Got a Light?

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died yesterday at the age of eight-three.  I’ve been reading her work since I was introduced to her talent in graduate school.  I’ve been deliberate to follow the release of her new work to add to the collection of her books.  I’ve been mesmerized not only by her poetry, but what she represented as an artist. She was a conscious, thoughtful, and feisty woman.

 I remember listening to her on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett.  Oliver was smoking during the interview emphasizing her self-directed, stubborn, and living life on one’s own terms mentality.  She was simple and complicated.

lighted candle
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I think a lot about lighting a candle to honor those who have died and in the same breath thinking about their death as their flame being blown out.  Why do we go to fire for the life force?  What is it about a flickering flame that holds our gaze, while holding our consciousness hostage in the mystery of something we can get close to, can’t touch, can warm us and burn us, can light our way or burn everything down creating a blackout?

One of my favorite Broadway musicals, Rent, has a song that starts, “Gotta a light?”  It’s two people in an abandoned warehouse where they’re living with no heat, not electric, and yet these two want to begin their romantic dance by playing with a candle.  The cycle of the flame, going from lighting to extinguishing will be the metaphor or their relationship throughout the show.  Isn’t that true for our lives?  We’re in the light at some points and completely in the dark in others.

As we say goodbye to Mary Oliver, I will ask you if you’ve got a light?  Do you have a recurring beacon of hope and warmth serving to provide solace during times of despair? I believe Oliver’s poems will light out way for many years.  Here’s to Ms. Oliver!

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Life Expectancy…Is it an Oxymoron?

I’ve been working in the arena of chronic and life-threatening illness for over thirty years.  I’ve seen the sickest get well and those with great prognoses die unexpectedly.  I was watching one of my favorite shows This is Us(spoiler alert, although I’m a season behind) and learned how the dad died. He didn’t die in the fire as we were led to believe, he died from complications of smoke inhalation.

selective focus photo of red poppy flower in bloom
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Why do we expect to live? We’re born and hopefully each day we open our eyes and take a breath we’re granted another day.  I know many couples who have experienced miscarriage, still births, or the death of infants and toddlers.  At the Colorado Stock Show, a cowboy died, age twenty-five of injuries sustained after falling off a bull.  We’re looking for guarantees where no can be offered.

What prompted these thoughts?  I took my cat to the vet because he’s been ill the past twelve days.  He’s fourteen, has cardiac problems, and now has bladder stones.  The vet is consulting the cardiologist to see if he’s a surgical candidate.  It made me wonder about quality of life versus the number. I stitched my way through the notion that prolonging life just to blow out another candle is always the answer. I live in a state where physician assisted death is legal.  It’s a topic of discussion in schools teaching future healthcare professionals. It’s a topic taught in bioethics and health humanities programs.  There’s no escaping the issue, and yet how often do we actually think about it?

I’m not equating the life of a feline to the life of a human.  I am saying our attachment to sentient beings is real.  I’m saying every day when I awake, I get to interact with my family, my pets, and creatures I can’t/don’t see.  I don’t expect life.  I do hope for it and take measures to make it more the probability than the possibility. My goal isn’t to be morose, but real.

We can pray during our meditation in hopes of altering an unknown outcome.  We can send healing energy hoping to reinforce the natural forces adding to life, but we can’t ever know if it was received or the impact it had on the outcome, so we rely on faith.

Thanks for letting me rant, reason, and ramble.

We’ll Go Round in Circles

I love the mystery of the mind.  I never know where I will go when I begin my meditation.  I light the candle, start the music, and sit down at the table.  I say a prayer, lift the needle and thread, and begin the practice.  It takes a few moments to enter a place of rhythm and calm.

The stitches progress and today I’m especially aware of the shape I’m stitching. I’m in love with circles. I have very few works of art where I don’t incorporate circles.  One of my mentors, noted anthropologist Angeles Arrien wrote a book titled Signs of Life: the Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them.  The five universal shapes are circle, square, triangle, cross, and spiral.  Like numbers and colors, we all have a shape we’re drawn to…mine is circles.

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As I stich I think about and begin to experience the universality of the circle.  Our community within the Feast for the Soul feels like a circle, no beginning or end.  It feels like the communal act of meditating with those around the globe punctuates my love circles.  It also makes me feel connected to my practice and all those whose energy I’m incorporating in my practice.

The other aspect of the circle is the notion of returning to a place I’ve been before.  When I “circle” back I dig a deeper groove in my consciousness. It works to emphasize thoughts that are important or those I need to explore further.  Revisiting experiences, thoughts, and feelings provides a nest of safety and security.  It allows me to spiritually nest in comfort.

I was surprised the circle theme permeated my meditation so early in the Feast for the Soul.  It’s part of the mystery of what will bubble up to the surface!

Escape the Trappings

Today starts the Feast for the Soul.  The day when people around the globe are asked to participate in a journey to the inner core of our being.  It’s one of the few times when people around the globe come together to stop, breathe, and reflect.  The goal of the Feast for the Soul is to have each of us meditate forty minutes, for forty days.  I don’t formally meditate but engage in activities I find meditate in nature.  It’s this time during the year when intentionality becomes paramount and the experience is communal.

If you know me and if you don’t, I’ll tell you, I like to lead.  I’m an idea guy and believe in creating community.  I take it upon myself to be a catalyst within the groups to which I belong. I find it exhilarating.   It’s a huge responsibility I gladly accept.

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The Feast for the Soul allows me to a part of a huge global community.  The organizers provide opportunities for learning, ritual, and expanding our capacity as humans. It’s during these forty days when I can be part of a tribe. A member of a group with a common goal, belief system, and practice.  I can exhale unlike any other time during the year.

As I sat in my studio meditating, I was keenly aware of my breathing.  It was slower than usual.  I felt focused which is good because I meditate doing a stitching practice (I’m a textile artist).  I focus on one piece throughout the forty days so when I sit before the cloth, I know I’m entering a place of quiet, mindfulness, and limitless opportunities. I give myself a gift by forgoing all responsibility for others and focus on my own health and happiness.

This year I’ve recruited friends to join me on the journey.  It’s a common space we can share even from afar.  It’s an opportunity for us to engage in community from afar.  It’s also adding more people to the herd looking to make the world safer, more joyful, and healthier.

POV

There are many influences in our lives. If you look at how you get your news, what inspires you, what angers you, and what challenges you, you’ll have a clue about what creates your point-of-view. One of the things I’ve been pondering given the state-of-the-world is how permeable is my being. What in the world gets through to my emotional and spiritual self?

There are a number of things that stay ever present for me. I read the posts of people I grew up with and see their Facebook posts and wonder how people who grew up with similar economic backgrounds, cultural and education backgrounds, and geographic influences can grow up to be so diverse. Life experiences once we left our protected hometown influences us and I’m amazed at the diversity that has emerged over the years.

If you watch any talent related, in particular singing, reality shows, you’ll know how important point-of-view is to becoming a success. The agents and producers are looking for what makes each potential “star” unique. The real world is a bit different because inherently we’re all unique. Nature and nurture have permeated our being and paved the road for who we become.

I was watching a broadcast the other day and the moderator encouraged, maybe even challenged each viewer to find someone with an opposing world view and have a conversation. He specifically focused on the word conversation because too often it’s a debate. The goal is to allow differing points-of-view to enter the circle. Given the current political and social climate in the United States that’s a difficult task.

It’s not uncommon for me to go from zero to sixty in my emotional life as I respond (notice I said respond) to a news report or interview. The good thing is that energy moves me to action. The bad thing is that it becomes a reflex and perhaps I should be looking for more constructive ways to resolve issues. I’m not saying opponents to my point-of-view would be willing, evidenced by my congressman’s tweets last night, but when does dialogue enter the picture?

I believe this is why supporting the arts is imperative to the health of our civilization. I don’t have to be antagonistic when I’m representing myself creatively. In the studio, I’m able to release the energy, state my message, and not be invisible. As artists we can give voice to those who feel invisible.

We’re in trying times and having a point-of-view should be cherished. When you scrape away all the crap, the least common denominator is the desire for us to be safe, healthy, and happy. The question is how do we keep returning to the least common denominator and move forward? What will you’re point-of-view add to the conversation?

Purpose

I believe in listening to my dreams. When I was in graduate school I had the honor of studying with Jeremy Taylor. Jeremy has devoted his life to dreams and dream work. His two books I love are, Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams, and When People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. Obviously, there’s no substitute for studying with the master, but getting involved in a dream group taught me lots about the “purpose” of my dreams.

The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about “purpose” because it made its presence known in a dream. I was dreaming about my “purpose”, and each and every time I awoke and went back to sleep, I went back to the dream on “purpose”.

So what is my purpose? I believe there are many levels to that question. I believe my purpose is in my DNA. Since the age of four I’ve know that my destiny was alleviate the pain and suffering of others. I can remember watching the Easter Seals Telethon and wondering what I could do to help these kids walk.

Free-associating I went from, “What is my purpose”, to what purpose do I serve. I also thought about specific experiences and actions and want to explore “what purpose do they serve?”

My art serves a purpose. It allows me to create work that personifies my emotional and spiritual self. It allows me to share my story and allow my vulnerability be made public. I feel that when I’m able to share my story, it hopefully gives someone the courage, the freedom, and the momentum to tell their story; that’s my purpose.

I went to college at the State University of New York at Albany. I had a professor, T.J. Larkin, for Intro to Communications (I was a Rhetoric and Communications major). When he was in a derogatory mood he would talk about people going to Boulder to find themselves. It’s funny because I currently live about an hour from Boulder. Last I visited, there weren’t any lost people sitting on the curb hoping to find themselves.

I guess what I’m saying is that my purpose wasn’t something I found; it’s something that found me. Recognizing my purpose guides my journey.

Winter Feast for the Soul 2017: Day 40 Gratitude

Forty days have passed by quickly. I was looking back at past years and found that this is the first time that I posted on this blog each of the forty days. I did a few things different this time starting with the lead up to the Winter Feast for the Soul.   I focused on ways that I could carve out time each day to meditate.

Here I am, day forty and I’m relieved and excited. I’m relieved because I completed the goal of meditating each of the forty days. I went deeper in each meditation than I have in the past. Perhaps after doing this for a few years I’m aware that I flushed out a lot more thoughts than I have in years past.

I’m grateful for having the freedom to spend each day meditating. I’m grateful that over the years I have surrounded myself with people who are on a path to self-knowing. I’m grateful to have people in my life who support me, nurture me, and encourage me.

Gratitude is a funny thing because it’s not something I have in my consciousness, but there’s an awareness that hovers around me at all times. There’s an African tribe that when someone is down and depressed, contemplating suicide, they bring the person to the center of the village and tell them the impact they have on each and every person’s life. They are bombarded with connection. They are the center of a circle of gratitude. The village is grateful that person’s presence. This is a time when the village holds the gratitude till a time when the individual can embody the gratitude.

I leave this period of meditation ready to move forward. I’ve already laid the groundwork for continuing my meditation. I’d like to revisit some of the topics that have come to the foreground over the past forty days.

I hope you’ll continue to share my journey. I believe it’s something we can co-create!