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