Inner Voice, to get me there and home again as needed.

In the book’s introduction Jacob describes how he came to find the inner guidance of these “angels” during a period of spiritual growth in the mountains and deserts of Palm Springs. Uh huh, the same mountains and deserts which gifted me with my own moments of awakening last year (cue temple bell.)

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Purple Mountain Majesty seen from Joshua Tree National Park July 2018

He says “they (the angels) are not really crabby, at all, just blunt and to the point.”  My kind of Inner Guides. Cut through the mystical mumbo jumbo and “JUST STOP… all the bullshit and manipulating and resisting.”

Now I do understand the mere mention of “angels,” “inner guidance,” “spiritual growth” or “spiritual” anything is mystical mumbo jumbo to many. If exploring this path is not comfortable for anyone right now, think of this post as a little walking path which you can easily circle back to your own main trail from. Feel free to by pass it or come explore the alternative views this side trail offers.

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Trail Marker at Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center Carlsbad CA

Some of my friends are continually amazed by my solo travels, as if I am some fearless explorer navigating the Great Unknown. In truth there is frequently a moment before I set out on any trip when I have to ride out a wave of anxiety. It does not matter whether it’s one day of scouting birding spots, a weekend at a familiar campground or a couple of weeks exploring uncharted roads or new vistas. The thoughts of all the things that could go wrong try to stuff themselves into the spare pockets of my backpack and, like the extra pair of shoes I inevitably decide I don’t need to bring, I have learned to unpack those thoughts and leave them behind.

Being fearless is not a state where one is not afraid; it’s a state where fear and doubt exist and you go ahead in spite of those feelings. One proceeds not recklessly, but mindfully, in full awareness of the reasons for those fears and equally aware of the reasons those fears have only the power one gives them. It is a state reached only through consistent practice, a way of being one can live in if we allow ourselves to grow into it. I am by no means a master of anything other than finally becoming more conscious of my thoughts and what they are telling me about myself in that moment. This trip was an extended period of practicing that kind of mindfulness and it turned out, Jacob’s book was the perfect companion for this expedition.


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Wall art at JFK airport

The journey out was amazingly pleasant and delay free, the travels home were more challenging.  The day I was scheduled to fly back East I woke up to a series of weather alerts and text messages. One flight was already cancelled and the rebooked flight was also delayed. This actually worked to my advantage as it gave me enough leeway to wait out a passing weather front so my drive from Decatur to Chicago would not be through freezing rain. By the time I returned the rental car at the airport, my flight itinerary was on its third cancellation. On the phone with a genuinely helpful customer service employee, I opted for any flight which would get me out of Chicago headed east to any airport by day’s end. The open ended approach granted me a seat on a flight which, if it got off the ground within two hours of it’s scheduled time, could get me home late that evening.

During the time we waited for the plane to be de-iced for takeoff, I read halfway through Jacobs’ book then slept for about an hour, a rest made possible by the miracle of sitting in a row by myself. I woke up when the captain announced they were pulling back up to the gate to allow people to disembark, a new procedure now required by federal regulations when passengers have been on board for two hours waiting for take off.  He clarified that once we did so the clock on the flight’s three hour cancellation window would be reset and as long as the de-icing was safely completed we would take off. Knowing the chances of getting on any other flight that night or finding an affordable hotel room within Lyft distance of the airport were slim to none and with a deteriorating weather forecast for tomorrow, I opted to stay on the plane. Heading east, away from the incoming Polar Vortex and snow had to be a better option.

20190128_104550[1]The vast windy plains of the midwest from Route 55

That flight, one of the last to leave O’Hare that evening, left four hours and twenty minutes late.  But the point is, it did take off.   

All of the details in this account relate back to the opening quote. At every point in all of the constantly changing scenarios, I had the option to choose the focal point for my thoughts. All around me I heard distressed conversations about missed business appointments, cruise ship departures, important interviews. Did I just want to get home? Absolutely. Was I frustrated, tired and hungry? Yes. Could anyone connected to the airline do anything about the weather? Absolutely not. So I focused on the things I could manage; I called my husband, emailed my administrator (who replied with characteristic good humor about trying not to reprise Tom Hank’s role in Terminal) and went back to reading Jacob’s “crabby angels” who assured me:

“All is well with you even when the circumstances are not to your liking…If you can relax even in the middle of a seeming crisis, you will find Alignment and therefore find your peace.” (Chapter 5)

Inner peace while navigating the realities of current day air travel- now that’s spiritual progress

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

*Since the first Crabby Angels Chronicles, published in 2010, Jacob Glass has written numerous books, including one for teens. If the ideas interest you, my favorite source for his work is found here.

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.