Sunday, November 4, 2018

Household Vanished

There comes a time in many people's lives when they must bid farewell to their childhood homes. Often, it's a painful process of letting go. Four years ago when my childhood home was emptied and sold to new owners, it was like grieving a death. I could no longer consider it the family headquarters, and it would no longer be there to come home to, especially on holidays.

Once it was sold to a new family, I marveled at how households--everything that characterized them and defined them--could simply vanish into mere memories. I found a way to convey this in a poem I've been working on for the last several months. I have finally finished it and thought I would share it here.

Household Vanished

Vintage ringtone in a shadowy basement
Heavy black rotary phone sits on an orange homemade shelf
Beneath ancient college science textbooks and discarded novels
Countless hours of TV viewing, stereo listening, quilting…sleepy Christmas mornings
Mom whistles cheerfully through wooden saloon doors
Sweet clean scent of soap in the air amid mountains of laundry
Shaking, snapping, folding, smoothing the linens and towels and clothing
That will soon hang neatly in closets filled with hand-me-downs and school uniforms
Stuffed animals, artwork, boxes of keepsakes, and the growing collections
Of belongings that were the culmination of each young life…incubating dreams of future days
Flowery twin beds in tidy rooms of a cozy upstairs…golden hardwood floors covered with rugs, dolls, guitar music…
Sun shining through light green leaves on tree branches just outside the window
Curtains rising and falling on the breeze…offering a framed view of a sloping yard of grass, wildflowers, gardens and towering trees
Through the attic door – children’s playthings, suitcases, old paperbacks, mouse traps smeared with petrified peanut butter, dust, cobwebs, and boxes of mementos from another era...
Time capsule carefully packed away for young grandling hands to discover years later

Down the carpeted steps where crawling babies race each other to the top
Where generations of children sit peeking through banister spindles into the living room
From which emanates hours and hours of music, three-part harmonies, lively conversations, raucous parlor games, laughter, crying, arguments, solemn rosary prayers
The quiet of reading and studying, and peaceful sunbeam silences
Creaking elegant vintage couch, chairs, and lamps…
Stately Parlor Grand Steinway…green Asian relief art and worn ivory keys
Playing a wide assortment of tunes by many young hands…filling the entire house with its music
Wooden secretary bookshelf keeping finances organized…reflecting a history of literary intelligence
Thick wooden cross above hallway entrance announces great faith in Jesus, beseeching His presence in times of fear, dysfunction, addiction, powerlessness…and all the memories begging to be flung off and forgotten
Living room where delicious smells waft in from the tiny narrow ship’s galley kitchen
Practical dishes, glasses, and flatware purchased for thousands of uses…
Home-cooked meals on the stove and in the oven day after day…aromas of sautéing onion and garlic…chicken with a hint of rosemary…pasta boiling, soup swirling around wooden spoon, Italian bread baking…dishwasher churning, late-night milkshakes with sisters at the round table…
Dad’s smoke hanging like a toxic cloud
Pantry and refrigerator filled with bounty…always enough, always plentiful

Wood-paneled dining room, converted breezeway
Long table of polished wood covered with padding and table cloths…
Everyday fabric and stainless steel
Until holiday adornment transforms it into antique linen and lace, shining silver and china, Advent wreath and ornate candlesticks
Room bringing a family together for thousands of meals, thousands of conversations, welcoming guests and visitors...Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts….
Rainbow of color across windowsills where a collection of assorted bottles present lovely views beyond
Sprawling green lawn, passing deer, falling leaves, puffy snowdrifts, rising and setting sun
Sunbeams through honey-brown glasses of iced tea or blood red wine
Silver bowl piled high with summer corn-on-the-cob
Framed “O Thou Who Clothest the Lillies” prayer hangs behind Mom’s chair

The glue holding it all together…household planning, appointments, the living of daily lives
Her sanctuary – bed surrounded by walls of powdery blue, white curtains of lace
Dressing table filled with modest jewelry, makeup, and perfume for those rare occasions
Window looking out on her beloved back yard, cracked just enough to let in fresh air as she sleeps
Small closet full of practical yet tasteful clothes and shoes
This week’s novel on the night stand
A good night’s sleep
This was all that was needed

Front yard
Concrete flower urns teeming with petunias or impatiens…wooden bench in the shade of tall trees
Long sloped driveway overflowing with cars on holidays, a skateboarders’ slalom, a Moon Rock game drawn in chalk…an endless, back-breaking snow shoveling job in winter
Brass bell rings at the side door announcing company
Black iron eagle spreads its wings protectively over the garage
Garage full of old fishing rods, tool boxes, bicycles, stilts, ladders, gardening tools, lawn mowers, nesting mice, and the trusty family car
Worn, outdated sun deck once built by capable son’s hands, lost rock garden and concrete patio beneath
Gathering place on fair weather days…peaceful bird choruses overhead or flying in for landings at the birdfeeder
Wind in the evergreen boughs and all other guardian trees swaying above

Back yard
Vegetable gardens, fruit trees, roses, birdbath
Fairy homes built by little girl hands at the base of huge trees
Picnic table jams, volleyball, Badminton and Bacci
Sledding to the very bottom where the blackberry bushes lay dormant
Empty field beyond – for wandering and hiding and forts and secret treehouses
Meditative grass-cutting, riding round and round and round until the sun sinks low in the west
Years later grandchildren run down the slope, playing and romping where parents once did
Selling point of an entire dwelling – the magical, spacious back yard
Offering tranquil, pleasing views to aging parents day after day

Household once crammed with family begins to empty…one by one they fly away
Then there are only two
Quiet classical music on the radio and after-dinner Scrabble
The easy golden years of peace and togetherness…
….until she is all that is left

Deafening silence.
The sound of ticking clocks, a lone television, continued classical music on the kitchen radio and crossword puzzles
Dust gathers in unused rooms. Snaps and pops as the house settles.
The eagerly-awaited ring of the telephone…or a motor in the driveway of someone visiting

Then, with great reluctance, she is taken away to live out her years where others can care for her

A tomblike hush falls over the household…which is no longer alive
Piece by piece, it is disassembled…much goes to live on in the houses of children and grandchildren
Other things are sold to strangers
Parlor Grand Steinway ships off, returning full circle to New York
Ashes of a beloved niece are reverently exhumed from the garden
So many things kept in remembrance, but everything else removed. Erased. Deleted.

The house becomes an empty shell, devoid of anything that once gave it life or character
The household is vanished…is now only a collection of memories.

For an entire summer it remains empty
The familiar scents dissipate
The trees continue to watch over it protectively and the wildlife roam the yard

Then a new family arrives with their possessions and their history
…and a new household begins

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Tango with Time

In my younger years, I would often hear my mother or some other adult over fifty years of age remarking how strange it is to grow old—when the mind still feels so youthful but the body begins to change…or when the songs, films, artists, and styles of your era become “vintage.” I tried to imagine what it must have felt like for her, but because that time of life was so far off for me it wasn’t easy. I don’t think anyone can truly understand nostalgia until they are old enough to live it.

Now I am suddenly there. The music and styles of my teen years and even my twenties are now considered classic. It’s as far back in the past for kids as forties and swing was for me when I was the kid. I am one of the “old aunts” that sits with the other aunts and uncles at family reunions while the kids run and play. I look in the mirror and see both a face and a body that is vastly different from what it was even seven years ago due to time and gravity having its way with me.

When one of my sisters was scanning a bunch of photos from our family albums for me a couple of years ago, she wrote in an email that it was such a surreal feeling looking back at all the pictures from all the decades and realizing just how much time had passed. “So much life lived,” were her exact words.

A common human tendency is to react to this passing of time with a certain wistfulness and longing to have some of it back—especially one’s younger and more able body. There is a sense that time is accelerating and running out. That there won’t be many more opportunities to do certain things. Bucket lists are reviewed. Long lost friends are sought out to connect with. There is still so much uncertainty about the future. What will the state of the world be as I grow old? Have I planned well enough to have financial security? Who will I survive in my family and social circles? How much longer will certain family and friends be around? Will I get to grow old with my partner?

I’ve contemplated this a lot lately—sometimes during seated meditation (yes, meditation is supposed to be an emptying of the mind, however, certain awarenesses come up as well)—and I have thought of a wonderful analogy. It involves some backstory about Tango.

I am midway through my second year of learning Argentine Tango, and it’s the year in which my teacher is showing us the nuances, refinements, and embellishments of this exquisite and graceful dance. One of the refinements is taking one’s time. Even if the tempo of a song is fast, a leader and partner can always negotiate doing it in half time, or pausing for an embellishment that isn’t necessarily on the beat…before moving on in the line of dance. If a leader is going a little too fast, the follower can always subtly apply a little more resistance in her posture to slow him down. A leader may have big plans for steps he (or she) would like to lead, but spacing on the dance floor suddenly changes and so he has to adjust those plans for the space he has to work with. Instead, a leader may offer his partner a chance to do something inventive and lovely, or lead a turn—beautifully biding the time until he can move his follower forward again.

This is how time is, now. It may seemingly be going by so quickly, but I can always lean in to slow it down, pause to add embellishment, adjust my steps to meet the unexpected with grace, and continue on in the line of dance until the music stops. In Tango, you are committed to your partner for four short songs, and these are called a tanda. If all is going well, you really savor that last song before the tanda is over. You let yourself become the music and move with a timelessness in which there is only the connection between you and your partner in the moment.

In the last decade, I have moved from being constantly driven to meet goals and timelines and making lots of plans to slowing the pace, seeing what wonderful thing might be “led” to me, offering me a chance to create and shine, and staying connected with the present. "Above all else," my Tango teacher always reminds us, “maintain a good connection.”

So instead of feeling uneasy about time and its changes, I have decided to dance with it. I cabeceo, let it lead me onto the dance floor, wrap myself in its close embrace, try to move with as much grace as possible, flow with the line of dance, and maintain connection until the tanda is over.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Staying Grounded

I feel compelled to write a special post for those who are part of the movement to preserve human rights, Mother Earth, Freedom of Speech, transparent politicking and a great many other things in these uncertain times.

Many of you, like me, have never considered yourselves "political" or took part in any activism before. It seems, though, that these critical times where rogue, dangerous ways have been allowed to become new norms have served as a great catalyst for more people speaking up--and for more unification than ever. Not just within a political group, but people worldwide.

For those who are working toward this unity...I salute you. We have a long way to go and much work to do. This isn't just a brief sprint--but a marathon.

I know that it can be exhausting. Alarming changes and executive orders seem to be popping up left and right, and calling senators and representatives about them feels like an endless game of Whac-a-Mole. 

This is why I feel I need to offer a mindful and compassionate word of caution.

If social media and other news becomes overwhelming and disheartening, causing feelings of extreme anger, hostility, hatred, despair, or hopelessness....step away. Take a respite. Go pet the cat/dog, spend an afternoon of quality time with loved ones, watch a TV show or movie that makes you laugh (laughter creates endorphins), work out or take a long, long walk (energy moving in the body alleviates stress), or--one of the most important remedies of all--spend a long, quiet time out in nature.

These things all contribute to grounding one's self...escaping the head-chatter, being fully present in the body, and rejuvenating every part of yourself in order to move forward (and take action) effectively.

From this grounded place of consciousness, presence, and unified can achieve the greatest results. This I know from looking back at the actions of some of the greatest leaders of world peace.

May we, as fellow humans, continue on a path toward our highest good.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Passive Rebellion

It’s been well over a year since I’ve posted in here and a lot of life has happened. I’m spending so much time in present moment awareness that I rarely take the time to reflect in writing these days.

I won’t lie. The last month has been brutal with the passing of my beautiful cat, Ceili…and a few medical events that have spurred my elderly mother’s decline. But even before those things happened, I found myself in a challenging place mentally and spiritually.

I was fed up. More fed up than I’ve ever been in my life. After countless years of exploring all the useful and marvelous tools provided by teachers, authors, indigenous cultures, modern psychology, self-help, and all walks of spirituality…after healing all the broken parts of myself, learning to love myself and others unconditionally, getting down to the deepest core, elevating myself to the highest realms, learning to let go and be mindful and present...and STILL not seeing certain lifelong dreams coming to fruition (and I’m talking ones I’ve waited years and years for—ever so patiently)…I suddenly found myself revisiting an old impatience and hopelessness I hadn't felt in a long and blessed time. I suppose it's because I trusted that things would happen when they were meant to happen, and then suddenly eleven years went by and they still hadn’t happened. That is a damn long time and chunk of life.

I still had the spiritual tools. All organized nicely in my spiritual tool box. But I simply didn’t feel like using them. I felt that they’d let me down. I was tired of being blamed for causing the blockages and not "allowing" things to come into my life. Sick and tired. I felt like just rebelling against everything…but in a passive way. I was suddenly reminded of this picture that I took of my niece in 1986, in the middle of Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.

I remember that we had dragged her all over the place that day, and she was getting weary. It seems to me there might have been some little thing that she humbly (because that’s how she was and still is) requested and wasn’t getting, or maybe she just wanted to be done with touristy things for the day…but her solution was to simply lie down on the floor and refuse to do anything.

I thought about how very much I could relate to her in that moment. Feeling stubborn about getting up, brushing myself off, and moving on--because I wasn't getting what I humbly requested. Rejecting the "balloon flower" consolation prizes of life. Feeling weary from the journey. Just wanting to lie there and do nothing for a while in passive rebellion.

One thing I’ve learned about “down periods” is that it’s critical to validate all feelings and not judge them. If a child that I'm particularly fond of came up to me upset and frustrated, I would treat that child with great empathy by acknowledging her feelings and reassuring her that everything will be okay. And even if she didn’t seem at all convinced, I would still be kind and patient with her. So it should be with that inner part of myself that is having huge feelings.

Mine was definitely throwing a passive rebellion on Ghirardelli Square for a good month or two. But I acknowledged the feelings—yes, I see that you’re more frustrated and weary of this than you’ve ever been, and it’s okay. No judgment. No trying to nudge and force it to stop. Maybe doing nothing is just what I needed in order to move forward. Everything passes, eventually.

And as I waited to be ready to stand up again and keeping moving, I continued a daily practice of showing up, staying as present as I could to what was happening in each moment, witnessing--not identifying with--the “story” in my head about why I should be fed up, and therefore making all changes and improvements from a place of grounded Presence and not from a negative, hopeless place of lack.

Today, I feel I’ve weathered another storm. I’ve stood up, brushed myself off, picked my trusty spiritual toolbox back up again, and walked on. Non-metaphorically speaking, I’ve reached out to people I greatly trust and they have given me even more tools. But best of all…I am once again able to gently release thoughts that creep in and cause suffering, and to make way for the peace that is always there to move through me.

I am up off the floor and back on the trolley.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Surprise Me!

I dedicate this blog entry to my friend John, whose unique habit at brewpubs inspired it.

When a server asks John which beer he'd like, he quite often tells them, "Surprise me!"

Most of the servers are delighted, eager to bring him one of their personal favorites...others just give him a "what, are you kidding me?" kind of stare before relenting and walking away a little freaked out.

But I've always loved his willingness to relinquish control and let fate surprise him, confident that whatever comes will be good and satisfying.

This is what I've done lately, with the Universe. Because certain dreams and goals I've had for years now have yet to come to fruition, I can only deduce that they're not happening for a reason. After all this time, rather than adopt a defeatist attitude about it, I keep on trusting that things happen in a divine right order. Either the things I feel I want and need---or something better.

In the meantime, one way to deal with things not happening on my schedule (or at all) is to reach into my spiritual toolbox for the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, and his lessons of living more and more fully in the now. He likens it to looking at an unfurled scroll. You can look to the left (at your past) and dwell on regret over things not done, not received, done wrong, or even things that were wonderful, but drifted away with time and you miss them. You can look to your right (your future) with doubt and uncertainty about how things might happen, or will they ever happen, etc. But to look right in the middle of the scroll--at what's happening right in front of us--is the most peaceful and powerful place to put our attention.

So for a good deal of 2015 I have set my dreams down for a moment, including getting all excited about the possibility of them--which often leads to fearing that it's all wishful thinking and they still won't happen no matter what I do and try--and I just told the Universe to "surprise me."

So far, what came to me was a thrifty plan to get my finances in a more tidy and secure place. So I've started taking steps in that plan. I've also been invited into a new social circle where I've met the most wonderful people...and I felt inspired to sign up for a few new meetups that are more closely aligned with the way I'd like to be spending my time. I figure I will meet more like-minded people in those circles than ever before.

There are more wonderful "surprises" that have come my way...and so I'm liking this new plan of simply letting go of specific dreams and just focusing on NOW. Because suddenly I'm finding that my "NOW" is becoming more significant than ever. And I'm feeling really good and peaceful inside.

One day at a time, of course.

I will end with this quote that was passed to me tonight, that really resonated with me:

"Acceptance means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires me to do, and so I do it willingly." 

~ Eckhart Tolle