Monday, January 30, 2012

WHAT? DON'T Carpe Diem?

                                                                                                                                                          David Ralph Johnson

I recently received a “shared” link on facebook from a good friend. It was an article written by a guest blogger in The Huffington Post entitled, Don’t Carpe Diem. The writer, Glennon Melton, writes about her journey through parenthood in her blog, Momastery. She’s an excellent writer – humorous, creative, smart and brutally honest. The article shared was about the realities of raising children and how to her, most days are like climbing Mt. Everest, 
May 2000, the "all at home" years
“Brave, adventurous souls try it because they've heard there's magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it's hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.”

She begins her writing by describing the frustration she experiences when well meaning people tell her to, “Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.” She states that everywhere she goes, someone is telling her to seize the moment, raise her awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, ect, etc, etc. She then makes this comment, “Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.”

When I read this comment I became instantly defensive. I could barely get through the article; it had drummed up so much energy within me. In fact, when I responded to my friend, I regarded the author as a “he” because in my “burst of emotion” I misread the name “Glennon” as “Glenn” and made the incorrect assumption that the writer was a male. It was not until I released that energy in an almost instantaneous retort, that I took the time to actually slow down and read the article. Last week on my facebook page I made the comment, “There’s an open space, before each decision that we make, that we seldom take time to reside in.” Man, I flew through that open space at the speed of light! Open space? What Open space?

So, why all the energy? Writing One Moment One Life is a difficult balance for me. I’ve spoken about this before, but it’s an issue that accompanies me each and every time I type at this keyboard. It’s an issue that sits on my shoulder each time I try to comfort my mother as she deals with the aftermath of stroke and the ongoing struggle with autoimmune disease. It hangs on the phone with me as I try to bring some sort of hope into my grandmother’s day as she sits in isolation in her room at the nursing home trying with all she has to rid herself of a life threatening bacteria. It’s a reality that looks back at me in the mirror as I try to muster up what it takes to keep a household running smoothly in the body and mind of a mom who is constantly sick.

The issue is this: How do I share the gift of what it means to live in the present moment with integrity? To share it in a way in which it gives affirmation or validation to the depth of our suffering, yet reveals a viable pathway to hope and happiness in spite of our pain. How do I do this without making less of our suffering or without playing the victim or without looking as if I were living “in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy”? Back and forth I go. A moment by moment dance of discernment.

Maybe I don’t share enough of the bad days. Heaven knows, I have enough of them. I do know that it’s more typical for me to muster through my bad days, figure them out and then write to you of my “journey to enlightenment”! I’ve attempted the opposite. I’ve sat down in the middle of my suffering and blasted away at the keyboard until it’s soaked in tears and I’m worried about being electrocuted. Most of those writings end up in some file on my computer never to be seen again. Or, there’s the opposite issue. As example, I took a peek this morning at the pages I have “Liked” on my facebook page associated with One Moment One Life. Here’s a sampling of the list:

· Enlightenment 
· Heal You Life 
· Mindfulness 
· 30-Days To Raise Your Vibration 
· 1000000 Aspirations 
· Live Good 
· Daily Good 
· Living In The Now 
· Be Happy 
· Good Morning It’s A Great Day 
· All Things Positivity 
· A Positive Journey 
· Always Wish Good and Think Positive 
· The Kindness Center 
· Living In Gratitude 

I’m kind of embarrassed. Yet, do I really want to subscribe to “It’s A Horrible Life” or “Misery Loves Company”…if they even exist. The idea is to fill my day with things that direct me toward a life of less suffering, right? 

If I were to have the opportunity to talk to the women that wrote the article, Don’t Carpe Diem , this is what I would say to her....  You are absolutely right! Every day is not meant to be seized. We can no more seize our day than we can hold onto water in our hand. These moments are elusive. They slip through our fingers almost before we even know they are there. I think this is what your “well meaning” friends are trying to say to you. I do believe, however, that these days are meant to be lived. Period. However they present themselves to us. And in reality, quite often it’s not such a pretty picture. Life is not always happy. Life is not always full of ecstasy. Life is not lived in complete gratitude every day. Living in the present moment means giving up our fight against reality. I’ve said this before; it’s not my being sick that causes me most of my suffering. It’s my opposition to the idea of being sick that does. Being sick is my reality . It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes, especially when I want desperately to blame something or to feel sorry for myself. For example, there are times when I am sick in bed and unable to join my kids for a family meal. I can lay there and create a tremendous amount of suffering for myself, repeating over and over again stories of how unfair life is and how I am missing out on the things I love most. This thinking does not change my reality, but it does add to my suffering by making me miserably sad. 

OR, I can accept the fact that I am sick, embracing the reality of what simply is. Again, this thinking does not change my reality, but it does create a space for the possibility of peace of mind, and sometimes even happiness. Acceptance is quite freeing. Letting go is almost always followed by a sense of liberation – a permission to feel something other than what I would otherwise feel doomed to feel. Open to things unexpected. So often, people misunderstand this for raising the white flag of defeat. No so!! It simply means being honest with yourself about what this moment holds - the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the end, I think the writer of the article did exactly that – she was honest with herself and with her readers. In the end, I hope that’s what I am able to accomplish in this life. Finding the balance in it all, being compassionate, and at the same time, being real. For it is in being real that we offer ourselves as equals in this world. Inviting others to join us along the way, giving and receiving, sharing in our joy and in our pain. This unites us. It makes illness and disease less frightening, it sheds light into a dark and lonely nursing home room and it looks back at us in the mirror with confidence, and says, “good enough.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In her book, The Places That Scare You, Pema Chodron talks about the “in-between state”. She states, “It takes some training to equate complete letting go with comfort. But in fact, ‘nothing to hold on to’ is the root of happiness.”

There are times in my life where I get this; where the letting go actually brings relief to me. There is a sense of freedom when we come to accept this fact. But there are also many times in my life where placing myself in the vulnerable space of not knowing what to do makes life extremely uncomfortable. If not careful, we fill this space by seeking comfort in things such as food, alcohol or people – knowing full well that this relief is short lived and shallow, to say the least. As Pema states, a slice of pizza does not go far when you’ve just found out you have cancer.
Placing ourselves in a space we would most like to avoid is tough business. It’s a space where we agree to let down the walls we have built to keep us safe, protected. I find this most difficult when dealing with the suffering of my family. Watching the people I love suffer - well, this hurts, plain and simple. If I can make the situation right or wrong, if I can figure it out, then I am on familiar ground and my heart feels relief…temporarily. My actions or reactions, my habitual patters of avoidance, are only momentary “fixes”, and quite often they just don’t work. It’s much like putting a Band-aid on a wound that never heals.
If we can learn to stay with those moments of unease, those places of volatile energy, we slowly learn that residing here is much more comfortable that acting out or repressing it. In the practice of Buddhism, this open ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what eventually heals us. It allows us to let go of our responsibility to control our world and in the end, teaches us how to love.
As a mother, the idea of not “fixing” a problem can be a difficult concept to grasp. There are times when disputes arise between sisters and my desire to represent both sides clearly to the other becomes insatiable. Like sitting in the theatre during a love story headed for disaster, wanting to scream, “Look back, look back! He’s there waiting for you!” Simply listening to both sides and sitting in the space of in-action can be almost more than I can bear. But what I have found is that by doing this, I create an environment of openness. Where there is much less “re-action” and more opportunity for action based on compassion and creative thinking.
Letting go, putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability and unknowing takes courage. Allowing the future to be unpredictable (which it always is!!) and open, places us in a position to be nowhere other than in the present moment. And there is nowhere richer in possibility than right here, right now. As Pema says, “This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be. Resting here completely – steadfastly experiencing the clarity of the present moment – is called enlightenment”. 

May you find comfort and freedom in the “in-between”.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A January Walk To Remember

Yesterday was such a gift. Not that every day is not a gift, but yesterday was especially wonderful. Last year on this date we had already had 30+ inches of snow and it was a whopping 10°. Yesterday was 53° and sunny, completely still and nothing but a trace of snow on the ground. But before I tell you about my day, a little bit of an update on the health
front first...

The miserable flu that took up residence in my body has finally started to loosen its grip. My lungs are clearing up and most of my misery is now located in my sinuses. It's snotty business, to say the least. This is a fairly significant success because I have done so without the use of any antibiotics! Good news on two fronts - one, my immune system was able to kick in where needed, despite the fact that I have added yet another immune suppressing medication to my daily regimen; two, antibiotics do not mix well with my current medications, either making them toxic or causing me to flare miserably. So, hurrah for this old body!! Right now...just a bothersome cold.

So back to my day yesterday...
I could tell, from the inside looking out, that yesterday was indeed a beautiful day. Around noon, my husband called, as he generally does at lunch time to check up on me, and asked me if I had been outside at all. He then stated that if at all possible, I should at least step out into the yard as it was "absolutely beautiful out". Being that my cold was lifting and the day had presented with limited fatigue and pain...I thought, what the heck! So I bundled myself up, smothered on the sun block, grabbed my camera and decided to walk. Having no idea how far I could get, I merely made my way down the driveway. (Yes, I brought my cell phone in case of an emergency!!)

You know what it feels like when you go someplace for the very first time? Everything new, your senses heightened, the world seems as if it were on steroids. Colors are brighter, sounds are clearer, air is fresher... you get the picture. This was my world yesterday. I somehow managed to let go of everything else - sickness, pain, worry, time... it all eluded me the minute I stepped outside. Out of the 190 pictures I took along my path, here are a few...

These are my feet, in real shoes, outside on the driveway. Seems like no big deal, but let me tell you, I felt pretty dang excited about the whole situation! For the longest time, after getting sick, I could not bear the thought of wearing my running shoes. As a runner, these shoes are only to be worn for running. There is a practical reason for this - they're expensive and you want to get the most miles out of your buck. There is also an emotional/psychological reason for this - a particular frame of mind that accompanies the wearing of these shoes. All business. Somewhere in time, I transitioned. I let go. Today, it felt really good to have them on my feet.

These are a couple of trees at the end of my driveway. The sun sits so low in the sky this time of year, at noon it bounces off the trees like a sunset. The shadows cast on the branches up against the clear blue sky were breathtakingly stark to me. The contrast of heaven and earth on canvas in my mind.

Before leaving our property, off to the right, there is a small forest, just big enough for a fort. Hardly even a grove to the average adult, a mystical land of make believe to the average human under ten. This fortress is appropriately christened Fort Awesome - so titled by my brother's three youngest boys. This fort was erected by the three (with the help of Uncle Dave) in the summer of 2010 during one of their visits here from Louisiana. It's been over a year since I had been out there. I'm happy to report the magic still resides.   

I plopped down for a bit to rest. The ground dry and soft, layers of pine needles make natures bed inviting. I think of all the animals in the woods that survive our bitter winters. How winds can make it seem as though it's -50° at times. How piles upon piles of snow can blow and create fortresses of flakes. I think to myself how wonderful this spot would be to find. How awesome. 

From my plopped position I look up and see the January sun through the trees. I think about everything that comes between this sun and I. Nothing...and everything. For a moment, I bask in the nothing.

As I made my way off our property and down the hill I was immersed in the symphony of sounds that made their way through the silence. Birds chirping, a chainsaw running off in the distance, this plane overhead. The sky was so bright I had no idea where my camera was pointing or if I would even come close to capturing this spec of wonder in the sky. As it flew by, I watched and pondered what it must be like - up there, in the blue. I smiled and raised my hand as if to touch the wing. United in our journey, we flew, if only for a moment, together across the sky.

There is a piece of land at the bottom of the hill where rows of hand planted pines stand tall like pencils in a box. It's a place we drive by to get to our house. One of those places too close to home, where the daily routine of coming and going creates a space hundreds of miles long - or so it seems. The summer before last, "they" cleared this swath for some reason. A chunk right out of the middle.

I understand there are often times good reasons why this needs to happen. Not sure if this is one of them or not. In any case, there is a mourning - a recognition of the holy - an honoring that begs of me some sort of acknowledgement. Even in complete stillness I could hear the souls of each tree whispering...whispering...whispering...."We are still here".  As I stood there, feet planted on the stump of what was, engulfed by what is, I found myself in the story.

It was a sacred moment for me. As I sat and rested, anointed by the sun, I listened to the telling. A story without words, a song without notes, a canvas of color beyond the rainbows edge...simply filled every fiber of my being. I took the picture below to remember.

Another spot close to home that I always wonder about is this little cemetery that sits up on the hill. I can see it from my bedroom window so it's quite often the object of both my meditation and my curiosity! Yesterday seemed a good day to visit.

It's a very old cemetery. Many of the stones date back to the early 1800's. Barely legible, worn by nature's rough hand, often in pieces...these stones also tell a story. Again, one to be felt, not heard. It sits on a hill, so many of the monuments have given way to gravity, much like we all do...eventually.

It's more walking than I have done in some time. So I sat under this tree for a bit and took in all I could see from this small ledge.

Sitting there, looking out from where I just came, is this field. Living in the Midwest, I have the privilege of experiencing the seasons to the fullest. Each season paints a different picture - each picture a different story. I like the fact that I can see the pattern left from harvest. When the fall is wet, and the farmers can't get out, it makes us all anxious. There's a sadness when seeing a half plowed field in January. In this field there is a sense of completion, a neatness - like I feel after the last dish is washed or when I tuck in clean sheets. Where the end of something prepares for the beginning of something else. A readying of sorts.

As I sit there, I notice off in a distance what looks like a bench. As I get closer I realize that it's also a headstone. I still don't quite know what I feel as I read these words. There is this odd mixture of things that swirl around in me and I still haven't quite landed on one. It's safe to say that it poked me a little bit. There's a sting when I read it. At first I felt as though there was this harshness..."Like it or not, you'll be here one day, just you wait!" But then it softened as I read it over a few times. In fact, I like that it says, "Seek your Truth, then follow me." No claims here. No corner market on the way. Just your Truth. The only assumption being the impermanence of it all. Of you and I. So I took this friend up on their offer, and paused to rest.

Sitting still, I was received into yet another story. Having accepted the offer, I found my part. Connected, I could feel my feet against the stone, the energy of the earth holding me tight, flowing through me. It didn't feel like a place of death or of ending at all. In that moment there was so much life around me that it was almost more than I could sit with. But I did. And I just continued to listen...

It would have been a bit silly for me to take pictures of every stone that moved me. Although, I did take quite a few. Some broken and propped up against themselves, some adorned in the most intricate of lichens and moss. So ornate in their patterns it looks as though they have been covered in the finest of tapestries. I'll let them tell their own story...

I eventually made my way down the hill and headed back toward home. To be honest, I wondered if I had gone out farther than what I could manage to walk back. It didn't matter though. For some reason I just knew everything would be okay. My job was to put one foot in front of the other and the rest would find me. As I walked, there was a point at which I almost felt like I was in a dream - completely awake, yet completely removed. The sun was in front of me the whole way home. It seemed surreal. So like the plane in sky, I just lifted up my camera and clicked, with the hope that I could capture the moment. When I looked at my pictures later that day, I was surprised to see this one. As if pulled from my is exactly as I remember it.

Today...well, its 20° and falling, the wind is blowing and the snow is piling up on my deck as I type. My hips feel as if they have both been dislocated and turning my neck is like trying to twist a rusty cap off a mason jar! It might have been just a little too far. But it was worth it - completely worth it. The experience filled me way more than anything the pain of today could take away. It was as if I opened a magical book and walked my way through the chapters that filled each page. From mystical fortresses, to bright yellow planes, to enchanted forests and legends of lives lived long ago - I listened to the stories without words. Yesterday truly was a gift, in more ways than I can even comprehend. But this I do know - our lives are what we make them. We can choose to live at a level that keeps us numb, that allows us to skim the surface, being pushed and pulled by what car we drive, how much money we have, how clean our homes are...Or, we can live life on a deeper level - open and vulnerable, full of courage, awake - allowing the experiences of our lives to soften us, make as a kinder more compassionate being, connecting with others and with our universe. This has nothing to do with health or capability, and has everything to do with our minds.
It's simply our choice.

I leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein,

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Peace to you as you embrace your journey,


Thursday, January 5, 2012

From The Inside Out

This morning is our first day back in the routine of things. Two dogs at my feet, a cat curled up in the corner and a stillness settles around me. The rhythmic on and off of the furnace reminds me of the blessings I tend to misplace when life gets busy. It was a good, but difficult holiday. The flu spared not one of us - eleven total. Pneumonia for the hardest hit. Oh, the gift that keeps on giving! As I sit here, still quite under the weather myself - this is the view from my desk. I literally just reached for the camera and clicked out my window.
Funny, how I am. Unable to stand for more than five minutes, weak and feverish, the first thing I did this morning, once the house cleared, was to make a list of what needs to be done. I do this when life gets a bit chaotic. Over a week of adult children and teenagers will do that to a household. I think, what I am looking for when I do this, is some sort of control...or the misconception that controlling my life will somehow alleviate my present suffering. It seems no matter how much I know the opposite to be true, in my moments of "unconsciousness", old habits flow smooth.
I'm thankful for the view. In the quiet moments of my morning, the connection to Nature is what brings me home. The sun rising over hoar frosted pines reminds me of the constant movement of life - like a river - still in it's wholeness, yet full of wild and wonderful currents. There is no stopping this constant change. It comforts me - the newness of each breath. The rebirth of all things, over and over and over again. Because, I am part of this great circle. It is my acceptance of this wonderful miracle called Life, this ever changing state of all things, that reconnects me with Being. It is my resistance to this that brings me my suffering - not the flu, not the piles of laundry, not the refrigerator full of molding leftovers - but my mind, fighting against the current, grasping for control, filling my head full of "should-bes" and "what-ifs". 

Today, I am still sick.
Today, I will be compassionate towards myself.
This is the most important thing we do.

From the inside, looking out...
Life is so very beautiful. 

The sun, waking the earth like the gentle hand of a mother, warm and tender. 
Reminding us all of our place in this new day.