personal reflection

Feed the Birds

Feed the Birds mom in meadow

 

My 85 year old mother is staying with me. Her two month visit has been extended to four months, owing in part to health challenges. Her cognition is erratic. Porpoising. Sometimes up and sometimes diving down.

 

During this volatile period, I’ve found myself without guideposts or markers. I wake up not knowing what to expect.  One day last week I couldn’t locate Mom. After searching the house and the neighborhood, I found her in the guest apartment, hiding from a nightmare.

 

The next day she cheerfully announced she needed a daily chore list. I complied. Sweep the driveway. Empty the dishwasher. Brush the dog. Refill the bird bath. Water the plants. Now she gets up and goes to her chores. She is much happier.

 

In this time of unknowing I’m finally driven to practice some of the mindfulness stances I’ve read about for years: be open, stay awake, connect, be present, surrender.

 

The most helpful practices are totally ordinary.  We watch classic movies (Mary Poppins last night) read Dave Barry columns aloud, walk, cook, do chores, and feed birds.  These are my main spiritual practices now. They’re teaching me gratitude, acceptance and trust– trust in the present moment. That it is enough.

 

Another kind of practices are teaching me about surrender.. These include paying attention to blood pressure and medications.  And encouraging reminiscences, which take a lot of time. And letting go of what I thought I had to be doing, my routine ways of working and being which feel less pressing now.

 

We have only a month left together before she returns to the East Coast. A month to watch the birds, to write down every one we see.  A month to marvel at the splashing and chirping, the beads of water glinting in tiny beaks, the drops rainbowing from ordinary brown wings.

 

robin note


 

 

 

 

 

 

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After the Fall

joan xray 2Conscience makes cowards of us all, the Bard observed. And after a fall and consequent wrist surgery and three days of hospitalization, I would add that that pain makes cowards of us too.

There was a point when a chasm opened, and I was a helpless crawling worm. Forget all my noble Buddhist thoughts about the difference between pain and suffering. Forget my prayers, my devotion to the 23rd Psalm, yogic breathing, meditation or mindfulness.  There was nothing I could do or think or imagine. No self to ravel up the loosening parts. No one home.

Except there was. My husband. Who came with tea and the next dose of pain meds.

We do need each other. Absolutely. Undeniably.

In my fitful meanderings yesterday I looked up the origins of the phrase “apple of your eye”. This mysterious phrase first appears in Hebrew Scripture, including a description of God’s care for Jacob. “He found him in a desert land, in a howling wilderness waste. He encircled him, cared for him, guarded him as the apple of his eye.”

Apparently this phrase was also translated as little man of the eye– the reflection of yourself that you see in another’s pupil if you are gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. I’m still pondering the depth and wonder of this metaphor of relationship. A sacramental image of intimate knowing.

Last night in a dream I was instructed to start writing. So I have. With one finger of my left hand.

I think there will be many more reflections to come.


 

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Tying A Rope To The Barn

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In the Mid West, every winter farmers used to tie a rope from their back door to their barn. During blizzards, when there were no landmarks, no paths, no visibility, and no sound except the roar and howl of the storm, they clutched the rope to make their way out to the barn to feed their horses. Then they followed that lifeline back home.

 

I learned about the winter ropes from Parker Palmer whose wonderful book, A Hidden Wholeness, describes various practices for engaging the storms of life.

 

It’s been a stormy week. On Wednesday, as I was hefting a pot of chili off the stove to bring to a soup supper and concert, my phone buzzed. The county emergency services department had issued a flash flood advisory.  We were cautioned to avoid travel.

 

Should I go out or should I stay home? On one hand, it would have been wonderful to sink into an armchair, toss a log onto the fire, and start reading the mystery that had just arrived in the mail. And I had a perfect excuse!  My phone had buzzed. The county had spoken. I felt like a kid who’d gotten a note from my parents excusing an absence.

 

On the other hand, I’d signed up to bring soup. People were going to show up hungry, expecting supper. I wasn’t the only soup provider, but what if the other cooks stayed home too? Additionally, what about the local high school chamber choir, all 32 of them and their teacher. What if no one showed up for their Christmas concert?

 

The county-wide flash flood advisory did not really apply to my situation. Honestly, I knew that.  The warnings pertained to steeper areas that had lost vegetation because of wildfires.  Those areas were in danger of flash floods. My route was not. I could drive safely to church, on well paved back roads.

 

Reluctantly, I shrugged into my rain coat, hauled my pot of chili out into the storm, and drove slowly, watching for deep puddles.

 

To my surprise, the church basement was full. Everyone who’d signed up to make soup was there. And the salad and the bread makers showed up too.  We had so much food the parents of the chamber singers could eat too.

 

After dinner we marched up the back stairs and packed into the pews.  The young singers were brilliant, glowing, accomplished. For more than 20 years they’ve consistently won gold medals at national competitions, largely due to their teacher’s dedication and vision.  Every one of the singers was there.

 

My take away is not that it is good to ignore travel advisories. Rather, my take away is that it is good to hold myself accountable, to exercise independent judgment and to take calculated risks.

 

The rain this week was a low-risk opportunity to test my rope.  Connection and community led me out into the storm. Soup, song and gratitude nourished me on the way home.

 


 

 

Delacroix, Wild Horse in A Storm, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Legros, Man Watering A Horse, courtesy of National Gallery of Art

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Accepting the Invitation

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I’m in training. I go to the gym twice a week for spin classes. Previously I was afraid of spinning; I thought it was for hardcore young gym enthusiasts.

 

But I’m spinning because my nephew invited me to chaperone his class trip, which involves riding a bike thirty miles a day. And I don’t even own a bike.

 

So I’m spinning. And feeling stronger.

 

This morning I’m thinking of other invitations and the doorways they’ve opened in my life, notably the invitation from my high school French teacher to visit her in Montreal. That trip was the first time I’d been out of Massachusetts, let alone out of the country.

 

As she and I walked across the campus of McGill University I thought, “I want to go to school here!” and lo and behold, I did. Accepting her invitation blossomed into a life path with countless more invitations and opportunities. Thank you Mrs. Root. (An apt name for a French and Latin teacher!)

 

Recently I’ve been invited into an experience of darkness, mostly through scary dreams, magnified by lingering smoke from the nearby King Fire and daily news of world tragedies. I’ve been trying to view this inner darkness as an invitation to growth and new life.

 

And in fact, by wrangling through nightmares and acknowledging my sadness, I’ve come to new insights and new freedom. The darkness is lifting in the very act of dialoguing with it. This is shadow work, a kind of inner wrestling advocated by Carl Jung.

 

Jung thought midlife posed a great challenge: keep going with worn-down old patterns or face one’s shadow—that unknown inner territory of unlived dreams, rejected ways of being, wounds and vulnerabilities. Ninety percent of the shadow is golden, Jung said, a treasure trove of potential energy necessary for vibrant later life.

 

Diving into my shadow I’ve re-discovered the enthusiasm of the young adventurer I thought I’d left behind. I’ve re-discovered the powerful dreamer (and needed to come to terms with all the dreams that weren’t fulfilled).

 

And last night, as I leaned over the handlebars of the stationary bike, with the instructor urging, Go! Go! Go!” I heard an inner voice well up. “You are strong,” it said.

 

I’d never heard this voice before.

 

With legs aching, I pedaled on, proud to be amongst the spinners.

 

Leon Bonnat, Jacob Wrestling With Angel, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

 


 

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