Saturday, February 26, 2011

Life is hard enough

And then there are those times when I think: Life is hard enough.

Why make things more difficult?

As I watch a painful unraveling of so many things, relationships, ideas, services to the vulnerable, ... I wish for a simpler time, or an easier way of life. Often I find myself caught in the throws of building knots around the very thing I want to make better.

Sometimes, I even think that I can't take the difficulties any more. They are too much to bear.

This week has been one of those weeks. When I think it is hard, somehow there is more to it that adds more suffering. I can easily feel overwhelmed.

My prayer and meditation practices are very useful when I become aware of the constrictions, the fear. This business of cultivating loving-kindness or compassion towards myself, as well as, towards the source of pain has been so helpful.

One breath at a time, one step at a time, one cry at a time, one conversation at a time, one hug at a time. These simple, little motions are all I have to offer.

Moving through these times, I have found openings of love. There is nothing like a hug from a child with an "I love you." Or, a partner who hugs with every cell in his body. Or, a supervisor who really means it when she says that she will do her best for staff and clients. These simple graces pierce the heart.

Love is working like that these days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Holding the space

I share this little story as a Valentine gift to my meditation group.

On a snowy day this winter, I showed up alone at the little church social hall where we meet weekly for meditation. While this was our regular time and place to meet, the weather and roads were not at all cooperative.
I set up several chairs, lit a candle, and read a short reading on meditating where you are. I said a little prayer inviting all those who couldn't be there and, as we often joke, set aside a chair for The Guest.

After our usual 45 minutes of meditation, I dinged the bell and bowed. Then I said aloud the piece we say about dedicating the merit of our practice:
To all sentient beings,
May we be free from inner and outer harm,
May we have calm clear minds and peaceful loving hearts,
May we know Joy, Wonder, Wisdom, and Compassion,
In this life, just as it is.

Once more, I rang the bell and bowed. Then I blew out the candles, said goodbye to The Guest, and went home.

After a year of watching my fellow meditators bounce back from broken bones, heart attacks, heart aches and hospitalizations, I want you to know there will always a place for you in my heart.

Happy Valentines Day!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The need for creativity

My youngest sister and I started doing Julia Cameron's book, "Finding Water: The Act of Perserverance" (I initially mistyped it as persuasion) together after talking about being in a winter funk. She does collages and mosaic and the jazz sax. I write and play the harp. We were in a creative dry spot, hoping that this would jump-start our langishing projects.

So for the past few weeks, we call each other on Sunday evening: me from the Appalachian mountains and she in Seattle. I call her first. She tends to go for a walk while talking to me from her cell. She calls me back on my land line so that she can hear me better while I clean up from supper before settling into a couch with the writings from the previous week.

Cameron typically incorporates three things into her creative process training: journal three pages each morning, walk at least one-half hour a week, and take yourself out on an artist date alone. My sister is getting her stuff in. I am not.

I'm very good at doing the three-page writing assignment. I often write three or four pages, and then do additional writing during the day. The walk is a challenge because my feet bother me and the snow/ice has been a hassle. The foot thing is getting worse with bunions that started in my 30's. (Thanks, genes.)

The bigger challenge has been to go on an artist date. It should be no big deal. But I can't seem to figure out where to go or what to do. A week ago, I went to Michaels' and Ben Franklin's to look at art/craft supplies for ideas. That counts. Truthfully, it was uninspiring. But as this week was coming to an end, I finally decided to go to the local art museum.

It's a very nice center. But I was already buzzing from a stressful morning at work before heading over.

I got to the center and realized that it had been some time since visiting there. A new parking deck was nearby and all the area parking was metered. I've been so spoiled by free or very inexpensive parking in my neck of the woods that this put me on edge. Besides, my history with this town and parking wasn't too good. I seemed destined to get at least one parking ticket a year because my meter would run out before I'd get back and the town is plastered with parking cops.

I found a spot nearby and entered the center. The good news is that the museum is free. As I walked around, my gut rumbled and my chest ached. Surely, this was supposed to be fun!

Walking, looking, enjoying the abstract brightly colored works over the more traditional scenes, making my way around the walls, appreciating the light on some works of art more than others... up the stairs, I found a small room with a show called, "The Devout."

The artist used gypsum to make religious figures and named them according to their faith. The feminine forms were long, sweeping figures with arms stretch outward, while the masculine forms looked much more like real, literal, if not somewhat exaggerated sinuous, human bodies. The women looked etherial and the men starved. It was the feminine forms that interested me; they were the ones that looked beautiful, graceful.

I always wanted to be that kind of ballet graceful. Hair pulled back. Long and thin, but strong. Beautiful.

Sigh. I can't handle thinking about it - too much to ask for. It's not my body type for one thing. I like food more than exercise. My hair won't cooperate with the dancer look. Who am I kidding?!

The critical/judgemental voice kept at it.

Many years ago, maybe 15 now, I took a workshop at a Quaker conference and got to collage during a session. One of the images that I chose was of a female Native American figure's carved stone face looking up with rain/tears running down her round cheeks. Looking at those feminine faces tilted toward the heavens in the art museum shook loose that old image from my mental file drawer.

I'm worried that like Lot's Wife, who turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at what she was leaving behind - her family, community, in the midst of great troubles - that perhaps, I am just as stuck in that in between place in the great void between the past and the future. Is this the lot of women who care too much?

Before I scare myself silly, I think: there is only now.

And in this now, I want to be free - to create, to use my hands, to work with clay, to walk fearlessly in the snow along the river, to find my friend the owl, to hang out with my grandson, to keep practicing the harp and get better at bringing out sweet tones. I will keep working at helping people find more peaceful and loving ways of being in the world, because that, too, is a creative act. But I can see now, that I cannot lose myself in the problems of others.

What is the necessary condition for breaking free?

Maybe, I have to save myself. Or, what if I have to lose myself by shattering the old image? I just don't know the difference anymore.

I keep making the mistake of thinking that it doesn't matter, or that time spent on projects takes money and I need to make money, or that if it isn't good enough then why bother before I even get started, or any number of distractions.

But, if not now, when?