I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Scarcity versus abundance

It's Sunday morning again, and I've been thinking this week about having enough. Enough of what, you ask? Well, just about everything. And what I really wonder about is how you determine that.

Some of us are old enough to remember our parents, who were raised during the Great Depression, admonishing us to finish the food on our plates, to think of the starving children in Africa, or China, or somewhere other than here. In America, I was taught, we are fortunate and have enough for a good life. But it's not true; it depends a lot on how you were raised, and what the fortunes of your family might have been. Some people don't have a place to live, enough to eat, or any way to change their circumstances. Right here in America. And some are fortunate but don't know it.

When I was little, I never even gave a thought to any of this. We always had a place to live and food on the table. It seems that if you never go without, you can't see what you've got. It's like air; if you always have it, you breathe in and out and never consider what it would be like not to be able to breathe.

Or like health. You don't even consider what it would be like not to be able to run and play, take long walks, pick up your kids, or grandkids, until one day when you just can't any more. The whole problem with health is that it is invisible until you don't have it, and regaining health is pretty basic to enjoyment of life.

As I've gotten older, I realize I've had my share of abundance. My health is good, especially when I compare myself to others my age. And I've got a roof over my head and enough good food to eat, maybe even too much food sometimes. But I don't always see these things, I take them for granted. I've got a TV and cable, a DVD player, I buy bird food and watch all kinds of birds dine on my front porch.

Today I'll get in my car and drive over an hour to Snohomish and jump out of airplanes for recreation. Although I won't do that as much as I used to, partly because of money and partly because I just don't have the desire any more, I know I'll come home renewed and refreshed. Last Thursday I hiked up into the High Country with my senior friends and saw a beautiful glacier and heard it rumble nearby. I carried a backpack filled with gear for possible weather changes. I came home from that hike renewed and refreshed. I've got a good life.

If I wanted to, I could compare my life with others and feel bad about it, because I don't own my own home, my furnishings are rather basic and bare, both of my children died before me and I don't have any grandchildren, never will have. My car is almost ten years old now, and my income is not great and is fixed for the rest of my life. It will dwindle in value and I'll do without things that today seem essential. I'm not getting any younger, and my good health won't last.

The point of this post is how important my mindset is. What I focus on makes all the difference in whether I feel blessed with abundance or cursed with scarcity. Nothing outside of me changes while the inside of my head goes around in circles. One day I get up and feel great, excited about life and what I've got ahead, and the next day I groan as the clock shows it's time to get out of bed and face the day.

I will choose abundance. I will be happy for today's blessings. Tomorrow, maybe, I'll feel differently. We all know people who see the bright side of life, and those who will never see it, no matter how much abundance flows into their lives. If my state of mind is what changes, rather than my circumstances, I'll choose abundance every time.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Yellow noise of dandelions

Ray Bradbury's book, Dandelion Wine, which I quoted from last week, was a perfect book for me to be reading this week. I talked about Mrs. Bentley, who couldn't convince Jane and Alice that she had ever been young. Mrs. Bentley was a saver, she kept every souvenir from her past and believed that she could keep her youth through her memorabilia.

But of course we know better, right? I have a drawer full of those things, and I could never part with them. I try once in a while. But Mrs. Bentley was so shaken by the girls' disbelief that she wondered what her dead husband would say to her.
"You're saving cocoons." That's what he'd say. "Corsets, in a way, you can never fit in again. So why save them? You can't really prove you were ever young. ... You're not the dates, or the ink, or the paper. You're not these these trunks of junk and dust. You're only you, here, now -- the present you."
So Mrs. Bentley gave the girls some things she thought they might like and then burned the rest in a big bonfire in her backyard. The girls and Mrs. Bentley spent quite a bit of time together that summer and became good friends.
"How old are you, Ms. Bentley?"
"How old were you fifty years ago?"
"You weren't ever young, were you, and never wore ribbons or dresses like these?"
"Have you got a first name?"
"My name is Mrs. Bentley."
"And you've always lived in this house?"
"And never were pretty?"
"Never in a million trillion years?" The two girls would bend toward the old lady, and wait in the pressed silence of four o'clock on a summer afternoon.
"Never," said Mrs. Bentley, "in a million trillion years."
 I've been mourning the death of a beautiful eaglet that I watched on the Hornby Eagle cam since March, when the parents began brooding two eggs. He (or she) hatched on April 29, named Phoenix by the cam owners, and on July 14, for some unknown reason, Phoenix died in the nest. The first night was particularly difficult for me, I cried a lot, and I think perhaps the unexpected loss of this life I'd come to care so passionately about has triggered some unfinished grief that I still carry around.

Maybe grief actually never goes away completely, it just fades into the background and adds a certain poignancy to life. I know that I have moments of complete happiness and contentment, and other moments when the slightest thing will open some wellspring and I'm in tears. And the tears don't always feel inappropriate or filled with sadness, just a filling up and emptying out of some unseen reservoir.

I have always loved Emily Dickinson's poetry, and one of her poems has been wafting through my mind during the week. She wrote it in 1864.
Ample make this Bed -
Make this Bed with awe -
In it wait till Judgment break
Excellent and Fair.
Be its Mattress straight -
Be its Pillow round -
Let no Sunrise' yellow noise
Interrupt this Ground -
I don't think I'm going to watch any more eagle cams, because I just cannot do anything about the vicissitudes of nature. It's a little amazing to me that thousands of us who peeked into the nest are brokenhearted because we loved this little creature and could do nothing to help. My friend Nancy wrote a wonderful post about this on her blog that she calls "Blissed-Out Grandma."

I am truly enriched by the time I spend on the Internet, surfing around and spying into the nest of wild creatures, listening to the ups and downs of my blogging friends, but it's not without thorns, hidden there among the roses of experience.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Somewhen younger

The book I recently finished reading, Biocentrism, spends a lot of time reframing the habitual ways we think about time. It's been on my mind lately, trying to come to terms with, well, not being as young as I used to be. From the book:
Consider all the days that have passed since the beginning of time. Now stack them like chairs, and seat yourself on the very top. Isn’t it amazing that you just happen to be here now, perched seemingly by chance on the cutting edge of infinity? Science claims it’s a big accident, a one-in-a-gazillion chance.
I still feel like the young girl whose blond hair streaked behind her as she ran on sturdy young legs, with total unselfconscious joy. But today, when I need to hurry across a street, I can feel the effort to get those legs going even a little faster than my normal gait. In the morning when I first get up, I totter uncertainly on those same legs, until I can get them out of sleep mode. I remember when I would spring out of bed, and it wasn't that long ago, either.

The way I talk about time does make it seem like a train, using phrases like "back then" to describe the young girl in an earlier car, or "back in the day" to talk about the way things used to be. If time is truly infinite and the linear passing of days and years and millennia is created within our brains, what is the truth of it?

In reading the book, which I found quite comforting in many ways, I am beginning to wonder how I might reframe my mind to think of time not being linear. Lanza, the book's author (you are linked to him in that first paragraph), found a passage in Ray Bradbury's wonderful book, "Dandelion Wine" that says it perfectly for me:
Mrs. Bentley said, "Everyone was young once." 
"Not you," whispered Jane, eyes down, almost to herself. Her empty ice stick had fallen in a vanilla puddle on the porch floor.
"But of course I was eight, nine, ten years old, like all of you."
The two girls gave a short, quickly-sealed-up laugh. Mrs. Bentley's eyes glittered. "Well, I can't waste a morning arguing with ten-year-olds. Needless to say, I was ten myself once and just as silly."
"You're joking with us," giggled Jane. "You weren't really ten ever, were you, Mrs. Bentley?"
"You run on home!" the woman cried suddenly, for she could not stand their eyes. "I won't have you laughing."
"Good-bye," said the two girls, giggling away across the lawn under the seas of shade. "Thanks for the ice cream!"
"Once I played hopscotch!" Mrs. Bentley cried after them, but they were gone.
Although I might feel young, I am looking ahead on that linear time train towards the milestone of seventy. I feel a lot like Mrs. Bentley.

The other day I experienced heat exhaustion on a hike with my fellow seniors. It was pretty distressing to do what I've always done and have new symptoms that emerged because I'm no longer as durable as when I was younger. It was also distressing to feel so badly and know that nothing would do except to keep going until I got out of the woods. All I really wanted to do was lay down in the trail and moan. But I couldn't, so I kept going.

It would be so wonderful to have another way to think about time. Lanza says that time and space are both created within our consciousness and give us a way to explain reality. If it really is all created within my own brain, I should be able to find other ways to frame the passage of time.

We all face the same trials and tribulations just being alive. And everything that is alive must die, it's the nature of biology. God created me, and you, and the world. And we created the blogosphere, and here we are.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thinking before speaking

Actually, thinking before telling would be a more accurate name for this post. I am one of those people who, for most of my life, couldn't keep a secret. If I was told something in confidence, I would have every intention of keeping it to myself, but at the first chance I got, even before I realized intellectually what I was doing, I was spilling the beans.

I can't explain what motivated me exactly, but knowing a secret about someone felt like a weight I carried around with me, until I unburdened myself by sharing it with someone. I guess this is how secrets always get out of hand, but it certainly made some people very mad at me over the years.

Once at my job in Boulder, my boss told me he was getting ready to fire someone in the office. Since I was friends with that person, I didn't want him to be blindsided by this, so I told him. He didn't believe me, he was so naive and trusting. I assured him it was true, that I had heard it from the boss himself, so they had a confrontation. I was aware of it and knew I was also going to be in trouble. And boy, was I! Although I wasn't fired, I was given every chance to quit, but I didn't. The boss didn't talk to me for months and would walk out of the room when I entered. Fortunately I had skills that were valued enough to help me get through those difficult months, and when it was time for my next evaluation, the boss explained that he would put the incident into the file, I would receive no raise for the next year, and that it would be put behind us at that point.

This was just one of the times I recall that my inability to keep things to myself got me into trouble. And then, at fifty, the man who I call Smart Guy came into my life. He is a very private individual, I am a very public person, and in the ancient pattern of people marrying their opposites, we somehow got together. It did help that we were both avid skydivers, born in the same year, and had many characteristics in common: love of the outdoors, backpacking, meditation, and vegetarianism.

One of the first things that ignited unpleasant sparks in our relationship was me talking about us to my girlfriends. When something that he considered private between us was brought up in a social setting, I learned to see the signs, him withdrawing and getting quiet, and I knew we would be dealing with it later. We managed to get through those first turbulent years with the help of a therapist. Looking back, it seems almost beyond belief that we made it through, but something kept us both trying. He said we didn't actually meet, we collided.

Nowadays, I still hear the conversation my earlier self would have had, but I have learned to think before I speak. It's almost like I have two dialogs going on: the one that actually comes out of my mouth, and the one that comes into my mind and would have, in the old days, have spilled out without me thinking twice about it. Regret would only come later, not while I was having the conversation.

I'm sure that part of what motivated me was the thrill of having information that the other person didn't have, and being the bearer of juicy details about a mutual acquaintance. I was, pure and simple, a gossip. Someone who loved having information about another and telling. When I think about it now, I realize I got a frisson of excitement from doing it. It really makes me feel a little ashamed to admit it now.

It's so much easier to live with my imperfections when they are not sticking out of me quite so blatantly. It is very easy for me to see how my younger self would never have admitted the guilty pleasure I derived from gossip. I would have denied it, even to myself. Today I can look at that younger self, though, with a less judgmental eye, knowing that life would mete out plenty of possibilities to grow in self knowledge.

It also allows me to be more forgiving of the folly of youth, those I see in daily life making mistakes of indiscretion. I guess it's true, that old staying about growing older and wiser.