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, March 27, 2016

Easter 2016

Easter Sunday long ago
I'm not sure exactly which Easter Sunday this was, but I can probably figure it out by our ages. Since our sister PJ was not in the picture (she was born in 1950), it had to be in the 1940s. I have a vague recollection of that couch and the dress. Mama dressed us in identical outfits, except mine was yellow and Norma Jean's was pink. Daddy must have taken that picture, scanned from an ancient Kodachrome slide. It held up very well over the years, reminding me of that long-ago day.

I suspect Mama also made those dresses. Our hair was curled for the occasion, after having suffered little pincurls held with bobby pins all over our heads during the previous night. I have so many memories of Mama combing my hair out from that ordeal; she wasn't gentle as she wrestled her two little girls from urchins to angels.

But to this day I cannot remember what else we did on Easter Sundays. I do recall that we had a big Easter dinner, a ham studded with cloves and pineapple, baked in the oven, along with potatoes and some vegetable. And colored Easter eggs, of course. I haven't done that in such a long time, but I remember dying them various pastel colors, using wax pencils to make designs on the eggs before immersing them into the dye, and fishing them out with little metal spoons. It's probably much more technical these days, but I suspect that yesterday there were many children and their parents around the world busy with the same task.

I know we didn't go to church, since my parents were not religious and didn't teach us anything about the meaning of Easter. To me, it was the Easter bunny, an Easter egg hunt around our backyard and Easter baskets with that green plastic "grass," jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. I don't think I was introduced to those awful marshmallow peeps until later in life. I know I've always disliked their sickly sweet taste. But they are also associated with Easter in my memories.

Once I grew up and had children of my own, we decorated eggs and my son had an Easter basket for a few years. Since my early adult life was so much more chaotic than my own childhood, I don't think I carried many traditions forward, but coloring Easter eggs remained a constant.

When I was a young girl still in high school, I discovered religion. We were living at that time in Albany, Georgia, and I started attending the local Episcopal church and was taught the true meaning of Easter. It's a little curious to me that today, in 2016, the only place that Easter is even mentioned is inside a church or in discussions about the food. Families gather for Easter dinners, and even I was invited to join a family for their Easter feast today. I declined, however, because it's just not a priority for the two of us. Attending church is also something I will not do, and sometimes I look back on my years of church attendance and wonder why it, too, fell away.

There is only one thing I am required to do today, and that's to write this post. Once I finish it, I'll start the rest of my day and, as I do every Sunday, join my coffee shop friends. We'll talk and enjoy each other's company, and then I'll come back home to watch a little TV, read a book of short stories I checked out at the library, and basically just relax. It's also the day I don't usually do any significant exercise and give myself a break. That's actually hard for me; the days when I exercise enough to get my blood flowing are much more enjoyable than those where I just sit around.

So I might go for a walk, if the rain lets us, that is. I heard it pounding on the roof during the night, hard enough to wake me up. I listened to it for awhile before I drifted back to sleep. I know that it's supposed to be rainy today before we have a few days of sunshine, so most likely I won't get a chance to work in the garden. Now that's a true enjoyable rite of spring, and exercise to boot. I am so busy pulling weeds and working the soil that I forget how much work it is until I find myself shedding clothes. When I think of the garden, it brings a smile to my face.

Easter Sunday. My thoughts drift to the Easter story, of the resurrection, memories of when I would wake on Easter Sunday after having spent four days in retreat from the world during Holy Week at the Benedictine convent. When I lived in Boulder, the abbey was located just outside of town. Since that time, they have moved to another area, but they are still providing retreats in their new abbey. While much of the Roman Catholic church has become more secular, these contemplative nuns still wear habits and are cloistered away from the world. The only time I would see most of the nuns was during the Benedictine daily offices. I can still remember their liturgical singing, a lovely memory.

I know what they are doing right now, those nuns. They spent the entire night in prayer and preparing food for the retreatants. When I left my little retreat room and stepped onto the porch on my way to Easter breakfast, there was a basket filled with still-warm cookies and decorated hard-boiled eggs. And the atmosphere in the entire convent was one of joy and thanksgiving. These nuns were celebrating the return of Christ from the tomb, and that memory fills me still to this day. I left for Boulder before the Easter Mass, because people were coming from miles around and I didn't want to lose the quiet contemplation that I had enjoyed for the past four days. I drove away from the Abbey as everyone else was arriving.

It's not as if I have missed out on any of the joys of Easter, from my early days with my parents and sister to the very different religious days. Today, this Easter Sunday, I will enjoy spending time with SG and my coffee shop friends, perhaps a visit or two with neighbors, and even spend a little time in contemplation on a quiet walk in the beautiful place I call my home these days. In the winter of my life, I am content.

And I am also listening to my partner softly snoring, my tea gone and the day beckoning. I sincerely hope that however you celebrate this Easter Sunday, you will spend at least a few moments thinking about those you love, both present and passed away, and give thanks for them. I know I will. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Remembering and forgetting

Sunlight streaming through apple juice and ice cubes
Earlier this week, I was sitting at a table during a gathering, when I saw a brilliant golden light appear nearby. I was mesmerized as the strong late-afternoon sunlight transformed this container of apple juice into a photo opportunity. It almost looks like it's on fire. The sun was close to setting when this occurred.

And today is the first day of spring, the winter season has passed and now we go into the springtime months. On this side of the equator, at least. In the Southern Hemisphere, they will move from summer into fall. While we have our vernal equinox, they have their autumnal equinox. If you're curious and want to know more facts about this day, more information is here at one of my favorite websites, timeanddate.com. I wondered why the equinox is at a particular moment (9:30pm yesterday on the west coast), and I learned this:
The March equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north and vice versa in September.
I continue to be amazed at the plethora of information available at my fingertips these days. I estimate that I use the google search engine at least a couple of times every single day. Already in these early moments I've used it to find out more about equinoxes. I wonder if this ready availability of information is partially responsible for my inability to retain facts for any length of time.

No, I think that is more a function of my aging brain. It's impossible for me to believe how much I've forgotten. The phrase "I've forgotten more than you ever knew" has turned into reality. Just the other day I thought about the fact that I've taught thousands of students in hundreds of First Jump Courses how to make their first skydive. I used a lesson plan and never deviated from it, since the consequences of forgetting to teach a critical part of that class would be huge.

And today I couldn't even begin to teach it, even with my lesson plan in hand. I've forgotten too much and am no longer an active skydiver. That skill is gone forever, along with much, much more. The only thing that remains in my memory of those classes are the wide-eyed faces of the students. One or two stand out: just because a student went through the course did not guarantee that he or she would make a skydive, since it was up to me to figure out if they had learned enough to save their lives. It didn't happen often, though, since the two jumpmasters holding onto the student while in freefall, the big forgiving parachute that would hopefully open above the student after freefall, and the radio in the helmet with someone on the ground giving instruction were all designed to make the situation as safe as possible.

And now I get anxious when I consider helping to facilitate someone with their Advance Care Directive, because I'm new at it, and it's important for me to make sure that their wishes are known and documented properly. I have been provided a lesson plan so I won't forget anything, but it's a different task: most people have spent their whole lives shying away from thinking about what would happen if they were unconscious and unable to regain the ability to know who they are or who they are with. My job is to guide the person towards thinking about it in a fruitful fashion without inserting my own opinions, staying, as they say, "value neutral."

I can do this and, as time passes, I'll feel more and more confident. But right now it's new and I'm feeling my way through each encounter. Helping someone figure out who might be their Health Care Agent, to make decisions in case one cannot do it themselves is sometimes rather difficult. Fortunately for me, SG and I have each other as our primary agents, and we know that each of us would do the right thing for the other. It's good to have someone as the secondary agent who is younger, so many people choose a grown son or daughter. I don't have anybody like that; my sister is my secondary agent and I know she would do the right thing. But since she's getting on in years too, I am pondering who else I might be able to ask. It's a big responsibility.

The good thing for me is that I get a great deal of satisfaction from a job well done, once it's completed. It might not be as sexy as teaching a student how to make a safe skydive, but that was then and this is now. Life moves on from youth to old age without us doing a thing, except living, of course. This is my new normal, and even this stage of life will change into something else one day. But not today. Today, I am reveling in the return of the light, with each day getting a little longer as we move towards the summer solstice in June.

I am also realizing that perhaps forgetting is part of my new normal, too. When I got up this morning and placed the teakettle on the burner for my usual tea, I forgot to turn it on. After I returned to the laptop and pondered what I would write about, I became aware that no sounds of imminent boiling were emanating from the kitchen. I got up to check. There it was, everything in order, except for that tiny little missing part: the burner had not been activated. Sort of an essential part, too.

But even though my tea was a little late, I was eventually able to enjoy it, part of my morning routine. And you all know how much I cherish routine. Since I've gotten plenty of exercise this past week, I will give myself a day off to have a little R&R (rest and relaxation). The only thing I know for sure that I will do today is head to the coffee shop to quaff my latte with the usual suspects. That is after I've done my Sunday morning meditation with this post, checked the news online, read my emails, and performed the Five Tibetans. Yes, I am still doing those ten minutes of exercise every morning and wrote about them here. One nice thing about a blog is that I can go back and find out when I began something that is part of my daily routine. That link takes you to a post from July 2014, which is when I first started with them, and why.

My friend Judy asked me the other day whether I think they make a difference. All I know is that I continue to do them and they are part of my morning routine. I don't even consider it exercise any more, just something that I do. Afterwards, I have breakfast and begin to make my way out the door to the coffee shop. And with that, I can feel myself being drawn towards finishing this post so I can begin the next part of my day.

Everything is quite normal right now, with my tea gone, my partner softly snoring next to me, and once I've read this over and posted it, I can get on with things. It's always a little daunting when I get started but it always feels good when I get here, to the end. And I will wish my readers a very good day of whatever equinox you experience today. Another bright and shiny new season begins.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Reflections on changes

I'm feeling very reflective this morning, for a variety of reasons. Still thinking about those seven tasks of aging that Carl Jung described, for one thing. His fourth and fifth tasks are: Letting go of the ego, and Finding new rooting in the Self. I have found myself puzzling over the meaning of these tasks. What the heck is the ego, for one thing, and what is the Self? In the world of today, infinite knowledge is at my fingertips. Typing into google "letting go of ego" gives me plenty of places to explore. I found enough rich soil there that I never got around to googling the second task. Now it's time to ponder it all right here in my Sunday morning reflections.

Almost everything I found points me toward a meditation practice. Years ago I was a daily meditator. It's been long enough now that I only remember how much it permeated my every action. Even though I only sat twice a day for twenty minutes, I sometimes found myself craving that quiet space while I was at work, with phones ringing off the hook and colleagues demanding my attention. I remember a few times when I entered my apartment at the end of my work day, took of my shoes and immediately went to my meditation pillow to recover some equanimity.

That was a long time ago. I've still got that meditation pillow, but when I try to sit these days, my knees complain and I don't seem to have the desire. The memory of how much I received from that practice remains, however, and I keep trying. I even purchased a wooden stool that allows me to sit with a straight back and my knees are much happier. But it wasn't enough to make me take up the practice again.

However, the yoga classes I've been taking have given me new strength to find a way to incorporate the peace of meditation into my daily routine. Much of the yoga positions are tied to the breath, and just doing some of that gentle breathing while in class has reminded me that simply breathing consciously is a step toward tranquility. So I will try again to find some time each day to sit and observe my breath. I'll let you know how that goes.

Yesterday I watched a movie I hadn't seen in ages: a Daniel Craig James Bond, Casino Royale. The movie seemed rather dated, and it's only ten years old. I couldn't quite figure out why, until I realized that everyone in the movie used small PDAs instead of smartphones. The movie was made in 2006, and the iPhone came out in 2007. And what a change that has made to the entire world! Between Androids and iPhones, people everywhere and at all times of the day and night are glued to those screens. I have gotten on the bus at times and noticed that most of the people on board are not present but are looking down at their smartphones.

I have one, too, but when I'm out in public I don't look at it much. Maybe it's because I'm not listening to music or reading my emails every moment of the day. That doesn't mean that I don't enjoy being connected through technology, but the desire to be present, especially when I'm out and about, is more important to me. When we spend our Thursdays in the wilderness, much of the time we have no internet or phone connectivity anyway, and it's just as well to have some time when those little devices in our pockets can be turned off.

There was a time, not so long ago, when our phones were plugged into the wall. I know there are people who don't even remember those times, but really it wasn't that long ago. My first cellphone was a small flip phone and I felt so proud to have it, and today it is considered old fashioned. My new phone takes fantastic pictures, reminds me of appointments, tracks my steps, has an app for my grocery list, maps to help me get around, loads my emails and text messages, allows me to video chat, and it even makes phone calls now and then! If I accidentally leave the house without it, I'll turn around and retrieve it or feel positively naked without it.

So I do understand the pull to constantly be connected, and most of the time I am. But there is so much more to life than electronic connection. I've got to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, and as time goes by I realize that there is less and less of it. Presently I am in good health (as far as I know) with the vicissitudes of life in my seventies reminding me with this ache or pain that the direction we all travel is towards letting go.

I found a lovely quote by Anais Nin during my journey online: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Although I've been a risk taker my whole life, it seems quite difficult for me to embrace all that aging entails with willingness. Even though I wanted to hang onto youth as long as possible, the years passed and it left me anyway. Now that I am an old woman, I really want to take advantage of what I've learned along the way. So here goes.

With that admonishment from Jung, who points the way forward with his seven tasks, I'll be writing on each Sunday morning about what I have discovered during the past week. I guess that's what I've been doing anyway, but I feel a renewed sense of purpose has crept into my consciousness. As always, I look forward to hearing what you, my dear readers, have to say.

I lost an hour of sleep last night, as many of you did as well. The clock says it's almost 7:00am but my heart still says it's almost 6:00am. Until we meet again next week, same time and place, I wish you all good things and hope that the week will bring you happiness. Be well.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Rain, personality types and a dream

Wet daffodil
While walking to a yoga class in a light rain last week, I saw this beautiful daffodil covered with raindrops. I was covered, too, but by now I'm accustomed to walking around in the rain. It's rarely cold even when it's wet here during the winter months, just a light patter of drops on my rain hat. I see plenty of people out on their bikes while it's raining, too. Nobody really seems to mind it much up here in the Pacific Northwest.

We have just endured one of the wettest October-through-February periods on record. Although we don't get as much rain as Seattle, I found this post from Cliff Mass: The Wettest Winter in Seattle History. Since our TV stations come from Seattle, I see those forecasts when I turn on the TV in the morning to check on the day's probable weather before heading out. I watch with interest the differences between what is likely to happen here in Bellingham and the Seattle forecast: we often miss the heaviest storms, which tend to hit south of us between Seattle and Tacoma. But nevertheless, we have gotten more than our usual rainfall even up here near the Canadian border.

I went out to the garden yesterday to begin to prepare the ground for planting my vegetables this spring. There are parts of our garden that are under water: when I headed over to the area where we usually put our garden debris, I sank in the mud almost to my ankles! Puddles dot the saturated soil. My area is at the other end of the garden, making my area one of the easier ones to plant if I get busy soon, and I don't have any puddles in my area, either. A couple of the western-most plots are inaccessible at the moment. We don't need any more rain! Must make the slugs happy, though.

I didn't get far out in the garden yesterday, though, since our neighbors brought out a wood chipper and promptly began making so much noise with it I had to retreat into the house. I did manage to get started, though, and that has made me look forward to the day when I get a chance to plant. Just getting my hands in the dirt is therapeutic. Not to mention the sun was shining most of the day yesterday, and my mood began to lift. I've been struggling with a feeling of melancholy this past week, which might be partly due to last week's news of our rent increase. I did sit down and figure out how much we can afford to pay for rent, and we are still within a safe zone. In fact, it made me reconsider where we might be able to move. I spent part of the day looking at possibilities, although we did sign the lease already and sent it back. Next year at this time, we may be looking to move and I don't think we'll be alone. Several tenants are considering not signing and looking at their options.

I would miss the community garden the most, but there are other rentals that give the option to have a small garden. It's the community aspect I would miss the most. I've made some good friends through our garden in the past five years. Thanks to my blog, I can remember how it was back then. Having a place to write down and preserve my feelings of times past is valuable. It is a web log, after all. Sometimes I forget where the word "blog" comes from.

One of my blogging friends who lives in Portland wrote a post last week that has got me thinking. She was talking about Carl Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging. Years ago, I read much of his work, but I didn't remember that part. Of course, I wasn't old then, either. He was one of the early adopters of psychoanalysis in the early part of the last century and wrote prodigiously about many things. As a contemporary of Freud, they were collaborators and friends for six years, until they had a falling out. Jung identified sixteen different personality types, which helped him understand why the two of them could never reconcile. If you've ever taken the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator test, you know something about it all (I'm an ENFP, for what it's worth). That link tells you all about the MBTI and even tells you how to find out your own type.

But I digress. Those Seven Tasks of Aging that Jung spoke of: what are they? I found a link on the internet that lists them.

I think the work I am doing with WAHA (Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement) is helping me with the first task. Helping others to think about what their end-of-life wishes are, and having done so for myself, certainly helps me to face this reality. The second task, "Life Review," is something I think I do with this blog. At the beginning of this Eye on the Edge journey, I went over each segment of my life and recounted it here. That sure did bring up a lot of stuff: there were parts of my past that I could barely write about, since it was so painful to revisit those times. Once I finished with them, I pondered what I wanted to do with each Sunday morning. Sometimes it's easy, when something specific is on my mind and I get a chance to think through my fingers and see what comes out. Other times, I have no idea when I sit down to write what will emerge. Knowing that I have an audience sometimes makes me self-conscious about what I write, but I usually get over it. Being an ENFP helps.

Yesterday I thought about the second task, and when I went to sleep last night, I had some very interesting dreams. In fact, I had a dream within a dream. I was with my mother and sister Norma Jean, and we were looking through old picture albums and scrapbooks. Of course, none of these things exist in reality, but they were very real in my dream. I saw the pages vividly as I perused the old pictures and exclaimed over this one or that one. Each album was in a white binder, and the faded pictures and scraps were as real within the dream as this laptop appears to me now. I awake (within the dream) and realize that I had not shared my favorite picture with Mama, and I had to find her, so I go back to "sleep" and run up the stairs to where she sits, holding another album in her hands. She looks up at me as I approach, and as I show her the picture, we both smile in recollection of the moment: a picture of Norma Jean with her bangs all askew from one of Mama's trims. We laugh and revel in the hilarity of the situation.

And then I woke up for real, and Mama and the albums gradually faded from the present moment, but last night we had a real visit and did our own dream version of a life review. I love both of them so much, and the fact that Mama now only exists in my memory makes her nocturnal visits with me even more precious. The Norma Jean who perused the albums with me is still only a phone call away, thank heavens, even if she doesn't remember having been there. She was, though.

I am grateful for my dreams. Throughout the ages we humans have been here, dreams have figured in many tales of old. Although I know some people don't remember their dreams at all, I am sure they have them. Dreaming is essential to one's mental health. I can attest to that, since last night's dream cleared away some lingering sadness and gave me a chance to express my love in a vivid way. It still surrounds me as I write this.

And with that, dear readers, it's time to consider making my way out of this bed and into the rest of the day. The rain has returned and is likely to stick around for most of the day. But yesterday was glorious and more sunshine will return soon. Until we meet again next week, be well. I wish you all good things until then.