In free fall? Trust your self-organizing self

When I am falling apart, I have found I can rely on self-organizing wisdom, a seventh grade strategy.

The pleasures of writing began with dodging outline assignments when I was in junior high school. An English or history teacher typically required me first to turn in The Outline, and then use it as a guide to writing the paper:

I Main Idea #1

    A  ….

        1 ….

        2 ….

    B….

II Main idea #2

 

The problem was I am gifted with an associative mind.

Composing an outline drained the life right out of my thinking and ordering processes. My work-around was simple: I did the assignment backwards. I wrote the paper first and then used the paper to construct the required outline. This strategy forced me to front-load hours of homework, but that was relatively easy in comparison to pulling Main Ideas out of thin air. I trusted how my mind works, and how my creativity works.

Fast forward to Goucher College, where I majored in French Lit. I tried to go for a cross-departmental major in English and French, but I was way ahead of the interdisciplinary curve. I wrote my senior thesis on metaphor in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.  A la recherche du temps perdu was published conveniently in 10 rather slim volumes (en francais). This allowed me to read and take notes on one volume per week for the 10-week first semester of senior year, and do other collateral research and write the paper the following semester. 

I took notes on 3×5 file cards. Quotes that stood out. Points made by Proust’s biographers or literary critics. I had several shoe-boxes full by the time I began to write. I spread the cards out on the floor around me and sorted them into piles by theme. Then I began to consider how the themes related to one another, the structure of the whole work, and Proust’s use of language. Metaphor attracted my attention and became the organizing principle. If you had asked me at the time, I would certainly have claimed credit for the whole thing.

 

As a life-long student, it turns out that I have been captivated by self-organizing behavior.

My papers organized themselves. Like animal swarms, neural networks, embryonic and ecological development.

As an herbalist I have likewise come to trust the wisdom of the body. I look for a combination of plants and formulas that will nudge an ailing body back towards health. Typically I offer a combination of restorative herbs and nutrients and encouragement in weaning from habits that make the system work harder. Together these two approaches companion the body in doing what it knows how to do: restore order to its own house. That is to say, healthy relationship among the parts, the body’s functions.

But I still somehow failed to grok that the whole of my own life is a self-organizing process – one that I shape and mold, for sure, but is not, um, in my control. Rather, is guided by an inherent wisdom that is not personal to me at all.

 

It has taken two winters, each with an extended episode of illness, to bring me to my full senses.

Last winter it was dysregulation of my nervous system: sleepless nights, anxiety bordering on panic attacks. None of the considerable inner resources I had cultivated had any effect at all. My friend and master body-worker Johnny had the skill to lead me through a session where the switch flipped and my parasympathetic nervous system – the one responsible for rest, recovery, and digestion, came back online. This winter it was two bouts of flu, each with 7-8 weeks of recovery time. These illnesses, like the previous winter’s, occurred within the context of the unwinding of deep emotional patterns embedded in my body.

Here’s the thing: once the unwinding had occurred, my body knew what to do. I just had to listen. Even the unwinding was my body knowing what to do.When to hold on and when to let go. When to speak up, when to be quiet. When to expend, when to save my energies. This has allowed my whole being to reorganize itself in a healthier, happier way. And gifted me with a greater trust in the falling-apart process.

 

It feels like a free fall, and it’s a time to reach out for help. But this wisdom is there to catch me. And you.

That wisdom is God’s longing to be in this world with us and through us. In Come Healing, Leonard Cohen sings it: the “longing of the branches to lift the little bud,  “the longing of the arteries to purify the blood.”

 

If I had to, I could turn this story into one heck of an Outline.


PS  Wishing you all a summer with enough of the weather, fresh veggies and fruits and outdoor life that most delight you.  Over the next few months I will be posting just once a month. Something is afoot that wants more time: for reading and research and conversation and listening and quiet absorption and integration. It’s my way of “going to the beach” or, as we Marylanders say, “down-ee o-shun.”


Banner photo  Burning Through, by Mary Lansman. Hillsborough Gallery of Art, Hillsborough, North Carolina.

 

Ardent reader, Pt 2:  stories & wisdom across cultures

More good stories: from middle America to Africa and the American South

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Billie Letts (1986). A sweet, quick read that lifts my faith in humanity every time I read it. Caney Paxton is a Vietnam vet who runs an Eastern Oklahoma diner from his wheelchair but hasn’t been outside since the place opened twelve years ago. The diner is peopled by a mash-up of locals who rally to help one another at every turn. Crow Indian woman Vena Takes Horse blows in the door one day with an injured dog in a cardboard box, upsetting the order Molly O has established as her way of watching over Caney and managing life with and without her wild and estranged daughter Brenda. Meanwhile Bui, a homeless Vietnamese immigrant finds a home in the local black church and surreptitiously restores it even beyond its former glory, while working as short-order cook and handyman.

In here he knew what to expect. The smell of hot grease and stale beer, the flicker of red and blue neon, the taste of ketchup on fries, the clink of spoons against coffee cups. Days as predictable as…Suddenly, Caney grabbed the wheels of his chair, gave them a powerful jerk and popped the chair over the threshold. Clearing the door frame, feeling the heat of the sun on his face, he squinted against the glare.

 

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (2016). When I got to the end of this absorbing novel, I turned right back to the beginning and started over. I can’t say that about any other book. Gyasi’s heroines are half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in different villages in 18th century Ghana. Married off to an Englishman, Effia lives out a European colonial life, one of the many native women the British take as second wives. She does not know that her half-sister Esi is imprisoned in the castle dungeon below her palatial quarters, about to endure the agonizing Middle Passage. In alternating chapters Homegoing then traces the sisters’ parallel stories generation by generation. The unfolding of tribal warfare, control of the slave trade, and colonialization on the one hand. Plantation life in the deep South, the Civil War and Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance on the other. On my second pass, I read Esi’s story straight through, and then Effia’s, and absorbed more details of the finely-rendered characters, times and places.

…two long moans meant the enemy was miles off; three quick shouts meant they were  upon them…Esi did what her father had taught her, grabbing the small knife that her mother used to slice plantains and tucking it into the cloth of her skirt. Maame sat on the edge of her cot. “Come on!” Esi said, but her mother didn’t move…”I can’t do it again,” she whispered.

 

Non-fiction: the power of recognizing yourself in the text

Running on Empty, Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, Jonice Webb, PhD, with Christine Musello, PsyD (2013).  Webb’s book was life-changing for me.  For this book among many things I am ever grateful to my healer Brenda Blessings. In Webb’s cogent analysis I recognized my own life – the way I experienced the world and behaved in response. If anyone had ever asked me straight out if I was emotionally neglected as a child, I would have responded with a puzzled yet definitive “no.”  But Running on Empty helped me to see the relationship among what to me had been unrelated fragments. Feelings of isolation while real life went on in Technicolor on the other side of a barrier I could not breach. A capacity to speak up, and passionately, on behalf of others, but not for myself. A disconnect between “work” and pay, cause and effect. And other mysteries of my life. Five years later, the these fragments have softened and integrated – still around, yet no longer running my psyches and my life. Such as…

Signs and Signals of Alexithymia

–  you have a tendency to be irritable

–  you are seldom aware of having a feeling

–  you are often mystified by others’ behaviors

–  you are often mystified by your own behavior

–  when you do get angry, it tends to  be excessive or explosive

–  sometimes your behavior can seem rash to yourself or to others

–  you feel you are fundamentally different from other people

–  something is missing inside of you

–  your friendships lack depth and substance

 

Inspiration and guidance from many cultures

Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott (1994). I was a fan of Lamott’s from the time I first read Traveling Mercies (1999) – captured by her plain-spoken struggles with faith in daily life. It was many more years before I began to have any thoughts at all of myself as a writer. Writing was just something I did, and loved, whether I was journaling or writing testimony for a legislative hearing. If you think that none of this could apply to you, take my word for it: good writing and a good life both follow the same instructions, as Lamott’s title indicates. She opens and closes Bird by Bird by calling us to truth.

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, but we do…But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.

There are so many things I want to tell my students in our last class…Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

 

The World has Changed, Conversations with Alice Walker, edited with an introduction, Rudolf P. Byrd (2010). This volume was a sale-table find at Red Emma’s, where I was browsing while waiting to meet my friend Lisa for lunch. In these nineteen interviews and conversations with Walker from 1973 – 2009, she is often asked the same questions. What changes and what remains a steady thread in her responses is the instructive nourishment of this compilation. Then there is the sheer power and magic of her speaking.

On writing fiction:…there’s that wonderful, playful quality of knowing you have dreamed up people who are walking around and who have opinions…You’re dreaming people, creating people, they do surprising things, but it’s only because you have given them that freedom in creating them.

On Possessing the Secret of Joy: I learned about genital mutilation twenty years ago in Kenya, and it was just so completely beyond my experience at the time…that I didn’t, I literally didn’t understand what they meant…But by the time I actually started [the book] I was in such a state of grief that the only thing that sustained me was that I could go outside and just lie facedown on the earth. And I really understood…that the body of a woman is the body of the earth, and it was the same kind of scarring, mutilation, control. You know, “If you’re gonna have a crop, it’s gonna be my crop.”…And the same where they cut the woman and they sew her up, and they say, “if you’re gonna have children, it’s gonna be my child.”

 

The Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams (2016) Two of the wisest men on the planet are in conversation, and their love for one another and their warm and playful friendship, displayed in photos and verbal exchanges, bring delight, though Abrams as narrator sometimes got in my way. My friend Greg loaned me this book, accurately sensing that my spirits were sorely in need of upliftment. Joy, in fact, remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Abrams did redeem himself in my eyes by including this definition from Brother Steindl-Rast: “Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.”

The Dalai Lama: After 9/11 you would have suspected that those who hated America would have been gloating. But there were very, very, very few people gloating, People were deeply, deeply distressed. Had the American President not hit back, we might have had a different world. We will have a different world of course, eventually. But just look at any tragedy…There is compassion that just springs up.

Archbishop Tutu: You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others…God created us and said, Go now, my child. You have freedom. And God has had such incredible reverence for that freedom that God would much rather we freely went to hell than compel us to go to heaven…And God weeps until there are those who say I do want to try to do something.


For Part 1 for Ardent readers:  https://alifeofpractice.com/musings/ardent-reader-pt-1-good-stories-perennial-wisdom/

 

 

Ardent reader, Pt 1: good stories & perennial wisdom

stack of books

As an ardent reader, I relish both good stories and perennial wisdom. This week I share a few of my favorites with you.

 

Thankfully, Dick and Jane did not quench my love of reading. I lose myself in a well-told story.

I read to find heroines and role models, to understand villains and evil. See the world afresh.  Escape.  Time travel to other places and by unfamiliar means – horseback, sleigh, trans-Atlantic steamer, dragon- back (Anne McCaffrey’s specialty). Drench myself in strange tastes, smells and dialects. And find myself anew, with widened eyes and a wiser heart, some enhanced capacity to be more human. Enchanted by language. Refreshed to return to my own daily “story.”

Hefting a book in my hands, I treasure the tactile – the feel of the binding and texture of the paper. I’ve kept notebooks of quotes, even extended passages. I’ve underlined and scribbled in margins, highlighted and tabbed with post-its.

I love being pulled forward page to page…and if the story is a good one, I ration the pages to slow myself down and savor the experience.

 

Winter comfort reading…fiction to be savored with afghan and tea

Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin (1983). The language and imaginative scope of this novel still absorbs me on my – 10th? 15th? rereading. Peopled by outrageous underworld characters, a master mechanic, a consumptive heiress, an epic competition between high-minded and low-minded daily newspapers, an elusive bridge-thrower, a howling White Wall, and a powerful white horse, all in the roiling streets of Manhattan during some time that never was but we dream of. Especially now that Helprin has engraved such a city in our minds.

All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

 

The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett (2007). Trailing her yapping corgis around a corner of Buckingham Palace, the Queen of England stumbles upon a traveling library. I revisit the life-changing pleasures of reading as she discovers her own. Full of Britishisms and good humor.

’The Queen has a slight cold’ was what the nation was told, but what it was not told and what the Queen herself did not know was that this was only the first of a series of accommodations, some of them far-reaching, that her reading was going to involve.

 

The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver (1988). Taylor escapes Kentucky “in a ’55 VW Bug with no windows to speak of, and no back seat and no starter.”  Headed west, she stops for a scant meal and leaves the bar with her “head rights” to the Cherokee nation: an abandoned, abused toddler. Taylor and Turtle end up in Tucson at Jesus is Lord Used Tires, which houses an auto repair shop and a sanctuary for Central American asylum-seekers. Full-bodied and warm-hearted characters, each down on their own hard luck, take care of one another, creating their own miracles along the way.

We looked where (Turtle) was pointing. Some of the wisteria flowers had gone to seed, and all these wonderful long green pods hung down from the branches. They looked as much like beans as anything you’d care to eat…It was another miracle. The flower trees were turning into bean trees.

 

Perennial wisdom … dip in, savor, open at random and contemplate

I take on a different reading persona with these works of perennial wisdom.  These are not cover-to-cover reads. I do start with forwards and prefaces and introductions for context. I often read the acknowledgments at the end: I enjoy getting a sense of the lineages to which such books belong and the village that may have surrounded an author’s or translator’s work. Then I read I-Ching style: open at random, read a few passages or pages, close the book and reflect on what light the words shed on any given current personal or world predicament.

 

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, translation and foreward by Stephen Mitchell (1984). First published in 1929 by Franz Xaver Kappus, recipient of these 10 letters from the Bohemian-Austrian poet. Kappus was a 19-year-old military cadet and aspiring poet. While addressing a life in poetry and art, Rilke’s words remain rich guidance for a vibrant inner life in the 21st century.

…it is clear we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.

 

Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita, Ram Dass (2005).  This volume is built around talks I first listened to on cassette tapes as I was running a gingerbread-baking business out of my kitchen. He spoke about the “mellow drama” of his own journey. And he mixed his personal stories with commentary on the themes of this ancient scripture, “themes…that touch on the various yogas, or paths for coming to union with God.”  The 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita originally appear among some 200,000 verses of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata. This “song” takes the form of a conversation between the warrior Arjuna and Lord Krishna, his charioteer, as Arjuna is about to go into full battle with his own family members.

Again and again the Gita turns our perspective upside down…It shifts our sense of what our lives are about. So as we begin to adopt the Gita’s perspective as our own, we’ll notice that our focus starts to change. Instead of always preoccupying ourselves with trying to get what we think we want or need, we’ll start to quiet, we’’ll start to listen. We’ll wait for that inner prompting. We’ll try to hear, rather than decide, what it is we should do next…we’ll discover that we’ve lost our lives – and found them.

 

The Instruction Manual for Receiving God, Jason Shulman (2006). This slim volume offers more than one-hundred “seed passages”  for contemplation, along with commentary and suggested practices. He lays out an open-hearted path to accepting the wisdom and limitations in our human imperfections, and to encountering God at every turn. I have been studying this nondual work with Jason for over twenty years. He is the real deal.

There is a Japanese saying: The elbow does not bend outward. It is a smart saying. The freedom of the elbow, the wonderfulness of the elbow, is precisely because of its limitations. This is our awakened attitude. We are free to be completely human. We are not free to be aliens or cartoon creatures. We are free to be ourselves, with all of our imperfections and bruises.

 

An invitation: pay it forward and add one of your titles and why it makes your own list of favorite books!

 

Watch for Part II: fiction and non-fiction for writers and cross-cultural explorers.

 

Hitting the jackpot looked different from what I expected

Our household has always been full of treasures. I have learned this has nothing to do with market value. Still, I had hoped to hit the jackpot.

The sorting process began in April with the easy-to-let-go-of stuff – one drawer, one shelf, one closet at a time. Shredding went out of the house to a post-tax-season event. Clothing and useable household items – there were  three trips to the Wise Penny with donations.

On to the basement, where vintage and antique dolls from four generations, my maternal grandmother’s to my kids’ – were wrapped in yellowing paper. China, Effanbee, Madam Alexander, Storybook Dolls. Dollhouse and furnishings top to bottom – including a built-in bookcase for the livingroom, a navy leather chair, and an old-fashioned school-desk (with my kids’ names scratched in under the lid) I had made myself.

Cookie cutters, candy molds, and materials for making large panorama Easter eggs from sugar, all materials for my gingerbread business, Confections Unlimited. Boxes of Christmas ornaments going back to my and my kids’ childhoods.

Real wooden toys from before Playskool went plastic. A bin of stuffed animals – the still-collectable Steiff, all missing the distinctive ear button that increases their value. Eddie the estate liquidator said kids tend to bite them off. Hand puppets. Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore. Paddington and an assortment of other bears. All this was a pantry of memories.

In less than an hour Eddie and his buddy carted it all away, writing me a modest check, which allowed him to forgo charging me to also haul away old luggage, a slightly bent metal file cabinet, a hardly-used trampoline, a 1941 Royal typewriter,  a movie projector, old insulation, and more.

Eddie wasn’t so interested in the vintage books, so I drove out to Gramps’ Attic in Ellicott City, where I had purchased several of them. In 10 minutes “Gramps” had deftly picked through the four boxes in the trunk of my car, offered me $100 for 15 books, and placed the cash in my hand.

More than anything, even the dollar gap between my hopes and the reality, it was the transactional nature of these encounters that jarred me.

The coins I took to Mr. Merrill – I tracked him down online because I had remembered the small friendly fieldstone building that he had occupied for years, and I always told myself he’s the one I’d go to when the time came.

There were some silver dollars my grandfather had given me as a kid, a handful of Indian-head pennies, a stash of Soviet coins, and envelopes of coins from countries around the world that I had never visited.

Like Gramps, he quickly and deftly sorted through the items, separating out the ones he would buy from those he recommended passing on to a kid. He told me that’s how he had gotten interested in coins – fascinated by what they taught him about history and place and economics.

Here’ s the thing. Mr. Merrill was interested in stories.

He wanted to hear about my great uncle William Newman, who had traveled by train and buggy and early automobile, taking colored glass slides, and returning to the US to tour Masonic Temples with his travelogues. He wanted to hear about my trip to the Soviet Union, how I met up with refusenik families to deliver photos and letters, how my wallet was stolen in the Hermitage Museum and the danger that posed for them, considering just what combination of foolish and courageous I was.

Every item that went out of my house had a story attached  to it, dusty with childhood and motherhood and entrepreneurial memories. I had hoped to hit the jackpot, something that would put a large chunk of cash at my disposal.

The real jackpot was that one transaction that was more than transactional: the one that was alive with story.


More on expectations: https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/the-healing-i-needed-not-the-one-i-wanted/

 

It’s not about anything but love

It’s curious how I’ve been drawn back repeatedly to an area in the Catskills that I have visited regularly for close to forty years. Clearly it has been home to me in some way I have not been able to name.

There is a “there” there, but what is its nature?

Spiritual initiations and awakening, weeks of study and following ashram discipline, Jewish Renewal retreats, gatherings with healing colleagues, meditation and prayer and practice – and family events. For the past eight years the family events have included pilgrimages to Stagedoor Manor, a camp for serious theatre geeks from which my grandson will “graduate” in a few weeks, then head off to college.

But what is it really that has drawn me back over and over again?

As I drove south through Sullivan County a few days ago, returning to Baltimore after a camp performance week-end, I once again considered this question. When my daughter and I arrived on Friday afternoon, we had been greeted with a double rainbow. The weather had been sunny and pleasant with a few heavy downpours. As we left were still under the influence of Saturday evening’s gloriously silver full moon. Nature was certainly at its kindest this trip.

And we had been inspired by six shows from Friday through Saturday evening, full of gifted and spirited acting and song, and enjoyed the particular dance that happens every summer as various family members and friends disperse go to different shows and come back together to exchange “wows!”

….and then I heard these words spoken in the voice of one of my teachers:

It’s about love.

It’s always been about love.

It’s not about anything but love.

When I thought it was about wisdom, it was about love.

When I thought it was about skill, it was about love.

When I thought it was about duty, it was about love.

And what is the nature of that love?

The nature of that love is action, not sentiment.

In Hebrew, the word for love is Ahava, which has a numerical value of thirteen. The word for One is Echad, which also has a numerical value of thirteen. Coupled, in relationship, their value is 26, the numerical value of the Unpronounceable Name of God.

And so it goes: we think that we travel, we think we gather and disperse, we think we study, we think we perform on stage or off.

While what we really do is love.

Receive and give over and over again.

Express the One – endlessly and concretely. Humanly, that is to say imperfectly.

Sing the Unpronounceable with our imperfect human actions.

 

 

Refresh yourself, or sulk, in my garden – apparently I’m on spring break

Come on in. You are welcome to refresh yourself  – or  sulk, as you wish – in my woodland medicinal garden,  nestled under a sky-ward leaping linden tree. My writer’s mind and hand are apparently on spring break,

In Perpetual Spring
Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

Source: Bitter Angel: Poems (1990)

IMG_2128  IMG_2111  IMG_2104  IMG_2107

IMG_2131  IMG_2115  IMG_2110 (1)  IMG_2103

Shade canopy: Linden tree

Top row: Black Cohosh, Greater Celandine, Solomon’s Seal, Wild Ginger

Bottom row: Twinleaf, Dwarf Comfrey, Golden Ragwort, Black Cohosh

From the sick-bed

From the sick-bed, the herbalist says: I know exactly when the scale tipped for my immune system and lost its preventive edge against this virus. I had already been taking liberal doses of Echinacea, Osha, garlic  and honey for three days, ever since my husband had come down with a cold. They usually do the trick. Between my go-to herbs and some slowing down of activity, I was keeping infection at bay.

 

From the sick-bed, the activist says: But I tipped the scale toward illness. I made a choice: to attend an all-day training on “cultural proficiency awareness,” aka diversity and inclusion. I am passionate on this topic, and there are so few constructive conversations taking place. I want to show up and participate at any opportunity. The day was engaging and revelatory.  I cannot recall ever before being asked to consider, for example, how stereotypes can be helpful. Everyone had showed up to really do the work.  One woman’s intention deeply touched me: “I want to be the sanctuary.”  The meeting room was cold, and I felt ill and sneezy by the time I got home.

Here I am a week later, having bowed out of traveling to DC for my first-ever writers’ conference. And I have no regrets.

I do have two and a half days of completely unscheduled time now to rest and recuperate. And at least another week of choosing with care when and where to engage, cancel, avoid taking on. Time to convalesce, an-almost quaint phenomenon. One more piece of privilege. I’m still going back and forth with myself about whether it is economic or white privilege or both. Convalescence is a luxury for many, among them single parents and breadwinners, anyone worried about job security, even kids worried about keeping up with schoolwork.

 

From the sick-bed, the healing one says: I feel more grateful than usual for this time, and for

hot teas, miso soup, baked sweet potato, brown rice, veggies with olive oil and garlic

quiet

a soft afghan to wrap myself in

a few herbs for my still-boggy sinuses: droppersful of Baptisia and a neti pot with Goldenseal, Echinacea and Propolis

homeopathic Ignatia to soothe my nervous system

 

From the sick-bed,  the awakening one says: And more grateful than usual for every one of you who is out there engaging with as much kindness, consciousness and skill as you can while I bench myself for now. There are other days when some of you will choose to step out for rest, or be felled by a Big Piece of Life, and I’ll be right out there working my fanny off.

We take turns in actively holding up the world. We run and we return. We do what we can when we can. As we fall back or fall down, others get up and get on with it.

Wherever you find yourself in life today,

if you can throw yourself into the thick of things with an open heart, go for it!

If you are low on courage, be extra kind to yourself.

If you need a rest, pull back.

Lean on one another.

Take good care: of yourselves, and with one another.

What if I had the freedom to be Sara with as great abandon as that tree!

I distinctly remember the moment I recognized is-ness, the common state of all living things except us humans, for whom it remains an illusive state.  I was taking a hatha yoga class, looking out at the trees, and said to myself: that tree never questions what it is, why it is rooted where it is, or its purpose. It never questions.

What if I had the freedom to be Sara with as great abandon as that tree!

What if that freedom came with as much relaxation as effort!

To be human is to struggle with the movement of life. We try to fix life by pinning it down like a butterfly, turning it into a specimen, a dead thing. We put life on the witness stand and cross-examine it. We take our responsibilities seriously. We take ourselves seriously.

Which brings me to one antidote we rarely consider: collapse.

 

Imperative

by Sara Eisenberg

I say this to you in all kindness: collapse.

Don’t worry about rubble, dislocation,  flying dust.

 

It is just to relax,

end the exhaustion of holding

every which way,

in and up,

down and on,

that visceral tension,

those ringing nerves,

air-starved cells.

Collapse

 

into the shards of your questions and their answering wholeness,

sheltered in their feathered nest.

Smell, taste,

map them with gentle and probing touch.

Move with their quaking, aching rhythm.

Collapse,

 

sheltered there by the leaves of your shady oak,

ever undisturbed by thoughts of maple.

Make yourself useful

It is my mother’s pen knife (pictured above) that I hold most dear among the items I selected when my family members and I were disposing of her belongings. Because she used it every day: to open mail and adult-proof bottles, to cut out a coupon from the paper, to move a reluctant button through its hole. Her hands touched it. This pen knife made her life manageable in the small ways that nourished and her independence. It lived on her kitchen counter, within easy reach – perhaps dating to her eighties or her nineties, when her twisted, arthritic fingers were not up to the job. I found it where she left it when she for the hospital with a broken ankle.

Mom raised me to make myself useful, although my ideas about that, and my actions have changed over the years: change the diaper, change the oil, change my viewpoint, change my pig-headed idea. Change how I look. Change how things look. Change how things are. Change the world in small and large ways.

These days, here’s how I make myself useful:  I choose my words, my tone, my intention deliberately. Sharpened to the needs of the moment. To open a heart, soothe a vulnerability, set a boundary, fix responsibility, validate a feeling, challenge a lie.  To seal a bond or break a connection.

God spoke the universes into existence. I choose my words to keep them spinning for the common good.

How do you make yourself useful for the common good?

 

You are guests around my Thanksgiving table

Dear Friends –

It is just over a year that many of you have been following my blog posts.

This year of sharing my writing and practice with you have changed me both “for the better,” and “for good,” as Glinda and Elphaba sing to one another in Wicked, The Musical.

During this time, many “former” interests and areas of study have reappeared. They are knocking about in my heart and mind, shaking off years of dust and neglect. Insistent about wanting to be reintegrated as living presences in my life – social engagement, formal prayer, scriptural teachings from my Eastern path, a poetry manuscript I put aside over a year ago. These are some of my working edges, and I’ll continue to explore them in your good company.

Have you too been changed for the better over this past year? for good? 

What are your working edges now?

What questions are you struggling with?

And what would you like to read about here in the coming months and year?

What kind of nourishment would help restore you to yourself? 

Please take a moment out of your own holiday observances to respond in the COMMENT BOX below.

I’ll be paying attention.

I send you my deep gratitude in this season of giving thanks, for kind words, thoughtful comments, provocative questions. In a very real sense, I will feel your presence as guests around my family’s Thanksgiving table.

My dear friend Suzanne read the following poem to us at her table a few nights ago, and I’ll be sharing it at ours on Thursday evening.

Love and blessings to you and yours, and to the Greater Family of which each of our families is a part.

Sara

 

In Thanksgiving

adapted from the prayerbook Mishkan T’filah, used by Reform Jewish Congregations

 

For the expanding grandeur of Creation,

worlds known and unknown,

galaxies beyond galaxies,

filling us with awe

and challenging our imaginations,

we give thanks this day.

 

For this fragile planet earth,

its times and tides,

its sunsets and seasons,

we give thanks this day.

 

For the joy of human life,

its wonders and surprises,

its hopes and achievements,

we give thanks this day.

 

For our human community,

our common past and future hope,

our oneness transcending all separation,

our capacity to work for peace and justice

in the midst of hostility and oppression,

we give thanks this day.

 

For high hopes and noble causes,

for faith without fanaticism,

for understanding of views not shared,

we give thanks this day.

 

For all who have labored

and suffered for a fairer world,

who have lived so that others might live

in dignity and freedom,

we give thanks this day.

 

For human liberties and sacred rites,

for opportunities to change and grow,

to affirm and choose,

we give thanks this day.

 

We pray that we may live

not by our fears but by our hopes,

not by our words but by our deeds.

 

Blessed are You, Who orders and rules the universe, Your Name is Goodness,

it is fitting to give You prayers of gratitude and praise.