"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

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Day of Love

Walt, Mark, Frank, Geoff

I trudge up the marshy fairway in the cool of an overcast June morning. Two men are ahead of me, walking side by side pushing golf carts: my middle brother, Mark, and my husband, Walt, compare data from their new golf toys. Glancing back I see two men behind me, walking side by side pulling golf carts: my oldest brother, Frank, and my youngest brother, Geoff, heads bent toward each other in conversation. I carry cameras.

There's so much amazing about this ordinary moment in time I can hardly absorb it all. But I bring every part of my being to right now so I don't lose any of it. Even coming here without expectation, what's unfolding is far beyond anything I imagined might be possible.

I'm on a golf course, alone, with the four most important men in my life. They're golfing. I'm taking pictures and visiting. Not being big sister or wife. Just being a woman who loves these men, enjoying their company and recording the day for us all. Marveling at this view of male society - the giving of shit, the congratulatory knuckle-bumping, the long stretches of easy silence as they travel from ball to ball.

Two of these men, the oldest and youngest brothers, have not been together voluntarily for almost a decade. Anger, hurt feelings, misunderstandings. Stubbornness, a shared family trait, that two-edged sword of survival and isolation. Both men were right about the facts they held in the light, and for a very long time, neither were willing to be anything other than right.

Today, they're here. Together. With our middle brother, who tilled the ground for the seeds of reconciliation to sprout. And with their sister and her husband. There is no acknowledgment of the chasm crossed, but neither is there a sense of anything avoided. Questions are asked. Information is shared. Laughter and our aging bodies are the common language.

We've arrived at the green. The four men discuss the best approach to the pin and spread out in a wordless and comfortable choreography. As each takes his shot, they analyze what worked and didn't work so the next one up has better chance of getting the ball in. They are equals, contemporaries, friends. They share this day, a lot of gray hair, and love for the woman watching them with amusement and wonder.

 I stand just at the edge of the felted grass of the green, more interested in the men, the thrumming bass accompaniment of the bullfrogs in the pond behind us, and the fact that there are two kinds of swallows barnstorming around us, than in whether the ball goes where it's meant to.

While the rutted muck and clumps of fermenting grass on the fairway pull me to earth, the bluing sky revealing the majesty of Mt. Rainier and the magic of clean and clear male energy set me free in a way I have never before experienced. This is what love feels like. This is what healing feels like. This is what miracles feel like.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer's First Day

The sun shines through my window, directly into my face, like a benediction. Summer is here, finally, after endless weeks of cooler, grayer, wetter-than-normal weather that felt like it would never end. For the first time this year, two consecutive days of waking up to clear skies and air that promises warmth, brings a sense of hope and freedom.

The forecast for yesterday was wrong, as it often is in this part of the world. It was supposed to be more of the same. The sunshine and heat were even more of a gift than if they'd been anticipated. Because of the kind of years it's been, being fully in the day seemed more important than ever. I was keenly aware of the possibility that there was no guarantee of another day just like it.

I gorged myself on the day.

Flowers planted. Weeds pulled. Seeds scattered.

I wandered the yard, amazed at the evidence of a summer come in spite of the unusual weather. Blueberry bushes loaded with an abundance of hard green fruit, right on schedule. Phlox just beginning to explode into bright pink blossoms. A bright orange lily I'd forgotten existed, in full fragrant bloom. The air thick with rose sweetness and bee song and bird celebrations.

Resting in the shade of the patio, the afternoon breeze right on schedule, washing over and around like baptism. Toby in his glory and joy chasing the shadows of Violet-green Swallows swooping for insects to carry to babies. The Sweet Gum offering glimpses of squirrel and Goldfinch and Black-headed Grosbeak through the lushness of its hand-shaped leaves.

Needing to move, to be out in the aliveness, I meandered down the row of hanging baskets that line our yard, deadheading geraniums. When I got to the last plant, I stood on tiptoe to check on the status of the four thumbnail-sized eggs in the junco nest we discovered a while back tucked in the middle of the foliage. By then Walt had joined me. He saw them first, and his exclamation of wonder made me remember why I love him.

Babies. Beaks – open and begging for food. Heads no bigger than an infant's pinky, eyes still sealed, feathers not yet dry. One egg left to hatch.

We marveled at the wonder of these new lives as though they were miracles. And thus the biggest gift of a perfect summer day. The acute awareness that they are miracles, as all life is. No matter the size or the shape or the abundance. Life is a miracle. One we often forget to see in the gray day-to-day. One hard to miss in the midst of a long-awaited, much longed-for, first day of true summer.

The sun has climbed above my window, now dappling the lush greens of my world with silver and gold. I'm on my way out into the light of this new day, grateful for the freedom of time and openness of heart with which to experience the adventure of simple miracles.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Gift

I see that little girl, her hair in braids, freckles splashed across a face equally capable of great sun and horrendous storms. I see her sturdy scabbed legs, perpetually bare feet, and a softly rounded tummy that speaks "child." On this day she is heart-broken and will make choices whose full impact won't be understood for another fifty years.

Her Daddy has taken away the one being with whom she shares unconditional love. She begged and bargained and offered her soul, but nothing reached him. Nothing stopped him. Her dog is dead. And now she is alone. Worse, she believes now that she has no power ever to stop the worst possible thing from happening. Worse yet, she completely loses her status as his special Squirt. He stops looking at her, rarely speaks to her, never ever invites her onto his lap.

She decides she doesn't need a Daddy. If she can't have him, she won't need him. While she doesn't yet have the knowledge, at some level her heart knows she's already been abandoned once, unwanted and unseen, by the man who gave her life. And Mommy has made sure God, the ultimate Father, is a being to be feared - a huge scary man laying in wait to catch her being wrong so he can punish her into submission.

Fast forward a lifetime. Needless to say that decision to never need a father has had some interesting influence on my attitudes and relationships with men, and God. As consciousness has dawned, awareness of the possibility of something else has grown stronger.

The loss of father did not, does not, mean that love and approval and adoration weren't necessary. One unhealed man's decisions did not, do not, speak for the capacity of all men or the worth of that child.  There was no way the little girl could know that, or survive the pain of the loss by still wanting the love she couldn't have.

Because I see her clearly, and understand, I can begin to shift the lenses through which I see men.

In an event of pure synchronicity I found myself yesterday in the presence of a group of men whom I hadn't met before, participating in a sacred ceremony overseen by the spirits of Lakotah Grandfathers. The leader, a single man devoted to a spiritual path, offering his time and heart to this ceremony which might help others move farther along on their own path. A family consisting of mom, dad, and two twenty-something sons. The dad gentle, quiet, eyes that greeted with knowing and compassion. The two sons friendly, open, full of laughter.

A brand new father, about to celebrate his first Father's Day, his son born in April, especially captured my attention. He seemed so happy, so thrilled to be a father, so committed to providing a certain kind of life for his family. So intentional. So full of love.

I am loved by men and love them in return. Brothers whom I respect and admire and adore. A husband who is the perfect partner for me and who offers me unconditional love and support. But there has always been something missing, some reserve and fear on my part, some expectation and preparation for their betrayal and leaving - even in the absence of any evidence that might be a possibility.

So this year, the Father's Day gift is for me. A new willingness to hold a more complete vision of what it means to be a man and what men are capable of. A fresh openness to the men in my life, and a tender faith that the need for male love will not always be met with pain.

Photo by Clive Reedman, from Flickr

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Surprise Ending

I'm sitting at a table next to Walt, toward the front of the room, half watching the cooking demonstration on the stage and half scanning behind me for familiar faces. I'm not big on parties, but want to support the owner of the yoga studio where I practice as she celebrates seven years of service. Besides, I'm curious about what my fellow practitioners look like in clothes and not drenched in sweat.

The room is full, the energy light and open. Booths for vitamins and acupuncture and flower essences and massage and the studio itself form a corral for the milling crowd. Wine is offered from one table while gourmet vegetarian/gluten free food is displayed beautifully on another. One of the teachers is going to play his guitar for us, a fellow student is going to sing. The husband of another student will round out the evening with some jazz piano tunes. The owner buzzes around handing out T-shirts and making sure everyone is happy.

I spot her right away, recognizing the reddish bob and glasses, surprised she came. Dressed completely in black, she stands next to a man I assume is her husband, smiling around the room, not talking to anyone, but looking glad to be here. Late womanDiana. My teacher.

The idea forms gradually, but before long I know I'm going to go talk to her. After all she taught me all those weeks ago, I've rarely noticed her in class, and there's never been a chance to talk after class. I sort of hope she'll notice me now and start the conversation, but she doesn't seem inclined to leave her spot at the back of the room.

The minute the cooking demonstration ends, I ask Walt if he wants to join me (he declines), then make a beeline for Diana. I'm so excited to find out what she remembers, to maybe joke a little about meeting in a yoga class after all these years. I'm feeling proud of myself for having achieved this place of curiosity and friendliness with someone I wanted to smack not so long ago.

"Hi Diana. It's so nice to see you again. I've been wanting to say hi in class, but there never seems to be time."

"Oh, hi. I'd like you to meet my husband, Steve."

Steve and I shake hands, say our nice-to-meet-yous, and I turn back to Diana.

"It's been a long time," I say, giving her the perfect opening.

With a puzzled smile, she tips her head slightly, looks at me and says, "And who are you?"

It's all I can do to not laugh out loud and to stay in this conversation. She doesn't have a clue who I am. Has not known who I am all these months. Feels no connection to me whatsoever.

When I tell her my name, her husband says, "From Riverview?" He knows who I am. Remembers. Connects. And I don't think I ever met him before.

We chat for a bit longer. I ask about their son and learn he still struggles in school. She answers questions but asks none in return, smiling and receptive, offering nothing.

As I make my way back to the table, I marvel at how fluid a thing reality is. Diana came into my life at a perfect time and taught me one of the most powerful lessons I've learned in a very long time. I created a story about her that made sense, and that allowed me to find my way to the center of the learning. But it was just that - a story. As plausible as any story, more than many, yet so very far from the reality of this tiny woman with a delightful laugh, who accepted my interest and presence in that moment, but for whom I could have been anyone or no one.

Picture titled "Shining New Light On Old Ghosts" by Sarah Gardner, from Flickr

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


When I opened my e-mail this morning I scanned for a certain name, and didn't see it. Equal parts disappointed and relieved – today was notification day for the status of submissions to a local literary journal – I moved to the top of the page and began working my way through the blue dots. I'm not sure how I missed it the first time, but halfway through the list of messages, there was the name I was looking for. My heart flipped, my lips twitched up, and I wondered which of the two stories I submitted they liked best.

I've become a veteran of these messages in the last year. With two exceptions, they've all been some form of "no." And one of the exceptions became a "no" after it was a maybe. My reactions have been fairly consistent. Disappointment. Fear. Sadness. Then a determination to move on, buoyed by a certainty that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do, and this was just part of being a writer.

When I opened the latest message this morning I was confident this was going to be the one to turn the tide. I'd selected the publication carefully and submitted the best work I have to offer. I did everything right, everything I knew to do, everything that was expected and more.

"Unfortunately, we did not select your work for publication."

It was kind, as rejections go. Hundreds of submissions for tens of places in the journal. Feedback to follow. Encouragement to keep trying. 

Today, none of that mattered. I don't know if it was my expectation and hope, or if it's because today is the last day of the school year, or if it was just one too many and it came on another cold, wet day. Today I couldn't find a way to make that rejection okay. 

A year ago I was celebrating my flight into this new world of writing. I'd been gathering strength in the nest for years, and fledged into the wide open sky last June, wings strong. Like the fledglings I've been watching all spring, my flight wasn't always smooth, and I flapped from branch to branch as I grew accustomed to this new way of being. 

Today it feels like that message knocked me to the ground, much like the late spring storms we continue to endure unsettle nests and disrupt the less confident fledgling flights of this year's babies. 

As I struggled with my feelings this morning, I was aware of the opportunity this presented for me to stay in the present moment and to practice acceptance. I've been grounded before, and in much stormier circumstances than these, so it's not altogether unfamiliar territory. My pattern has always been to launch myself back into the sky in complete refusal to be on the ground at all, flapping my wings with every ounce of my energy, eyes strained upward and outward in a determined search for the biggest patch of blue I might claim for my own. 

I'm staying on the ground this time. For a while at least. The ferns are soft, the flowers fragrant, and from time to time the sun reaches down to warm my head. I'm resting. I'll let my feathers dry, see if I can find some nourishment down here, and wait for the sky to beckon.  

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Better To See

As we headed down the hill, Toby and I, at the beginning of our walk, I searched through the thick green for the top of the flag pole in the meadow below us. Sure enough I could see a brown feathered finial. Two days in a row I was going to get to see my owl perched out in the open.

My eyes were still focused into the trees just beyond where the flag pole was visible when I realized I was staring straight into the eyes of an owl. Two owls in one day! This one was large and dark, the female most likely, and she was perched on a thick mossy branch extended from the big leaf maple like an arm bent at the elbow. We watched each other for a long while, until Toby's need to walk exceeded my need to be in her company.

It turned out the owl on the flag pole was the fledgling, not quite so furry looking as the first time I saw him, but very raggedy and very nervous. He nearly tipped himself off his perch trying to spin around to keep an eye on the giant red beast circling below. He regained his balance, settled his feathers, and stared down at me with those round round eyes until he flapped into the trees where he could watch us from a safe distance.

Several days passed after that with no owl sightings at all. They apparently prefer not to perch in the open when it's pouring down rain. Regardless, I found myself searching for them in all the usual places. At some point I became aware I was seeing this familiar and beloved world with sharper clarity, like someone had adjusted the focus. The way moss dressed the trees below the waist in skin-tight velvet. The way light played with kittenish leaves as a breeze cantered through. The way the owl-perch branch was scuffed bare in just one spot.

These owls have lived here for at least three years, yet this is the first spring I've seen them. I didn't think I could spot them in daylight because they're nocturnal, so I never tried. After the first accidental encounter weeks ago, I began to watch for them, and now spotting one is only slightly more unusual than seeing the flash of red that tells me a woodpecker is at work.

I know if I don't see one today, I will on another day. I look closely and am as fully present as it's possible to be when I'm in their space. Interestingly, I'm never disappointed when I don't find one. Because the experience of being in that space, being still, being so alive – that has become almost as wonderful as the owls themselves.

I find myself thinking about faith when I'm looking for my owls, or checking for a bald eagle in the snag he frequented earlier in the spring, or spotting a rarely seen pair of banded pigeons at the bird feeders. I look because I know I'm going to find something wonderful. Sometimes I only get chickadees or the skeleton of the snag sketched in silhouette or a face full of cottonwood fluff. Sometimes I get the larger magic of raptors or deer or a new wildflower. Always I receive something to rejoice about, because I looked and knew there would be something worth seeing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Owl Magic

The school year is nearly over. Walt's last day with kids is next Tuesday. And so ends my first year out of the classroom. Even though I knew last June that this year would not unfold in the way I was picturing at the time (because nothing does), I wasn't prepared for just how different the reality has turned out to be.

This has been the year of closed doors, explorations run into dead ends, and more quiet and stillness than I've known in decades. It's been a year of shedding old roles and identities, and living with the naked discomfort of the space before new skin grows back. It's been a year of redefining God.

And the closer I get to the end of the year, the more I struggle with the fear that I've wasted the time and opportunity and gifts. I have no concrete evidence that the year was a success – or a failure. What I seem to have is a vast expanse of myself, and possibilities I don't understand, and that still small voice in the softest of whispers reassuring me that this is exactly where I need to be.

Yesterday I was walking Toby, soaking up the warmth and shifting sunlight, and I looked for my owl friend as we came into the clearing where he's appeared before.

A week after I saw the fledgling for the first time, I saw him again, perched on top of one of the flag poles that back the fire pit and benches where campers gather for evening ceremonies. I sat then and watched him for the longest time, thrilled beyond words at the luxury of meditating on this amazing bird.  I looked for him there every time after that, and hadn't seen him again.

Until yesterday. And even though I was looking for him, I was startled to see him perched exactly where I expected to see him. And sleeping. His head was turned away and he didn't turn around until Toby crashed through the brush. He blinked a few times, watched me for a bit, and then went back to sleep.

I quietly called Toby to me, left the meadow as quickly as I could, and trucked up the hill toward home. I grabbed my camera, hooked a confused but happy Toby back up to the leash and headed back down, praying he'd still be there.

He was. Still sleeping. Although he woke up and watched me warily when I started taking pictures. When I was done, I sat on one of the benches, and just watched him.

It was at that point, on a random June Monday afternoon, sitting in sunshine and a kissing breeze, in the company of my dog and an owl, that something shifted for me. The freedom of time and no schedule that allowed me to be in that place and time. The stillness that allowed me to not only see the owl, but to be with him for as long as I wanted. The knowing that this was my new normal, a significant part of God's voice and presence, a gift beyond price.

A year has passed, unfolded, been lived. The success of it cannot be measured in work accomplished or test scores or a book born. The success is experienced as being a person able to be in complete presence, awe and gratitude at the wonder and magic of whatever the world has to offer.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Necessary Marriage

We stand at the end of triangle pose, the one that "works every muscle, joint, tendon and internal organ of your body." Faces are red, bodies glisten and drip, breathing can be heard throughout the studio like runners at a finish line.

"This posture is a marriage between your heart and lungs."

I get the analogy as I'm focusing on breathing in and out through my nose while my heart hammers away, and I'm pretty sure I can feel the blood coursing through every artery, vein, and capillary. The working together that creates a force larger than either is able to produce separately. The struggle that leaves both partners stronger. The interconnectedness of need and benefit.

What strikes me on this day, however, is which two organs are married, and which big one is left out. And as I follow that thought I realize it's a consistent pattern in yoga. We're told to breathe, to listen to our bodies, to feel our hearts. We're asked to listen and follow instructions as exactly as we can and to give our attention. We are never asked to think.

The closest is at the beginning of a class when we're asked to set our intention, which, I'm discovering, is only part mental. In a way, it's asking the brain to step aside for a while and to allow the heart and lungs to have the stage.

I spent most of my earlier life in my head. I learned early in childhood that it was the safest place to be. The one place I had control, where I couldn't be hurt. Because I was a good student, with a quick and curious mind that teachers appreciated, my brain became one of my best features. "She's got a great smile." "Look at all those adorable freckles." "What a smart girl she is."

A wise friend reminded me recently that a strength overused becomes a weakness. A brain allowed to believe in her own undisputed power becomes tyrannical and does not willingly give up her independence or her crown. There is never talk in yoga about the brain being married to any other body part. In fact the unstated focus is getting the brain to be quiet enough that other parts can have a say.

"The marriage between heart and lungs" – it's a beautiful picture and feels like a necessary wedding to counter the habits and force of thinking. The gentle constant rhythms of pulse and respiration joined together, made conscious in the extremity of triangle, insisting on their balanced share of being.

Triangle is a particularly challenging pose. It hurts. There are a million things to remember and try to do. Sometimes the instructor will get us in the pose, then spend time helping a new student, which extends our time in the pose. My brain helpfully points out which body parts hurt, how long it's been, how impossible it is to stay a second longer.

"If you're struggling in triangle, find your breath." And when I do, I realize my mind's voice becomes still - or at least I can't hear it as well through the ocean waves of my breathing and heartbeat.

It's a matter of trust and changing allegiance. Allowing myself to believe the open and vulnerable wisdom of my married center over the protective intelligence of my head. It's time to give her a well-deserved rest.

photos from Flickr

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lupine Light

The world is gray - dripping, soggy, saturated gray. Coming back from our walk this afternoon, the air was so wet, it was hard to tell if the moisture was falling or rising. It's been more gray than not for weeks now, with no end in sight. June is often one of our wettest months. May is not supposed to be. It's supposed to be the bright sunlit glory born of the previous months of gray, like a reward for having endured all that darkness.

Somehow complaining about the unseasonable rain seems particularly ungraceful right now, especially with so much really wrong and hurtful in the world. I'm trying to find the gifts in this unusual time, not exactly ignoring my sadness at the lack of light and warmth, but just making room for more than that.

I've been surprised to see that spring has progressed at a regular pace even with minimal sun. My favorite farmer's market is selling local strawberries - the parking lot was jammed today. Rhodies and roses and rabbits abound. Swallows are nesting while grosbeaks and so many of their cousins are fledging.

Greens glow an almost nuclear light - the new buds on fir trees, new leaves on oak and maple and hazel, grasses bursting like fireworks in fields too wet to mow.

Lupine or daisies or hawkweed blanket every open space not filled with asphalt. And it was the lupine that helped me make the shift into wonder and curiosity last week. I'm really crazy for the tall purple spikes that grow wild around here. Sturdy plants that return year after year, but which won't easily tolerate being transplanted. If lupines were animals, they'd be considered social. You never see just one, or even a dozen. They exist in patches.

This year they're blooming in huge vibrant pools of the clearest violet blue imaginable. A pasture I drive by often is one enormous lupine landscape, so startling I hit my brakes every time. Roadsides and onramps sport torches of lavender light offering their glory, reaching into the hearts of anyone willing to see, declaring victory. Not against the darkness, but within it. Because without the cool damp shade of this May, their light would not be nearly so vivid.

photo from Flickr