Monday, December 31, 2012

Buds on Bare Branches

"The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don't have that, we will never grow." Maya Angelou

"We must drink from the deep well of things as they are." David Whyte

In a few hours I'll meet with a friend to walk and talk about the year that is ending and what we'd like for ourselves beginning tomorrow. I want to forgive myself for dwelling on who I am not and how I wish people in my life were just a little bit different. I don't have to do that and in fact I need to knock it off--especially when I gnaw on bones chewed decades ago. I want to celebrate myself for growing and finding joy in art and writing and delight in what I am creating. I want to share with my friend all the things I'm grateful for. Then I want to spin dreams about what can be, what can come to pass if I'm willing to stretch and forgive and celebrate.

Tomorrow is only tomorrow. There isn't magic in a new year, but it is a demarcation if we want it to be between our intentions and our willingness to step into those intentions with actions we can believe in.

Baruch ata adonai...thank you for this day. Thank you for the sunshine of the morning and for the tiny buds on bare branches. Thank you for the courage you have instilled in me to move forward with enthusiasm and joy. Thank you for teachers you've put in my path. Thank you for being with me in difficult times and for leading me to those who helped me move through. Thank you for the gifts of sight and sound and smell and touch and taste. And also, thank you for helping me recover this prayer when I thought I had deleted it mid thought. You are a blessing.  Amen

Friday, December 28, 2012

So You're Human. So Guess What.

"Human beings are constantly trying to take courageous paths in their lives: in their marriages, in their relationships, in their work and with themselves. But the human way is to hope that there's a way to take that courageous step--without having one's heart broken. And it's my contention that there is no secure path a human being can take without breaking his or her heart." David Whythe

My first thought is to wish someone told me this when I was a teenager. There's a heartbreak from that era that haunted and ran my life for decades. I have heartbreak regarding my kids, my marriage, my sister, the way I acted as a kid to my parents and the way the kid part of me acted when I was too old to act that way. I have heartbreak about how I was and the courage I didn't have. The list is plump and capacious, and the land of regret is definitely not a cozy place to visit and then revisit.

If we're traveling the human path, our hearts get broken. We risk and are disappointed, most often with ourselves. We blame. We are found wanting. We try to forgive, and we move on. And we learn. I would have missed so much if I hadn't had the courage to make myself vulnerable, to risk, to try, to take an unpopular stand, to go where I wanted to go without training wheels.

There is no secure path. There are no get out of jail cards. So just get out there. Check out your heart's desires.  Know that you may be disappointed and also know that you will be giddy with accomplishments.

Baruch ata adonai...thank you for making me human. Thank you for waking me this morning. Thank you for helping me learn how to pray, and to be brave, and to learn life is full of everything. Open my eyes. Open my heart to a willingness to experience even if it means it might be broken again. I'm still here and I am grateful. Amen

Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Heart's Desire

"In a world dominated by perky little girls with sunny dispositions and endless wells of optimism, nothing soothes the soul quite like a foul-tempered old lady...spitting fire." Heather Havrilesky

Here it is: one of my heart's desires. I see it now. I am woman who doesn't think of herself as a foul-tempered lady but who nevertheless challenges years of training to be nice, and overcomes her perky-little-girlness to lead us forward.

Baruch ata adonai..."You used to be like that when you were younger. You're still perky, but then you spit fire." True, but no one liked it very much. I was never elected prom queen. "And you still think being nice will get you somewhere? Live with it. You are a spitfire and you don't even like going to proms and little-girl-cuteness is most unbecoming to a woman your age. Look in the mirror and love all of who you are." Wow! Amen

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gift Yourself Your Heart's Desire

"Whenever I get disoriented or not sure of myself, it seems I bring my whole life into question. It becomes very painful...."  Natalie Goldberg

I am a past master at being able to bring my life into question. Fresh off feeling sorry for myself about Christmas, the end of one year and the beginning of the next were subject to minute and depressing analysis and new resolve. Always new resolve. I knew well how to feel sorry for myself and find new ways to try to change my pattern. Mostly, and I want to write this in teeny tiny print, mostly find new ways to get other people to be different.

What changed my disgusting cycle was to learn more about my heart's desire and give myself what it desired. Year around. Once it was a little gnome like figure I called Seymore who reminded me to climb to a virtual mountain top so I could see more. Another time when I felt puny and needy, I bought a small stuffed doll who still sits on a shelf in my office. As I look at her now, I realize she is a cousin to the little ladies I like to draw. It could be easy to acquire a bunch of junk this way, but that didn't happen. I wasn't seduced by stuff. I was seduced by actually hearing my heart ask for what it wanted, what I alone could give it.

At the end of the year we think about how we want the next to be. Skip the resolutions, the good intentions, and think about gifts you would like to give yourself. Big and small. Tangible and intangible. Our hearts usually aren't asking for big ticket items. My heart loves things to look forward to. So far on my list are several trips already planned, but also the gift of taking myself seriously about art, the gift of feeling okay about spreading the word about this blog, the gift of thinking big, bigger. All year I'm on the look out and adding to my list. What would make me feel really good about myself? Today it just could be a gift of pastry from a shop that is much too close to where I work out. 

Baruch ata biggest gift of all is my morning conversation with you. Sometimes I'm not sure I'm really talking to you. Sometimes it feels a whole lot like self indulgence, until I get to a point where I'm sure I am hearing you. Like now. You're telling me that's enough. It doesn't help to look too closely, to analyze too much. "Isn't that what you're really talking about here? So just say, Amen." Well OK then. Amen 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How to Hear What You Don't Know You Know

"Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn't know you know. It is a learned skill to force yourself to articulate your life, your present world or your possibilities for the future. We need the same skill as an art of surival. We need to overhear the tiny but very consequential things we say that reveal ourselves to ourselves." David Whyte, Questions That Have No Right To Go Away

When I write or paint and I'm really cooking, no thoughts of the world or my family or life's dailiness enter my space. If you asked, I would say, "No, I wasn't thinking about anything in particular," but I emerge refreshed, knowing myself in a new way. Sometimes I can even put words to it. All of us who spend our days and dreams creating what never existed before know we often get to parts of ourselves previously unknown.

The quote I start with is something I want to explore, and the prayer I end up with surprises me. If I write from my head trying really hard to come up with a great piece, it never happens. Prayer itself doesn't come from the furrowed brow of intense reflection. It comes from entering a space of letting go. It was this kind of overhearing that brought me to write prayers. I still don't understand how it happened and I trusted completely that my direction was clear.

Baruch ata adonai...each time I sit to pray I wonder how to start and where I'll end up. Often I'm hoping for a great big technicolor digitally enhanced bit of wisdom heralded by a prelude of heavenly music. Then I have to sit a really long time to calm down and get real. What would I do if you gave me a too-big-to-climb boulder of insight? So today, I hope I can pat down the hubris, and remember to stay aware. Glimpses of what I need to know come like shooting stars, and if the light is too bright or the noise is too loud, I'll miss them. Hold on. Let me turn down the volume. It's time to get my adorable brain out of the way. Just sit? Be calm? Breathe in peace? Thanks I was really getting carried away. Sometimes praying is so much fun. Amen

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Conversations

"In Ireland, where I spend a great deal of time, they say,'The thing about the past is that it isn't the past.' Sometimes we forget that we don't have to choose between the past or the present or the future. We can live all of these levels at once. (In fact, we don't have a choice about the matter.) David Whyte

We walk through the door of the holiday season carrying packages of joys and resentments as decorated, messy, and entwined as the paper and ribbon will be once the presents we've brought are opened. Our inner conversation is about who we were and who we are now. Sometimes we can't be who we are now with people who knew us best when we were more unformed. We are who we were and we are who we are now, and we're everything we want to be as well. We are our hopes for a peaceful holiday and we are our fears about it. We want to be there, and we look forward to being gone. All of it is inside us, and the way we anticipate the next holiday season says a lot about who we will become. It's as confusing as the overlapping conversations of a Robert Altman movie, and you have all the talking parts.

Baruch ata adonai...may I be peaceful with myself and others. May I forgive myself and others. May I be easy with who I am and who I was and who I will be. Amen

Friday, December 21, 2012

Opening to Myself

"When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
David Whyte, Sweet Darkness from House of Belonging

"The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. You're so exhausted because you can't be wholehearted at what you're doing...." 
Brother David Steindl-Rast

Last night I looked into the dark sky for stars, and there were none. This morning the sky is red. The expected storm, not yet here, still builds. When I read the words of the two wise men above, I realized I'm onto something. I'm not struggling to push my way out of a dark storm filled box. It helps that my family and I are healthy. In the past the dark months have been very hard for me. Early this year I opened a door and art and music and writing and healing rolled in. Bits of what I've been doing for years combined to fill my days with gratitude, hopefulness, and patience. I'm working hard on the patience part.

Baruch ata adonai...thank you for this time in my life. Beginning and ending my day with prayer and gratitude has opened me to myself. Amen

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Worry, It's the Rhythm of Life Settling In

"The longest night pulls us into the resting season. Quiet land teaches by example: that which rises must also sleep; that which sings is silent, too, or the rhythm of life is lost." Jessie Montgomery, from the We'Moon Date Book 2004

Tomorrow could be a really dark day or we might find the Mayans were right. The big thing about tomorrow for me is that the next day marks the beginning of days getting longer. Incrementally minute by minute there will be more daylight. It'll take a long time before we notice it much, but eventually, a few months from now, it will amount to something. Finally I'm getting it. This isn't so much a time for hibernation as it is for knowing that what feels like working in the dark, working without seeming to  get anywhere will, day by day, become something entirely new I've never seen before. After years of railing against the dark, this year I hope to accept it for what it is: an important part of my artistic growth and lifecycle.

Baruch ata adonai...may I look at the dark in a new way: not as something to fear, not as something to put my head down and get through, not as bearing the fog of depression, but rather as an opportunity: a time of no expectations. Amen

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do What You Can Do

"Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be revelation." Eileen Caddy 

Every morning I wander from bed to my computer to find out who I am. First thing in the morning, uncontaminated by world events or what my calendar directs me to do, I can begin anew, if I choose. No matter what, I treasure this part of my day. In these few minutes I find out if I'm hopeful, happy, weighed down by yesterday or willing to be adventurous and look at this day for what it is. If I feel off center, I meditate for a few minutes to even myself out, and then I pray to be able to deal with whatever comes my way.

Baruch ata adonai...I look at what I wrote and think I could have done better. The fact is I did what I could do. May I be generous with myself and others and remember we all do what we can do. Thank you for this quiet sunny morning, for the box of fresh vegetables on my door step, and for the opportunity to meet with old friends for lunch. Amen

Monday, December 17, 2012

First Thoughts

"First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thoughts, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash....You must be a great warrior when you contact first thoughts...." Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

My first thought today was sitting in a corner of a holiday party with Annie discussing her two big front teeth and another wiggling one holding space for her future. She said she only liked making small smiles, so we went off to the gorgeous mirror filled master bathroom to practice smiles and see which one she thought fit best.

At a time like this when the days are filled with darkness and the daylight shattered by incredible horror, I'm grateful my first thought this morning could be of the silliness and the tenderness and the upmost importance of practicing smiles with my granddaughter. 

Baruch ata adonai...I wasn't raised with the thought of you causing the kind of grief we have seen this past week, though there wasn't much talk of you at all when I was growing up. I hope in someway people are comforted by you. If this happened to me, I wonder which side I would fall on. I'd like to be able to say I believe with perfect faith. It must make what happens in life easier if it is possible to explain the unexplainable. Amen

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Time to Answer Your Questions

"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." Zora Neale Hurston

"Something was working deep inside me and, like a tropical storm, it gathered momentum before hitting me full force with its message: you are a woman in search of an adventure, said the voice inside. Take the risk. Say "Yes" to life instead of "No." Alice Steinbach

I inhaled Alice Steinbach's books "Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman" and "Educating Alice." I was in my fifties as was she, and I too was a woman in search of an adventure. I wish I'd written a fan letter to tell her I took her on my adventure to Mexico. Periodically over the next ten years I checked to see what new book she had written, but aside from a collection of articles, that was it. Friday after quoting her at the beginning of a blog post, I decided to google her, and there it was: Alice Steinbach Obituary. She died March 2012. She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Price for the Baltimore Sun. I haven't been able to stop thinking about her. Alice encouraged me to answer the questions. She inspired me to know I could travel alone. Her style of writing: straightforward and well crafted grounds me. She used colons very well.  I'm going to practice that. Thank you Alice. You are a blessing in my life.

Baruch ata adonai...Thank you for Alice Steinbach and Dave Brubeck. I remember them when I listen to Dave's music and read Alice's books for the third or fourth time. They've slipped into the air  I breathe and as long as I remember, they will always be a blessing for me. Amen

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ready, Reset, Go

"The best way to get approval is not to need it." Hugh Macleod
"Trying to be what you think everyone wants you to be--while at the same time convincing yourself this is the way you really are--can be exhausting." Alice Steinbach

What with being a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, sometimes I forget who I am: brave or timid, outgoing or shy, loving or withholding, smart or out of it, creative or trite, needed or redundant, truth teller or prevaricator, confident or still in high school. Sometimes the me that is reflected back through other's eyes amuses, shocks, surprises me. The holidays in particular can knock me off kilter, so today I'm unplugging myself from being anyone at all. I hope to talk to no one, even myself, for hours at a time, then take a shower and know that the true me can take off in many directions and it's best if I'm amused and loving until I sluice out the real me again.

Baruch ata may I forget who I want to be or who I think others expect me to be and know living life as myself will come naturally if I don't use too many big words to describe it. Amen

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Gift of Silence

"We hear nothing so clearly as what comes out of silence." David James Duncan

I'm tempted to leave the rest of this page empty. Please stop reading here, close your eyes and go to a place where silence enters your pores and swells inside until you begin to melt. I'm in the mountains on my favorite rock overlooking a vast expanse of lake now frozen and covered with snow. My foot prints are the only trace of human life. Birds fly above and my world is still. I breathe it in. I return knowing I must give myself this gift each day for the rest of the year. It's hard to hear when every spare space is filled with music or party or food or shopping or longing or regret or going or coming or cookies.

Baruch ata I will fill myself with moments of mountain silence and remember to be grateful. Thank you for the peace you've given me this morning. Amen

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pitching the Past

"David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that wasn't David." A possibly apocryphal comment by Michelangelo

"Our lives are so filled with junk from the's a wonder we can get up in the morning....If you want to grow, you gotta let go." Gail Blanke, Throw Out Fifty Things: clear the clutter, find your life.

I thought I might make a  list of all the things I'm donating today to the Cancer Shop, Goodwill, toys to be left at the fire station, and the used book store. But then what would I do with the list? I'm having fun deaccessioning my past knowing others will be delighted to make these things their own. Who wouldn't want that practically new full length turquoise down filled bathrobe or those bookends with black labrador dog faces on them! And there's more. At least fifty things more. I'm feeling good!! Wonder who I'll find when I clear away the clutter.

Baruch ata adonai...Wow, this is kind of like the feeling I had when I lost ten pounds last year and didn't miss them at all. I'm grateful to have had this inspiration, and I'm happy to be sharing my life by giving it away to others who will put new life into what no longer serves me. Amen

Monday, December 10, 2012

Early Morning Musings

I'm continuing on with my intention to travel lighter, and now I can see I'm going to have some empty cabinets and closets with gaping holes, and also that I'm going to have another kind of stuff to deal with. Does having a lot of stuff make me feel grounded, does it define my stability, my place, and does releasing it make me feel better or does it make me feel like I've lost something vital or that I could lift off, that my place here is only defined by my stuff? Lots of questions.

As I'm writing, I'm realizing it clearly defines who I used to be, and each has a memory connected to who I am now. I remember where each used to be years and years ago. Right now on a counter next to me is a brass box that was my grandmother's and was on a desk long ago passed on, an ornate green perfume bottle studded with green jewels around the bottom from another grandmother's bureau which stood in a closet I loved to study, a stuffed dog I think I received in my mid teens, a wooden toy gift my oldest son received when he was born. They've all been packed away and I haven't seen them for years. They clearly aren't who I am today. I want to find homes for them. I think I'll create a little ceremony to thank each one for being a part of my life and then pass them on.

Baruch ata adonai...I've begun a process that feels like a transition from one part of my life to another. May I hold it lightly. May I not make it into a referendum on choices I've made or anything more than the reality that it is time to let some things go. Help me keep it simple. Amen

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gentle Intentions to Start Me On My Way

"We are meant to midwife dreams for one another. We cannot labor in place of one another, but we can support the labor that each must undertake to birth his or her art and foster it to maturity." Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

This time of year I begin to make a list, not a list of resolutions, but of gentle doable intentions. This is a list of things no way beyond me, a small challenge in the beginning, and at the same time while I'm making the list, I like to take a step in that direction to make myself believable to me from the get go. I tell myself, this isn't something too hard to start right now.

I intend to travel lighter in 2013. Last night before I went to bed I made a down payment on this plan. In a heap are a portacrib, my black belt skirt which has hung unused for many years, a bed spread my son brought home from Thailand twenty years ago, an airbed which was never comfortable. It's a pile of stuff I'll never use again and is easy to let go. Still hanging in it's bag of 44 years is my going away dress. I'll leave it there a little while longer. I don't need to be ruthless with myself. I'm encouraging movement.

I intend to create more art so I signed up at Creative Every Day to challenge myself to expand my view of all the creative things I do each day. Today I am writing and I am making a small flag of celebration each day in December. In January I'll be ready to take out my acrylics and begin to warm up for my painting trip to Mexico at the end of the month.

I intend to be aware of all the opportunities to say thank you in my life, to appreciate what comes to me in abundance every day, and I'll continue to write three things I am grateful for each evening. I've been exchanging this list with a friend for more than a year. I'm going to see if I can encourage another friend or two to exchange with me in 2013. Thank you for coming to my blog, or inviting it to come to you as a subscriber. Thank you for adding energy to my writing.

Baruch ata adonai... thoughts of apple pie transformed my day a few days ago. The image still serves me in stressful times. Thank you. Thank you for telling me I'm not too full of myself. Thank you for helping me add more light to my life. Amen

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Better to Think about Apple Pie

 "We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet, from 1999 play, Boston Marriage

Busy, busy, busy. Insecure about presents for my grandchildren. Rain. Yes in California we must be grateful for that, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. Gracie was up at four this morning barking to get out, barking to eat, barking for attention. I didn't go back to sleep. I stayed in bed awhile thinking about how to change my mood from cranky to something comfortingly soft and gentle. What came to mind was apple pie. Tart apple pie. A big juicy warm slice of tart apple pie with flaky crust and slightly melting rich vanilla ice cream. Yes!!! Even a virtual slice of apple pie makes me feel happier.

Baruch ata day is filled with things I want to do and I want to feel good about myself. I don't want cranky to be my default attitude. Help me forget about thinking I didn't get enough sleep. Whether I did or not, it's still a good fourteen hours until bedtime, and I have a choice. Help me to remember I have a choice. If I get snappy, remind me I don't have to be that way. Remind me at the very least, I can always think about apple pie. Thank you. Amen

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sing Like You Know How

"How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?" Jane Swan

"The Joy of Singing." Isn't that a grand name for a class, a class requiring no talent, no performances and no homework! Each Wednesday I just go and sing and along the way learn about a lot about the structure of music. I've also recovered memories of my year of piano instruction when I was a kid and the memory of walking home from school singing when some older girls walking in the opposite direction made fun of me. My range isn't huge and I often need to shift octaves mid song, but I can see how, with practice, I can get much better. It never occurred to me that even someone my age who sings like I do can get better. That thought alone astounds me. Everything requires practice. I can't remember that too often. Or this: being open to new experiences requires being open.

Baruch ata adonai...thank you for being here to listen to me. Sticking with writing a morning prayer has created a flowering I never imagined and the encouragement to stick with myself. Thank you. Amen

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Way to Write a Prayer is to Sit and Write

"The way to be creative is to make stuff. You can't plan for creativity. You can only plan to do the work....Creativity only comes after the fact." Hugh MacLeod,

Most every morning I sit down to write a prayer. Often the blank page is my friend, and while writing, I learn things about myself I didn't know before. Somedays I sit and stare and get up and leave. I can't plan to write a prayer, I can only sit and offer up the possibility. Sometimes I look back amazed. Other times, well, there are other times. My commitment to myself is to show up every morning and see what happens.

Last week I wrote about saying Thank You. Before I left home I had already said thank you three times, once to Gracie, my Labradoodle, and I'm here to testify that I was amazed what a difference it made through out the day as I exceeded my meager goal of saying thank you five times. Also, I'm off the waiting list for the painting retreat in Mexico and will be heading to San Miguel de Allende at the end of January to paint my heart out.

Baruch ata adonai...whether sitting to write a prayer gives me an aha moment or not, I always feel better for sitting here with you with that intention in mind. Thank you for showing up too. Amen