Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In My Office

It is morning, and I have settled into my office chair, a flat granite boulder beneath me and another one behind my back.  After years of working in offices, it is a blessing to call the forest, the garden, and the local nature reserve my office.  My office is where I AM.  

I mean that not just in the sense of telecommuting, for once upon a time I did work for a big corporation from my home office.  That was when my kids were babies, and it was such a blessing to be near them.  

These days, however, I am grateful and blessed to say that my work is my own creation, not what someone else has assigned to me.  My work is to be in the forest, in the garden, on the beach and by the lake.  But for my presence in these places, there would be no work; the Work would not come to me in any other place.  In Stephen King's On Writing, he says it's best to write behind closed doors, preferably at a humble desk place in the corner of the room, so as not to be distracted and not to allow ego to get in the way of the work.  Nature, for me, is not a distraction.  

Nature is my muse, my guide and my companion.  She invites me out to play, to listen with my whole being and to paint her portrait in words on the electronic canvas where I write.  I am the diligent and dutiful scribe.  The wisdom of the natural world reminds me of my place in the cosmos, and my ego is awed into silence.  

What, then, has Nature called me here to this garden place today to capture?  I am sitting next to a pretty  waterfall, one which begins with water pouring out of a slim crack between granite boulders.  The water appears magically, as if summoned by a fairie incantation.  Although I'm sure there is a pump somewhere that maintains the artifice, the waterfall is no less charming.  It is captivating and I feel spellbound to watch it.  And yet I realize that water is simply doing what water does, without (I might add) grumbling that it's "not going anywhere."  It is content to make the circuitous loop, day in and day out, like a kid who gets immediately back in the roller coaster line after each ride, each still shouting "whee" on every ride.

Perhaps I have been called here today to find the exhilaration in the mundane.  Perhaps I am here to remember to notice the magical appearance of Flow.  Or perhaps I'm simply here to create a shortcut for the tiny ants crawlingacross my tablet.  In any case, I am glad to be here in my Natural Muse office, watching ants march and water fall, and listening for my next assignment.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Earth is Still Beautiful

"It so easy to get caught up in all the bad news about the environment," I tell my Earth Circle companions.  "It seems like there's a new problem every week, and it's hard to stay hopeful."  I tell them about "ocean jellification," which I just learned about this week. Those apparitional and seemingly delicate creatures you see in on display at the aquarium are surprisingly resilient.  They can grow large enough to take down a container ship and shut down a power plant.  Jellyfish are unaffected by the rising acidity of the oceans and the giant floating garbage patches, both situations which are causing their natural predators to weaken and diminish in number.  Jellyfish populations, on the other hand, are growing exponentially, further compromising the ability of other ocean species to adapt and thrive.  

I shake my head.  "I feel so sad and helpless when I read these stories.  I want to be knowledgeable about what happening on our planet, and yet it pains me to hear about it. I want to feel hopeful enough to keep doing what must be done to heal our relationship with Earth."

We have gathered here in the park for this Earth Circle today, under a bright blue sky, to share our blessings for the Well-Being of our Mother Earth.  We are here, also, to support each other in our journeys to be powerful, positive forces for conscious change.  

I was inspired to offer this circle when I first woke up to realize just how debilitating and disempowering inaction is.  I hear so many people say that they'd like to do something, but....
"I can't afford a Prius....
"I live in an apartment so I can't install solar panels.....
"I don't have space for a compost bin."  

Or, like me, they say "I'd like to do something, if only I knew what to do that would really make a difference."

Recently, I went to hear Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Town movement, speak from his book "The Power of Just Doing Stuff."  He shared stories of people around the world, "just doing stuff;" ranging from simple things like starting a community garden bigger efforts like starting a local wind farm.  Viewed independently, no community garden or single wind farm is going to resolve the many environmental problems on our planet.  It does generate, however, the kind of hope and creativity that, collectively, can and will.  
  
This Earth Circle, then, is my way of Just Doing Stuff, starting right where I live and with the tools I already own.   

Back in the circle, it occurs to me to share further, "At home, we've been watching a TV channel that is a constant stream of images of beautiful places around the world. While watching the channel yesterday, a most simple and startling thought came to me: 'Earth is still beautiful.' "  I sigh.  "I am here today because I want to remember and believe that Earth is even more beautiful than I know and far more resilient than I currently give her credit for being."

The circle closes, and we each find our own space in the park to write.  I find myself sitting in a veritable hummingbird haven, so many buzzing over my head I think I must be in the flight pattern for the Hummer's LAX.  The shockingly bright pink flowers that are attracting them are the only spot of bright color in the park at this end of a long, hot, dry summer. No wonder the hummers love it here.  Hummingbirds devote their waking hours to seeking out exquisitely gorgeous flowers, and it's no accident that we've met up here today.  

It occurs to me that, while most activists are fueled by outrage, it is the Beauty of Earth that fuels my work. No jellyfish takeover or giant trash dump has ever inspired me to Love Earth in the way that a walk through the forest has.  It is time to turn my attention away from the ocean garbage patches and dead zones and train my eye on the Beauty in the world.    

"Ask for what you want," I coach my children.  "The more you complain about what you don't want, the more you attract it into your life."  Time to heed my own advice.  And to learn from hummingbirds.  Seek out the sights and sounds which soothe my soul, and savor the sweetness of it when I do.  Seek and ye shall find.  Earth is still Beautiful.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Because What We Do Matters


The day has finally arrived when the signs marking the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail will be installed.  It has been at least a year in the making.  As with all things volunteer, the process of approving the plan, designing the signs, getting bids, raising the funds, placing the order, making the signs and scheduling the volunteers takes more time than you think it will.  I am equally astonished and relieved that this day has arrived.  

Even so, I'm nervous for several reasons, not the least of which is that I know nothing about post hole digging, other than the YouTube video I watched.  More practically, the weather has been hot and dry, and the ground is likely to be hard and compacted.  The volunteer corps for the day consists of a few Boy Scouts and their parents.  As a mom, I'm thrilled to be working with kids on a project away from the TV and the computer.  As a pragmatist, I pray with the fervor of a convict hoping for a pardon from the governor, that one of the parents will have some solid hole digging expertise.  

My prayers are answered. One of the parents, Hector, is a contractor.  He attacks the hole digging with all the skill and confidence of a professional grave digger. Before I can relax, however, we tackle the issue of hefting the heavy bags of concrete up the steep hill.  I suggest that we put it into smaller buckets, giving everyone in the crew a smaller portion to carry.  After some head scratching, the bags are hefted on sturdy shoulders and, without further complaint, they are hauled up the switchbacks of the trail to the summit.  

In less than half the time I had allotted, all four holes are dug and the sign posts set in concrete.  More importantly, none of the many horrors I had imagined having come to pass. I am grateful beyond words.  Well, of course, that's not true.  I am reminded of a story, and I motion the boys and parents to huddle up.  I express my gratitude, and then I share this story.

"There was this American who was traveling in India, and he visited a small village.  When he arrives, he sees that they are excavating for a new road.  The whole village is involved in the effort.  They are all lined up, the ones in front digging, and the ones behind handing the buckets of soil, hand over hand, to the rear of the line where the soil is stockpiled.  The American happens to be a road builder himself, so he watches with great interest for a few minutes.  When he can't stand it any longer, he blurts out, "no, no, no!  You're doing it all wrong. You're working too hard for such a simple road. You need to get some heavy equipment in here, one good dozer will clear this roadway for you in no time. And you'll only need a few people to do it, not the whole village."  

An interpreter translates his words.  Their quizzical looks and and animated gestures make clear that his meaning has eluded them.  One of them steps forward and says, "We do not understand. Why would we do that? It would deprive each villager of their opportunity to participate in building this road.  When everyone participates, everyone can walk the road with pride and know in his or her heart that their contribution helped make this road."

I'm quiet for a moment and scan the faces.  The boys are quiet, and the dads are nodding their heads. "So that's what we're up to here today," I continue. "After today, when you come with your friends or family to walk this trail, you can say, "I helped.  My contribution mattered." " The boys nod thoughtfully and respectfully, and then race each other down the hill, grateful to be relieved of their Saturday morning obligations.

Retelling the story to my family , it occurs to me that this story is the basis for offering the Earth Family Retreat.  Everyone has something to contribute.  This sounds so simple, and yet it keeps coming to me.  We have become so specialized in our society.  "Not my job" is our mantra, as we sidestep the trash on the ground and the use the last sheet of paper in the copier without refilling it. 

Whereas my grandparents did much of their own food growing, clothes sewing, produce canning car repairs, lawn maintenance and house cleaning, I rely on an army of people, some of them faraway countries, to supply me with those services.   It occurs to me that this is one of the reasons we feel powerless to take action to resolve the bigger problems facing our society and our planet.  We have distanced ourselves from even the simplest of tasks; how could we possibly feel qualified to tackle climate change or economic reforms?   As much as we may be grateful to be relieved of monotonous tasks, I suspect that, either consciously or unconsciously, we also feel demoralized to think we have nothing to contribute.

What if we knew how much of a contribution we do make on a daily basis? In the movie Pay It Forward, young Trevor McKinney thinks that his idea of creating a charitable firestorm is a failure.  He doesn't realize just how much of an impact it has made in the lives of countless people across the country.  Like the flap of the proverbial butterfly wing that has the power to set off a volcano, the ripple effect of any small act may be unknowable.  And it may be immense.  

What if we could know just how much of a contribution we can make in creating and guiding the kind of world we want to live in by doing small, simple things? Would we continue to wait for politicians, scientists, corporations and church leaders to take action to solve the environmental, social, economic problems?  Instead of thinking, "there's nothing one person can do that will make a difference, how empowering would it be to say, "this may seem like a small thing, but it has a huge impact in the world?"  

While walking the beach, author Loren Eiseley saw a boy carrying one of thousands of starfish that had washed up on the beach back to the ocean.  Eiseley told him that he was wasting his time, that there were too many washed up starfish and that one person alone could never make a difference.  The boy replied, "it makes a difference for this one."  What we do makes a difference. It's soul-affirming when we can see that it does.

The Earth Family Retreat is an opportunity for us to offer something small and see that it does make a difference.  But for setting up a chess board, there would be no chess game that started a conversation about your grandfather that inspired someone to tell a favorite story about their great-aunt which gives rise to an impromptu Ancestors Circle where everyone shares a favorite story about a family  member they miss, and a profound healing occurs.  Or maybe it's just a chess game.  In any case, you've made a contribution, and it's apparent and it's perfect. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Blissful Soul Lives On

"I'm calling for a publisher," the voice on the message announces, and my heart skips a beat.  Has someone finally discovered me?  Is there a publisher who has read my work and is eager to find out if I have a book proposal?  I'm well into my Happy Dance when I hear, "and we'd like to know how you source your books..."  I don't hear the rest.  Sigh.  This is another of the periodic messages I receive from people who think that my little store, The Blissful Soul, is still open.  It closed more than six years ago, and yet the calls still come.  I'm wondering why people would still have in their contact list when I realize that the store listing is probably still out there, floating around cyberspace.

Out of curiosity, I do an internet search for "The Blissful Soul Eagle Rock."  I'm surprised to find out just how many hits there are.  There's a listing on Yelp, though some helpful user has marked it as CLOSED. There are some nice reviews on Experience LA, Judy's Book, City Search and YellowBot. Every event notice that I ever posted on the Northeast Los Angeles Yahoo group seems to have been preserved.  Top of the list of these is "Fun and Frivolity at the Blissful Soul," which announces an evening with the "Number One Mime in America," whimsical art by Maestri, and gong music provided by my six-year-old son, Cameron.  This reminds me of the day when the first order of gongs arrived in the store.  He ran his fingers over the surface of the biggest one and whispered, "This is great.  Now we can talk to God every day." 

It means investing your entire heart and soul, as well as your time and dollars.   It means never being "off work" because you carry it with you every waking (and dreaming) moment.  It means taking the kids to "play store," instead of playing at the park.  It means organizing book signings, concerts, art shows, psychic readings, aromatherapy workshops, Native American ceremonies, mimes, and yes, six-year-old gong players, employing absolutely every idea that you (and a business coach) can muster to get people to take notice of your shop which sits a little too far back from the street, has too little parking and is too easily overlooked.  It means that you do most all of the accounting and ordering and marketing and the website and the graphic design and the reporting yourself because you aren't selling enough to pay for a lot of help.  Being a mother of small children, it means doing most of those things in the wee hours, because the only "free" time you have is when the kids are sleeping.

Although the Blissful Soul was only open for 2.5  years, it lives on in my memory, too, in vivid detail.  I had invested my severance from ChevronTexaco to fund the purchase of an existing candle store, then called Smellzgood.  My husband, David, came up with the name The Blissful Soul.  My children were just 4 and 6 years  old when we opened the store, and I thought "having a little store" would give me more time with them than being a lawyer did.  Little did I know that "having a little store" is so much more consuming than being a lawyer.

It also means meeting more people in the neighborhood, some of whom will love your store as much as you do.  It means being eternally grateful for the help you DO have.  It means creating lasting memories with your mother who will not outlive the store by more than a few months. It means collaborating with artists and authors and all sorts of gifted people who share of their gifts so generously.  It means quickly learning to trust your intuition because it's the only "free" resource you have.  It means having something to show for your work, whereas all those contracts you wrote as a lawyer just seemed like piles of paper at the end of the day.  It means creating a community. 

And, then, one day, it means making the Grown-Up Decision to pull the plug because, despite all your best intentions, your best efforts and your sleepless nights, the little store does not generate the revenue to pay even the most basic expenses.  

Six months before closing The Blissful Soul, my husband begged me to consider it.  "I know it's not making money," I protested, "and maybe it just needs more time! We are creating a community here..."  He then said something that has shaped the course of my endeavors ever since. "Why do we have to pay rent for a store that's a few blocks from our house?  We have a great house; why not invite people here?"  

I wasn't ready to hear it then.  After six more months of Trying, however, the handwriting was on the wall.  I got it.  I closed the little store, and it was best that I did.  Another year later, the economy was taking a nose dive.  I was relieved that I had put an end to the bleeding when I did. 

Emotionally and nostalgically, however, I still miss having that little store.  I didn't realize how much until the day when we were listing our dreams for a worksheet in the Ignite My Life meeting.  I surprised myself by writing down that I still daydream about opening a new Blissful Soul someday, when I'm better funded, in a better place, where there's room for one-one-one sessions, as well as for bigger groups, and an outdoor garden.  

I think it was Tanita who said, "well, haven't you already done that here?"  We were meeting in my home at the time.  I realized she was right.  I invite people into our home for networking (Work@Homers), for personal growth workshops (Soul Cafe), for book clubs (Ignite my Life), for one-on-one shamanic breath sessions and for creativity with Earth playshops (My Earth Canvas).  Our home is my new Blissful Soul.  

I am grateful that for our home that has welcomed in so many.  I am thankful for my husband's support that makes it all possible.  

And I still hold a special place in my heart for the orginal, the first Blissful Soul baby.  Today's web search has me realizing, however, that, on some level, The Blissful Soul store still exists.  In cyberspace.  In my heart.  In my kids' memories.  In my inspirations for creating community wherever I am. And those are very powerful places for it to live.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Unapologetic Beauty


How blessed am I to be sitting here in the shade of a grand old oak, next to a fairy house, in an exquisitely manicured garden on a scorching hot day.  The honey bees are busily sampling the bright yellow flowers before me, shimmering ripples slide like skaters across the the lake just in the distance, and the grass beneath my feet glistens, still heavy with morning dew.  Now, two geese float into view, their graceful necks curved and they peer downward, as if contemplating their own beautiful reflections in their watery mirror.  


Only the sound of the gas-powered lawn mower distracts me from my enjoyment of this fantastically gorgeous and sacred place.  The lawn mower operator glances in my direction, as if he has sensed my annoyance.  Though he may feel badly about disrupting me, he also knows it is his job to mow this lawn today.  What I'd like to tell him is that it is for me to let go of the noise and practice a deeper Stillness, to release the minor annoyances of daily living, and to free my spirit to dance, no matter what is happening around me.  This Beauty play bespeaks volumes, evoking an inviting and engaging symphony, easily drowning out the drone of any mechanical equipment.  

Now the lawn mower moves closer, to the grassy area where I am sitting.  The mower regretfully informs me that he must mow this area.  He says that I can stay if I like, but that it will be noisy.  Ah, a further opportunity for my practice.  Very well, I shall stay.  But first, I jump off my bench to rescue broad leaf which has captured large drops of dew and lays glistening in the barest patch of sun on the lawn dappled with light and shadow.  I will offer it to the dwellers of the fairy house after his mowing work is complete.  It is too precious to be ground up for mulch.  This is my good deed for the day, salvaging these few drops of precious water, and I sit back again to relax.  

After he is done, I contemplate the freshly-shorn grass, now mowed short into wavy patterns that remind me of a toddler's first haircut; tufts of hair, impossibly unruly, sprouting out in all different directions.  "We may have no choice but to be sheared," they seem to say, "but we refuse to be groomed."  They remind me of an email I received earlier this morning. "You break the rules so beautifully!" my friend wrote.  I had sent out an email newsletter with no less than 13 topics, despite the conventional wisdom that says no email campaign should contain more than 3-4 topics.  I tried to distill down what I had to say, and nothing felt right.  "That's just not me," I finally protested, and I put it all in.  I felt vindicated when I received a few emails from friends who said they enjoyed the newsletter.

For too long, I have been chastising myself for failing to conform to all sorts of conventional wisdom.  I "should" have a real job, one where I could apply the three degrees and countless hours of study I have completed.  I "should" be more of strict disciplinarian with my kids; my approach is more "lazy" than laissez-faire, and they will never learn self-discipline.  I "should" be on more of a strict writing schedule, committing myself to producing a set number of pages each day, as all of the "good" writers have done.  

I look for the "shoulds" among these unruly tufts of grass, and I laugh.  Not one of them is feeling guilty for spending this beautiful morning just lazing about.  They are simply being who and as they are; this clump reaching for sunlight, and that one resting cooly in the shade.  Not that they aren't doing their work.  Their healthy green color evidence that they are busily taking up nutrients and waving the magic wand of photosynthesis, wielding a power that humans can only dream of harnessing: the conversion of sunlight energy into food.  And yet they appear so still, teaching me further that much can be accomplished without the rushing and the scurrying.  They are simply hanging out here in the lawn, allowing the work to be done.  

A Monarch butterfly floats by, reminding me further of the sheer joy of being who and as you are.  I wonder: does a butterfly wake up in the morning and shout, "OMG, I'm freaking beautiful!"  Whereas it once was a caterpillar, slow and steady and snug to the ground, it now flies and flits through the air with such ease it appears, at moments, to defy the force of gravity.  Does it shriek with joy in appreciation of its freedom, its transformation, its own beauty?

I do plenty of shrieking when I contemplate my own appearance, though, alas, it is generally not from the sheer joy of my experience.  I am reminded of the story of why peacocks, for all their ridiculous and showy display of Beauty, communicate with such a cacauphonous screech.  It is because, so the story goes, they have caught sight of their own incredibly ugly feet. 

Poor peacock, his resplendent beauty forever behind him, his only sense of himself tied up in his ugly, gnarled and calloused feet.  Poor Cheryl, always focused on the wrinkles and pudges, never seeing her own true Beauty.  I imagine myself with a vividly colored plume of feathers behind me, and I smile.   For all I know, I am ridiculously beautiful from the backside.  Heaven knows I haven't had the courage to examine it in years!

Perhaps it is time to take a wider view of myself, raising my gaze up out of the depths of my indented forehead and cellulite.  I am, after all, a a friend who enjoys a choclate chip cookie baked by her best friend, a mom who savors a candy given to her by her daughter, a wife who shares a glass of wine with her husband at the end of the day (and a martini on date night), and a woman who makes a fine  all organic and Fair Trade mocha latte.  I am also a person who exercises five days a week, who values the planet over a pedicure, who fixes herself an organic green smoothie for breakfast, and who gives of her time and talent in every way she knows how.

There. I said it.  All those years of learning and practicing the "don't brag, don't stand out, be humble" mantras have been thrown out the window.  I am so much more than my wrinkles and pudges, and I honor myself for taking my focus off my gnarls and onto my ridiculously showy peacock feathers.  This magnificent garden makes no apology for its Beauty, and neither shall I.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Evolution Dance: A Love Story, Perhaps

Sitting outside on a a bright summer day, the sun shines on me warmly.  I sense a benevolent energy in its rays, not a force to be feared for causing cancer or to be reviled for heating up our planet.  Father Sun is loving Earth as tenderly as a lover.  He means no harm in showering her with his warmth, nor does she fear his embrace.  She turns her face to Sun, day after day, morning after morning, all the world over.  Perhaps Earth loves his embrace so much that she is glad for the chance to keep it closer and closer to her skin.  Over her history, she has warmed and cooled many times.  Perhaps these cycles are like the lovers' dance: "hold me close," she says, then "let me go." "Please come back," he says, and then "you're suffocating me."  Repeat.  What if Earth is eagerly greeting the embrace of Father Sun's heat, as an estranged lover eagerly embraces the long-lost Beloved?

We humans have been so busy criticizing each other for (or denying) the parts we are playing in our changing atmosphere with our abundant emissions of greenhouse gases.  What if we have simply been playing our part in the love story of the ages?  Perhaps Earth holds us in no judgment because she loves the warmth, and she is equally content with an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide as she is with 400 ppm.  Indeed, or about half of Earth's existence, her atmosphere of Earth contained something like a quadrillionith of the oxygen that it holds today.  In all those millenia, Earth never cursed the gases that historically comprised her atmosphere; why would she now?  

Those first bacteria who mastered photosynthesis and excreted oxygen, went extinct when enough of it had accumulated in the atmosphere. Oxygen was a lethal poison to them, much as the CO2 that we exhale is for us.  Yes, they were unable to survive in the climate that they had created.  What if they were consciously preparing the way for new species for whom oxygen is essential?  What if they lovingly gave of themselves so that Love could express in a new and more complex way?

Perhaps we humans are doing the same ~ whether by evolutionary contract or by unconscious accident ~ altering the composition of the atmosphere to allow the evolution of new species. Perhaps SpeciesNext will wonder about our collapse and demise as we wonder about the disappearance of the dinosaurs.  Will homo sapiens be the stuff of their myths and legends?  Will there be a movie called Holocene Park? Will they warn their children about our excesses?  

Or will they praise how advanced we were  "for our time," the way that we speak of other civilizations whose time has passed: the Mayans, the ancient Greeks, the Easter Islanders, and the Roman Empire?  Perhaps SpeciesNext will bless humans for concentrating carbon dioxide and methane in the air, so that they could evolve and thrive, to have their day in the sun.  Perhaps they will erect statues in our honor and name their sacred sites after us.  Maybe Homo Sapiens Boulevard will be the name of their most popular expressway. 

Earth has been home for countless species that no longer exist here, each one giving of its own unique gifts before moving on and making way for a new creative expression of Life to fluorish.  Are we simply One of Them?

Perhaps Earth is as excited about the evolution of SpeciesNext as she is about the changing climate.  As a school teacher hopes that next year's class will be smarter, quieter and better behaved, is Earth hoping that SpeciesNext will be more respectful of all the Web of Life* and more grateful for her gifts?  Perhaps she feels as done with us as that school teacher feels when the school year winds down and the class is most unruly, their minds completely absorbed in the coming summer vacation.  Are we so busy thinking about our next vacation that we are no longer listening to what Earth has to teach us?

Then the day comes that the school year comes to an end, and the teacher sheds a tear, realizing she will miss the rambunctious little buggers, after all, and she remembers their gifts and sees their abilities.  Maybe Earth is shedding tears in the form of super storms and tsunamis because she does love us and weeps for our lack of awareness and understanding of our place in Nature.   Perhaps the super storms are her way of giving us one more chance to learn something in her classroom before she clears the deck and makes way for SpeciesNext.  

How could we we ever know?  

Perhaps it is time to ask her.  Sit with her quietly and listen.  We've done countless experiments only to discover that the act of our observation influences the outcome.  We have read ancient texts to discover the wisdom of the ages, only to discover that there are as many interpretations as there are readers.  Perhaps it is time to return to the most simple and basic instruction that we give our children: "If you don't know the answer to the question, ask someone who does."  

Earth knows.  She's ready to talk.  Are we ready to listen?

It is the evolution dance, and it is time to pair up.  The music is playing. Who is your dance partner? 


*I am grateful to David Christopher for is beautiful term the "Web of Life" in his newly released book The Holy Universe (New Story Press, September 23, 2013)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Three Tarot Cards

Once upon a time, there was a woman, a High Priestess, who lived in a cave on a hillside in the forest.  Every morning, she walked out of her cave to greet the sun and to harvest nourishing gifts from the Earth.  Always with loving gratitude, she blessed her harvest and embraced her world.   At nightfall, she retreated to her cave to contemplate, to meditate and to stoke the fire that kept her warm.

One early morning, an ornate chariot, decorated in high relief with gold and ribbon trims, pulled by two wild beasts, appeared just outside the door to her cave. The wild beasts were panting and foaming at the mouth, weary from their travel.  There was, however, no driver, no guide, no charioteer at the helm. 

The woman inquired of the beasts, "where is your commander?"  The beasts gave no answer, but stared at her intently and mutely. Their expectant expressions suggested that their only purpose was to wait for the High Priestess to step into the chariot and issue a direction.  

The woman brought food and water to the beasts, but they did not eat.  They did not drink. They stood at attention, mute and panting.  

The woman returned to her cave for evening meditation and contemplation.  Throughout the evening, she could see the beasts still standing outside the door to her cave, ready and waiting.  The woman fell asleep while puzzling over their presence.

When she awoke, the beasts were still standing in the same position, affixed to the golden chariot.  No longer panting, though their eyes were trained on the door to the cave, not daring to miss the woman's command.  The woman offered fresh food and water to the beasts, which they, once again, declined to eat.

The woman went about her routine, leaving the beasts to their weary watch.  Three days passed, and still the beasts stood waiting while the woman pondered.  

On the fourth day, the woman awoke to discover a large and stately lion sitting just outside the door to her cave.  The fresh carcasses of the beasts, already covered with flies, lay on the ground behind him.  The shattered remnants of the chariot could barely be seen at the bottom of the ravine.

Shocked and angry, the woman confronted the lion.  "What have you done?" she cried.  The lion eyed her cooly.  "I have done only as Nature intended," he replied.  "It is my Nature to consume flesh when I am hungry."  To this, the woman had no reply.  She slumped to the ground and held her face in her hands.  

"May I ask," the lion continued, "if it is your Nature to refuse to ride in a golden chariot, drawn by two magnificent beasts, at your service, and awaiting your command?"  The woman rushed at the lion, grabbing the stick she used to stoke her fire and dug it deep into his side.  Her teeth bared and she growled, "How dare you question my Nature?"

"It is my Nature to speak the Truth," the lion replied.  The woman turned on her heel and strode into her cave.  She packed her few belongings into a bag she had woven of wheat and feathers. She turned to face the Lion.  "Okay, then," she said, "I'm ready to go.  I need no golden chariot nor magnificent beasts to take me where I'm going."  She lifted her bag to her shoulder, her gaze affixed to a distant point on the horizon, and started walking.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Urban Stillness

I have come to the forest, the urban forest, today to find three things: a cool respite from the blistering heat, a quiet respite from the city noise, and a mental respite from the endless ~ and meaningless ~ mind chatter.  Two out of three ain't bad.  It's deliciously cool here in the fern dell forest.  My mind has cooled, as well.  The self-berating thoughts to which I had been subjecting myself seem wholly out place here in the forest.  A grey squirrel scampers by, light as a feather, his feet barely touching down before he leaps onto the nearest tree and scurries out of sight.  He frolicking allows no room for thoughts of "I should have" or "I failed...."  I follow his lead and take delight in my surroundings.  

Only the searing sound of the circular saw that a worker is using periodically disrupts my enjoyment of this otherwise perfect Respite.  As jarring as the sound would be anywhere, it seems more piercing and painful here in the forest.  Christy and I move to a table far away from it, and I drop into a deeper level of Ease...and Grace.

Hikers stride past purposefully, as if their very souls depend on this walk in the forest.  Perhaps it does. How much of our serenity and well-being do we give up simply by closing ourselves off from the forest?  We Americans spend nearly 90% of our time indoors,  walling ourselves off from the larger Web of Life, our community of trees, squirrels, birds, stones, flowers and even the Sun.  I wonder if this makes it easier for us to accept the desecration of our environment.  What stuff would we buy if we sat outside the factory that made it and observed the smoke stacks and the downstream runoff? 

The approaching sound of a staticky rap song blaring from a cheap player punctuates my reverie.  Another urban dweller has brought the  sounds of the city with him into the forest.  I'm irritated.  I glare.  He is unperturbed.  He saunters by slowly, offering not the slightest acknowledgment of my annoyance.  He reminds me how fragile is the state of  my stillness.  Not one of my tree, squirrel, flower or bird companions has registered a complaint, though well they might chide us for bringing our noise, our trash and our strange smells into their home.  Who am I to judge, then, when they do not?  The music maker moves on.  So do I.

Contemplating the furry bark of the redwoods before me, I wonder at their peaceful willingness to be in our company all, given our penchant for cutting them down to build our decks and lawn furniture.  I sense no hostility in these lovely beings.  Only a deep sense of Purpose and Place and Belonging, the very qualities that anchor me, as well.  We share this.  While this writer's group has met in a variety of lush and beautiful natural places around Los Angeles over the past few months, it always here that we return after our wanderings have led us away.  This place in the forest has become our home base.  It is our sacred Place, too.  It is here, that we realize that we Belong here, we Belong to each other, we Belong to Earth. 

I notice the time and realize I have but a few minutes of Respite remaining.  I have another appointment to attend and children to pick up from school after that.  Athough my time here seems all too short, I know I will take the forest with me.  With this thought, it occurs to me how perfectly orchestrated my visit here today has been.  The annoying sound of the saw drove Christy and me from our usual table to this one by the lovely redwoods, the ones who helped me realize my place and connect Belonging.  The hikers, so intent on their journey, reminded me to walk with Purpose.  The disruptive, blaring music caused me to contemplate what we carry with us ~ City into Forest and Forest into City.  I am glad for my time in the forest.  I pack it up, along with my tablet and keyboard, and head for the car.  The forest  Belongs with me as much as I Belong here.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When Mom Snaps

They are a traditional sort of family.  Dad  goes off to work each day while Mom takes care of the home, the children, the garden, the laundry, the doctor appointments, the piano lessons, the play dates, and all of the minutia of everyday living.  Mom is kind, generous, and long-suffering.  She never asks for anything for herself; she is content to be always giving, giving, giving.  At the end of the day, Dad comes in to claim the glory for bringing home the bacon, and then he watches TV while Mom cleans up the fry pan.  This all works perfectly well.  Until it doesn't.  

One day mom snaps.  She refuses to cook and clean, the laundry piles up, and she smashes the kitchen window with the old fry pan. 

The family huddles, wondering if she has gone mad.  What could have made Mom so upset?  They scratch their hands and confer in subdued whispers, but they can think of no legitimate reason.  

For a few days, they make nice.  Their voices are hushed and respectful.  They pick their dirty laundry up off the floor.  They make their own supper, and they wash the dishes. They give Mom her space.

And still, Mom fumes.  She doesn't step in to wash the carefully piled dirty clothes. She doesn't put away the clean dishes lingering in the rack.  She doesn't even replace the empty toilet paper roll.

If anything, she seems to be smoldering.  She doesn't speak.  Her eyes are dark and tinged with red.  She sits at the table for hours, smoking, and blowing clouds of smoke at invisible demons. 

The family grows impatient with Mom's little outburst.  They complain loudly that there's no more food in the kitchen.  They stomp their feet when they walk by her sitting at the table.  They bring in fast food for dinner and leave the wrappers strewn about the house. 

They rail at Mom's failure to appreciate their largess.  They tell themselves that they have bent over backwards to make her happy.  They can't understand why she won't just get over it.  They turn up the TV to drown out the clamor of Mom's silence.

They go about their business as best they can.  They pride themselves on the way that they are coping under the stressful circumstances.  They turn up the sound on the TV.  They don't even notice when the smoldering remains of Mom slip out the back door. 

It's better this way, they decide.  No more time wasted trying to placate such a complicated person with all of her rules about getting enough sleep, doing your best, and wearing clean underwear.  Her expectations are unreasonable, and the family knows they can manage better without her dull routines.   

The family is awakened by the smell of smoke, and they rush to the windows to see the backyard is in flames.  They call 911, and then they huddle in the street to watch the fire consume the porch swing where Grandma rocked the babies, the sandbox where the kids played when they were younger and the trellis where Mom's favorite roses grew. 

They consider turning on the garden hose, to dampen the fire while waiting on the fire truck to come, but they decide against it.  Best leave it to the professionals, they think. No one mentions her name, but each of them silently contemplates whether Mom is responsible for this blaze.  They look at each other and shake their heads sadly as they realize they have each come to the same conclusion.

We will move away, they decide.  Surely, there are other backyards and other Moms, if only we look long and hard enough. It will be easier than cleaning up the mess here, and it will be much simpler than figuring what went wrong with Mom.  Let's not inconvenience ourselves any more than we must, they say.  We can start fresh.  We can begin again.  We will find another Mom.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Seeing the World

"What's all the beeping, godmommy?" I explain to Alex that my car makes a beeping sound, for parking-impaired people like me, whenever it is getting close to another vehicle or the curb.  "But why are there so many?" I tell her that different sounding beeps come from various parts of the car where contact is about to be made. I explain further that I am very talented to be on the verge of hitting something on three sides of my car at once.  Nonplussed, she scans the car, trying to pinpoint the origins of the various beeps.  I say, "it's okay, it took me awhile, too, after I got the car, to figure out where any particular beep was coming from."  I said it must be like someone who loses their sight and must learn how to navigate by the sounds of cars, people, dogs and crosswalk signals.

I suddenly think of my blind friend, Liz.  Liz was a customer of my store, The Blissful Soul.  Although she liked to explore the store, what she loved buying most was jewelry. Yes, that's right, jewelry.  I love that she felt such a passion for self-decoration, even if she could not see the pieces, visually.  As she ran her fingers over the stones and the fasteners, I knew that she was seeing them in her own way.  I was always impressed with her ability to find the perfect piece was just right for herself; something that would bring out the light in her eyes or pick up a color from her sweater.  I watched her in awe.

Liz was born with sight and then lost it as a young girl.  She once told me that she had been to all the doctors and all the specialists, and that there really was no means currently available to restore her sight.  I sensed no bitterness in her words.  Recalling that conversation while driving today, it occurs to me to wonder, "but what if a miracle happened?"  I ask myself, "How grateful would I be for my sight if I suddenly woke up, able to see for the first time in twenty years?"  I look at the world around me, the same sights I see at least twice a week, driving to and from the Y.  The tree leaves are more vividly emerald green than I had ever noticed, and the blue of the sky more deeply azure  than I had ever realized.  "The world is so much more beautiful," I thought, "now that I'm seeing it through Liz's eyes."




Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Family

This time yesterday, I was contemplating a tomorrow full of appointments, to-do's and various commitments.  I take my calendar and to-do list very seriously.  Although I rarely finish all that I have planned for a single day,  completion and fulfillment are always my avowed and sincere goals.  And yet, a full twenty-four hours have passed, and I've honored nothing I had planned for today.  In fact, I can't even recall, in this moment, what any of it was.  

It's interesting how quickly, in a flash, the calendar is cleared and the to-do list lies crumpled in the waste can.  What seems so critical in one moment cannot even be called to mind in the next.  That's how it is when Heart trumps Mind.  Mind likes to think that it sets the the priorities.  It does the "thinking," after all.  And on most days, I let it believe that's true.  Then something jump starts Heart, and it pole vaults over the top of anything that Mind had planned, with yards ~ miles ~ to spare.  

Two days ago, my heart-sister called and left a message to let me know that her beloved husband, father of my goddaughter, was in the hospital.  She said he was having problems with his pancreas and kidneys, and she asked, would we take Alex for a night this weekend? I called and assured her that we would.  I checked in with her this morning, and she revealed that her beloved had had a heart attack last night.  His prognosis was poor.

The appointments and the to-do's vanished from my consciousness.  I rushed to be by her side.  I took angel cards, a book, some card games, a journal, my ipad and chocolate.  I have sat in many a hospital waiting room over the past ten years.  I know how to pack. 

The angel cards were a big hit, even with family members I didn't know.  Even among people in the waiting room who weren't family.  Not in the biological sense, anyway.  One woman, after reading her card, leaned forward and stared at me hard.  She finally asked, "Who are you here with?" Caught off guard, I mutely pointed at Cynthia.  The woman sat back in her seat and said, "well, you are an angel. Do you know that?"  Perhaps she imagined, my wings were tucked in, that I simply sat here, day after day, consoling family members.  It would be a great gig, now that I think about it.  

When I first decided to go to the hospital today, I questioned whether it was appropriate.  I dearly wanted to sit with and comfort my heart-sister.   At the same time, I know she has a lot of family in the area, and I didn't want to be in the way.  She assured me that I would not be.  She chided me when I got there, "don't you know by now that you ARE family?"  After my conversations in the waiting room today, I realize that my definition of 'family' has been far too narrow.   We are all family.  What's unfortunate is that it sometimes takes a tragedy to remind us that it is so. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

This Sacred Life

The heat of the blazing bonfire before me competes in intensity with the melting sherbet hues of the setting sun on the horizon just beyond it.  I'm snuggled in a lawn chair, comparing and contemplating each, when my daughter begs me to chase after lightning bugs with her.  We are visiting friends at their lake property in the Midwest.  Bugs that intermittently punctuate the dusky skies with flashes of light are a novelty for my California-born children.  She extends her hand to pull me from the comfort of my chair.  I cannot resist. 

We chase the fleeting and elusive bugs into  tall grass and up on top of the neatly stacked hay bales.  At last, she catches her prey, and we race back to the gathering at the bonfire to display her prize.  She receives accolades to her satisfaction, then sets the little guy free, and he speeds away into the night.

I reclaim my lawn chair, and I tune back into the ongoing conversation around the fire.  Our friend is explaining that a neighboring farmer rents some of his land.  The farmer has has planted these miracle beans which are the only thing that survives the deadly herbicide the farmer sprays on the land.

I feel as if I've been punched in the stomach, with the wind completely knocked out of me.  My dreams of quiet contemplation are extinguished, and I squeeze back heavy tears.  I recall the front field where my daughter and I had carefully avoided trampling the sweet little plants, barely three inches tall, when we were chasing lightning bugs.  In the fading light of early dusk, that field appeared a sleepy nursery full of drowsy green heads, bobbing in the breeze like babies so sleepy they can no longer hold their heads up.
Cast now in the shadow of my dislike and distrust of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it appears to me as a battlefield, one where my friend's desire to pay for his property, the farmer's desire to make a living off the land, the local wildlife's desire for uncontaminated food and water, and the desire of people like me who want food from heirloom crops, confront each other with weapons drawn. 

Those sweet little plants, waving in the evening breeze, are undisturbed by the drama of it all.  They are simply doing and being as Nature intended: establishing roots in the soil, taking moisture and nutrients up their roots, mixing with sunshine to create the food they need to grow. 

They are not cursing their lot for their clinical and calculated derivation in a laboratory.  They are not ruing the lack of diversity in their field.  They hold no grudges against anti-GMO people like me.  They greet me as pleasantly as they do the sun, the moon and the stars. 

In my heart, I hold us all in Oneness, as well.  Though different in form, we are all born of the Divine; we are are all created in the likeness and Image of God.  Who am I to judge these cheery plants who have extended such a welcome greeting?

That is not to say I choose now to eat them, more any of their other genetically modified friends.  Nor will I now support the cultivation of food that requires the application of chemicals which poison the earth and other life forms.  Yet my quarrel is not with these peaceful plants.

I wander back out to the bean field and sit
amongst them, enjoying  peaceful contemplation, after all.  I say a prayer, extending a blessing for all life, and I know I am blessed in return.  We,  these little plants and I are one in the One, after all. 


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Letter of Resignation

Dear wayfarer,
Now indulge me in a sober moment.
Please set down your glass.
I can help you write a letter of resignation
To all your fears and sadness.
~Hafiz
 
Dear Sadness,
 
We have been constant companions for lo these 52 years. Whenever I felt alone, you were there to assure me that I was not.  You have always been quick to remind me that you would always be there with me, no matter what. I appreciate your devotion. I honor your consistency. These are qualities I have learned from you. I thank you for that.
It is time for us now to part ways. I know that we may meet again, from time to time, as former schoolmates whose eyes light up at the sight of each other years after graduation. We may embrace and even kiss at times when I am, once again, caught by surprise at the sudden and seeming loss of a loved one. However, I shall not walk with you side-by-side on a daily basis anymore. This is my graduation, and I am ready to face the brave new world with a full and happy heart. For indeed, happiness is my birthright and ecstasy is my Divine state of Being.
The path we walked was twisting, uneven and, at times, treacherous, which is why I appreciated your steadying hand.  I gladly received your reassurance that I need do nothing, other than to envelop myself in you. I know that the road that lies ahead of me now is uncertain and may, at times, be treacherous, as well; after all, I did not come to this life to rest in my easy chair and snooze.  There will be times when it is challenging for me to feel happy, let alone ecstatic. It may be tempting to seek you out, to invite you to dance, just one more time, for old time's sake. I beg you not to come to my aid when and if I do call out for you. 
 
This is not a condemnation of your being, for I know you have your place and you have served me well. It is as with that former school mate who once tutored me in geometry and whose counsel I no longer require. I hold fond memories of my classmate, as do I hold bittersweet memories of lying on the floor and weeping with you. This is not the mentoring or counsel I now require.
The pit in my abdomen in which I harbored you has been with me for so long that I do wonder how it will feel not to carry you there any longer. They say that nature abhors a vacuum, so it occurs to me, in the same moment as I bid you adieu, to invite in another, rather than leave the occupancy to chance. To say that I will make the leap from sadness to happiness as my constant companion seems too great a chasm to cross. Who, then, shall I invite in? Am I ready for another roommate?
There is a part of me that feels I'm not honoring my mother, my father, my cousin, my lost kitties if I don't feel sad when I think of them. It is tempting to keep your room open for you and you alone. It occurs to me in this moment that there is another favorite companion who may take your place: laughter.  Yes, I said it: laughter.  You both tend to come to me at the most inappropriate times.  You both cause me to clutch at my sides.  You both can make tears stream down my face. 
 
I see now that sadness and laughter can walk side by side, so I am sure you two are well acquainted. You may trust, then, that I am well supported, even when we are not together, for Laughter offers services that you cannot.  Laughter elevates my mood, making me turn up the corners of my mouth even as tears fall down. It offers me an elevator ride up out of the abyss, sometimes all the way up to happiness.
 
This, then, is my commitment today: whenever I think of my "lost" beloved, I shall think of something he or she said or did that was funny, hilarious even. Devilishly irreverent, that suits my coyote animal spirit. I'm the one, after all, who must force myself to suppress laughter at a funeral. Why not use laughter when I am holding my own "funeral" for my loved ones?  Laughter says, "yes!" and that it is here for me in the same way that you have always been. 
I wish you well, my friend.  I thank you for your tender care.  Be on your way now.
 
I am ready for a funny story.
Peace and blessings,
Cheryl
 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Hummery

My back against a twisted and wizened old pomegranate tree, I hear a hum of buzzing overhead. This tree is flowering profusely and ecstatically, hundreds of vibrant orange flowers gracing its slender branches. Whereas I once would have been afraid to be so close to so many bees, now I am glad to be in their company. I know how they are threatened, these busy creatures whose industry makes possible nearly a the third of the human food supply which depends on pollination. A hummingbird drops in and hovers above my head, the hum of his rapidly flapping wings an octave lower lower than the bees. I am surrounded by creatures whose work is to extract and share the sweetness nature offers. I feel blessed. I feel forgiven.
Earlier this morning, I had been feeling low. I had been contemplating the part I have played in creating the disastrous environmental conditions that exist on the Earth today. While it is tempting to blame the Corporations, the Government and the Rich, I know I must accept that I have been their unconscious partner.
I have preferred unblemished fruit over their bruised siblings because they look more appealing. I have purchased items made of plastic made in faraway places instead of items made of renewable sources made by local artisans simply because the plastics were cheaper. I have driven my car when I could just as easily walked.
A part of me wants to shout, "but that's that's what I was taught to do!" It is true that I have learned my habits from my well-meaning parents who made choices fueled by their desire to give my sister and me the most and the best they could. Having grown up in the fifties, they were the first generation who had so many options available when choosing how to provide for their families. Who wouldn't choose the best-looking fruit for to feed their children? Who wouldn't choose toys without the sharp metal edges that could cut little fingers?  Who wouldn't want electric appliances so mom had more free time to enjoy with her family?

My grandmother got married in 1931 at the age of 22 and gave birth to my mother, her only child, at the at the ripe old age of 31. I once asked my cousin, a contemporary of my mother's, "what on Earth did my grandmother do for those nine years? She didn't work or volunteer and she had no children." His response made me realize how much a product of my own time that I am.

"Running a household back then was a full-time job back then. There were no frozen or commercially canned foods. People still grew and canned much of their own food. They made their own bread and cake from scratch. There weren't any freezers to keep food for long periods, so cooking was a constant and daily chore. They sewed most of their own clothes and household linens. Laundry was scrubbed in a tub and hung out to dry. There were no wrinkle-free fabrics or electric irons. And, in the 1930s when your grandmother was a young housewife, there was no extra money for luxuries like paying for help. In those days, keeping house, whether or not there were children living in it, left little time for navel contemplation."
Recalling his words now, I suddenly understand how those same people, my grandparents, could be the ones who fed me canned fruit, packaged treats and soda pop.Sure, they still grew their own summer vegetables, sewed clothes for us grandchildren, and put clothes out to dry on the line in nice weather. After decades of long hours of work devoted to sustaining a home and garden, however, those newfangled convenient products must have seemed like a godsend, freeing them from the labor their parents endured throughout their entire lives.
It's no wonder my mother's generation so quickly embraced the canned soups, the TV dinners, the Bisquick, and boxed cake mixes; how glad they must have been to buy that washing machine, the dryer, the electric skillet and the microwave. This was the dawning of the Women's Lib movement, and the technological advances made their movement possible in a way that the suffragettes could not have even imagined.
There's no point along the timeline of Modern Progress where I can criticize my forebears for the choices that they made that created and fed our current environmental challenges. None of them were evil people intent on destroying the planet. Nor, I suppose, were the companies who invented, manufactured and sold the convenient foods and gas-guzzling cars that they bought. They were simply providing what my parents and grandparents wanted. We all thought, in our own way, that we were making choices that made life better.
And yet it still pains me to think of anyone intentionally poisoning our air, water and land with toxic substances. I want to lash out and blame the people who turned a blind eye to the dead fish lining the banks downstream of their plants, to the demise of songbirds because of pesticides they produced and to the lives shortened because of exposure to toxic chemicals. I want to blame those bad companies, their owners and managers for putting us on the path of over consumption and valuing production at the peril and detriment of nature today. Surely, they are the ones to blame.
However, I recall and must confess what I myself knew. In college in the early eighties, I majored in interdisciplinary ecology, a program through which I considered the challenges facing our planet from sociological, economical, philosophical, religious, biological and geological perspectives. I read Silent Spring (1962), Small is Beautiful (1973) and Diet for a Small Planet (1981). I did a term paper on the impacts of global overpopulation. I knew as well as anyone the impacts of our modern lifestyle on our planet.  In 1981, I was even featured in an article in the local suburban newspaper which read, "Stephens College sophomore Cheryl Leutjen of Gladstone is concerned about the world's dwindling energy resources and deteriorating environment - and she is determined to do something about it."

What did I do about it? I bought a car that achieved 50 mpg, a phenomenal efficiency even by today's standards (and nothing short of miraculous in 1985). I bought my fruits and vegetables from the local natural foods market. I recycled my bottles and cans, which, back then, meant taking them to a recycling center. I gave money to Greenpeace. And I went on to live my life, pretty much the same as anyone else. Hardly the kind of bold action implied in the article.
Here I am, nearly thirty years later, wondering how I could possibly have failed to employ that determination I once had. I recently watched "An Inconvenient Truth," and I considered the sharp contrast between my life and Al Gore's. He, too, learned about global warming in college, several years before I even graduated high school. He has been talking to people about it ever since. Because of Al Gore's political offices, he has had the position and name recognition to reach vast audiences. However, lack of notoriety is not an excuse for my silence, my inaction.
For this, I was chastising myself before stepping into the hummery. How can I blame anyone else for their contributions to environmental degradation when I, who admittedly had all the knowledge, as well as the passion to make a difference, went to sleep for nearly thirty years?
Sitting here in the healing hummery I understand that it is time to forgive everyone, myself included, for the parts we have played. Blaming and berating ourselves and others solves nothing. The past is simply the vehicle that has driven us to the Present moment. I do not curse my car for taking me to a place I wish I had not gone. I put myself back in the driver's seat and chart another course.

The busy, busy bees humming all around me are telling me, simply, to get back to work, and that there's no more time for pointing fingers or self-flagellation. We have all played a part in creating the conditions on Earth and we all have the opportunity to engage in the healing of our relationship with her.  I take a moment to speak a word of gratitude for my nature partners who are entreating me to act. Indeed, it is only in partnership with all All of Us that we may chart a new course for our existence on Earth.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Dear Universe

Dear Universe,
Thank you for the purple explosion of flowers on the jacarandas in my neighborhood today.  The profusion of beauty made up of the abundance of such tiny things as the petals of a jacaranda bloom remind me just how beauty is created.  Rarely is it that just one single, perfect thing causes me to sigh and say, "how beautiful!" More often, it is the conglomeration of several, perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of little things, not all of which are perfect, as some of the blooms on the jacaranda tree are not-yet-blossomed and some are brown, but the sum experience of which is one of sheer Beauty.
 
 
And so am I made up of millions of little parts, some of which have not yet blossomed and some of which have withered, and when I focus on any of those, I do not see my Beauty.  It is only in that rare moment when I see the totality of who I AM, including the unseen parts, the loving Spirit and the wisdom in the faded places, do I see the Beauty of Me.
 
And so I give thanks to Nature for reminding me what Beauty truly is.  It is not the made-up face that advertisers try to sell me, nor the air-brushed magazine models that I despairingly compare myself to.  It is the sum of the All, the extraordinary experience and exquisiting expression of Wholeness. 
 
Beauty, then, is an experience, not a thing.  It is the experience of watching the sun dissolving into the horizon, a single orb now melting into fiery crimsons, golds and tangerines, surrendering its hard shape for an ooze like an ice cream left on the sidewalk on a summer day.  Would the sunset still be beautiful were I not watching, witnessing? Surely, it would for the consciousness of the Earth delights in sunsets as much as I do.  For me to know Beauty, however, it is essential that I participate.  I cannot know the Beauty of the by sitting in my office and reading about it online, even if there were a website called  TheSun.com.  It is only when I go to the window, the roof or the lawn when I may realize the Beauty of the sunset.  In that moment, Beauty is the collaboration of all of us: the Sun and Earth and Sky and me, all dancing in communion with the Divine. No air brushing required. 
 
I am grateful for the invitation to dance.  I give a standing ovation for today's flowery displays.  Thank you for keeping the flowers blooming and the hummingbirds humming.
Love,
Cheryl


Monday, May 13, 2013

A mother's day

The night before Mother's Day, I posted on Facebook that I was "gearing up for my day of sleeping in, receiving adulation and general sloth." I did sleep in, by my definition, though I was awake long before my children stirred. So, as in recent years past, I patiently waited in bed, reading my book and enjoying the coffee my husband brought me. When it came time to go to church and still neither of them had roused, I got up and got dressed. "Aren't you going to wake them up to go with you?" my husband asked. He knew I had given the kids three suggestions of what I'd like for Mother's Day, and Suggestion #1 was that they go to church with me. "No," I said, "it's not a 'gift' if I have to make them go."

On the way to church, alone in the car, I shed a few tears, recalling the days when they couldn't wait to wake me up at the crack of dawn on Mother's Day, eagerly presenting me with handmade cards and gifts and a breakfast tray. One year, Chloe even made a menu for me on which she had listed every thing in the kitchen which she knew how to make and serve. "Well, those days were sweet," I thought. "and they are still thoughtful kids. I know they were up late last night. I'm sure they will have something for me when I get home."

On the way home from church, I stopped off at the Eagle Rock and shared a blessing for Mother Earth with her. I vowed to blast all of my feelings of disappointment out into the atmosphere to be burnt up by the blazing hot sun.

When I got home, however, one child was still asleep and the other was engrossed in a video game. Since it was scorching hot outside, I decided against reminding either of them of Suggestion #2: clean up the side patio. So I picked up my book, and I enjoyed another hour of reading.

Then my husband came in and said, "The hot water heater is still leaking. A LOT. Do you want to go to Home Depot with me to look for a new one?" "Not really." I sighed, "but I will go if you want me to go. " He nodded, and said, "we can get something to eat while we're out."

The four of us piled in the van and headed toward Home Depot. "We could get sushi for dinner," my husband said as we passed by our favorite spot. I recalled Suggestion #3: picnic dinner with takeout from Four Cafe, the local organic restaurant, on my favorite hilltop spot. The water heater situation made that one impossible, I realized, and sushi would be a good treat, too. "Sure," I said.

After debating over tankless versus traditional, we settled on a choice and bought it. I took a picture of it and smirkily posted "my Mother's Day gift" on Facebook. We went out to load it in the back of van, only to discover that it was full of the garage sale leftovers I had forgotten to deliver to GoodWill. Just another Mother's Day surprise. We managed to squeeze the hot water tank between the boxes and brought it home.

"We can let the old tank drain while we go out to eat," David said. "Where will we drain the water?" I asked. We had drained the old tank a few days ago, to assess its condition, and I insisted we put the water to beneficial use, rather than release it into the storm sewer. Water is precious in Southern California, especially in the summer. We had used that water to wash our cars in the driveway. I wanted no part of any hard labor today, however, so I resigned myself to letting the water go.

When we got home, however, David asked "Who wants to take a hot shower before I drain the tank?" Great idea, I thought. It's a beneficial use and both kids would benefit from a scrub-down. Then I remembered that a friend had left a message saying that her son had head lice. "Let me check the kids for lice before we throw them in the shower," I responded. Sure enough, I spotted some tiny bugs on one of the heads. I doused the head in the sticky goo and David helped me comb them out. We sent both kids off to their respective showers, with the bug-free child protesting loudly. "I was going to take my shower before bed!" "We won't have any hot water then," David reminded them.
 
With the hot water supply dwindling, I loaded up the washing machine with the potentially bug-infested bedding. While the kids showered, one sobbing loudly, I poured myself a glass of wine and I went outside and sat with my cedar tree and told her my troubles. In the fresh air under the shade of her branches, they seemed petty and small. I vowed, once again, to let them go.

We got in the car to go to dinner and David asked again, "Sushi?" My resolution vanished and my heart sank. "That's fine," I said though I'm sure my tone suggested that it was not. Instead, he drove to Suggestion #3, Four Cafe, and my spirits lifted again. How well he knows me. How well he treats me.

I enjoyed a sumptuous salad and peach cobbler, while musing over the unusual events of my Mother's Day: No breakfast in bed, no homemade cards, the hot water heater leak, the head lice, the loads of laundry, the trip to Home Depot, and the sullen silence of my children during dinner. They both had their noses in books, and the only words spoken by either of them were, "I have homework to do. Can we go home now?" Still, I got to eat a fantastic salad and even better cobbler from my favorite local restaurant. I was grateful.

We went home and David got the old hot water heater dislodged and the new one installed. It was the second major home repair of the weekend for my husband, having changed out a faulty capacitor on the aiconditioning unit the day before. We're lucky he has the knowledge and ability to tackle so many home repairs, though it means he didn't have much of a 'weekend off.' Chores completed, we sat down to watch a recorded television show before bed.
"Mom, can you rub my back?" my son asks, standing in the doorway and rubbing his eyes. I started to grouse, and then I looked at him, and I really saw him. I felt the love in his heart, and I melted. "Of course," I say. As I stood in on a narrow bench, so I could reach him in his top bunk bed to rub his back, I thought about how truly blessed I am to have this sweet teenager who still wants me to rub his back and how grateful I am for the the lovely girl in the next room who has assured me, after all, that my gift "is coming."

This was truly was a mother's day, I realized. Being a mother doesn't mean perfect days, receiving adulation or neatly-wrapped gifts. It means a two-way street of unconditional love, even when life is messy, even when tempers flare and even the hot water heater goes out and you discover head lice on "your day."

My gift isn't "coming;" it's something I receive every day, in the form of the heartfelt "I love you!" from my son as he rushes off to school and the "Mom, do you want to read with me?" from my daughter at night. In the eager anticipation of this day, I missed the sheer beauty of the Every Day. Mother's Day isn't something to be celebrated only the second Sunday in May.  I am a mother every day, and I vow to celebrate it whenever I am moved to tears because of something my son or daughter does, says, or simply IS.  Even if it's October or it's a Tuesday or it's blustery cold outside, I hope I remember to say, "thank you for making my mother's day."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Who's Teaching Whom?

Butt in the air, nose an inch from the carpet, I burst out laughing. Loudly. I'm on the slant board at the YMCA in Glendale, hanging my upper half off of it, in hopes that my achy lower back will release. The workout room is relatively empty, so there aren't many witnesses, though I don't much care if there are. This is not, by far, my biggest outburst here. I've been coming here to dance with Darcel for years. Freed by the emotional release of her give-it-all-you-got classes, I have worked these machines with big tears rolling down my cheeks more times than I can remember. From the sadness over closing of my beloved store, to the panic over my mom's cancer diagnosis, across the daily trials of raising children and throughout all my days of grief over her passing, I have worked out a lot more than my muscles in this space.

Still, it does occur to to me that laughing loudly in this precarious position is a bit unusual, even for me. My moment of mirth is inspired by a sudden recollection of my son's pained expression from the night before. Cameron is an avid Minecraft player, and he wants nothing more than for me and his father to play with him in the virtual worlds he creates there. When he invites me, I protest that "I don't like video games," and " I just don't get it." Still, he persists. And I am so grateful, because I continually remind myself, I am blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with him in his world. I'm honored to be invited.

A couple of months ago, he invited me in to his room for an introductory lesson in the operation of basic controls in Minecraft. I was so slow to learn that he got increasingly frustrated. He finally dumbed-down the lesson to match my skills. "Let's find SOMEthing you can play, Mom." He found a nice bubble popping game that I actually enjoyed. I think I could have mastered it, given the chance. After a few minutes of play, however, the realization of the level to which this lesson had sunk came over him. He shook his head and took the controller from me. "That's enough for today, Mom," he said, and ushered me out of his room. His disappointment in my performance weighed heavily on both of us.

Eventually, the pain of that experience waned and he was ready to try again. "So when are you coming for another lesson in Minecraft, Mom?" he asked, repeatedly. "Whenever you muster the courage to try again," I say, only half-kidding. Last week, he took a page from my play book and he notified me that he had scheduled an appointment for us on Sunday at 4pm.

Cameron has always always struggled with transitions. When he was a toddler, I learned to give him the 20-, 5- and 1-minute warnings: "we're leaving soon," then, "we're leaving in five minutes," then "gather your toys, it's time to go," and finally, "get in the car now" to avoid the inevitable tears and tantrums. Now that he's 13, he prefers to have warnings several days in advance, however. "We're going to visit with friends at their house on Friday night," I Skype to him on Tuesday. "Remember we go to Veronica's house tonight," I tell him on the way to school. "Three hours until we leave for Veronica's," I say at the school pickup place. "Time to get in the car now..."

I'm pleased, then, to receive his Skype message of "Minecraft class Sunday at 4pm," he Skypes me on Thursday afternoon. How nice to be invited, for a change! "How about 4:30?" I Skype back. "I am volunteering at the Community Garden event until 4:00." Long pause. He types quickly, my son, so I know he's contemplating his response carefully. Too snarky, and I might cancel altogether. Too nice, and, well, he just might make himself sick. "If that's the best you can do" is what eventually appears on my screen.

I was running late on Sunday after the community garden event, but eventually Cameron's Dad, David, and I assembled in Cameron's bachelor pad accommodations in his bedroom for our lesson. Cameron beams at his most unlikely students. He summons the most patient explanations of pickaxe capabilities and strengths that he can muster. I struggle to follow along.

I totally understand the allure of Minecraft, and, if it had existed when I was his age, I'm sure I would have been all over it. The opportunity to create to new worlds with a panoply of tools and resources is alluring indeed. What kid wouldn't want to be able to create a world where your home is filled with your favorite games, and there are no teachers or parents telling you what to do all of the time, and you can eat pizza for every meal, and you can let a pig roam the palace and mine gold whenever you feel like it? Who wouldn't want to fire up a roller coaster of your own imagination with the magical redstone? Who wouldn't want to have the opportunity to teach your dumb parents about something that you do so well and they just can't seem to understand?

My good intentions don't always match my skill level, however. Yet Cameron seems encouraged by our enthusiasm for his subject this evening. David even has the comprehension level to ask questions that, judging from Cameron's facial expressions, he feels are worthy of his time. "Yes, Dad, there is the possibility of inengag a ekioghen with a weilalk " is what it sounds like to me. I just nod and smile, so happy that my boys are doing something together.I'm glad for the opportunity to sit back and admire my bright son, working in his element. I'm thrilled to be included.

"Here's a link to your test," is the Skype message I receive the next day. "It's only five questions. Please try to complete it right away." Eager to stay in his good graces (there are so many, many, many ways that I stray out), I click on the link immediately. "What's the first level of pickaxe that can mine iron?" is the first question. Already I'm in over my head. I remember that he went over this. I remember that he emphasized the strengths of each level of pickaxe. I even remember that there was something nonsensical (to my geologic mind) about the order of it, but what was it? Wood can cut stone? Or was it gold can cut iron? Rats. I have to guess on the answer to the very first question.

I read the second question, and I realize that I am as unsure about it as the first.  I feel better about my response to question #3 and I'm sure I've nailed the answers to questions 4 and 5.

A couple of hours later, I come down from my office in the attic, and I poke my head into Cameron's room. "Time to get ready for bed," I say. He turns to look at me with a most pained expression. "You got two questions wrong, Mom. TWO out of FIVE." I can see that this information is causing him emotional, intellectual and even physical distress, as if he might double over any moment as he did when his appendix ruptured. "How can you possibly get two out of five very easy questions wrong, Mom?" he asks plaintively. I see pity in his grey eyes and bewilderment in his face. He has done his best as a teacher, and the student has failed the exam. I feel deep remorse. I apologize profusely, knowing full well that it's not an apology that he wants.

It is his look of grief and pain that comes to me again as I am bent over the slant board at the Y. While his expression of disappointment was heavy and sorrowful the night before, it strikes me in this moment as strangely and hilariously funny, in the way that only something which is desperately - and wholly - inappropriately funny can. My daughter ChloĆ« and I recently stifled laughs at the end of the memorial service for a dear friend's parent because AutoCorrect changed my text message from "we're going to the reception now" to "we're going to the revolution now." That would be funny enough on its own; coupled with the "MUST-NOT-LAUGH-HERE" element, however, made it the kind of funny where milk comes out of your nose, even if you're not drinking any. Even if you're lactose intolerant and haven't drank milk in years. 

Cameron's doleful expression revealed just how much he wants me to learn Minecraft so that we can play together, so that I can be a part of his world. I'm thrilled he wants me there. The last thing I'd ever want to do is to crush his hope for me, especially at this critical juncture of his transition into teenhood. And yet, here I am in this most awkward position, in a semi-public place, howling at his clear expression of pain over my pathetic inability to grasp even the most basic concepts of something he finds as natural as when we were first teaching him to walk. He looked at us then in the same way I look at him now: "I get that it's cool to do what you do, and I appreciate that you think I can do it, too. I just have no idea where to begin."

When I regain my composure, I ask myself, "why, exactly, was that so freaking funny?" It occurs to me now that, perhaps, as is so often the case with humor, it's because I see myself in him. One of my greatest fears as a parent is that I'm not teaching my children all that they will need to know to be self-sufficient, self-supporting, kind and compassionate, practically grounded spiritually guided adults. "I should be making them floss more, cook more, clean more, get outside more, shower more.." and a whole host of other 'shoulds' too numerous to mention.

I'm laughing because I take my teaching job too seriously. This job of teaching my children is not at all like a traditional school where the system sets the teacher up as Knower of All Things and the role of the student is to memorize and regurgitate. Children - and all of us - learn best by observing and then doing. I am doing what I want them to model, though I'm not perfect, and that's part of the lesson, too. "Do what you feel called to do, take some time to assess, learn from your 'mis-takes' and get back out there and go do again." That's what I'm modeling, and that's what they are learning. The simple fact that Cameron set an appointment with me, followed up the lesson with a survey, both things I do on a regular basis to connect with my children, means he IS learning from the best I have to offer. Offer, invite, follow up, assess, reconfigure the lesson, offer...repeat.
 
 I am grateful to know that I am teaching what I want my children to learn, after all. I am overjoyed that Cameron is such an asute learner. And I am blessed that he is my Teacher.