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, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

Vanilla leaf in flower
It has been almost too hot for some of us fragile Pacific Northwestern types this weekend. Yesterday here in Bellingham it was above 80°F (28°C), almost twenty degrees warmer than average. We have at least a few more days like this, but hopefully yesterday was the peak of this heat wave. I know that calling this a heat wave makes some of my friends smile, because for some it is perfect, not too hot, not too cold. This is the first time in Washington state that we have had a Memorial Day weekend with weather like this, since at least 1995, twenty-two years ago.

Yesterday I joined my Saturday walking group on a trip to Lummi Island, and it was just perfect, since most of the time we were on the water with a gentle cool breeze moderating the temperature. I myself was so pleased that I am well on the way toward regaining my previous ability to walk at a brisk pace for several miles. It's true that I felt my hip for most of the time we walked, but it didn't impede me at all. One of the walkers I haven't seen for ages: Flora doesn't join us often, but she is 85 years old and I could not keep up with her at all! I could see her in front of me, and I applaud her stamina and determination. She's an inspiration.

This week I learned about the Five Remembrances and have been practicing this Buddhist meditation for several days now. There are several versions of the Five Remembrances, but the one I like the best is from Thich Naht Hanh, a ninety-year-old Buddhist monk who lives in France but has traveled extensively during his life to give talks on peace and harmony. He has written many books, some of which I read earlier in my life. I feel as though I have just rediscovered him.

Back to the Five Remembrances. What are they all about? They help us to embrace the realities of life. We all will grow old, get sick, and die. There is no escape. When we contemplate them daily, we get a perspective on life that is skillful and wholesome. Here is Thich Naht Hanh's version:
1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. 
2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health. 
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. 
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. 
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
I found this wonderful article online, which I also want to share with you. It's from Yoga Journal, and it's an article written in 2007. I enjoyed it and have read it several times now, trying to understand the Five Remembrances better. From that article:
Once you accept the reality of impermanence, you begin to realize that grasping and clinging are suffering, as well as the causes of suffering, and with that realization you can let go and celebrate life. The problem is not that things change, but that you try to live as if they don't.
I have the most difficulty with the one that reminds me that all that is dear to me and everyone I love will be separated from me. Maybe it's because I have already dealt with that one more than most, having lost both of my children. It's normal for someone my age to have lost their parents, but having to find my way twice through the grief I experienced through loss changed me forever. Frank Boccio, who wrote that piece, gives this advice:
Another way of practicing the Five Remembrances is through something Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls hugging meditation. When your partner or children leave for work or school, hug each other for three full breaths, and remind yourself of the Fourth Remembrance.
I've started doing that with my husband. We discussed the practice and he agrees that it's a good idea to celebrate our connection with hugs and appreciation of one another. It's funny that in just a day or two, I've already noticed how much my feeling of gratitude for him has emerged. Gone are the little disruptions that never mattered anyhow, and in their place is a sense of peace and happiness for the moment we share. Just three breaths while hugging.

But the one that really gets me is the final one, that my only true belongings are my actions. The only thing that doesn't leave me, as it says, is that I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. Now that's a realization I didn't have before. But it's true, isn't it? As I sit here on a sunny Sunday morning writing my post, it occurs to me that maybe out there in the ether there is someone who also needs to hear this today. I know it shifted something important inside my own mental processes, realizing that whatever happens in the world today, it will be different tomorrow. It is of the nature to change.

It is also comforting to think of my actions as the ground upon which I stand. As long as I am alive, I will act, and if I can think of it in positive terms, my actions will become more and more aligned with the Universe, and my actions will come from love and charity, rather than fear and dread. It's really freeing to realize that I can direct my mind to align with the light. That will be my task until we meet again next week, to put it all into practice and see what comes of it.

I will spend tomorrow remembering. Memorial Day and the Five Remembrances are uppermost in my thoughts right now. I know that you, dear reader, will be there also, somewhere out there in the world, hopefully at least taking a look at how much we can improve our lives with a little remembrance of what a fabulous thing life is. And we all have it, right now, right this minute! Yay for us.

My dear love lies next to me, breathing softly. My tea is gone, and the day is beginning to call to me. I hope you will think about the Five Remembrances for a little while today and hopefully even read the article. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and that you will hug your loved ones, or if you have no one around you, wrap your arms around yourself for those three breaths and think of me sending you my love and appreciation. Blessings to you.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Focus is hard for me this morning

Front porch geraniums at dawn
Every morning part of my routine is to perform the Five Tibetan Rites right after I've gotten dressed. I don't wear shoes because it doesn't feel right to have my feet covered when I do them, or when I do yoga, either. Other than those two times, I always wear shoes or slippers. In the spring and summer, I like to be outside on my front porch with my yoga mat. In the Second Rite, I'm lying on the mat and when I look up, I see my flowers, sometimes lighted by the sun as you can see in the picture above.

I write this post every Sunday morning, as soon as I get my tea and my laptop, I open the lid and ponder what I'll write about today. When I went to bed last night, I kept thinking of the phrase "Intimations of Immortality," but I didn't remember where I had heard it before. Since I have the entirety of human knowledge right at my fingertips, I went searching for the origin of that phrase. William Wordsworth wrote an Ode by that name, with a line that I remembered vaguely, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." Somehow that must have come to me in some form lately, because I keep thinking of it and pondering its meaning. The subtitle of that Ode refers to recollections from childhood. I don't think I ever read it, but this morning I perused parts of it and find it interesting but very difficult to understand because of the stilted writing. Take a look at it yourself, if you're interested. That link has a line that sums it up well, though:
[It] is a long and rather complicated poem about Wordsworth's connection to nature and his struggle to understand humanity's failure to recognize the value of the natural world. The poem is elegiac in that it is about the regret of loss. 
Right now I'm regretting the loss of time I just spent in perusing at least a dozen links. That's part of the problem with having the infinite wealth of knowledge at my fingertips: I can't seem to keep myself from getting lost in it. And that's right now, while my brain is still rather clear from having had such a good night's sleep.

I learned recently that researchers suggest that the reason we sleep is to "clean out" our memories, and that it's an important part of being able to store new ones. I know that when I sleep I have such vivid dreams they amaze me with their creativity. I wouldn't ever come up with some of the themes and images if my waking self were present. It's a whole different world when I'm asleep. Apparently I'm also storing and organizing while all that's going on. That's pretty astounding, when I think of it. (I just spent another half hour researching THAT subject. I'll never get out of bed unless I concentrate on getting this post written.)

Now I'm regretting the loss of all that time I just spent, but it's not going to get better unless I find the focus I'm lacking at the moment. I think of my readers noticing how scattered I am this morning, and that's not making it any better. I feel rather exposed because I feel that pressure, totally self-induced pressure, but still. Sitting here with my laptop and my fingers tapping the keys, with absolutely no idea where I might go with this post. Can I forgive myself for my difficulty?

I will tell you what I did yesterday, just for something to focus on. It was a beautiful bright day, and a little after 7:00 my friend Lily and I drove to the coffee shop to get caffeinated before our walk with the ladies. Afterwards we joined the others at the meeting spot, to see that there were over twenty of us ready to walk in the sunshine. It's a nice walk, and we walked three miles at a brisk pace to the ferry terminal. At that point, seven of us decided to turn around and not go any farther, since we all had various aches and pains and wanted to walk at a more leisurely pace. It was lovely to slow down a little. We ended up walking six miles total.

Once we got back to the Farmers' Market, Lily and I shopped awhile and then came back home. Since it was such a beautiful day, I went out to the garden and puttered around, watering the plants and talking to them a bit, while admiring the work of my fellow gardeners. Then I came inside and started a new book and almost finished it before I realized what I had done. And then, since it was getting late, I went back into the garden to join several other gardeners who had gathered to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer. It was a lovely way to finish the day.

I feel better now, a little more focused, after having thought about what I did yesterday. Today, once I finish my self-imposed task of writing, I'll get up and dress, do my exercises and then head to the coffee shop to visit with my friends there. I don't know why I look forward so much to my interaction with them, but I do. My friends John and Gene are almost always there before I make it, but on Sunday I have a ritual: when I order my coffee, I also order a well-toasted and well-buttered bagel and share it with John. I don't usually allow myself to have such a calorie-laden treat but Sunday morning is different. It wouldn't be the same if we didn't share it.

Ah. Now I realize why it was so hard to focus this morning. I have been trying to rush through in order to get out and about. The intense sunlight streaming through the windows makes me want to get going, and meditating about things is not where I want to be. I'm a little embarrassed by my rambling lack of focus, but it is what it is. Nobody is forcing me to write this, and nobody is forcing you to read it. I suppose you were expecting something profound, and I promise I'll try harder next week. But for now, the day is not only calling to me, it won't shut up!

So with that, I'm going to finish this post, send it out into the universe, and fly out of bed to start my day. I do hope that you will forgive me for my lack of focus. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week. Here I go!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Everyone has (or had) one

My family several decades ago
A mother, that is. Everyone started out with one, even if they no longer grace the planet with their presence. This was my family. Everyone in the picture is related to me, although the two men in the back row are related by marriage. That's me in the back row, too, with the pointy chin. Perms must have been in style, since I have one, along with Markee (in front of me) and Norma Jean in the front row with hair darker than I ever remember seeing it. Fia's lovely blond hair also looks permed. Mama is in the middle next to my brother Buz (crossed arms) and my sister PJ is on the right of Mama. The two young girls in the front are Fia's daughter Megan (who now has three children of her own) and Trish, Buz's daughter.

I am the oldest of six children, and Mama is in the center of it all. Daddy died in 1979 and Mama in 1993, but the family has grown and expanded since the time this picture was taken, although PJ died three years ago. The rest of the remaining five of us are scattered across the country. The last time we were all together was to celebrate PJ's life.

It's Mother's Day today in the US, and she is on my mind, along with all the other members of my family that I'm missing. I travel to Florida for a week in the winter to visit my sister Norma Jean, as well as to escape the incessant rain that makes the Pacific Northwest such a lush green wonderland. Usually I can handle it easily, but it's nice to have a change during the shortest days of the year. Maybe this year I'll visit the family in Texas, because I realize that I miss them very much. Fortunately I have them on Facebook so I can see and hear how they're doing.

Mama was only 69 when she died of heart disease (that's what PJ died of, too), and as I look at this picture and remember what we were all like back then, my heart is full, realizing how lucky I am to have been born into this family. After Daddy died, I would visit Mama wherever she was at Thanksgiving every year. Now I stay at home, since the center of our family dissipated when Mama died. I would always travel "home" for the holiday and to give thanks properly surrounded by family. "Home" is now wherever SG is. We have been together for twenty-five years now, and I don't think we had even met when this picture was taken.

When Mama visits me in my dreams, she is always a young beautiful woman, and her smile and love for her family radiates around her and spills over onto me as I sleep. I am so grateful that I am able to have vivid dreams that feel like visitations, because she never seems that far away. She resides within all of her children and grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren. Mama was a natural when it came to being a mother.

I wanted to be like her when I was young, and I had two beautiful young boys before I turned 21. My motherhood was not as fortunate as hers was, though. My beautiful Stephen died when I was 22, and Chris was left with a fractured family and a mother who could not recover her equilibrium in time to keep from damaging her remaining child. Chris turned out just fine, however, mostly because of his father's love and caring. I eventually got better, but by then the damage had been done. So even though being a mother was what I craved, the universe did not give me the same advantages that my mother had.

Every life follows its own path, often not the one we envision. I would never have imagined how my life would turn out, not in a million years. I experienced three failed marriages, the death of both of my children, no grandchildren anywhere to be seen, and my mothering instincts forced into other avenues. I was a good employee, conscientious and dedicated to my work, and I was well rewarded during my working years for it. In 1990 when I began to skydive, that activity dominated the next two decades of my life, and when I became an instructor, those mothering instincts helped me teach many students how to be safe in our chosen sport.

And through that sport, I met my life partner, and back when I first met him, I could not ever imagine that a quarter century later, we would be happier together than when we began this journey. Children are not part of my existence, but family has never been stronger. I can feel the presence in my life of my siblings, all of them, even though we don't see each other very often (other than on Facebook now and then). We are family.

Our mother is being remembered by all of us today, along with so many other people with their own mothers celebrating the day with flowers and gifts. My next-door neighbor Lynn's son built her three raised beds in her garden for Mother's Day. I smiled and was thrilled for her as I watched their progress when he constructed them yesterday.

Today I will enjoy being with my friends who surround me in this apartment complex, who greet me at the coffee shop, even strangers on the street with whom I will share this day. It's another cool and showery day, like so many we've experienced lately, and I really don't mind a bit. Yesterday the rain petered out and we had plenty of scattered sunshine in the afternoon. Hopefully it will be the same today. I heard the other day that we have already had way more rain than normal, which doesn't surprise me. We haven't started our warm spring days yet, but they are coming. I'd rather have "cool and showery" than "hot and dry."

Thinking about Mother's Day, thinking about all the mothers I know in the world who will be with their children and celebrating, there will be many of us who will remember our wonderful mothers with joy and gratitude, even though they will not be with us in the flesh, they will certainly be with us in spirit. And with that, I have written my Mother's Day post, which doesn't have much in it about my own mother (I wanted to tell you who she was to me), but the person I have become is pretty much an outcome of her love and care when I was young. She was a consummate professional when it came to mothering. I hope that you will think of your own mother today, whether she is here or not, and realize how much of who you are is because of her.

It's time for me to get up and enjoy my own Mother's Day celebrations. I hope you will be well and happy until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tripping through time

Trillium in bloom
It feels like it's the first week we've really had spring coming on strong. The temperatures have moderated, the sun is high in the sky, and it's light outside right up until long after my bedtime. Although we've only had a few days where the high temperature for the day reached 60°F (14°C), everywhere I look there are flowers in full bloom. And although we've had rain most days, we know that there comes a time when it all stops and we finally have wonderful weather.

The progression of the seasons is something I will never get tired of. It seems like I just get accustomed to winter, and it slowly becomes spring, with shoots popping out of the ground everywhere, and then before I know it my world has become a riot of lush green, which begins to turn into fall and then winter again so fast sometimes it makes my head spin. How can something seem both so slow to finally come into fruition and then, looking back, have passed so quickly?

My life is like that, too: wasn't it just yesterday that I was a nubile young girl looking forward to my twenties? How is it possible that now I am in my mid-seventies and finding the time ahead of me shrinking down to only a few years, or at best a decade? I have some age mentors who show me that it's possible to still be active and involved at eighty and beyond, but even they must make some adjustments and compromises in their lives.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies and noticed that I am probably the oldest in the group right now, and that my recent hip injury is no longer holding me back. I'm capable of walking fast again, even if I cannot keep up with the leaders I am also not the slowest in the group. A month ago I was lucky to manage to keep the slowest walkers in sight. This has not happened accidentally; I've been working on getting myself back to normal, but what is normal in an aging body? Should I keep pushing through the pain? It's a dilemma I deal with on a daily basis.

And of course, you don't get to be older without learning to live with aches and pains. They are a fact of life. Did I have them when I was young and just didn't notice? If I get involved with whatever I'm doing, I forget to concentrate on my discomfort and feel annoyance when something brings my consciousness back to it. I'm adamant that I stay away from drugs that mask it, because then I'm not aware of the true state of my current condition. Occasionally I'll take some ibuprofen but I don't like to depend on it and take it daily. Recently I've learned that all NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are not good to take all the time, as they may block the pain but harm the body with sustained use. You just can't get around it.

In yoga class, I was recently introduced to the concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence. It means 'not to injure' and refers to a key virtue in Indian religions. From that link: "The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm." It's a fascinating concept that makes me wonder about self-harm as well as violence toward others. Does pushing myself constitute self-harm or am I just conditioning my body? Where do I draw the line, or is there a line to be drawn at all? Must I make my decision based on ahimsa?

Sometimes when I'm really injured, there's no question about what path I should follow, but that's not what I'm wondering about. It's when, for instance, my knee throbs with pain and I continue to walk on it anyway, taking little notice of it or gobbling down some NSAIDs. Am I doing harm to myself? I sure wish I knew the answer to these questions, because I face this dilemma almost every day. What do you think?

If I could, I'd twirl and dance through every day through thick and thin, light and dark, with joy and excitement until I just got so tired that I'd fall into bed, spent and happy. Dancing through my days, from the young girl who started this journey, to the white-haired granny who trips through her days with happy anticipation of what lies ahead. If I could, that's what I'd do.

Is there anything stopping me from doing that very thing? I hope not, because that's what I intend to do with my day today. Practice ahimsa, especially related to myself and my loved ones. I found a wonderful quote from Rabindranath Tagore (one of my favorite philosophers), which might point me in the way I need to go: "Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf." A beautiful vision for me today, and I hope for you as well.

And with that, I'm ready to start my compassionate day, with my coffee shop buddies waiting for me, with my dear partner beside me, lightly asleep, and my tea gone from the cup and into me. I hope that you will read that link about ahimsa and learn more about it for yourself, and then come back here in the comment section and tell me what you think. My virtual buddies, it gives me such pleasure to have you in my life. Be well until next week, when we will meet again on another glorious Sunday.