"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


He was born in my home. I gave him his name, Festus. Then I gave him to my baby brother and his wife. Where he lived a happy and loved life, and gave much more than he received, for seventeen years. The ninth of his nine lives ran out last weekend.

We'd been expecting the news for months. Every time I talked to Geoff or Lynn, I'd ask if Festus was still with us. He wasn't obviously ill–just slower, thinner, quieter. When we were there at Christmas he still sought us out for loves, but couldn't jump up and would disappear for hours at a time. When I petted him into purring at the end of the visit, I did so knowing it was probably our last goodbye.

And yet with all of that, plus the fact that he wasn't even my cat, when I read the e-mail on Sunday I felt a light go out and a tiny little tear open in my heart.

Festus was an ordinary cat, slightly goofy with too-close eyes and a huge appetite for laps and pets. A deep rumbly purr. In his early lives, he'd come running when you called his name. My middle brother, Mark, taught him to eat out of his hand. During gatherings, when we'd play games in the evenings, he'd spend much of those hours on my lap or crammed between me and the back of my chair. And at bedtime, he'd follow us upstairs and start the night cuddled under my arm. Mark and I had an ongoing argument–mostly playful–about which of us Festus preferred.

My SIL, Lynn, would always include news about Festus when we talked. She'd seek him out, pick him up and put him in my arms when we visited. A few years ago when he was hit by a car, she called me to tell me and kept me posted on his healing progress. She always referred to me as his first mom.

All silly, friendly, family stuff without any particular meaning.

And that's where the power is. Festus bound us in an easy friendly love during a time when we had little access to the deeper family love that is our true connection. He was safe, silly and soft. In the last three years as our sibling bond found new light and strength, he became our mascot and our common pleasure.

We are joined this week in our sadness, in identically shaped heart-tears that will always hold the memories of a simple black and white cat whose presence brought healing and love and laughter. No being could hope for a larger life than that.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Protecting Pain

"Do you know one side is a lot higher than the other?"

We were in cobra, a pose I'm relatively comfortable with, that I sort of understand at the level of focusing on appropriate muscles and maintaining breath. "This is one of the hardest poses to do correctly. It can take years to get it." Okay, so now I assume I'm still not understanding something, because there's no way I can do one of the hardest poses this easily.

But it bothers me that I start out with both shoulders even and with my elbows looking like "grasshopper wings," but I come out of the pose with one side definitely higher than the other. It's been weeks since Shawna first mentioned my lopsidededness. Every time since I've tried to check out what's going on in the mirror, even though our eyes are supposed to be aiming for the back wall.

I finally caught something this week.

My right side is the side that carries my pain. For years shame lived in and then worked her way out of my right shoulder blade area. For years my right knee would hurt when my back (and almost always something in my life) was out of alignment. And for the last year it's been my right hip, the right side of my sacrum actually, that has been delivering unrelenting messages from my body.

Because I anticipate pain from that side, even if it's not there, I protect it. I don't put as much pressure on it. And so my cobra is uneven. So is the rest of me. Because in protecting what hurts, or what I think might hurt, I've overworked the parts that do work.

The protection isn't bad in itself. The thing that's hurting me is my unconsciousness around the pain. Pain means weakness. At least it did to a number of little girls trying to survive a world that devoured vulnerability and humanity. Pain became something to endure, ignore and ultimately stuff as deeply as possible.

And that worked for years - in the way that all survival behaviors work, never allowing for much more than just survival. Fifteen years ago I began working on the psychic and emotional pain with my treasured Pat, and learned to feel and release it. That's an ongoing process.

It wasn't until seven months ago when it became clear my hip was not going to be quiet or ignored that I began to treat my body like something to be treasured rather than something to be dreaded. Pain has become a signal to pay attention to, information to act on, and very often a release of long held toxins. A friend to honor. Not an ugly thing to be crammed into the deepest recesses of my being.

Coming out of cobra I glanced in the mirror, saw my right shoulder riding high because I was putting all my weight on the left side. With a minor adjustment I discovered I could even out without pain. It changed everything about how the pose felt.

It's time to open up the windows, to look at the remaining protected places and to find out what's really there. It's time to give them the gentle attention tender parts deserve and to help them grow and strengthen in the light of love. It's time to stop protecting, and to start paying attention.

photo from Flickr

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hard Work

I'm lying on my stomach, arms underneath, "elbows should be between your hips and touching someday," hands flat on the floor, "little fingers touching." We're in the locust pose, made bearable only for the fact that we're on the floor and each part is only ten seconds.

It's during the third part as we're grunting to keep our "cobra tail" lifted a few inches off the floor that the instructor tells us about someone in California who is able to lift his legs not only off the floor, but also to touch his toes on the floor in front of his face. It takes me a few seconds to create that picture in my mind, and then we're in blessed savasana.

Kay goes on to remind us it's not how far we get into a pose but how well we do the form.

My yoga practice is shifting. I'm actually starting to believe her, and the other two teachers, when they say that. After months of throwing body parts into poses and hoping they stick somehow, trying my hardest to follow every single instruction to the max, and feeling frustrated at my lack of progress, I've begun to explore the possibility that they're telling the truth. Not that they weren't before, but now a truth that might have meaning for me.

The question that keeps asking itself is "How do I know I'm working hard enough?"

If I answer that question with how far I'm able to get into the poses then clearly I'm never working hard enough. If I answer it with how much I sweat and how hard it is to breathe, then just as clearly I'm always working too hard. So what if there's a different answer?

Form. Breath. Concentration.

We're told constantly to suck our stomachs in, to breathe, to keep our eyes open. It's interesting how hard it is for me to do all three of those at the same time. It's interesting how easy it is to skip all three in my desperate attempts to fling my cobra tail legs into the air. And, here's the aha, it's amazing how much easier it is to do locust (or any other pose) when I'm able to focus on the first three things.

How do I know I'm working hard enough?

"Suck your stomach in. Come back to it over and over. It doesn't matter how many times you forget, keep trying."

"If your breathing isn't normal, you're working too hard."

"Keep your eyes open. Don't let your mind wander away. Focus."

It's so clear, yet so difficult to trust as truth. A lifetime of working at everything as hard as I can - the level of difficulty and pain being the standard for success - and never feeling like it's quite enough. "So how is that working for you?" Maybe it's time to give a more gentle approach a try. To make form, breath, and focus the priority and standard. To trust in the possibility of a new definition of hard work, of enough, of success.

pictures from Flickr

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Three Women

It's funny, when we were planning to meet, the three of us, no one talked about how we'd know each other. There was no, "I'll be wearing a bright green sweater." Granted two of us already knew each other, in fact had grown into an amazingly deep knowing in the past few months. But we'd never actually met the third, and even though we'd seen pictures on her blog, those are never a guarantee of knowing.

When I walked up behind Amber at the airport as she stood in line to check her bags I recognized her before I even saw her face. Our hug was that of sister friends reuniting. When Carrie walked up to us a bit later, I had to remind myself watching their hug that this was their first meeting as well.

There was no awkwardness or shyness or small talk to fill the spaces. We picked up where it seemed we'd left off the last time we saw each other - in our virtual world.

The air was full of our conversation and laughter and questions. We inserted words for each other, shared the vocabulary of spirit and truth and healing, understood the unspoken. As I sat in the booth at the restaurant, Carrie to my right, a window onto a world of people carried on giant wings into new adventures on my left, I watched Amber sitting across from me and felt a bridge - a wholeness born of our gathering in this jumping-off place.

We are women from three different decades, decades that form a bridge of experience, wisdom, and hope. Amber in her thirties, Carrie in her forties, me in my fifties - joined by hearts seeking truth and healing. And we learned from each other, not only about each other, but messages from the Divine given to each of us from each of us.

At one point I worried that Amber might miss her plane. No one was paying attention to the time. A part of me wouldn't have minded if she had - I could have stayed there forever basking in the energy of our combined spirits. But in a continuation of the perfect timing of the day, she checked the time just in time. We claimed every possible minute together, talking right up until she was swallowed into the warren of security restrictions. Hasty hugs goodbye, not disappointing in their quickness, most likely because we knew, we know, this was just the beginning.

Rainbow picture from Flickr

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fear and Joy

Falling from a very high bridge, trapped in a car, no way out.
Seeing a Bald Eagle fly over my head as I stand by the river.
Losing my breath.
Spending time with a friend who gets it all.
Getting to the end of life with regrets about not loving or letting love in.
Hiking with Walt, the place in the hike when it stops being hard and become fluid, holy and life-giving.
It took too long for me to trust my heart.
Finding wildflowers I've never seen before at Catherine Creek among the ones that are old friends.
My body - that it will break down, quit, turn on me.
Toby's silly dog smile and 80 pound greeting driven by his red plume tail every single time he sees me.
Things will always be hard - I'll always see the shadows and not the light.
Pulling weeds, planting seeds, pruning runaway bushes.
Anger in all its forms.
Words that sing, dance, shout, paint, cry, laugh - my own or anyone else's.
Being wrong about God.
Time with my brothers.
Losing time with nothing to show.
On the road to new places, new people, new ways of being.
Not getting to experience adventures because I'm too tired, because it's too late.
Holding hands in the dark of a movie immersed in story, the fragrance of popcorn, and the solid sureness of my life partner.

I've been taking a class the last few weeks with Jennifer Springsteen of Portland Writers. I haven't posted anything here because we do our writing in class to prompts Jennifer provides, so it's all first draft work. A lot of my work from this class will eventually find its way into the new book. Last night, however, she gave us a different kind of prompt that was fun to do (all hers are) and revealing and magical. The writing above is the result of this prompt:

Number 1 -10, leaving room to write. List ten things in sentences or phrases that make you happy/give you joy. Turn the paper over, number 1-10, and list ten things in sentences or phrases that you're afraid of or that scare you. On a separate paper, starting with your first fear, copy what you wrote, alternating fear and joy statements. This works with any opposites and is apparently an effective way to work through blocks in writing. You might want to give it a try just for fun. I'd love it if you shared.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


My lower back is as twangy right now as an old-style country western singer. It shouldn't be. Six months of yoga is supposed to have strengthened my core so that my back feels supported and happy. I've spent the last year babying and nursing and listening to my sacrum, and I expected that by now we'd be good friends and she would not still be requiring constant careful nurturing.

It's possible I've gotten just enough stronger, just enough more flexible, that I've pushed myself too far beyond my edge. It's possible that impatience with the slowness of my progress has deafened my ears to my body's polite requests to keep that edge close in the same way a mother never lets a toddler out of her sight.

A most amazing thing just happened - just this minute as I'm writing this post. I had written a couple of paragraphs beyond this, all about chakras, control, support, and had gone back to check for flow. Suddenly this phrase became neon on the page: It's possible that impatience with the slowness of my progress has deafened my ears.

Damn! I've been so careful to keep my edge close and somehow it got away from me. Just like a wild and curious toddler determined to get as far afield as possible.

Lately I've allowed impatience, which I actually think is fear dressed in flashy clothes, to convince me I need to step up the pace a bit or I'm going to be left in the dust of all the younger, smarter, more flexible (and thinner) people who didn't take more than five decades to start to figure things out.

The thing that startled me most about that statement, however, is my impatience with yoga is nothing compared to my impatience with this other part of my life. The one I left a safe and secure (and stifling) career to pursue. It's March. The year is two-thirds gone. My book is not only not rewritten, but I'm still trying to find the frame of the new story, and worst of all I can't seem to find the soul of the story.

There's more of course. Once she starts talking, friend impatience can go on forever, and no thing is safe from her critical eye. But much like her friend, shame, she almost always overplays her hand. This time my body got wise and ratted her out pretty early in the game. I'm off to find my wandering edge, to bring her home so I can keep her safe, and to find a way to thank and comfort my wise sacrum.

image from Flickr

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The last time they were here horrible words were thrown into the summer air like acid. An acid strong enough to finally dissolve the already fragile threads holding the relationship in place. Years passed and silence reigned. Tense. Pulsing with pain. Illuminated by lightning flashes of anger.

How could a father say that to his son? How could a mother stand by and pretend it wasn't as awful as it was? How could a son truly believe in his essential worth standing in the exhaust of their hasty departure with the last word?

On the other side, their questions were full of the same pain and incredulity. How could a son treat his parents that way? What had they ever done do deserve this? Couldn't we understand?

This son has a brilliant loving spirit which not even that horrible summer confrontation could dim. He hurt. He grieved. He forgave.

And then he began to send birthday cards to his parents. Signed by him alone because his wife wasn't quite so forgiving. Then he was needed to help his parents move into a new home, and he went without hesitation. That was followed by occasional careful phone calls from the mom who only ever wanted peace and who always made him laugh. And then once in a while the dad would get on the phone - briefly, gruffly, but there. More laughter happened. Forgiveness grew. The wife eventually consented to having her name added to the cards. "I love you," became the blessing at the end of phone conversations. With his two siblings, he surprised them on their anniversary with a weekend visit - the original family of five together for a couple of days of surprisingly easy love and familiar laughter.

Each act of reaching out created a new thread of relationship, fragile at first until there were enough to form a cord of trust.

Last summer the son and his wife were "in the neighborhood" of the parents on their way home from vacation. They stopped for a visit, and the lose threads of new relationship began to weave themselves into something resembling whole cloth.

The son, my husband Walt, turned 60 on Monday. I decided he needed to know how loved he is and organized a surprise party in his honor. I called his mom to invite his parents in person. And invited them to stay the night so they wouldn't have to make the six hour trip home, so maybe final touches could be put on the new fabric of family. They said yes without hesitation.

In the weeks before the party Mom and I talked regularly. Her excitement at a gathering of friends and relatives to celebrate her son was that of a little girl anticipating Christmas. She helped with addresses and ideas and offered assistance at every turn.

The day of the party, Saturday, Mom and Dad were the first to arrive. They were the first people Walt saw. They were the last people to leave on Sunday morning.

Their presence was sunshine - bright, healing, life-giving. The people who brought Walt here gave him the gift of the best love they have to offer on the day he began the first leg of his journey into the unknown territory of his final decades. A gift in many ways Walt gave himself in his willingness to forgive and his determination to love.

For my part, how can I not love the two people from whom this amazing man came? Thank you Mom and Dad for your willingness to let go and love, and for giving Walt the certain knowledge that he matters more than hurt pride to you. Happy birthday, Honey. Your goodness shines brighter with every year. May this new fabric not only endure, but also continue to grow more beautiful in the years to come.

Walt, sister Kerry, Mom, Dad

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Measure of Success

Even though it's only been a few weeks her name is lost to me, but I can see her face and hear her voice as if she were standing in this room.

The first time I saw her was during her initial audition for American Idol. She was a featured story: a girl from the country, never been out of her small town or her small life, no hope of getting out. Hair the color and texture of old straw, blotchy skin, bad teeth - the possibility of prettiness just beneath the surface. A lilting accent, making music of words that expressed the wonder, the dream, the hopes for the audition.

Her story made me want her to succeed. Her breathy twangy singing made me want her to succeed. My memories of another girl who thought she'd never find her way made me want her to succeed.

And amazingly, she did. She made it to Hollywood - the next step along the path. She was both jubilant and terrified. Had never flown on a plane, been away from her mother, or been in the company of such a wild variety of humanity.

The Hollywood audition did not go well for her. She was less appealing than the first audition - her face was puffy, her clothes ill-fitting and tacky, her voice more fear than music. And while the judges were surprisingly kind to her, it was clear she wasn't ready for the big time, and they told her she wouldn't be moving on.

In her departing interview - and this is the part that haunts me - she said through tears, "I took a risk and it didn't work out." The final shot is of her trudging away down a narrow hotel corridor with her small sad suitcase trailing behind.

I wanted to reach into the screen - I still want to reach her - and tell her her risk did work out. The only way she failed is if she believes she did. I wanted to help her see all she has now that she didn't have before. I wanted to tell her she's so much more than her fear.

I've thought of her this week as I struggle to reframe my own recent risk-taking and the outcome of that. Carrie and I are at the end of our first round of teaching memoir classes. The experience has been as deeply satisfying as falling in love and as painful as any soul-growing transformation can be. To be in the presence of women for whom writing, learning and healing are a priority is as good as life gets. Carrie has proved to be a perfect teaching partner, and together we are that magical gestalt where our whole is so much more powerful than the sum of what each of us brings individually.

Initially I thought our success would be measured by the growth of our classes. That people would be so happy with what they got from us, they'd be dying for more and tell all their friends they had to join us, too. Of course, it's not happening that way. The spring is looking very different from what we originally anticipated. Possibly no classes at all. Possibly coaching. Possibly nothing until fall and then something more concentrated.

As with so many things this year, I choose to find success in what works and to follow that path. The closed doors are not failure. They are guidance. I wish I could offer this gift of success to that young girl. I wish I could thank her for being a reminding presence in my life. I wish her the sight to find the next open door.

photo from Flickr