A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

My older sister is here visiting me. Since we were the first two of seven siblings, we were each other’s first friends. Now that we are 72 and 75, we have a lifetime of memories that we have shared, some of those unique just to the two of us and no one else. It’s been fun to remember some of the old stories of who we were growing up, and for me to realize even more deeply how that early cultural and familial conditioning carved my ego and impacted my soul. Rich memories of life on an Iowa farm, living so close to the earth, to animals, to each other. We all worked together and worked hard to encourage that rich, loamy, black Iowa soil to give us a living–to give us life. My sister and I review the times of baling hay, castrating pigs, chasing the cattle in the cornfields when the fence failed, grinding corn for the feeders, and always how we negotiated my father’s anger and expectations.

I know these stories so well. I hold them dear. But I notice this. Those stories of me aren’t who I am. For so long I have attached my self to those stories of what made me strong, what tore me down, what give me joy, what plunged me into grief. And I held onto them as my identity, my pass into adulthood. But now, there is this voice that reminds me that that was then. Stories. Past. And it may be helpful to understand how that story had shaped my personality and how it has created barriers to realizing who I am. But I am not the story. That is not my Self.

This newer Self is a consciousness that doesn’t need to work hard. In fact, there is nothing to do. This emerging Self goes more slowly. There is nothing to prove. This emerging Self has been graced with the increasing sense of just being. Just being mySelf instead of myself. And here is the sweetest part; I am not separate from anything or anyone else.

It’s this gentle slide from thinking I am this body, this story, this ego to a consciousness of taking pleasure in my Self as space, as vast, as love, as strength, as will, as compassion, as joy–things essential. Things I write now, yet beyond what I can write, to simply being my experience of my Self. I am not memory. I am Now.

It’s ironic to write this on Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembering, having memories of those who have served and died to protect and defend the citizens of the United States to keep them free. And please don’t think I dishonor those stories. Memories are not bad. It’s just the attachment to them, so that we don’t see who we really are.

It’s not that I was never told this as a child. Growing up also meant I went to church and Sunday School every Sunday. I was also given the story that I was a child of God. I was connected to that which I could not see or fully understand, yet gave me belonging. And was true. Now I am opening to understanding at 72 what it means. Not just a child of God, but a co-creator with God– never be separate from that which created me. That Great Consciousness that created everything. That potential. That kind of power. That deep relaxation.

What a different kind of freedom on this Memorial Day.

Sign on my refrigerator.

Finisterre: Seeing What Is Really There

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

It’s late on Monday; my day to publish the next blog. I’m still dreaming I’m in the Grand Canyon this week–strange dreams, but always the sense of flowing in water.

When I look at the words of the pledge I wrote down above, I think what fulfills that pledge this week is the last phrase–“to create in ways I hadn’t imagined.”

I’m wondering if it is the influence of seeing the first spring flowers at every stop of our road trip–from yellow violets to pink cacti, hordes of daffodils, fields of poppies, hillsides of lupine and the slopes of yellow brittle brush in the Canyon, but something stirred in me this week, back to a time when I used to draw wildflowers–during my very first years in Alaska, when so many blooms were new to me, especially the tiny alpine versions that survived such brutal winters.

This desire arose to draw the flowers emerging in my yard now. But how to start? I had let the drawing lapse many years ago. Then a book came to mind that had been recommended years ago that I had started and then put down–Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It was published in 1989 yet remains a classic. She carefully details how drawing evolves through childhood and teenage years, and how the progression from drawing stick figures to drawing realistic images is developed. Her primary premise is that children, and thus adults, are not taught how to see, that is how to perceive using the right side of the brain. Unlike the left side of the brain, the right mode is aware but mostly nonverbal and not connected to words. It is related more to the present moment, and has an understanding of metaphoric relationships. There is a willingness to suspend judgment, to make leaps of insight, and sees the the overall pattern of things. (pg. 40)

These attributes relate so closely to my work on the spiritual path that I had to smile. I was being drawn back to this way of seeing, and being present, intuitive and wholistic. It delighted me. Edwards goes on to say, “To sum up, adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes–that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing.They take note of what’s there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object….What is the solution to this dilemma? You must turn turn off your dominant left brain mode of verbal categorizing and turn on the right mode processing part of your brain, so that you can see the way an artist sees.(pg.78)

I have been doing the beginning exercises the past few days, all designed to turn on this right brain, of course. It’s been fascinating. I’ve done some mirroring exercises and drawing things upside down. Another exercise was to draw my hand, millimeter by millimeter, without looking at the paper while I drew. It was so intense that several things happened: first, I didn’t have a sense of time. I noticed when I am so focused on the exercise, I thought of nothing else; there was no room for my inner critic to make a comment. (that occurs when you stay in the present moment!) I also looked up after the exercise and was surprised that I could see the birch trees outside my window so clearly and distinctly–again, as if perceiving them in a new way. Natural mind-altering. And when doing the fourth exercise, I began to feel a lot of inner heat, as if something had begun to burn within me–an awakening. All of this took me into new territory by simply drawing in this right brain way!

I’m resting in these revelations today, but sensing that this new awareness supports and enhances my spiritual journey perfectly, from just a different perspective. Again, I am touched at the attunement of this guidance and the joy that is embedded in it.

I am adding a picture that I was to replicate drawing upside down–first the version in the book, (pg.52) and then the version I drew. I’m not drawing flowers yet, but I don’t want to until I learn how to turn on this right side of my brain easily and see them as they really are!

In some way, the Grand Canyon has opened me to this next inner journey. I can only guess. But those ancient rocks vibrate with the energy of being, and perhaps, I was beginning to see them as they really are as we floated by so effortlessly. This is an interesting Finisterre for me. I wonder what will unfold. How will my writing be affected? Included? I will see.

Finisterre: Canyon Impact

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I’m still feeling a little inadequate in writing about my trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for eight days. Perhaps it is not wanting to disturb the resounding stillness it impregnated into my soul. Those towering, layered edifices of ancient stone–citadels, temples, cathedrals, domes, spires. Solid, enduring, holding, captivating, tempting me to apprehend this version of time, this ability to wait, this allowing.

Paradoxically those very walls aren’t solid or impregnable. Slowly, every day, bits and pieces are falling and sliding down from the heights. Water is molding them, wearing them down, smoothing them into sand. And in contrast to the silent stones, the river is never silent here. It rages in rapids and riffles and rumors. It is always speaking of change and movement and dynamism, digging the canyon deeper, revealing more. In this 277-mile canyon, these paradoxical forces co-exist–the deep silence and the raging sound, the stark solidity and the steady streaming.

It soothes me to know that like the Canyon, I can be a paradox. Part of me strong and soaring, part of me aging, slowly being worn down. I can be loud, and I can be so quiet. I can rage and I can laugh. I can be so judgmental, and I can be so kind. I can be fearless, and I can be afraid. Reasonable and illogical. Egotistical and soulful. And it all is okay. It all can fit in the canyon just as it is. So much of my life has been either shamed by those pieces I didn’t like or trying to fix them. Not allowing myself to just be human.

I got angry on this trip. A group of the fellow rafters were ready to party loudly after we made camp. Not one night but every night. I was tired. I wanted to sleep, not join a toga party. On the third night, I was annoyed. On the fourth night, I shouted for them to be quiet, and judged them as less than me. I wanted to feel patience and equanimity and allowing. But I didn’t. I let myself feel the anger and fatigue and self-righteousness. It was true in the moment. And later, it wasn’t.

I will never be perfect. Such a relief now to know this in the last decades of my life. No more trying to attain something. I wish to just be myself, accepting all the parts of who I am and all that unfolds in my life. Then I’ve opened the space to be changed by grace, to be molded like the water molds the canyon, to be held like the presence of those high canyon walls.

“Every time we catch ourselves getting reactive; every time we catch ourselves acting as if the outcome of a situation has the authority to name who we are, we are to take a deep breath and remind ourselves–it isn’t true. That there’s this hidden, unfelt, deep, abyss-like center in which we’re being unexplainable sustained in the midst of the circumstances.” James Findlay

I am such a small speck of sand, such a moment in the 14 billion years of our universe’s history. The Canyon has gently guided me to be humble, to take my place in time– with an acquiescence to simply be with what is. It is such a place of grandeur– and so am I. So are you. Take a breath.

Finisterre: Road Trip Ends, but Journey Continues

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

At the end of this 4700 mile road trip, I am cascaded with memories of a still frozen North and sleeping in single digit temperatures in the Yukon, mincing my steps on ice the first three nights. Then as we wound south, the peeking of green, the sight of migrating swans, the first shy flowers, and then the thrill of big towering trees as we dropped into Hope, British Columbia just before the border. The temperatures rose to the forties and fifties, as the rain pelted down in Washington and Oregon, the fields green and the daffodils riotous in their showy yellow. We crossed the Sierras with snow piled six to eight feet on each side and sticks of trees protruding from recent avalanches, and then we descended to a campground on the eastern side, in fields of lupine and orange poppies. Finally the temperatures rose to the sixties and seventies. We began to throw off the covers in the camper, sought out our sandals, put away the heavy coats. The air became dry and dusty and as we entered the high desert, bright yellow desert dandelions covering the slopes with the sage and dry brush. And finally we left the high country and felt the press of temperatures in the eighties and nineties and finally one hundred when we reached Palm Springs. Here the cactus were in high bloom, and harebells and flowers with strange names like white tack stem and Mormon tea. We camped in the midst of big smooth granite boulders and Joshua trees. We only lasted two days there before scampering up to the mountains again in northern Arizona to cooler temps, settling into a mountain cabin among the Ponderosa pines. So many clear nights of star gazing and moon watching. So many times that we stumbled upon the right camp spot or surprising vista. Tomorrow begins our long-awaited raft down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon where stones 1.85 billion years old will enfold me in their history and mystery, and I can only imagine the river itself will teach me in its own unique way about going with the flow, not resisting the rapids, trusting in what unfolds. It also means I will be off-grid for eight days and not able to post by next Monday—so this one is a double : )

Beyond the outer memories of this road trip, I noticed a subtle sweet inner journey happening too. Of course, there were so many times my soul felt uplifted, filled and humbled by the sheer beauty of the landscape. But I’m speaking to a more subtle sense. A sense that very small things would bring me suddenly to quiet tears. Like my heart was open in a new way that surprised me. I was so often touched by my experience, exploring new places within me, places I didn’t even know I had protected. 

One of them happened at a Saturday market in Prescott, Arizona as we wandered the scattered booths, searching for breakfast. It seemed unremarkable at first—a stand selling fair trade coffee. The seller was an older man and something about his features made me sure he was from a Central American country. My friend picked up the coffee bag—El Salvador. Then I read the hand-lettered sign that listed the attributes of these particular coffee beans. It was grown from “sustainable agriculture—”no pesticides, shade-grown, complex canopy, direct from farm to consumer.”  But it was the last line that caught me. “We pay high enough wages that our workers don’t have to immigrate.” Unbidden tears came to my eyes. Surprised I tried to swallow and blink my eyes to calm them down. Why was I crying? 

And then I realized many years ago, I had begun to stuff away feelings about immigrants that I had met and lived among. Some of this happened in Mexico with immigrants at a shelter in Tijuana and some happened in Anchorage with the Hmong from Laos. At the shelter, I was just present and listened to the immigrant stories and worked on housing at the town dump where a village had grown up. In Anchorage, I helped in all the usual ways of food, housing, getting a green card, transportation and jobs. And always being present and listening to the stories. But the stories were so tragic, so violent, so unjust, so harrowing and the needs so great. Without really knowing it, I think now that I gradually shut my heart down to actually feeling how angry, helpless and inadequate I felt listening to and knowing these stories. I wanted to save them, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t fully understand the culture. I made mistakes. I couldn’t control bad outcomes. And the injustice itself was systemic. I felt myself pull away, naming it compassion fatigue, but not understanding the consequences then to my heart. 

But through following my spiritual path of inquiry, teachings and meditation, my heart has been opening. It seems such a small thing, just seeing a sign saying that workers don’t have to immigrate and face such suffering in doing so. Knowing there are fellow human beings aligning themselves with hope against the odds—not succumbing to cynicism, as I wrote about last week. 

It’s such a vulnerable thing—to feel what you feel. But it is the way through. I let myself feel those tears and I spent time curious about why. In doing so, my capacity to be with painful situations has matured. I have moved away from feeling I need to save people, to believing my presence is enough. I’ll know how I want and need to respond and it will be attuned.

Stephen Levine, poet and author best known for his work on death and dying, was asked once  by a member of the audience this foundational question: “What is the meaning of life?”

Levine acknowledged that was a vast question, but in that moment he said, “I think the meaning of life is to let your heart be broken.”   

I think I understand what he was saying. It means living a life beyond being in control, knowing all the answers, or knowing anything at all. But there is where real life simply is—rich and fertile and real. The tears that live so close to the surface in me now I take as my guides to opening my heart to being broken, so as the singer Leonard Cohen says, so “the light can come in.”