Thursday, December 30, 2010

Write Hard / Die Free

I am just now catching my breath from the Christmas part of the holidays.  Last-minute shopping, wrapping, delivering, unwrapping, and feeding has taken place. My son Tim, living in NYC, has come and gone for a quick visit (dropped off at the airport at 6:00 a.m. this morning). The University made the decision to be closed over this whole week, though faculty and academic staff have ostensibly been working from home. I have done some email, and have some other projects I'll try to get to tomorrow, but I'm likely not to have much to show for myself work-wise for this week. There is still some smoked salmon left over for tonight in the refrigerator, and I'm feeling no urgency.

My favorite present came early, perhaps intended partly as a birthday present, from my youngest brother in Alaska.  Here it is:

Actual size less than an inch wide - with a hook to use it as a zipper pull.  It's a riff on a Hells Angels motto, and I'm delighted to have it.

I'm never quite as much alive as when I am writing, though meditation is good to do as well. Writing brings me back to a sense of being myself, irreducible, unchanging at the core.  It helps me dive below the flotsam and jetsam at the surface to what lies below.  I think I've been waiting for things to clear on their own, instead of pushing aside the surface distractions to reconnect with what is important. 

I've been spending the last couple of days, in between things, catching up on some blogs, and being inspired once again to clear my throat and and find voice for my thoughts and observations. 

Let this be my New Year's endeavor to Write Free, to write freely, to be free to write, to free up the writing.

Addendum:  if any of you are particularly interested in an online writing community (fiction, poetry, and more) particularly oriented to young adults (or writers with young adult readers in mind), check out Figment.  I've recently spent a couple of late evenings browsing among the posted writings, some by published authors trying out new material, and some by unpublished young writers looking for feedback.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Autumn visit to Idaho

I didn't get a summer vacation trip this year, but I did take a short autumn trip to Idaho last week - more like summer, as it turned out, with heat in the mid to upper 80s all week.  But the shadows were long, morning and afternoon, and the evening came early.  My younger brothers were down from Alaska, each of them for a month but overlapping for the week I was there.  My older brother and younger sister live in Idaho, so the five of us were all there for the first time in several years.  Our parents are amazingly fit - little change over the past decades, with their travel and church involvement and keeping up a very attractive house.  But they are in their 80s, which is hard to believe. 

I found myself with an odd double-vision - seeing my brothers and sister as young when they are, at least chronologically, middle-aged at the very least.  My parents seem unchanging, and I feel very much my youngish, unformed self when I am there.

The time passed too quickly.  I was back in Minnesota before I had a chance to have any real insights into the big questions of time passing, love and yearning and loss.  I also didn't get quite caught up on my sleep while I was there, then was propelled into rapid motion for the rest of the work week when I returned.

It's full-bore autumn back here in Minnesota.  I watched a swirling mass of leaves torn from the trees yesterday on campus.  For some reason it came as a big surprise.

And the neighbors are already decorating for Halloween. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gee - where have I been all my life?

Well - I'm back.  Sorry it's been a while since I've showed up in this place.  When I was wondering what I could say about the quickly-vanished summer, it felt as though there wasn't much there that I could even remember, and I haven't laid down much of a bread-crumb trail of photos.  Lots of fun with our curly, snuggly dog, certainly.  A couple days of vacation here and there, mostly used in sleeping.  Reading/listening to some cool books (the star event was The Yiddish Policemen's Union - now, that was amazing).  

The main event has been another in the long repeated-earthquake-series changes in my workplace, but they say that's the new normal.  I have a new boss and a new office (which has, however, the same view over the playground across the street).

My colleagues are mostly the same.  My duties haven't changed much (some responsibilities gone, some added).

I've been wondering if external change is so exhausting because there's so much internal change that I'm not quite conscious of, in this year-I'm-pushing-60.  Sounds - and feels - so old, right now.  (No offense meant to those of you comfortably past that benchmark.)

I just did a google image search on the phrase, and the slogan below popped up several times.  I guess that's the next stage to contemplate.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

As the days go by. . .

Same as it ever was . . .
Same as it ever was . . .

I had one of those poor-pitiful-me spates of feeling the time was just flipping by too dang fast today, so turned to trusty ol' Google to try to find what my memory wouldn't cough up in a hurry, that Talking Heads video about the futility of our Western way of life, or whatever it was about, that's haunted (and amused) me for some years.  But I couldn't remember the name of the group or the song, or any of the lyrics.  Putting in "Eighties Rock Music," and checking down the list of the first site I came to, I quickly found Talking Heads and equally quickly found a copy of the video. 

What always worked for me with this song was the undercurrent of the water running underground - from archetypal/Jungian work, it's been my image of the Unconscious, which is the source of being/consciousness itself, as well as the source of all creativity.

This  is a concert version rather than the original music video - I've enabled the privacy setting.

This evening's hour of journal writing - which is always good for me - and also finding, through a link to the first T.H. video, a blog by a young woman who writes against violence (and just today linked to a disturbing, recently-released MIA video imagining a fascist state rounding up and killing red-headed young men) - I'm feeling somewhat better about life, the universe, and everything.  Pushing 60 doesn't need to mean, as it did for my very much loved grandmother, giving up on everything I've ever dreamed about and imploding to late-in-life cancer. There are spiritual and intellectual and imaginative adventures (and works) still before me.

But it's also the case that hanging onto any fantasy of Making A Big Difference in the world is increasingly obvious as a big waste of time.

The Shaker hymn has it right: by turning, turning, we come round right.

Back to where we began, to know it truly for the first time. Which is in my case, an arid land of mountains and sagebrush.   (A big contrast to this rainy, rainy Minnesota green dripping place these past weeks.)

When the rain started (again) tonight, I had a series of quick memories of rainstorms coming through my mountain city in my girlhood, which was often a blessing - the drama of the building stormclouds, the echoes rocking back and forth, and lashing rain, and the cleansed, sparkling, cooled-down freshness after the storm had blown itself out.  These could come and go in an hour's time.  It always made me feel excited and secure, at the same time, summer storms.  None of the endless stickiness of this high humidity.

Perhaps I need to do some digging back and find the day-dreaming, hopeful girl I was (and still am), so I can ask the question: where do I want to go, with the arc of years ahead of me?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Before . . . and after . . .

Before . . .

. . . and after:

Happy spring, from Charlie the Dog.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Happy Friday on a cool but sunny mid-May day!

I'm still experimenting with my blog layout and have picked one of my May Day parade photos for now behind the title.

Breathe: a good reminder for the end of an unusually hectic week, no?

Yesterday, which was chilly and rainy, my colleagues and I were helpers at our college Commencement ceremony.  Because of the rain, we were forced to line students up along the basement corridors of Northrup Auditorium, using some ancient practice rooms to get people to fill out their name cards and put on their robes and (for the masters-level grads) their hoods, an archaic bit of velvet and silk that is a bit tricky to get on right (it needs to be pinned in the front if you aren't a male graduate, in which case the loop for your shirt button works; and it needs to be draped right, with the silk side pulled out at the bottom, but not too much).  Helping with the hoods allowed us to give people a bit of a reassuring pat, as they nervously fumbled with their caps and tassels and bobby pins and such.

These adult masters-level graduates were, it seemed, suddenly very young and shaky.  Starting something new, something unknown.  The energy is always amazing at these events.  Something about ceremony touches us deeply.

One young graduate, rushing through at the very last minute, left something precious on the table - a plastic bag with a certificate of cremation and a clay paw print of her recently deceased dog.  We could only speculate that she was bringing the spirit of a beloved long-time companion animal with her through this transition in her life.  Fortunately, the student's name and address was on the package, so I went back to my office after the graduates were safely delivered to the auditorium and hunted down her phone number and e-mail address.  Early today, I got a response - she had gone back hunting for this lost memento, and was pleased that I had kept it safe for her.

I had the sense that there was a story to be told about this beloved pet, but can only speculate about the loss coming right at the point of completing this difficult task of a masters' degree.

May she fare well in her new professional life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How do you like my new stretchy layout?

I've chosen a new template - I will do some customization of it, but I'm wondering how you like it so far. The main difference is that the main column isn't a fixed width, which allows for bigger photos / slide shows to be embedded.

I think the text font and size are pretty much the same as my old format. Is the text readable enough?

Do I need a photo or design behind the title?

Here's the slide show I couldn't figure out for last year's fourth of July photos (refresh the page to restart the slide show):

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Magical May Day Merriment in Minneapolis

I love my city, though I don't always remember this.  Last weekend was the annual MayDay Parade and Pageant, orchestrated by the Powderhorn Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater.  A community-based event, this is 1970s hippydom come mature, embracing the diversity of the core city.  It is also a renaissance of ancient, earth-based celebrations such as Beltane - modernized to take in contemporary issues and visions.

I'm trying an experiment with putting in a slide show of the parade and the later Powderhorn Park pageant and festival.

Parade first (refresh the page to start the slide show):

Cool! That seems to work!

In the park, it was a festive atmosphere as I threaded my way through the throngs of people, and found a spot on the hillside to watch the pageant. The best view was from high in the tree ahead of us, but I could see what was happening. The drama was more mythic than some years, and less political: the burdened people (coming in with huge rocks on their backs, while the narrators shouted out in Spanish and English all of the negativity that we carry in our heads) were transformed/released by some bird-headed figures, then the forces of nature (river, woods, plains, and sky) along with the Tree of Life, welcomed back the sun - which arrived in a red canoe, paddling to the drumbeats. Before the sun's return, the Tree of Life did a lovely pavane with the figure of death, gave herself in to dying - then was raised anew in her summer splendor.

The rest of the photos are the festival after the pageant, as I moved back through the happy folks, looking at food booths and cause booths and displays on the grass and many, many people. (Again, refresh the page to restart.)

At the end, I walked many blocks to my car (past the flowering yards of the Powderhorn neighborhood) and did a photo of my shadow.

From MayDay Pageant at Powderhorn

A long, and magical day.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More blossoming trees - what do we need to bloom?

I have had a very reflective weekend (in addition to getting some quality-length naps).  On Thursday, on the way to work, I found a new crop of flowering trees - crab apples, I guess, with a rich, deep color and very sweet smell.  They must have just popped out in bloom.

Lilacs are starting up too - it's been slow and easy in the past couple of cooler, rainy days.

None of this has happened before in April here in the north-lands, in my recollection.  But even though it raises fears of global warming, this mild month of early, slow, exquisite spring has been a blessing.  Previous springs have seemed to flash by in a week's time.

Now - what will it take for us to bloom?  For me to bloom?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flowering trees - spring bursting out in blossom

I wrote a little post this morning in my pocket-sized notebook as I rode on the bus - but left it at work.  (I'll try to retrieve it tomorrow and add it below.)  The first shot (from my phone camera) was out the window of the bus, as I watched in amazement all of the blossoming trees lining the city streets.  It seems this just happened overnight!  Or I haven't been paying attention.

=  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =

The morning post: The trees have been leafing out and budding for two weeks - many still half-emerged, as cool nights have slowed what in "normal" May springs seems to take about three days in total.  This slower pace allows me to notice and marvel at each new manifestation - yesterday, a swath of royal red tulips along the sidewalk on the way to the student health center, where I do yoga on Mondays.  They were glowing with life's intensity, each quite perfect and fresh, no sagging yet of any petaled cup.  I longed for my camera, but didn't have it.  (See camera photo below taken the next day.)

Internal weather: not as spring-y.  I attended a talk by two university V.P.s on the attitudes and approaches we need for the "new normal" of unending fiscal emergency.  We're not alone, they assured us.  We need to reinvent the university continually by unleasing creativity, by constantly asking we we do things as we do.  But - this group was the choir they were preaching to - a joint meeting of grass-roots profssionals (communicators and project managers) who are working for personal and institutional improvement - and none of us has tenure. Academic culture is hard to change, and our employment class (neither faculty nor unionized civil service) makes us the most vulnerable to cutbacks.  Still, a historic first: the faculty voted for a 1.3 percent cutback of their salaries (and ours too) for the year to avoid deeper staff cuts. 

The trees dopwntown as I ride an extra-early bus to work, are flowering everywhere - a promise of the abundance and power of planetary life.  May your spring days bring renewal and hope, energy and strength, gladness and peace.
=  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  = 

More from the day: on my walk to the office, I got up close to some blossoming trees.  They smell wonderful.

In the afternoon, on the way back from a meeting, I took a side trip to revisit the tulips I had seen the day before.  They are still close to perfect.

I had to take this picture too, because daffodils last so short a time.

In the evening, we visited the wildflower garden - this time, I had my camera, which allowed me to take some lovely close-up pictures.  Some day, I will learn how to embed a slide show of a series of photos into the blog.  (Reya does this from time to time, most recently here, and I've always admired it.  It appears to be a PhotoBucket thing.)

Click on these - what are they? marsh-marigolds? - and see them shine.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring days in our city of lakes

Spring is an amazing season here in the City of Lakes, in the State of 10,000 lakes.  In recent years, I haven't spent much time doing what a large percentage of the population is doing every weekend, which is to stroll around one or another of our lovely lakes.  Back in the day, a very left-leaning governor (Floyd B. Olson, I believe) was instrumental in keeping the lakeside and riverside properties within the Minneapolis city limits as public parklands.  It certainly has made our city liveable.

So today, we visited for the first time one of the city parks off-leash areas, where dogs can be dogs and people can enjoy them.  We have been going to an indoor dog-play hour each week, so that Charlie can become socialized.  Today, in the dog park, he was more active and social than he's been in that indoor setting, so we'll certainly return.  (He had particular fun with a young and speedy dachshund, racing around the park.)

So - two photos taken afterward, as we joined our fellow Minneapolitans on a Saturday early evening stroll along the Lake of the Isles shore:

The first is looking across to one of the little islands nestled in this lake.

Next, a view of Charlie (that's Peter on the other end of the leash) - Charlie still pulls ahead on the leash despite being in Level Three dog training.  He'll walk by my side if I have treats in my hand, but we haven't gotten it to a point of doing so when out on a walk.  Nor have I gotten him to stop jumping up on people (including a very tiny but intrepid little girl this evening).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Vernal Days!

Catching up to the rest of the country - happy vernal days!

Our transition from winter to early spring happened rather abruptly, over just a few days. We went from this...

to this...

in the space of four or five days. The melting ice and snow sent a steady stream down the gutters all week. Temperatures rose above freezing - then into the 40s - then 50s - then 60s, just for a couple of days.

It's much cooler now, but still more like April than March.

In Minnesota, weather is a never-failing subject for conversation. Perhaps it is everywhere, but it seems especially so here. What if the global warming means we aren't subject to the same degree of suffering? Would that weaken our character, make us less prepared for stark, life-threatening emergencies?

But I love the sun and cool-touched warmth anyway. It lifts my spirits, gives me energy enough to work without flagging through the days, takes me outside with the dog for longer and longer walks. Happy spring to you all.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Even a little bit helps


Feeling a bit sheepish by revisiting junior high school the other day,  I spent time on the bus ride to work the next day in meditation - not too ambitious, following breath, inwardly repeating the mantra I got from reading Eat, Pray, Love (Om Namah Shivaya).  I had recognized this was playing on a recording at my yoga class last Monday, and Holly (the wonderful yoga instructor) said it was directed to Shiva, which pleased me to hear.  During the bus ride, I was conscious of the chant being praise to the Source, and also a means of accepting and appreciating the creation and the dissolution of everything encountered, inside and outside of myself.

The long and the short of it: things went better.  I felt in synch with the day- I use the word "attunement," which brings up the image of the orchestra players at the beginning of any performance making sure their instruments are in tune with each other, with the music to be played.  With no greater effort during the day, I was able to sense when to contribute to conversations and when to listen in (yet again) a meeting of fellow student services administrative types.  I remembered to eat lunch.  I noticed more of the flowing experiences around me, rather than being locked in my head.  No great revelations, here, just a reminder of the need for rudimentary psychic housekeeping.

(The image is a crystal I bought at a rock show - I was searching the Web for images of meditation and thought, I should show something of my own.  If you hold it just right, there are rainbows in this little orb - I think the picture caught that a bit if you enlarge by clicking.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

(Confession) - Back in Junior High

So I'm in a meeting with other University folks, many of whom I was in a meeting with last Tuesday (and several are also Facebook friends).  On the surface, on the conscious level, I'm business-like and friendly, enjoying the camaraderie with folks from around campus, as we meet to discuss an important report to the Regents that could affect our work units. I make several comments, which seem to be fitting in with the flow of our communal thinking.

But - I'm also conscious of sitting next to someone I worked with very closely for a couple of years (until a few months ago), and - she's doesn't turn my way.  No eye contact.  She turns to the colleague next to her (one of our friendliest, full of good spirits and energy).  As we prepare to leave at the end of the meeting, again my former work-team colleague turns away from me to chat with our good-humored colleague.  I heave a sigh and leave.

DANG!  I'm back in junior high school again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My comings and my goings (to work)

(Going to work in the morning - our building is ahead.)

My day is framed by crossing and then re-crossing over the Mississippi River. That has been true for many years, but is very apparent now that I am walking over the river instead of zipping by car or bus over on a bridge that is continuous with the road, with time for an idle glance to the river bank in its changing seasons.

But now that I can see the river many times a day as I pass along the bank of windows in the corridor of our third-story office suite, I am more and more conscious of the river and its ecosystem as a presence in my life. Campus to the east of the river; downtown Minneapolis to the west of the river; my home on the other side of downtown.

I wish (sigh) that I had gotten one of the three administrative offices facing the river instead of mine with a side-window looking at the edge of the riverbank (those folks get to watch the wheeling eagle who nests somewhere along the bank). On the other hand, perhaps I would gaze too often, and get lost in reverie.

(A late work day ends - view of walk bridge from the window.)
 (After hours - nighttime view of walk bridge and city.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why DO I blog?

A lovely young woman in my Twin Cities Friends Meeting is putting together an article for our monthly newsletter on the bloggers in our Quaker community, and sent some questions for us to ponder and reply to. I found myself writing a bit more than she really asked for (which was an answer to at least one of her questions), so thought I'd post the whole thing here. Why DO I blog?

- When did you start blogging & why did you start blogging?

I started blogging a little over a year ago, with a blog that was so well hidden that nobody ever found it. A couple of months later, I started a new one, and later merged in the entries from the first one.

My purpose was two-fold: to get writing again, and (with the first blog) to reflect on my spiritual process/discoveries/concerns. The second blog was less focused in topic, so includes descriptions of what’s going on in my life, with my family, etc. I also bought a small camera so I could take pictures on the fly and post them, as that seemed to be an attractive feature of blogs I liked.

- How often do you post & what keeps you blogging?

I post at least every month, sometimes closer to every week – usually not any oftener than that. I keep posting because it satisfies that initial urge to express what’s important in my experience. Increasingly, I also feel myself to be in dialogue with others, as I get readers who comment on my posts. (I also do a fair amount of commenting on the blogs that I particularly like, when I have time.)

- What is it you like about blogging?

It’s becoming a community. Actually, it’s two communities for me, as I have a group of Quaker blogs I follow and comment on, and a group of “other” blogs – many interested in some of the same life-issues and political issues as my Quaker bloggers.

- How has blogging affected your life?

I feel guilty when I get too busy to blog, partly because I want to be a participating part of the blogging community, and partly because I miss out on that reflection and expression that are important to me.

- What is your advice for people who are thinking about blogging?

What I told myself as I plunged in: don’t think, just write. Don’t stop to wonder who will read it, what they will think of you, whether you are worthy, etc. etc. – just write. Take pictures or find them on the Web, if that makes it more fun, but don’t feel you have to. Dress up your blog or not – it doesn’t matter. It’s also really a plus if you take time to read others’ blogs and respond to those that speak to you, as it increases the likelihood that you will have interested readers responding to your ideas.

And don’t start measuring your worth by the number of comments you get, or anything – there may be readers who don’t have time to comment, but are really appreciating your writing. In the final analysis, though, you are Writing in the Light – finding words to connect, share, celebrate what is important to you, and may be life-giving (or at least thought-provoking) for others.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blessed Bride's Day

I noticed on several blogs recently (here is a collection) that there was an open poetry posting invitation for St. Brigid's day. (Reya started it!) While I wasn't (initially) energized enough to find some poetry to post, I did some reflection on the bus this morning about what this day could stand for, speculating on what it meant historically. When I got to my office and peeked at Wikipedia, I found I wasn't far off. I'll share my morning reflections and a couple of surprising points about the day. (Then I did dig up a poem from about this time of year several years ago.)

First, the picture above: it was taken - believe it or not - at *five* *o'clock* *in* *the* *afternoon*. Unthinkable, not too long ago, that there would still be sun visible as I trudged over the snow-covered walk bridge spanning the Mississippi River (that curves right behind my workplace building - one of the best views in town).

My reflection this morning on the bus was about how I was feeling a new stirring of energy, not just faith in the promise of new life that is the hallmark of the Solstice / Christmas, but a real stirring of the real thing - new energy, new ideas starting to stir, starting to spark. The new light is becoming strong enough to keep the cold spells shorter, and start melting the new snow pretty quickly. Yesterday, a light snow fell all through the afternoon into the late evening, accumulating a couple of inches of sparkles, which I waded through to the bus this morning. By this evening, it had started to melt, and lacked much of the fluffiness. (But it was still excellent for the folks down the nearby hill where there are miles of cross-country ski paths and a great big hill for sledding. You could hear the distant, happy cries from my corner.)

What Wikipedia told me was very consistent with my reflections: St. Brigid's Day, or Imbolc, is the mid-point between the Solstice and the Equinox. Christianized, it is Candlemas, which is consistent with the theme in earlier time of the stirring light. The name "Imbolc" has to do with the ewes getting ready to lamb - apparently they start lactating before giving birth. Brigid (before becoming a Christian nun and saint) was a goddess of healing, poetry, and - get this - smith craft. According to Wikipedia, celebrations included hearth fires and candles, "divination and watching for omens." Wikipedia suggested that our Groundhog's Day is an echo of ancient folktales of the hedgehog seeing its shadow, or the hag having a bright day to gather more firewood, determining that we will have more winter.

Well, as you can see by my afternoon photo, we had sunshine today, so I guess we're in it for a while longer yet. Even so, the returning light will make it easier to pick up my steps, focus my mind, sustain my attention, and feel less like I have a head full of Swiss cheese (with holes where my memory should be).

And now for some poetry after all - after (literally) dusting off a stack of little hard-bound record books I kept for that purpose some years back. Er - more than ten years back, I find to my surprise.

2/1 (some years back - and I typed this from the handwritten record of a remembered dream without re-reading it first)

Leaving the mother's house

The house of my childhood
and really, my house
that I live in now
is caving in.

Stuck by lightning!
or some natural
of disaster.

I can hear the beams crumble
off elsewhere in the house
this hallway seems solid
for now
my mother's room
an odd, unused door
an odd, unused closet
has a quick robe for me

to be expelled, willy nilly
out into the cold
from my mother's house
nothing but a robe!
I pause, though,
to rummage through her things.

The jewel-box on the dresser -
can't find it -
I take beads,
great-grandmother's handkerchiefs
I worry her heart
will be broken
to lose it all.

I pause to hustle
my friends away
from their card games
and Monopoly -
no time for leisure.

I am so hesitant to go,
then I reassure myself
we can come back later
when it's all over and done
and pick through the pieces

surely the jewels,
the small, precious memories
will still be there
for mining.
But this house
is no longer
a habitation
half-wrecked, crumbling
even if it should stand
we must pull it down
it's unstable.

And now, I wonder,
what this house is
what it means
that I have lived there
all along.

And now, I wonder
will the neighbors help me
in the night and cold
if I show up
in this ancient, musty bathrobe?
(My pockets stuffed
with my mother's keepsakes.)

How could I go on
working, living, making progress
with nothing to my name?

If I must leave
my mother's house
the house of the mother
the mothering house
the unchanging house

where I live as mothers do

how will I live?

how will I act,
if not as a mother
acting as all mothers act?

How will I work
if I live somewhere else -

Is mothering just a job
and not my dwelling place?

But there's no time
to preserve, linger,
wonder, second-guess -
shock! the building cracks
and pieces crash and fall
it's time to go now!

(illustration from Wikipedia on Imbolc - not labeled except Stonehenge, sunrise)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Self-Hood and No-Self - or who's in there anyway?

(Picture taken by my mini-computer.)

It's raining, raining - turning all that snow into sullen gray mush. (It will all freeze solid tonight, though.) It's actually quite dangerous walking around out there, as some of the sidewalks are water on top of ice.

I've been thinking about "self-hood" and the idea of "no-self" in Buddhist thought. The aim of mindfulness training is to extinguish the illusion that we are someone in particular, rather than an endless series of conditioned actions and reactions. Coming to this awareness is coolness instead of heat, openness instead of constriction. But it doesn't feel all that appealing to me, or rather, flies in the face of the effort to find voice and establish a sense of personhood that many, especially women, have been engaged in. (And which is the sub-text of many blogs - why else the frequent memes of "25 secrets" and such?)

Perhaps we need to have a solid sense of self before we can let go of it?

Another stopping place in my mind for this Buddhist understanding is the insight from parenting that the person-hood of my children was there from the beginning - they never felt like unfolding buds of potential humanity, but as fully present selves at whatever stage they were. And it always seemed to me that they had a strong engine of internally-generated action, rather than being molded from the outside.

How can we love each other as random collections of conditioned action and reaction?

On this point, I rather prefer the Judeo/Christian/Islamic understanding of the creation of individuals as unique and lovable. There are other Western doctrines I'm not as fond of, certainly. (And I readily confess that this "no-self" concept is much more complex than I'm presenting it.)

At least Siddhārtha Gautama kept it clear that none of his doctrines were themselves actuality - just pointers to experiencing and understanding from the inside. That I can completely agree with.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thanks, blogging companions

I've had the happy fortune to have had two days largely spent in rest and reflection, thanks to the car acting up and my trusty mechanics at Gorshe Auto not having time to work on it today (AND it being a holiday from work). Today I read through the blog entries for the year. I hadn't realized it had been a year - one that started with a secret blog (on spirituality), which I merged later on after I started this one, in a lighthearted mood one day. As I remember it, starting up the first one was a pretty big deal at this time last year - a ray of light and hopefulness in a fairly bleak period of time. I'm glad I loosened up, though, and found a balance of daily life along with more intense reflections.

It's been a highlight of my year, writing this blog, and especially finding others out there in the Hamlet of Blogville to be blogging companions.

What did I learn from re-reading my blogs?

How many weeks blurred by in a workaholic fog . . .

How I celebrated my elderly dog, Rufus, creaking along for so many months in his late life, and how hard it was to let him go . . .

How much fun it was to buy my new pocket-sized Nikon and try it out (reminder to self: I should carry it around more of the time, to catch life happening around me). . .

What fun it was to travel, and to share the beauties of my home state of Idaho (and more here) . . .

How besotted I could get over a curly young pup . . .

And, perhaps most importantly, that writing is a form of mindfulness for me, and it helps to bring me most fully alive. Also, that it is writing in the context of a community, especially a multi-generational community of women.

Here's to a new year of blogging. I might even try writing some more static sketches to post in my "other" blog, "More about me (than you wanted to know)."

Flash! Just found that this blog is now the first hit when I Google "is there anyone else up there" . . . fame!

Bye for now - and thanks!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Now, in the new year

(Sound track today: Graceland, by Anonymous 4. Sorry - I don't know how to post sound files, but there are samples at the link.)

I've just spent an hour or two rereading a series of writing exercises I did a bit more than a year ago. This was a process outlined in a book I found in a church basement sale (where I also got four little matching bone-china plates with vines etched around their rims): Writing the Mind Alive: The Propriaceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice.

In brief, the method involves a 30-minute span of time, writing while listening to music by Bach, a candle flame burning nearby, employing an approach of writing-while-listening to the thin trail of the most authentic possible inner voice, asking (and answering) from time to time the question, "What do I mean by . . . ".

What I wrote about, over and over (through the four months that Peter and I did this exercise sporadically together, often late in the evening, at the dining room table) was my long-standing question of life purpose, or purposes, I guess. I reflected on the core tension of my life, haunted by a yearning to be a writer but instead plunged into the more public/pragmatic work of raising a family, working with students and student services administrative apparatus, along with part-time teaching. Throughout has been the quest for a spiritual path and commitment to my Quaker community - which is another way of saying, a search for the Divine.

In the wavering but faithful light of these months of reflective, candlelit writing, it became clear that the compartments of my life were still one life, and at the core was the question of attention - of being aware, of being wholly present, in whichever activity I engage in.

Today, I made the decision to stay home from Meeting or shopping or other errands that would require me to drive, as the pump that supports the power steering in the car is beginning to fail. I'll take the car in to be fixed as soon as I can. I had a fearful fantasy of having the power steering fail and trying to wrestle the un-powered steering wheel on my way to or from activities today, and decided to let the car sit.

Perhaps what I really needed, this last weekend before the spring semester starts at the University, is to finally take some concentrated time reflecting on this year's turning from the deepest dark to the slowly strengthening light of a infant spring. Now that I am really "pushing 60" - or at least willing to accept it - what might change? Is it time to let go of the tensions that held me for so many years: the pull between creative introversion and competent outward activity? What's next?

Part of me, inevitably, feels this reflection is self-indulgent - well-known voices from childhood onward, no doubt, pushing me to productive activity, instead of wallowing in whatever feeling or fantasy has captured my attention. But long years of the inner-outer dance have taught me of the importance of pulling myself out of the usual round of activities, of taking some time to gather the threads together, to recognize patterns, to discern the next steps.

Writing does seem to be part of the enduring pattern. It is one way I have of celebrating the gifts of my life - the weak but growing sunlight on the tired snowbanks outside; my family of origin (some now down in Baja, Mexico, basking in the stronger sun); my tawny, curly, inadequately trained little pooch; my life companion upstairs napping. Both the inward quest and the outward bustle are gifts to me, in their faithful constancy. Music is a gift. Friendship - a gift I don't reach for enough. The gift of sleep. The gift of reasonable health and strength. All of it - given over and over, changing and slipping away, renewed past hope. The life I am carried along by, more than orchestrating. I do create within this life, but I am also more a witness to its flow, its unexpected or long-predicted turns and tumbles. So let me let go of fears to flow most joyfully, most open-heartedly, in this cascade of time and turning years.

Here's something from Gloryland - sums it up: "SAINT’S DELIGHT" (lyrics Isaac Watts.

When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to ev’ry fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.

I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home,
I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home.

Should earth against my soul engage,
And fiery darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage
And face a frowning world.

I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home,
I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home.

There I shall bathe my weary soul
In seas of heav’nly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll,
Across my peaceful breast.

I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home,
I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home.