Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mini Post

Just a little note to say that today, just before my solo flight as a radio talk show host, I was feeling just a little bit nervous. I'd decided to do the show without notes--to wing it, relying on intuition and (ahem) my boundless wisdom, to guide me. Still, I was uncertain what in the world I was going to talk about--alone--for a whole hour. And feeling this way, of course, my mind went blank.

I've learned that there is nothing I can do when I am feeling this way except dive into the pool. So I closed my eyes and said a prayer, "Please guide my thoughts and words today." Then, I pulled the following cards from my oracle deck:

1) To be sure of the road, close your eyes and walk in the dark
2) Now is now, are you going to be here or not?
3) Whatever is exposed to the light itself becomes light.

One minute later (exactly, there's a little voice that counts down the seconds at the beginning of the show) I began speaking. I don't know what I said. Some stuff about giving and receiving and gratitude. Some stuff about light, and the universe and the real meaning of Christmas. And a woman called in with two questions, and I talked with her for ten minutes. And then I was done.

Just thought I'd share that... and send a shout out to my angels who were totally "there for me" today-as always.
Thanks

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A quick story about grace

I’m enrolled in the Masters/ PhD program at Wisdom University in San Francisco. It's a wonderful school, offering degrees in all the things Ive longed to major in all of my life but could never find in “regular “ school

The faculty include: Stanislav Grof, Angeles Arrien, Richard Tarnas, Caroline Myss, Paul Ray, Sam Keen, Alex Grey, Jean Houston, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Rupert Sheldrake, Gabrielle Roth, Lynn Bell, Diane Berke… and on and on…

Just reading through the program offerings--Wisdom Studies, Personal Transformation, Sacred Activism, Women’s Spirituality—is, for me, like taking a bath in grace. There has never been anything more resonant with my sense of mission. And yet, it’s expensive and money’s been tight and this year, I’d had to withdraw from two classes.

At first I was okay about it. But as the dates for the classes I'd be missing drew nearer, I'd been feeling kind of down, not depressed or even sad, just a little down about not being able to attend. And somewhere in there, I prayed, real quietly: Please help me figure this out. If I can get there, I’d like to be there. If not, help me feel at peace about it.

Two days later, I got an email from the president of the school: We have to take care of each other in times like this. He wrote. We want you to be there. Whatever it takes—scholarship, payment plan—ask and we will help you. In his email, he wished my husband well, accidentally calling him MIKE, not Matt, which is my husbands name. I laughed feeling like this must be a a little wink from Archangel Michael.

With tears in my eyes ,I wrote back, accepting the offer to find a payment I could manage. He referred me to call the registrar and, as it was late Friday afternoon, I promised to call her on Monday.

Saturday morning, Katie and I set off for a college visit. We were crossing the bridge across the Hudson River when I remembered this story and began to tell it to her; and, just as I said the name "Archangel Michael," my cell phone rang!

Wow! Katie said. I wonder who THAT is.
"This is Angela from Wisdom University!" the Registrar said. Eyes wide, I looked at Katie, who listened as chills running up my spine, I told her about her synchronous phone call and we made arrangements.

"I'm going to California!" I said, as I hung up the phone.
"Mommy," my daughter said. "Did you notice that woman's name? It was ANGEL-A."

See this is what happens… and I didn't miss the symbolism of the bridge in this story either. Bridges, in dreams, literature and film analysis, always symbolize the passage from one state to another. That phone call came literally on the bridge to transformation. (For me and my daughter, who discovered, a few hours later, the college she would fall in love with and want to attend)

Isn’t life amazing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gratitude and Gratefulness

Everyone's talking about gratitude this time of year. As this first holiday launches us into the month-long season of lights, food and family -- life takes on a kind of glow. We link back to earlier, warmer memories--though for many people, this nostalgic feeling is a bit of a fabrication; wrought more from old TV shows-Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, The Cosby Show--than our own real experience of the holidays.

This year, Im determined to change that--to create a holiday season that celebrates all the blessings in my life NOW. A holiday that doesn't impose impossilbe expectations onto a messy day of imperfect encounters but celebrates them instead... accepting and loving each thing that happens AS IS.

That's what this year, and these holidays are about for me now.

Of course, I will remember...
Uncle David standing at the head of the table with his carving knife, cousins assembled along the table in Great Neck (at our house) or Schenectady (at Uncle Vernon's) or whatever restaurant Aunt Elaine has chosen when its her turn to host the annual family feasat. I remember fondly, and hungrily, my mother's brussels sprouts in brown butter, her cranberry orange relish and Aunt Esther's Foolproof Apple Cake. Remembering, I grow nostalgic for those family feasts my family built, and then, when children grew, and all went our separate ways, abandoned.

Holidays do this--bring to mind old friends, dear family members -- the parents who sheltered and raised us, the siblings with whom we wrestled, shared secrets and ganged up on those parents, the cousins who knocked us off the back of our grandmother's sofa (I am talking to you, Laura!). We remember those we've lost and those we have depended on all these years to "be there" for us. It's a time to remember, to remind ourselves of the ways that perhaps we might be more "there" for them.

But holidays also give us the chance, every single year. to make new memories--better memories. Holidays are a time when even if we don't say grace, grace is present. In truth, it's there every day. But during the holidays, we make the time to notice and say, "Thanks," through prayer or simply through appreciation of all the blessings of our lives--and that gives the holidays a little extra oomph, a little extra magic, a little more potential to move us toward being a little more aligned with what we REALLY care about.

This year I feel doubly--triply--blessed by our new President Elect and the vision with which he speaks, the invitation he offers to participate more fully in civic life (perhaps we are all now "community organizers"?); and the gratefulness (and blessed relief) of his leadership. Because of this brilliant, hopeful man, my 17-year-old daughter said to me: "I am so proud to be an American. I never knew what that meant before." This year, I am grateful, deeply, for that.

In that spirit-gratitude and hopefulness--I am adding two new practices to my Thanksgiving routine.

First, I am giving thanks for the jumble of feelings that come this time of year. Holidays are not easy. Old hurts are renewed as we're reminded of "that thing" a relative or friend always pulls; the way that one particular person always manages to hog the conversation or the sweet potatoes or the attention of the person we wanted to talk with. This year, I'm giving thanks for the people who "push my buttons" for they are mirrors, sent by grace (oh, yes they are!) to remind me of the places where I am not perfect (and may even be a little bit annoying) myself.

Second, I'm going to begin Thanksgiving Day with gratitude--for the joy of welcoming Max home from college, the pleasure I will take in preparing my contribution to the feast at my sister in law's home. (Green salad with pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta) I will be grateful for the car trip with my family--and even the traffic (Oh, bless the darn traffic, too!).

This year, I will sit at the table with my husband's big, loud family--and my quiet mother, whom they've so graciously swept into their fold and as I try really hard not to eat (too many) carbs, I will attempt to feel gratitude as long as I can--for the earth that gave us the food we'll enjoy, for the people who love and include me in their lives, for the people I cherish and all they bring to mine. I will give thanks to God and to the infinitely supportive universe in which I live each day. And when I climb into bed, I will end the day with gratefulness, the state of expectant "thank you", arms wide open for all that is yet to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Amy

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Practice/Asking Questions

Joseph Campbell used to say that we're having experiences all the time that hint at our hungers. He insisted that we learn to listen for them, learn to recognize them.

As a Leo, with most of my planets in the 10th and 11th houses, I am designed to shine my gifts out into the world. Perversely, this "hunger" of mine has made it acutely painful, at times, to risk shining, the very thing I am "talented" with.

I've noticed fate does this a lot, crippling us with the very thing with which it blesses us. In this universe of polarities, fate shows us, here is another one: That which we long for is often the thing with which we are most blessed (and most cursed) already.

How do we work with this paradox?

Gregg Levoy, the author of the book, Callings, has a suggestion that may help: To cultivate our deepest talents and nourish the longings of the soul, he suggests that we “resurrect the basic inquisitiveness we had as children...that had us down on our knees staring into puddles looking for upside-down worlds, pulling seeds apart to figure out how a tree could possibly fit in there, asking why, why, why."

Getting to the bottom of our "why" distracts us from our self-consciousness--directing our attention toward the things that fascinate us; we become so intrigued with the world that we are literally propelled, by our interests, outside of ourselves.

This is why artists, engaged in their work and scientists, hot on the heels of a new discovery are so happy: Caught in the flow of discovery, their whole attention is hyperfocused and alert. It's what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, calls "flow state"--the experience of hyper engagement when a musician loses herself in her music, when a painter becomes one with the process of painting. You've experienced it yourself, the suspension of time, the freedom of complete absorption in activity.

To cultivate flow, we get down on our knees and observe the world: The tide pool, the starry sky, the burst of flavor on our tongue as we bite into a fresh off the vine tomato (especially a tomato that we tended and grew in our own garden).

The tree inside the seed becomes a metaphor for the truth that we are each encoded for something special and meaningful; something that, because of us, will be better. And that something lures us forward, out of our self-absorption into a love affair with the world--through our own particular lens of interest.

Each of us is programmed for something we will experience as "great"; a great, personal work. It doesn’t matter whether this great work will add up to being a great parent or a great president, the cure for cancer or mastery of our golf swing. All that matters is that our great work engages and fascinates us, that our activities make us feel alive and aligned with our best self, that they lead us, through our intoxication with and our love of them, to express, fully and richly, who we really are.

Paradoxically, to discover our "something", we must turn our attention inward and outward at the same time.

We must open our inner eye to the symbolic meaning of things that happen around us. We must develop an inner "poet" scanning the world around us for metaphor and symbolism. This facility for finding meaning in everything imbues our lives with mystery, magic and faith: Faith that there is an ordering, organizing principle to our lives, that our intuition is a conversation between the inner and outer selves, between God and the individual soul.

This is the basis for all spiritual inquiry. "Everything is archetypal," says Caroline Myss (and Karl Jung, and Joseph Campbell and many others). "Every single thing has meaning."

Living this way requires mindfulness and practice. We must tame the false mind, the voice that criticizes our efforts as a waste of time, unproductive, navel gazing, wool gathering.

"The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives," writes Annie Dillard. How will you spend your days?

When I started writing this essay, over a year ago, I was spending my days resisting guidance, not finding the time to do my work, not exercising, not doing yoga, not giving up caffeine. You've heard this before: I knew those things were good for me. Why wasn't I able to do them?

Several years ago, a wise teacher named Joseph Rubano told me this story: For an entire year, whenever he entered his home, Joseph would carefully remove his shoes, first the right, then the left, and place them in the exact same place on the floor. Every day. For a year.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," he told me. The single act of mindfulness, of attention to this one little detail, brought a cascade of insight that left him reeling. One night he'd be so filled with resentment, resisting the practice, he'd kick off his shoes, oh, just anywhere. Another day, he'd defiantly leave them reversed, left then right. Why? Who was he resisting?

He'd invented the exercise. He'd assigned it to himself. Who was he resisting?

A little while later, I visited my sister, Beth, at her home in Providence, Rhode Island. She took me out to the garden where she showed me the iris, folded over and tied face to knees, with their own leaves. "We do this to turn the energy back into the roots," she explained. "When we fold them in, they use the energy to strengthen themselves for winter and next season's growth."

I was reminded of the forward bend, my favorite yoga pose. Done sitting or standing, the pose--reaching hands to toes, folded at the waist the way my sister folded her irises, feels the same way; It turns the energy back to center, forcing us to look inward.

And I realized: In order to acheive the flow state I am searching for, in order to shine my gifts into the world, I need to place them at the center of my life. To do this, I need a simple, daily practice. Not something to beat myself up about if I miss a yoga class or eat some french fries. I need a practice that includes, daily, time for fascination, for engagement with the things that delight me. I need to fit into my life the choices I have already made--exercise, meditation and contemplation. If I want to write a book, I realized, I need to put words on paper. If I want a toned, healthy body--I need to go to the gym.

An effective daily practice has to fit into the life we are already living: To begin, I asked myself, when do I WANT to exercise. Notice I didn't ask, when do I have the time? My answer--6:00 a.m. may be different than yours, but it's my answer. My gym is open at that hour and, I discovered, I have the time to get there, work out and get home before anyone else wakes up.
I want to take my yoga classes before lunch--and there are three available then. I want a four hour writing block in the morning. I want to see clients after that.

One step at a time, I'm carving out a daily practice by asking myself questions, the most important one, the one I start with, is always: How do I want it to be? Not, how do I want someone else to change to make me happy. Just "How do I want it to be?"

It helps to have questions to focus our inward gaze where we want it to land. More than the crazy-making questions like: What do I do with my life? What is my purpose/the meaning of life?; we must choose our guiding questions with care.

Sam Keen gave me these at Wisdom University last spring: How can I serve others? How can I be the most authentic? How can I/we balance ecology and economy vs. how can we make the most money?

I still carry these, offered years ago by Anthony Robbins, inside of my planner: What am I most proud of in my life? Who do I love? Who loves me? What am I most happy about in my life? What excites me? What am I looking forward to today? This week? This year?

Each time I open the planner and see them, I am reminded of their basic premise: It is the questions we ask and the choices we make that determine the course of our lives.

In this spirit, I’ve recently added this one, from Oprah Winfrey, to my daily round: “Everyday, I get on my knees and ask God, 'How can I help you today?'" And when I stand up again, I take the time to listen to what God has to say.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Please watch this...

Something to watch this weekend, when the Olympics are on commercial (or Beach Volleyball).

This is a 20 minute talk at TED.COM in which Dave Eggers, author and innovator, makes a wish. Inspiring and funny and a great idea...

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dave_eggers_makes_his_ted_prize_wish_once_upon_a_school.html


This is a one hour overview of Pangea Day, the first ever worldwide film festival (and I mean WORLD WIDE! Millions of people all across the world gathered to watch these films, all made by other people from all around the world)... another amazing idea:

http://www.pangeaday.org/filmDetail.php?id=101


I LOVE TED!

One of my teachers re-appears

I read Sophy Burnham's book, The Ecstatic Journey, several years ago, learned much and included it in my collection of must-keep-close-at-hand reference books. When Matthew and I almost moved this winter, it was packed--along with ten or twelve other texts--in a box labeled, Precious and Important Spiritual Books.

This week, as I began to unpack that box, and the 15 or so others culled from the Great Packup of 2008, I found it again.

Now, all of my life, whenever it's time for me to encounter a book, and its author, what happens is that the book kind of "glows" at me. Whether it happens when unpacking a box, or passing a friend's bookshelf or when I am wandering the stacks at the library or at Barnes and Noble, there's no other way to describe this mysterious allurement that draws me toward it. It's almost as if the book speaks--calling, pulling at me.... Well, let's just say that last week, when I pulled open the Precious and Important Spiritual Books carton, The Ecstatic Journey was ablaze.

I pulled out the book as if greeting an old friend and set it on the table to savor .... soon. And one thing led to another and finally, I dropped it into my briefcase... and carried it around for three or four days. And finally, today, I got out early and sat down with my tea and this glowing book and ....

Well, let's just say it's taken hold of me in a very deep way... and I am moved to share some of it with you... and to suggest that if you, too, feel called to read on, that it's worth it.

The rest of this blog is excerpted directly out of Burnham's book, from Chapter One: Rowing Toward God.

“They say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. They say that it is not the soul that struggles first toward God, but this Universe of Love which is fishing for us. God puts the longing in our hearts so that we will leap upstream, like a spawning salmon that throws itself against the river current, leaping up waterfalls in its passionate urge to reach the source, its birthplace, spawning ground, and death.”
“In the tradition of seekers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Aldous Huxley, I took a long journey through Buddhism, then Hinduism, before returning with new insights to my Christian roots.”
"There are many paths to meditation but as Burnham puts it, all are similar and “all lead to the same golden center, for at the mystical level all religions have more in common than they differ, and all derive from the same source and long for the same goal.”
“Plato called the mystery of meditation theoria. Early Christians called it contemplatio.
“Once the Buddha was asked, ‘Is there God?’
‘I will not tell you,’ he answered. ‘But, if you wish, I can show you how to find out for yourself.’ Then he taught the gift of meditation.”
“The Buddha, the Compassionate One, understood how easily we become dependent on others, asking them to do the work for us. Unlike Christ, he refused to heal the sick.
“’I will no make you well,’ he would say to the leper, the blind man, ‘but I can show you how to heal yourself.’ Then he would teach the seeker how to meditate.”
“Sages tell us that meditation confers three gifts. First, it brings deep peace and tranquility of mind. Second, it brings clear intuition, wisdom and insight. Third, if it is pursued with constancy and devotion, it leads to the direct experience of God. Some pople claim meditation does no more than transport us to our own interior and highest self, and others that it opens a doorway through which the Beloved comes. All we know is the love and power it confers.”

“Meditation is always done by total concentration on one repetitive act. Perhaps you place your attention on your nostrils, watching your breath pass in an d out, each breath as unique as a snowflake. Or perhaps you repeat a mantra, of which the best known is the Tibetan Buddhist Om mani padme hum, the mantra of compassion. Or the mantra is a Christian prayer. Saying the rosary becomes a meditation, or repeating over and over the Pilgrims’ Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.’ Weeding the garden may become a meditation, or knitting, cooking, eating, walking, painting—doing whatever you are doing, so long as you do it alertly, with absolute attention, watching each movement of your hands or feet or breath.”
“The Dalai Lama meditates for four hours a day, and he is only just beginning, he told me, to sense accomplishment, ‘like a seed just starting to sprout…’”
“The Buddha spent two hours a day practicing one particular forgiveness exercise—tow hours a day, sending forgiveness to the world. Mother Teresa insists that her Missionaries of Charity carve out time every day for meditation, and she says that she herself could not do her draining and difficult work without this sweet and daily communion with God. For hours at a time, continuously, a Sufi master, practicing the Muslim mystical tradition, repeats the dhikr, the remembrance of God: La ilaha ill Allah, he silently cries. ‘There is no God but God, alLah’—until slowly the words seep into his soul, like running water, excluding all other thoughts. His heartbeat slows. So quiet does the Sufi master become that they say he can repeat twenty-one dhikr on one long breath.”
"Many books describe how to meditate. You sit quietly with your back straight, either on the floor or in a chair. You close your eyes, scan your body, and relax, then set your attention on your nostrils and watch your breath pass in and out through this gateway, the portal of your life. At each inhalation, you take note: In, you say silently to yourself; on the exhalation, you say, out.
....

There is more, so much more to share... if you're interested, I'll leave it to Sophy Burnham to tell it to you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Visit to Omega Institute

This weekend, I went to Omega Institute, the Rhinebeck, New York conference center where 15-20,000 people gather each summer for all things empowerment.

All spring, I'd reviewed their catalog, considering July's offerings. Katie would be away all month so it seemed the perfect time to schedule my own hard-earned mini-vacation.

There was a workshop with The Not So Big House author Sarah Susanka (I have all her books) and I liked the sound of Evolve Your Brain. Still, I thought, if Matthew might join me, Couples Massage might be fun. But July arrived and one thing led to another and none of those worked out.

Finally, two days before the very last weekend of Katie’s absence, I made my selection—Anatomy of a Successful Workshop with Michael Craft, one of Omega's Program Directors and set off for my adventure.

After a peaceful two hour drive with my Abraham tapes, I arrived at the rustic, almost rugged campus where students milled about at the cafe enjoying their lattes with vegan chocolate chip cookies and organic key lime pie. I wanderd into the bookstore where Flax clothing and every self-help, new age book title (including mine!) were available, along with CDs, gifts, yoga clothing, Omega tee shirts--and the toothbrush or shampoo students may have forgotten.

AFter delicious, healthy vegetarian dinner, students dispersed to different classes.

Michael Craft, was inspiring: Warm and funny and the class was just what I needed--practical yet spiritual, a real-world, hands-on look at the way conference centers like Omega (and Kripalu and Sedona) select and evaluate teachers and programs; and how they make (and don’t make) money doing it. I’ve spent so many years working with conference producers and taking workshops that I was fascinated with this peek behind the curtain. It was a gentle push back to the teaching platform for this former workshop leader. In all the years since I'd led workshops in the hotel ballrooms of NYC--I'd never lost the longing to teach again.

Still, we never really know why we’ve been drawn to a class or place until we get there. And this weekend, for me, was all about climbing and sweating.

The buildings of the Omega campus are scattered around a pretty steep "hill", the dorms situated at the very top. Let's just say: By the second day, I was VERY careful not to leave anything behind that would force me to climb back up there.

And the yoga class slayed me.

The last yoga class I'd taken was more than a year earlier--and that class heralded the period of my life I fondly call "Broiled by hormones" . In the middle of that class, my first hot flash arrived. At the time, I thought the unfamiliar rush of energy and heat was a fainting spell--and I left class immediately, spending the rest of the day anticipating the inevitable arrival of a deadly disease of the brain and blood. (When you are passing out--or believe you are--your imagination is in charge).

Now, at Omega, I was back on the mat. It was great at first. I closed my eyes and breathed, I chanted. I stretched my tight spinal muscles and heard them say, "ahhh."

"Oh, yoga!" every cell in mybody cheered. "We remember this. Thanks for thinking of us." But then, after a (particularly long) downward facing dog pose, I got this strange burning feeling at the base of my spine and this pressure which began surging upward sparking an ominous pinch over my right eyebrow. A kind of steam began to pour from the top of my head as my body started to tremble and I thought, Oh no. And frustrated, I started to cry. Being that I was in class I held in the tears which, of course, made the whole thing worse because hot flashes, in my experience, are an expression of withheld emotions: Unexpressed joy and swallowed tears. I was feeling kind of nauseated and swoony. But I didn't stop.

You may think I should have. You may think: Why push yourself so hard? But after a year of hot flashes interrupting every activity, I was just mad enough to believe I could press on.

And I did, doing all the poses in a slow, fat beginner sort of way, even as my own personal sauna pulsed through me--leveling waves of heat and pressure crashing from kidneys to face, blazing out of my ears and the back of my head. (I'm having a hot flash right now which is why I am able to describe it with such vivid detail.)

Eventually, I decided to refocus my attention and I turned back to yoga practice. But thoughts being what they are, I got to thinking about how being competitive in yoga class is probably representative of how I go about everything else in my life and how that's not working very well anymore. I noticed that no one was judging me or thinking less of me for not exactly pointing my toe or for collapsing onto my mat every couple of seconds. And even if they were, how would I know? And why would I care? I began to relax into my own little "hot yoga" practice.. and it was good. And I was okay.

Later, when everyone was rolling up their sticky mats and putting away their blocks and blankets, I approached the teacher
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course," he said.
"Have you found that women, during menopause, shouldn't do yoga?"
"Just the opposite," he said. "Yoga seems to help women with that."
"Not me," I sighed. "Just thinking about doing yoga gives me hot flashes."
"I guess today's practice didn't help you much, did it?"
I shook my head.
"That makes sense," he explained. "Today's practice was all about building heat. From the breathing we did (which I think he called "breath of fire") to the poses."
Then, he suggested some things: Try doing your practice on your back, and don't do too much backbending or inversions. And try this..." he said, placing his finger against the side of his nose, closing off his right nostril. "Inhale as deeply as you can... come on, you do it, too."
I did it with him, inhaling deeply and... "Hey, it's working!"
"Breathing through the left nostril is cooling," he said. "Today, whenever you have a hot flash, try breathing as deeply as you can through your left nostril."

All Saturday afternoon, I breathed through my left nostril which also helped the migraine that I'd somehow triggered.
Sunday morning, I presented my workshop idea, sweatily, through migraine and hot flashes, to two helpful classmates.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, I headed home.
I was barely 20 miles into my trip, the skies opened, the rain so heavy that the radio reported accidents (and stalled traffic) on every major highway in the New York/New Jersey area. (which reminded me, somehow, of the way that my menopause symptoms keep stalling my life.)

Blinded by rain, I pulled off the road somewhere near Poughkeepsie, and found myself at a coffee shop, ordering a cheeseburger (no bun), which after three days of Omega's perfect vegan fare, was near orgasmic.
And then, nursing a cup of Lipton tea, I started to write. And as the words tumbled onto the page, I thought: Thank Heaven for this rain.

For instead of hurtling home, I'd been forced to stop and take stock--to exhale just a little of what I'd taken in this weekend.
As I wrote, I realized: This weekend was a profound coming home for me. For that world of workshops, steep hills and people striving to do good work is "my" place. I'm a teacher and a student and my gift for the world is a good one.

I'm ready to write now... and finally, Im ready to teach.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I'm enjoying this summer...

1) Quiet house: Katie at camp in Boston having big art fun. Max working three jobs--big suntanned lifeguard--and sharing dinner with us again; Matthew and I relaxing into "just us" time.

2) Resuming my yoga practice... hearing, each morning, the whisper of my body saying, "thank you".

3) My daily two mile walk: Down Saddle River Road, up the steep hill that is Margett's, and down the cardio joy run of Hungry Hollow Rd. Across the fairy stream to Red Barn Lane where it's up and up and up through thick fragrant forest to the Fellowship Community where, passing the chicken coops, I dive back into the woods. I pick up the trail that leads away from Indian Rock and pop out in the back orchard. Kicking loose pebbles, I race down the dirt road to the little pond where toads croak and and my new friend, a huge oak, reminds me to listen to life whirling around me--birdsong, wind, tree chatter, rustling and crunching. Sweating, joyful, I climb the last hill through stands of gnarly apple trees with hard green almost fruit forming and encounter a family of cows> They stare, chewing grass as I pass the sheepfold, the greenhouses, the tractor that never seems to move from one spot, the old meeting barn, the creamery--and cross the street to my driveway.

4) This link: http://threeminds.organic.com/

5) Eating again! Following "The Schwarzbein Principle," written by Diana Schwarzbein, the physician who inspired many of the healthier low-carb, high protein diets out there. I can eat all the foods I love and my weight continues to drop, slowly, steadily, sensibly. The plan is honest, sensible, healthy and clearly explained. It works... and by "works" I mean gradual steady weight loss that lasts, healing the metabolism, balancing the hormones, no more migraines (so far), new energy, clear thinking--it's a lifestyle vs. another stupid fad diet.

6) Planning the 50th birthday party I didn't have last year (on my 51st birthday)... and not planning ANYTHING else!

7) Rich, velvety (and a little bit expensive) Cabernet: BV Napa Valley, Sterling, and Rutherford Hill with a lovely lunch at Citrus Grill (or Legal Seafood) with my laptop

8) Writing my book...delicious, frustrating, challenging, intriguing, boring, enchanting, exhausting, invigorating...

9) Decaf iced tea!

10) All the gorgeous new clothes I can wear! (and buying them at Goodwill for pennies!)

11) The flow of blessings in my life... this gratitide that surges up from belly to heart, and widens me.

12) This day.

Please post your own list in the comments section below... I'd love to hear what you're enjoying this summer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Retreat to the center of the self

Just wanted to say a quick hello.

Believe it or not, I'm still (kind of)on retreat. I promised myself that I would work on my own book(s) at least four hours a day from now on and you know what? I'm doing it.

Every single day. Really.

In fact, most days I'm writing even longer than that. I write in the wee hours of the morning before Katie gets up for school. When it's time to drive her, I put the laptop in the car, drop her off and head to the nearest Internet cafe and by 8:00 am, I'm plugged in and working. Usually, you'll find me writing through lunch, until I retrieve my daughter at 2:15.

What a blessing to have the kind of employment that allows for this. With the exception of the two days a week when I head over to the magazine, I'm able to write, think, read, research, rewrite... and sip tea.

It's the writing life I've always dreamed of. And you're a very real, very important part of it. So thanks--for reading my work and supporting me personally.

I have to thank my husband, whose support (financial and rah-rah) allows for this, and my boss, whose belief in me as a writer has helped secure the inner scaffolding it takes to proclaim: I have something to say, a story to tell, and I'm going to devote half of every day to proclaim it.

Still, though Im hiding out a bit, I always love to hear from you. Feel free to drop a line and let me know about your creative life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

BSW

I do not believe in the BIG SCARY WORLD concept. I believe that there are little pockets of scary and even pools and ponds of scary; but the notion that the world is a Big Scary Place has never worked for me.

It just doesn't jive with my experience which shows that, while bad things sometimes happen, and that every now and then, something scary comes along to rattle me, most of the time Im just moving along, unthreatened, unfettered, doing fine.

How about you?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On retreat

I wont be posting for a couple of weeks but don't miss me too much. I am on retreat, working on my book at my mom's apartment while she's in Italy. I am getting some really good work done... or I was until the kids arrived (Max is home for the summer and KT is on Memorial Day vacation until Tuesday). They showed up to watch American Idol with me--and today, they're exploring the neighborhood while I get my car inspected.

Then, Im sending them home and plunging back underwater, blissfully re-entering the project.
Back in June!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Growing up

I miss being a mommy.

You knew this was coming. And so did I.

Being a mommy was something I took to like... well, as if I were made for it.

Oh, there were times when it overwhelmed me. But mostly, things flowed along. Monday led to Tuesday led to Wednesday. Rainy days led to sunny ones. Scrambled egg sandwiches led to peanut butter sandwiches led to macaroni meatball soup.

This other thing, this having a kid in college and one on the way there, is a part of parenting I'm not that great at. For one thing, it's so, I don't know, grown up and impersonal. It's all paperwork and financial aid forms. Family meals happen a couple of times a week. Their questions are more complicated--"Should I rent a house with 7 other guys or stay in the dorm?" "Can I do my senior year at the community college? Im sick of high school." "Is it too early to believe I've found the person I'm going to marry?

Being a mommy was hands-on, in the sandbox, on the floor. Being a mommy was soup on the stove, mini-sundresses to sew, reminders to wash little hands and bedtime stories. I was good at that.

These days, I'm not always sure what to do.

Like when one of my kids seems troubled, should I ask alot of questions or back off? Should I invite my son's girlfriend to dinner when she visits or let them be alone? Should I engage my daughter's friends in conversation or let them sulk in the back seat?

And what happens next year, after they're both safely tucked into college; what do I do then? Do I fill my days with work--maybe a full-time job or volunteering? Should I finish my book projects, return to school, find a group of friends to travel with?

Is it still okay to sing in the car?

You know what I mean... if a mom sings in the forest and there's no one there to hear her, does she make a sound?

The early Christians wrote that the soul has an empty place which only God can fill. I have been thinking about this alot lately. For me, this emptiness was filled with mothering and loving my children. Now as it eases open and empty again, instead of filling it with busy work and mindless activity, I feel myself turning and yearning toward.... more.

Today, my son returns from college for the summer with his sack of laundry, his crates of computer equipment, his socks on the floor. We know what to expect, having experienced Christmas vacation and Spring Break.

Max will fill us to the brim with humor, demands for Chinese food and calls to adventure--"Let's go to the city, the beach, the movies!" He will rebuild the tower of laundry on his bedroom floor, he will hog the remote, he will start existential arguments with his father.

When he arrives, the empty place will fill again. I will get caught up. There will be herbs to transplant, beach towels to launder, barbecues and macaroni meatball soup to serve.

Still, it's coming... the time when I will need to take my life in hand. Max will return to school. Katie will soon follow.

Last night, a friend said to me, "It's time for you to grow up." And I thought, Nope, not yet.

But soon. Soon.

Last summer, my girlfriend asked me, "What do you do with yourself when they're gone at the same time?" Her son was leaving for several months in Europe. Her daughter was headed to summer camp and she was concerned.

I understood. I'd been there the year before when Max went on exchange to France--and Katie went to film camp. "It's not that bad," I reassured her. "In fact, I loved it." I spent hours doing what I wanted, uninterrupted by demands for food, money, car trips, attention. Time expanded. My husband and I got to know each other again. But then, I knew they were coming back.

Last year, just before Max went to college, he came over to me in the kitchen. "You need a hug," he said, pulling me into a wiry, warm embrace. At the time, I thought, "He's the one who needs this hug!" But once he had me, I realized how much I'd needed it, too.

It's a give and take. My children don't call out for me in the middle of the night anymore, but now and then my cell phone rings and my son mumbles, "Hey. Got a minute?" I love listening to their dreams--of the classes they want to take, the careers they want to explore, the relationships they're beginning. I like them. They like me.

Ten years ago, a wise healer told me, "You don't have to be the perfect mother. You are already loving them just the way you should." A comment that sent me into spasms of relieved, exhausted sobbing. I love them just the way I should.

And then, something happens...

Five minutes ago, I looked up from this writing to find a young mother squatting in the breezeway at the entrance of this cafe beside her five year old son as he threw up all over the carpet. She looked desperate, trying to keep other customers from stepping in the mess, trying to soothe and help her son.

As I handed her a pile of napkins, she looked up, completely overwhelmed and close to tears, "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"This isn't your fault," I told her, "And it's not yours either," I told her little boy. "People get sick. Other people understand."

Nodding vigourously, tears running down his cheeks, he said, "I just walked in and it came out of me!"
"Oh dear," I said. "It's awful being sick, isn't it?"
Nodding, hiccupping, he smiled at me.

While Mom cleaned him up, I fetched a cup of water and told the restaurant manager to send a mop. I shooed some customers around the mess. Then, I sat down and had a little cry.

It's happened, I realized. I've already grown up--somewhere, somehow, I've passed from Mother to Matriarch, from Mommy to Great Mother.

And I know what my job is. Passing down the wisdom I've been given by my children and the wise women who've helped me along the way.

There is nothing I have to do. No way I have to change. For now, this morning, I can just relax and wait for Max to arrive and take over the sofa. No longer a Mommy, I'm simply getting used to--and loving--being a Mom.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Getting Unstuck

Sometimes, I find myself stuck, unable to put one foot in front of the other. I am beginning to understand what is happening--and how to resolve it.

Being stuck, for me, is about sending myself conflicting messages. "I want to write books and teach and travel around the world," I sigh, visualizing myself writing in airports, checking into hotels, standing on stages, signing the inside covers of my books."

I absolutely love teaching. I am also one of those people who LOVES traveling--I love airports, I love discovering a new city, browsing in bookstores and gift shops. I also love hotels--as I've discovered many women who've been stay at home moms, do. There's something almost sinfully self-indulgent about the solitude, the way I feel when the door of my room closes and I am completely, blissfully alone to kick off my shoes, unwrap my clean glasses from their crinkly paper wrappers and do whatever the heck I want--even if all I want to do is drink a glass of water and fall asleep with the TV on.

So this traveling image creates a great big YES from the soul level for me. So why am I not out there, zipping through the clouds on a plane; Teaching a kick ass class in Australia? Pulling my best-selling book from a shelf at Barnes and Noble.

Cuz I'm stuck.

The moment that YES is out of my heart, thoughts arrive, cautioning, "You're not ready for that yet. You dont have enough training to attract a class. And besides, what NEW thing do you have to teach anyway? Everyone knows all this stuff."

Next, these thoughts come: "So get the training already. How long are you going to take? But I have no money, no time, Im tired. I have too much to do. Our money needs to go to the children's college now.

And finally, these thoughts come to seal the deal: "I should have done all of this sooner. It's too late (accompanied by big heart sigh) I'm too old."

And the YES that delighted and inspired and invigorated me body and soul, is gone.

That's what being stuck looks like from here. For the past two years, I've been developing a getting unstuck strategy that seems to be working. I pass it on to you:

GET A SNAPSHOT OF YOUR YES/NO IN ACTION

First, activate the process by pulling out your favorite not-yet-realized dream.
VIsualize yourself doing it, really get into it, activating all of your senses. How does it feel to be doing that, living that? What can you see around you? Are there specific tastes and smells associated with it? Really let yourself feel into the experience.
Enjoy it, send love to it. Send it out into the world through your heart and belly as a real, fully realized possibility. Now take a snapshot of this moment.

WATCH AND LISTEN
What thoughts come up? Are you excited and invigorated by the vision or are you beginning to hear inner dialogue like, "But I dont have the money," or "I am not ready (or perfect) enough yet," or "Someone (and see who you name) won't like it or will sabotage me," or "My parent(s) never gave me the skills I need to be successful." When you activate your YES, what is your NO?

WHERE THE NO COMES FROM
From the fearful ego, the part of the psyche that is afraid that change equals loss. Loss of control and loss of identity. The ego is terrified that if you change roles, switching from editor to personal chef, for example, that you will be humiliated. The ego's logic is: If you take away the mask I wear or the role I play, I won't know who or how to be. The ego fears dissolution.

Remember the ego is not "the bad guy". We need the ego, it is the part of the psyche that allows us to create structured thinking, to name and label things. Basically, the ego's job is to maintain us in a world of forms and separation from oneness. These are important to keep us "sane" in a material world.

Still, what do we do when the ego's fears sabotage our progress.

We soothe it. When such thoughts as, "I am not ready," or "I am not trained enough", or "I don't have the money yet," come up, simply remind yourself (and your ego will hear you) that you can take things one step at a time.

Remind yourself, "I always learn along the way," and "When I don't know, I can ask questions," and "There will be helpers and mile markers along the way to help me."

The key here is to tell yourself the truth that no one knows exactly what to do before they do it, and that we need not be perfect--in any way--to "qualify" to move forward.

Just set your intention and do one little thing in that direction at a time. Put one foot in front of the other and allow the changes to happen gradually.

That's how I'm making my slow and steady way to my goals. Sometimes, it seems to take forever. Other times, a kind of tipping point is reached and I feel as if I'm surfing a tidal wave of change.

That's how change is, and personal transformation is the same way. One day, I'm struggling to learn some new complicated piece of technology or psychology and a month later, that part is second nature to me--and I'm wrestling (delightedly) with something new. We lose weight an ounce at a time. We walk a marathon one yard at a time. We write a book one page at a time.

Allow change to come at its own pace in its own way. Don't push things along. But do your page, take your step, study your textbook."You have to work your prayers," Dolly Parton reminded me a million years ago. I've never forgotten that.

That's why, when it feels like I'm stuck or like life isn't moving fast enough, I've learned to take that as an invitation to get off the sofa and take a step, any step--one little action in the direction of my goal.

If I find that I can't manage even that: I know that it's time to simply sit down and look around me, appreciating how far I've already come. I bless this stop and go life. I bless this bumpy road and the well-earned callouses on my heels and the way that I sometimes need a bandaid to wear the fancy new shoes I had to have.

And soon enough, I'm ready to get up and start walking again.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gratitude

Last year, my friend, Jamie, told me a story. She was at the ashram and meditation practice had ended when her teacher presented her with a plate of almonds.

“No, thank you,” Jamie smiled, thinking: I’m not hungry and even if I was, Im not in the mood for nuts. She was also demonstrating her natural reticence to eat from shared plates, perhaps some earlier germ training.

“Oh, but you must,” the presenter said, returning her smile. “This is Prasad, shared food after prayer or meditation. It’s part of the practice.” Realizing it would be rude NOT to partake, Jamie took a few almonds and popped them into her mouth, savoring the lesson in sharing and gratitude.

How often do we turn away the gifts we are offered?

I remember a conversation over dinner with dear friends a few years back. My husband’s parents had offered to purchase for us a new side-by-side refrigerator and I was explaining my reluctance to accept such a big gift to our friends. “I’m afraid there will be strings attached,” I said. “Strings of 'Poor Amy and Matthew, they can’t afford things so we gave them a refrigerator.'”

“But you must take it,” my friend Chris explained. “You need a refrigerator. You can’t afford it. The universe found the easiest, simplest way to get it to you.

“Accept it without strings of your own,” she continued. “Accept it, with gratitude to your in-laws and to the Universe and it will come in clean.”

These stories are gifts. Chris’s advice was a gift, too. We receive such gifts each day. The sun rises each morning. The moon comes at night. We have lovely food to eat, grass to dig out toes into, a flower to smell—we have our family to love.
How often do we take time to thank God for the rising of the sun? How often do we look at our spouse and think: Thank you God for you—for the gift of a person who loves me and wants to make a life together with me, this person whom I, in turn, also love? How often do we, lifting a fork full of nourishing food and thank nature for for providing it or thank the cook for preparing it—even if we cooked it ourselves?

On the wall of my kitchen, I have a framed greeting card drawn by Mary Engelbreit. I see it every time I walk into the kitchen. “Thank you!” it gushes, the illustration, of a girl arms open wide, head thrown back is exultant, joyful, shouting, “Thank you!” with full heart. It reminds me of the way I felt the day I mounted it on the wall--abundant with blessings, and so grateful that I could not begin to express it.

I started keeping a Gratitude Journal—a pretty bound book that, it’s worth remarking, came to me as a Mother’s Day gift from my daughter just after I’d decided to start writing down all of the things I’m grateful for.

The act of recording gratitude, of taking the time to simply write down, “Thank you for this day... thank you for my husband’s love... thank you for the new shoes I bought today... thank you for the sun... thank you for my children...” had the most uncanny way of settling me down, of grounding me into my life and gave me the feeling of having completed something.

It was a kind of prayer I did each night before bed and later, when I didn’t need the ritual every night, continued to pick up every few days, weeks or even months, whenever I was moved to say thank you.

I was given the gift of a lovely day, or a sweet husband and I enjoyed it very much and then remembered to say, “thanks.” It was a kind of punctuation on the day. It was also a kind of conversation with All That Is. Ask, Receive, Give thanks.

Friday, May 2, 2008

May... and writing free

Each writer must find the writers whose work inspires, whose particular rhythm makes her own work flow onto the page. Today, I have found two: Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and poet, Mary Oliver. These muses speak directly to my Camp Edalia girl soul: The part of me that remembers the cushion of pine needle forest floors, ponds brackish with algae and buzzing with dragonfiles, and deer appearing and disappearing like flickers of sunlight through trees.

Hush.

Though my current habitat is planted with telephone pole and traffic light, reading Annie or Mary reminds me that just under the surface of my daily round, my Camp Edalia girl is poking a stick into a creek bubbling with treasures--tadpoles wiggling, bright orange salamanders scaling the banks, slippery stones that beckon, "Take off your shoes and dip those toes."

I drive teenagers to malls and stop, captivated when a bird with a red tail swoops in front of my car as if telling me something, when a frog hops across my asphalt path, when a gaggle of turkey vultures stops traffic as they cross a highway. Last summer, a hummingbird buzzed up and hung in the air right in front of my forehead as if to say: We know who you really are.

These arrivals strike me like a tuning fork, vibrating me deep down, soil to bedrock.

When I read Annie and Mary, I perch on a tree stump and watch them aim their binoculars to capture some ordinary woodland wonder--a clump of blueberries, a timid hare--and bow their heads to scribble notes in a pocket-size, wire-bound sketch pad, transforming it from everyday to exalted.

They are with me, these muses, on this May morning, in my car, in the parking lot outside of a cafe, where a wave of my own voice suddenly breaks the winter log jam and bursts free...

I have left my notebook somewhere (at the bottom of a bag? stuffed in a pocket? open, mid-sentence on the kitchen table?) so when inspiration comes bubbling and tumbling up, I rush to grab pages of a just-printed manuscript to pour these words.

My words spill into margins, fill ten pages front and back.

Oh, I wish you could see it, the ecstatic, exuberant penmanship, wild swirls like waves themselves—as each line courses from me like champagne released from the neck of a green glass bottle, words tumbling over each other like new schools of fishes, bursting through boundaries like swollen spring streams, gurgling and giggling with a joyful, Yes, Yes, Yes.

I write all of this with my car windows down, breathing in May, as above me, a hundred little black birds perch on a wire, shivering their wings and switching places, as I take flight.

New Link I love

Escape From Cubicle Nation

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The things I should be writing about today...

1) The stupid new CHILDREN'S book, My Beautiful Mommy, that just came out. Here's the sales pitch, from an article in Newsweek Magazine: "My Beautiful Mommy" is aimed at kids ages four to seven and features a plastic surgeon named Dr. Michael (a musclebound superhero type) and a girl whose mother gets a tummy tuck, a nose job and breast implants. Before her surgery the mom explains that she is getting a smaller tummy: 'You see, as I got older, my body stretched and I couldn't fit into my clothes anymore. Dr. Michael is going to help fix that and make me feel better.' Mom comes home looking like a slightly bruised Barbie doll with demure bandages on her nose and around her waist.
The Newsweek article continues, The text doesn't mention the breast augmentation, but the illustrations intentionally show Mom's breasts to be fuller and higher. "I tried to skirt that issue in the text itself," says Salzhauer. "The tummy lends itself to an easy explanation to the children: extra skin and can't fit into your clothes. The breasts might be a stretch for a six-year-old. The book doesn't explain exactly why the mother is redoing her nose post-pregnancy. Nonetheless, Mom reassures her little girl that the new nose won't just look 'different, my dear—but prettier!'

Oh--my--freaking---goodness! See now, this is what I should be writing about today. I should be asking: Why and in what universe did Newsweek magazine think this book was worthy of mention in a serious book review--thereby launching it into the public forum? God help us--and all the children who will be confused and disoriented by its message: The only beauty is perfection. And only perfection will make Mommy happy. Translated into little-girl language: When I grow up I want to be perfect, too!

2) I should be writing about my daughter's beloved friends, twins, who have recently returned from an anorexia clinic in Philadelphia and the way I keep thinking about how much I used to love eating with them and their father, who is one of the best home cooks I've ever met and their mother, a gifted, gentle artist who must be blaming herself--and shouldn't be; and about the twins' beauty (ethereal, diaphanous, bewitching); I should also be talking with my daughter about how their experience is shaping her feelings about her body.

3) I could be writing about last week's gang fight in the quiet little river town where we are buying a house, (and about why I'm reluctant to mention the town's name--think property values); about how it started when a young man pulled the bandana (aka "colors") from the neck of a rival gang leader's girlfriend; and how this reminded me of the time, all the way back in Troy, when Paris yanked the "colors" (in the form of Helen) from the bedroom of his rival, King Agamemnon, setting off the Trojan War. I should write about how rival teenagers have been sorting themselves into gangs and fighting in vacant lots forever: Tony and Bernardo circling each other in West SIde Story; Capulets and Montagues duking it out in Verona; This is what kids--aka hormonally-hopped up idiots--do. Think George Bush and Osama Bin Laden--teenage pals playing out their scuffle in the sandlot of the world.

4) I could mention the way that teenage girls form gangs, too; gangs of envy, misunderstanding, competition and innuendo; and how watching my daughter go through a cycle of this kind of violence breaks my heart; and how listening to her work things out, in her wise-beyond-her-years way, helps me keep quiet about it (for the most part) because I know that this is a rite of passage that is making her stronger, more sure of who she really is;

5) I could be discussing the Hilary/Obama debate and how I want, more than anything, for these perfectly brilliant candidates (either of which this country would be blessed to elect) to tell the media that they are tired of being asked innane questions that are designed, not to discern policy or provoke real discussion, but to foster conflict for the next news cycle. I want them to say: Your questions are demeaning to the intelligence of Americans; they are trivializing this process and demolishing our nation's chances to have a real government.

6) I should be telling you how missing Grey's Anatomy for the past few months (because of the writers' strike) is really pissing me off - and how we've been spending our time instead; about addiction to distraction, about boredom and potato chips and this really cool snack I invented: heavy cream, unsweetened Mexican cocoa powder and two drops of Agave syrup (shake it up in a spice jar and eat it with a spoon....) while watching American Idol

7) I could point out the way that undertaking one thing--say, writing a book about my father's struggle--I discover that I'm really writing about someting else, the unraveling of the carefully assembled illusion of my own life, to name but one.

But instead of writing about these things, I'm thinking about how I'm not funny anymore--and that bothers me. I feel dark and twisty inside, as if the world's troubles have seeped inside my socks while I was out walking in the acid rain. I feel hopeless and damp, waiting for what seems an eternity for the return of the sun.

I used to be funny. I used to laugh with my sisters. This happened just last month, in fact, on a street in Brooklyn when, Emily, my sister Beth's partner started snapping photos and bending us all into poses: "Jenny, you stand there. Amy over there," and straightening Beth's hair again and again. And we all started laughing... and laughing. And we couldn't breathe and we couldn't stop...

When I read Anne Lamott, who manages to be spiritual AND touching AND wise while being, all the while, uproariously, irreverently funny, I want to be her. I want to be as free and as brave and as honest as she is. Somehow, she's found that key that opens the little lockbox on the heart and gently, invites it out for a pile of pancakes with butter and real maple syrup... while simultaneously showing us what life looks like--with it's messy and magical, foolish and incredibly wise, broken and taped together characters who somehow figure out how to keep alive the hope that things will all turn out in the end.

That's what I want to write about today: The mystery. The totally unsupportable hope that keeps us keeping on, in spite of children's books about tummy tucks, and gang wars in our quiet communities, and fathers in nursing homes, skewed election coverage and teenage girls savaging each other.

On we go--chasing the tail of the shiny, almost-got-it-this-time something that calls us ever onward. What makes us keep on? I mean, given the messes, the trouble, the pain, what makes human beings so hopeful? That's the mystery. And that's what I should be writing about today.

I want to tell you how, as I wrote that last line, the two-year-old at the table beside me reached up and socked his three-year-old sister on the ear, and she started to wail.

"Why did you do that?" his father asked. "Did you say you were sorry?" his mother demanded.

"No!" said the two-year-old perpetrator, clapping his hands over his ears. At which point, the other little girl at their table tipped over backwards, landing with a smack between her tumbled chair and the plate glass window. As she started shrieking, all the parents looked at each other, their astonished faces, blinking, "What just happened?"

It's a mystery, I could have told them as I packed up my laptop and fled (they were so noisy!)But they'll figure that out.

Which reminds me of a story. One bright morning when my own children were small and we were driving up the spiraling curve of the Bear Mountain Parkway, my son, max, who was seven or eight at the time, asked, "What's sunlight made of?"

In the brief time that I'd been this child's mother, I'd witnessed several things about him--the way that he grabbed at sunbeams in his stroller and talked to insects, trees and animals as if they were talking back. (I had also seen him comb his hair with a toothbrush, but that is another story) I had listened to his sister, Katie, two years younger, sing her joy (non-stop) into the world since the day she was born. So I knew the answer they were looking for was not, "Light can be both wave and particle," or a discussion of the way that somehow, each luminous streak contained microscopic objects called photons--or that sunlight is the critical factor in photosynthesis.

I'd made a promise to these children before they were born--to do the best I could not to disturb the world of its wonders. To let them go on thinking, for as long as possible, that things might just turn out okay in the end.

So I told Max, "Sunlight is made of the sun's love for us--and for all of creation," even though I knew the other answers,that moment at least, I felt proud that I hadn't mucked up the mystery.

And as we pulled onto the bridge, the Hudson River sparkling like a net of jewels below us, Max stared out the window, ready for another day on planet Earth. Katie just kept singing.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Learning to Fly

When you start exploring your inner life, you encounter things that please you--and some that don't. It's a balance in there--of shadow and light, repressed and icky bits and shining potential.

This is about one of the unshiny things I discovered shoved into the back of the shadow drawer: It's my tendency to NOT jump. What I mean is, given a cliff or, to be more specific, a job opportunity, party full of strangers or invitation to take a walk down a new road, I have a tendency to say no before I look or leap. It's automatic, happens every time. If you know me, you've seen it happen. I think that I do this because I am afraid of feeling a certain way... I think that it's based on an inner doubt.

It wouldn't bother me that much except that, as I pulled this particular shadow from the drawer, I realized that it looks alot like my kids. What I mean is, I seem to have passed this one down--and that will never do.

It's a habit. It comes from the idea that I am vulnerable, somewhere in there is my mom's voice, asking, "Are you sure you can handle that?" whenever I'd talk about something I was hoping to try or do or create. I know now, that it was her way of saying, I love you, don't get hurt. But it was also crippling because it created in me the doubt, "Maybe I'm not up to that." A doubt that I adopted and carried on without her for the rest of my life.

Tom said to me yesterday, "It sounds like a lot of work," and I thouht, he is so right. It is alot of work, peeling away layer after layer before I let myself feel or know or just be.

I am practicing little jumps--like sending an essay to BeliefNet or writing a letter to someone I admire. Last month, I sent an email to the editor I'd worked with ten years ago, back when I had an agent all ready to receive and represent my fiction project. I am practicing saying, Yes, when my husband says, "Wanna take a walk?", when a friend invites me to hear him sing, when my son pulls out a deck of cards and says, "Will you play with me?"

You'd think it would be easy--these are all things I love to do: Walking with a loved one, listening to a friend make beautiful music, being with my children in all ways. Yet, each of these requests has, at one time or another, been met with that "no" that comes from my mouth before Ive really considered the invitation.

Resistance.
Hesitation.
These are the things Im thinking about tonight.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A note from Amy Oscar

I'm in the process of writing a book (and several essays) about transformation at midlife. If you're a woman, over 35, and you're interested in participating in a survey, which will be used as part of my research, please send me an email: oscaramyr@aol.com.

You can see some of this work on my blog: secondblooming.blogspot.com
If you're not sure but think that you might be interested, I can send you the survey and you can decide after reading through it.

Thanks!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A poem I found in an Anne Lamott book

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

- W. S. Merwin

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wendy

Wendy: Peter, don't go.
Peter: But I have to tell the others about Cinderella.
Wendy: I know lots of stories, stories I could tell the boys.
Peter: Come with me then!
Wendy: But I can't fly.
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When you ask the Universe to lead you to the truth about your life, prepare for the actual, gulp, truth.

Yesterday, while browsing the stacks of used books at The Housing Works bookstore on Crosby Street in New York, I stumbled upon a little paperback called "The Peter Pan Syndrome".

You know the story: Peter Pan loses his shadow when he is drawn into a London townhome by a bedtime story. Stories are sorely lacking in Never Land; So are mothers. And one evening, looking for both, Peter hovers a little too close to the nursery window, loses his shadow--and his fairy (who gets herself shut into a drawer), and while stumbling around in the dark to find them, Peter awakens the sleeping Wendy.

Wendy sews Peter's shadow back on, though she warns, "This may hurt a bit." There is some confusion about the difference between a "kiss" and a "thimble"; and, even though Wendy seems to know what a kiss really is, as she demonstrates one for the clueless Pan, I doubt that she really knows what she's getting into.

Think archetypally here. Think about what it means to "lose one's shadow", to wander through a darkened nursery, to awaken a sleeping beauty, and to discover that she not only sees your shadow but has the magical ability to sew it back on. Think about what it means to find a lost boy in your room on the very night when your stiff-corseted aunt has proclaimed, "It's time for you to grow up!"

Think about a thimble, I mean, a kiss... lip to lip, heart to heart, needle to shadow.

Now think outside of the form of man/woman. Think about the "kiss" between the shadow and the sleeping self. Think about how, after the kiss is executed, the windows of the nursery swing closed, entrappring the freedom-loving lost boy and the girl, just as she was about to start her "adventures".

"What adventures?" her aunt Millicent asks.
"I've yet to have them," Wendy smiles. "But they will be perfectly thrilling."

And so they would have been... had Peter Pan not stumbled into the nursery.

For when the part of us that is Peter Pan falls in love with that part of another person that is Wendy (or vice versa), we trade our high-flying wildness for the security of a thimble, the thrill of a kiss.

This is why a Peter Pan can end up spending an entire lifetime blaming a Wendy for locking him into a house--clipping his wings and stealing his freedom with her bedtime stories--so that he cannot accomplish a thing. He can't make art, can't live his dreams, can't quite get his s*#t together. This how he projects the loss of his "boy" onto her, and makes his loss her fault.

And if she falls for this lie, sacrificing her "adventure"--her wildness and creativity--for the protective "thimble" of a little house where no harm will come to her, a great hole will form in the Wendy's soul, a hole that can only be filled by one shape: That of her own lost boy.

For even as Peter is teaching her to fly, leading her and her brothers to Never Land, the lost boys, mistaking her for a great white bird, shoot her from the sky. There is no place for a wild woman in Never Land. (And so, like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White before her, Wendy falls asleep on the eve of her adventure, losing her connection to the life she knew before--forfeiting her chance to play with the boys.)

Peter and the lost boys build a house around her as she dreams. When she wakes, though she tells them, "I have no real experience at being a mother," she gets the job; Wendy pulls out her sewing kit, her hand soap and broom and settles in.

Now here's what Wendy looks like, outside of Never Land; you know, in "real" life:

Say you've had a baby, or some surgery or calamity. The doorbell rings and there's Wendy, standing on your doorstep with a soothing smile, a casserole, and a calendar, to organize the other mothers. She's efficient and helpful, works the bake sale table (two shifts), after dropping off two bags of canned goods for the food drive. When it's time for the Spring Music Festival (or the Fall Fair) Wendy doesn't just drop off her plate of brownies--she runs the entire concession!

Later, after her own children are dry, diapered and fed, Wendy adopts yours, driving the carpool, teaching them car songs. Her's is the house all the kid love to visit. She talks with them, inviting them to open their hearts.

When that's done, Wendy picks up strewn socks, washes sinkloads of dishes, scours the floors and hangs up damp towels. As the laundry chugs along, she sips peppermint tea, reading House Beautiful or scanning a whole foods, organic cookbook for tomorrow's super-nutritious recipe.

But then, after all the shadows have been sewn on and the lost boys head off to college, Wendy falls apart.

She spends a year rescuing her father. She goes out and finds a house to removate. She gives up her secret hiding place--the one where she could keep her papers out on tabletops and let her thoughts unfurl one after the next after the next... And she finds that, for some reason, she can't quite pull the seams of her own work together.

She gets caught up in a play about masks and mirrors. She catches herself sincerely caring about Brittney Spears, whom she has never met.

Discovering this about herself kind of sucks.

In the real world, when a Wendy's usefulness has waned, she gets to feeling like she's melting. She asks, "What is the point of me?" She feels unneeded, umwanted and unloved. There's an emptiness in The Wendy, a hollow place that seems suited for one shape only: The Pan.

That's why, Wendy's like me go out looking for men--and lost boys--to rescue. But, as we get older, we find that, more often than not, they end up rescuing us.

---------------------------

I've been systematically unpeeling this onion for some time now. I've been waking up to a new kind of shadow in my room. It's a young boy, and he looks like me.
He flickers in and out running through the woods like sunlight, racing up a hill like spinning wind funnels, rolling to the ground where a bright orange salamander the size of his finger--looks him in the eye. He's my own lost boy, a piece of me that I carelessly stuffed in a pocket one day when I traded my wildness for a kiss.

He's returning to me now, as my son settles into college and my daughter begins her outward journey. He comes creeping in, as my blood stops flowing--and I pull it, and my life force, back, bit by bit, into myself.

Reaching into that long-forgotten pocket, (where he's been all along), my Wendy greets him. "I know you, Boy," she says dreamily. "Or I think I do... but why are you crying?"
And he, turning a tear-streaked face toward her, grins. "I missed you," he says. "But you're here now. Let's fly!"
"Yes!" she smiles, pulling him into the light.

I watch this. I learn from it. Then I whsiper, "Maybe he could teach us, also, to crow..."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

FLOW

Tomorrow, to welcome spring, I begin my 21-day FLOW Diet. Several readers have requested details. Here's how it works:

The extended explanation of the Flow Diet can be found at FLOW. To summarize, FLOW is a lifestyle based on the choice to live Free, Light, Organic, and Whole in all areas of my lives.

I developed the "rules" of FLOW over 10 years--as I studied every diet and lifestyle plan I could find, tried many of them and observed what works and doesn't work in my busy life. You can build a FLOW plan that works for you in the same way. Here's mine:

* Whenever possible choose foods that are closest to the way nature made them (WHOLE), raised in free, non-toxic environments (ORGANIC, FREE), and are living (LIGHT). Avoid fried and processed foods completely.

* Befriend your body. Exercise daily (on the 21-day intensive, I will go to the gym or a yoga class each day), drink lots of clean water (in refillable bottles--plastic landfill is not FLOW!) and healing herbal teas and homemade soups. Take walks in natural settings. Notice the miraculous way that your body heals wounds, protects itself against toxins, and lets you know what it needs to be healthy. Give it what it needs.

* Embody FLOW.... which means: Avoid stressful situations/arguments/toxic people and environments. If you find yourself involved in a "drama", be present and real, asking: What can I learn here? Do not attempt to fix other people or impose your ideas on them. Do not beat yourself up if you get caught in an argument. Simply move on as quickly as possible. Be kind. Observe and forgive others--and yourself.

* Learn all the time - Absorb, through books and tapes and other media--and through interesting people-- uplifting, enriching information, music, and learning.

--------------------------------

FLOW is not about perfection or beating myself up when I slip up and eat a plate of fries. It's about choosing foods, activities, thoughts, and behaviors that are in alignment with the four principles (free, light, organic, whole).

This requires active engagement in each choice I make. It requires awareness and mindfulness. Sometimes, it requires me to face things about myself or my life that aren't working and finally address them. Sometimes, it requires me to sit quietly, simply being.

Always, it requires me to check in with my own values and to be aware of what resonates with my "best self" and what doesn't. It's a commitment to excellence, to impeccability, to doing the best I can... for 21 days.

It's not that I don't always try to live this way--I do. But between you and me, I rarely hit the mark. I suspect that few people do, not all the time. We have other things to do. We get caught up in someone else's drama. Something happens at work and we're delayed, missing an appointment. Sometimes, there just aren't any organic or whole foods available. But we keep trying, keep looking for strategies to include more healthful choices in our lives. That's FLOW.

Last year, when I did 14-day FLOW, I lost a pound a day, my skin began to glow, my hair got all shiny and I had more energy than I'd had since I was a teenager. I'm looking forward to that... in fact, I've actually started FLOWing today.

I'd love to hear about your experience with FLOW, or perhaps you have a protocol that you'd like to share, something that works really well for you.

I'd love to hear about it.

PS. Last year, I put up a blog about FLOW. Click here to access it.
PPSS To access FLOW recipes, search the word "recipe" in the search box at the upper left corner of the FLOW blog.

Friday, March 14, 2008

friendship that dissolves boundaries

I ran into my friend Suzi at the gym yesterday. Suzi is one of the friends I love to write with. A few summers back, we tried to make a habit of it---Suzi would come to my back door and we'd set up our notebooks and cups of tea at my big round kitchen table and we'd write. Just sitting beside each other, pens scratching furiously. Then we'd read our work out loud. And then we'd write again--and the work, this time, would be so rich and so full that sometimes, I reached a state of flow, of joy that filled me to the brim.

There is something in Suzi and in her work that gives me permission--to abandon boundaries, to break into forbidden boxes, to wield my pen like a dance partner, to spin words into wooly skeins and weave worlds; to shatter into pieces of gold.

How can I explain what happens--windows and doors are thrown open, birds fly in, zig zagging through the rooms; when they swoop out, all of my furniture has been rearranged. When I write with Suzi it feels as if my molecules are being reorganized.

I have several friend like this--and you know who you are--the friends who leap right over the usual "How do you dos" to soul level. Almost always, our encounters feel arranged--orchestrated. Almost always, each of us walks away after one of these meetings enriched and full.

Yesterday, as Suzi and I talked, the gym with its pounding music and hundred other people disappeared. There was no gym--in fact, my memory tells me we stood in silent white space. Though I couldn't report the details of our conversation, I can remember the things that flashed brightest, the things that felt like "keys" brought to help unlock our questions. Later, Suzi said she noticed a few things like that, too.

Here is one: Fire (like melting) burns away forms. Without the forms we are left with what is unburnable, the only essential there is, love. When we have love, we have everything. This is why the Buddha is smiling. This is the awakening we are reaching for when we ask God, "Transform my life." This is the aftermath of the storm, of the melting down of our leaden attachments so that they can reveal the gold of the essential self.

We wake up and find that we've been dreaming. We keep our eyes open and let the dream unfold without fear.

What really matters is the love, not the lover; the famliy, not the house; the soul, not the body; the experience, not the goal; the journey, not the arrival. All of the avatars have taught this: All you need is love. Love is all there is. All is one.

We are eternal energetic beings living an experience of materialism for a time. When the material forms (body, personality, "lifetime") dissolve, there is still the essential self--and it is made of love.

All of that at the gym. I learn so much from these soul friends. I am so grateful when they (you) show up in my life--on the exercise mats at the gym, at my back door, in a cafe, workshops, or sidewalk, at work, in a dream.

Monday, March 3, 2008

From you...

Several people commented on my last post. This one, from a subscriber named Betty, was particularly touching for me--and I thought that you might appreciate it as well. I asked Betty's permission to share it with you.

She writes: My goodness, Amy--what a powerful communication! I came in to my study after spending this whole Sunday afternoon preparing a Bible study that I have to lead, come Wednesday, on the Beatitude: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." And here was your moving story. I think you are one of those "pure in heart" people.

But the reason I'm writing this now is not only to thank you for a very illuminating piece, but also to tell you that two little snippets caught my eye. One was the twisted neck, the sliced finger, and the broken tooth. I had to chuckle--my litany, to match yours, was a twisted knee, a urinary tract infection, and a broken tooth! I empathize with you!

The other bit was your saying, "this melting is concerned with three categories: ownership of self, the ability to create and maintain a home, freedom and slavery, marriage and love."

That resonated powerfully with me. For years I did that balancing act of raising five children, making a home (a parsonage, no less), trying to balance an active life of helping my husband in the parish, maintaining a schedule of speaking and writing, leading retreats, etc.--while also always, always wishing I had more TIME, more freedom to set a writing schedule, be a good wife--and on and on.

Well, the children grew up and moved on; we retired to the north woods of Wisconsin--but still I plugged on at the writing. Looking back, I am amazed to realize that, despite such a full life (plus two bouts with cancer: colon, then breast), I still had managed to have numerous articles, poems and short stories, plus three books commercially published; plus cofounding with a friend a newsletter for writers in 1980, known as The Inkling, but now morphed, under the ownership of two brothers in Minnesota, into a beautiful, glossy-cover magazine known as The WRITERS' Journal, for which I have, for the last 27 years written (and still do write) a column, proofread copy for them, and helped judge their story contests. I also have written a column for our local weekly paper for the last 19 years.

All this is to make the point that, while I was yearning for MORE TIME for writing, I was obviously making great use of what time I had. But then alas, in 2003, my dear husband died after a dreadful two years of debilitation brought on by a virulent case of encephalitis that crippled his mind and body to the point that I was unable to keep him at home--so I spent 4 days a week with him at the nearby nursing home.

After he died, I was suddenly faced with all the time I had ever prayed for: no one else's schedule to think about, no one's preferences to cater to---and guess what? Except for my columns, which I faithfully produced, my "other" writing went totally down the tube.

Too much time was my downfall. Every day, I'd think, "I should get at finishing that (whatever)," and every day I'd think, "Well, I can get at that this afternoon"--or tomorrow, or after (whatever). That went on for a couple of years, and every night I'd beat myself up for not getting down to work on (whatever), and calling myself lazy, too old, on the downward path of age, etc.

I am now pulling out of it, and I'm realizing that I was going through an unrecognized grieving period. Unrecognized because I thought I had done my grieving during the two years of his heart-breaking illness.

But one lesson I did learn was: don't keep wishing for what you don't have. I was wiser than I knew when I learned how to use every spare moment of a very busy life to still follow my dream. And my body and spirit were wiser than I knew when they balked at my trying to regiment myself into a productive cycle when it was time to lie fallow and turn attention to my children and grandchildren--and just live for a while.

So you are very wise to respond with crying (I couldn't cry through all that time of my husband's downward slide) and with searching and reaching out. I admire you for your honesty, your sharing, and your gift with words! Keep doing what you're doing! I'm sure you are a blessing to many.

Blessings and best wishes, Betty

Sunday, March 2, 2008

melting

every now and then, i get the feeling that everything that I am, that I believe in, that I have ever so carefully built, is melting. this is one of those times...

please don't worry about this, i kinda like it

it feels important, like a deep tissue massage for the emotional body and i can feel it bringing to the surface some things that have been silently but steadily eating away at my life for a long, long time

like detox, in the way that consuming, for a few days, only fresh juices, will urge our cells to release toxins, this melting is making me release a few well-rooted fantasies that weren't doing anyone any good

the vehicle of this melting is tears--and several interesting injuries (a twisted neck, a broken tooth, a finger sliced with a pair of scissors and the very symbolic way that the finger cut didn't bleed until I sat down to my computer to write an email)

i will spare you the details of my personal life but, in the interest of clarity, I will explain that this melting is concerned with three categories: ownership of self, the ability to create and maintain a home, freedom and slavery, marriage and love

a few days ago, a friend was telling me her story and I found myself guided to reach up, touch her forehead with my finger and say, "You are free now. Go and be the you you really are."

yesterday, after several hours of crying, I realized that this was pretty much what was going on with me, too. I took out my little black sketchbook and started making a list of the things I was thinking hoping to capture my thoughts as they went by

"all of the people I would normally turn to to sort this out are involved in the problem. there is absolutely no one I can talk to." "it is impossible to have the freedom I want without money. it is impossible to have the money i want without giving up my freedom" "im afraid i will never complete my lifes work", "I am not worthy of the kind of love that I want", "I am completely alone"

You know what I mean...

I kept melting--and crying all day-- my eyes continuing to stream even after I wasn't experiencing any sadness, pulling up all residual wet saltiness that needed to come out

finally, while driving from one place to another, I remembered prayer and asked my angels: Take this from me now. Take it and work your magic on it and make it work out for everyone involved

the moment I let that prayer go, I started to see signs that it had been heard--and that my angels were with me: A white car with the numbers 444 in its plate pulled in front of me (444 means "Angels surround you now")

A few minutes later, at the cafe where I went to write, a man leaned over to whisper to his wife, "444?"

"Yes," she said. "444." Then, they stood and left.

That sign was so cool that it completely distracted me and when my daughter called to ask me to bring her some lunch at the all day tech rehearsal of Phantom of the Opera, I checked in backstage to see if the sewing moms needed any help with the costumes, which they did.

And then, as I sat down to stitch the bodice of a pink and green ballerina costume, a 16-year-old boy I'd never seen before came up and handed me a feather.

"I found this," he said, smiling at me. I took it from him, checking it off as another sign (my angels love to give me feathers in unusual ways). And when one of the sewing moms told me his name, it was confirmed. His name, bless his hippie parents, was Freedom.

i could end it there but it's important you know that last night, my husband, daughter and i opted not to go to the parties we were invited to. we stayed home, eating Chinese food and watching a movie that i found, mysteriously, on my desk two days ago. The movie's name is Feast of Love--and when it was over, my husband started the process of his own melting, weeping on my shoulder. "That movie completely changed the way I see our life together," he told me this morning

then he went his way and I went mine
off to our own feasts of love, each melting and becoming more solid every day

This morning, I remembered that in one of the dreams from my tempest-toss'd sleep last night, I reached out and touched my husband's forehead saying, "You are free now. Go and be the you you really are."

And in the dream, he reached back, touched mine and gazing into my eyes with a fierce true love, he gave that blessing back to me

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snow outside, I contemplate seeds

As often happens this time of year, I find myself bubbling awake after a long winter's rest, bursting with plans and schemes for what I will do on that day when the world makes the shift from winter to spring--and I move my home outside walls, into the garden.

I am thinking about seeds... how they contain everything of what they will become, everything except the outer conditions—the soil, sun and water they will need to germinate, sprout and ever so gently, unfold.

I am thinking, also, of the way that once grown, plants become other things--the way that clover becomes milk and also honey. Which reminds me, laughing, of the early summer day when I discovered huge swaths of red clover taking over the garden bed in front of our house. Furious, I climbed up and stood in the center of the garden, yanking great handfuls of "weeds" onto the compost heap. A few minutes later, I came indoors and realized that I'd just tossed away a year's supply of the healing "herb" I'd just purchased at Whole Foods Market!

This reminds me of the way that, in our modern world, we bridge identities: We are consumers, multi-tasking at our workstations in our sealed and temperature controlled environments, energizing our bodies with caffeine, sugar and all too frequently, prescription drugs.

But we are also natural beings--animals--who are, at our core, meant to live in the rhythms and seasons of nature. When we allow ourselves to exercise, sweat and eat fresh, local produce in summer, and to shiver, introvert and sleep in winter, we are aligned with our true nature. The more seasons I pass through, the more experience I have with this body I inhabit, the more convinced I am that these rhythms are vital to our health.

Our give and take relationship with nature is exemplified in the folklore of herbs and gardens. Author Susun Weed claims that when we need an herb it often appears in our garden, an offering from the nature spirits. And folklore provides countless examples of the symbiotic relationship between man and plant.

This reminds me of the day when Max, 10 or 12 years old, told me, “If you ask a stinging nettle not to sting you, it won’t."
“Did you try that?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said with his Cheshire Cat grin. He has always loved teaching me (which reflects another natural rhythm of life--that of children growing beyond their parents, as nature, ever expanding, ever increasing moves outward).

Plants clothe and heal us. Their bodies ARE the food that nourishes us, their exhalations ARE the oxygen we need to survive. In a brilliant inversion, our bodies exhale the CO2 that plants need to perform photosynthesis, their version of breathing and digestion rolled into one.

Plants are archetypes for our own growth processes, instructing us, if we pay attention in the ways of natural cycles: The bursting-into-life expectant spring of sprouts, the lush and lazy abundance of July and August, the cooling of the harvest when we gather our stores, pull indoors, the work stoking our hunger for the turning inward, quiet sleep of winter.

We are part of nature. It shows us to ourselves, like today, when we, seeds of what we will become—sit warmly indoors (I am sitting beside a blazing fire as I write this). I am dreaming of spring and the new plants I will meet in the soil of our new home.

I am, creature of the rhythms and cycles of the season, stretching awake, feeling hungry for something new, getting ready to venture outside my winter cave to meet the plants that are, right this minute, stirring beneath the snow.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Something to do on a snowy day

Pull out a favorite photo and tell its story--tell it to yourself, staring at the photo or tell it to the friend you're sharing hot cocoa with today. Write it in your journal or scribble it, dreamily, on the back of a piece of junk mail.

Invent and embroider, adding to your story, the pieces of memory that flicker in and the new things you make up. Sew the edges together, a crazy-quilt portrait of people and places invented for you--by you.

You can do this with photos of people you know or shots of strangers in an ad for jam or ibuprofen or pasta sauce. Do it with a postcard from a place you've never been. Create an elaborate fantasy of being there: How the sun would feel on your head, how your skis would shush in the powder, how the waves, quietly lapping against the dock where you float, would sound...

Dream.

Take out a photo of a precious Aunt, like my own Aunt Elaine--a living, breathing artist, whose gorgeous home, layered with silks and sumptuous textiles, inspired my love of interior design, whose whimsical, beautiful clothing--each piece a work of art--made me appreciate fashion for the first time. The way that, under Elaine's hand, my mothers beautiful paintings became ethereal, more colorful, surrounded by Elaine's unsual objects, framed just so.

I could write about my Uncle Max sitting at his 6-foot long desk at the Concord Hotel, scolding me (16 and blushing) with a twinkle in his eye, when I, who had a key to the front door, chose to crawl under the fence with the kitchen boys--for the sheer adventure of the experience.

Collect seeds.

Begin with a box--a shoebox with a lid would be perfect, or one of those decorated boxes from the craft store, even an empty crate. You decide. The only criteria for the box is that the things you collect must fit into it.

Now take this life you have, and all the stu--ticket stubs, photos, pieces of ribbon, certificates, resumes--you've got in drawers, purses and pockets. Put it all in the box. Add clippings from newspapers and zines, old love letters (or new ones!), Anything that speaks to you-especially of love and depth. Include anything that glows or shouts "Me, me!"

Sort and Assemble.

There's still time, it's still snowing.
Get out some blank paper and a gluestick or scotch tape and arrange things into poems. What I mean is, sort your collection into collages--you know, like scrapbook pages. Use color--waxy crayons or sheer watercolors. Shade your life just so.

Sometimes I like to snip sticky labels into different shapes or, as my mother taught me to do, glue a dried seed pod or dead bug onto the page.

Read.
Curl up with the message your soul is trying to send to you. What do you want you to know today?

Honor.
Find a little spot--a shelf or corner--and build a shrine. Somewhere in your home, that can be reserved as sacred space. There, place objects that have special meaning to you. On a shelf in the dining room facing the apple orchard, I keep a shadow box containing a photo of my children at the beach collecting stones--inside the frame, I've placed actual stones from that day. Nearby, there are shells from other trips, a little red wagon that represents summers at Fire Island, a set of children's books (The Bunny Planet) that meant alot to us, and other energy-rich objects, talismans that remind us we have lived a life, rich with experience.

Breathe.
As always, offer Gratitude today.
Stretch.
Look out the window at the falling snow.