Archive for June, 2010

I was looking for information last week that was supposed to be posted on a website.  When I logged in, I discovered that the post had not yet been added, so I closed the browser window and moved on to some other computer tasks.  At several intervals, I would return to the website to see whether the schedule I was looking for had been added.  Each time the promised post was nowhere to be found.  It was not until the fifth or sixth attempt that a thought occurred to me.  I directed my mouse to the upper menu bar of my browser and clicked on REFRESH.  The site reloaded, and the post I had been waiting for appeared.  All it needed was a fresh start.

Yesterday afternoon we had a wonderful, soaking rain.  There was no exciting lightning or thunder to announce its arrival.  The rain fell steadily and earnestly, but with no whipping winds to send it flying sideways.  I took a seat on the porch, sheltered by the roof, and took in the scene.  The lilac leaves that had taken on a dusty green color during the hot, dry days last week glistened as the heavenly water washed away the tiny dust particles that had landed on them as cars stirred up the surface of the dry roadway.  The kiwi vine danced as the rain hit its leaves and brought to life its long tendrils.  It might as well have been an underwater clump of kelp as it swayed in the shower that sent drop after drop of rain down the branches to drip off the tip of each leaf and into the ground.

How different things appear when they are refreshed!  I realized as I watched the vine dance in the refreshing rain that I need these moments, too.  It is too easy to become entrenched in seeing our lives from one point of view.  When we limit ourselves to seeing each day as exactly like the one before, we may miss the opportunity to change our perspective and delight in the way that refreshing our minds can transform the world we choose to perceive.  Boost your creativity!  Don’t let the puzzles that challenge you push you into a rut where you can only see them from one angle.  Climb out, look around, and realize that there may be new perspectives that will lead you to a solution.  All you need to do is refresh.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.”

— Og Mandino

Perhaps it’s the time of year that has me wandering outside  after dark and looking for the stars.  Maybe it has something to do with the lingering warmth of the almost-summer days that frees us from the need to find a sweater or even slip on shoes before enjoying the night.  Maybe the waning moon is bringing the tiny points of light into sharper focus.  Maybe when the sky is darkest, we simply crave some light.

The days have been hot and sultry ones, the kind of days that send me scurrying for shade after a short time working under the sun.  Being bathed in the light and warmth is a wonderful feeling, and the plants in my garden seem to stretch a little farther each day as they try to touch the source; but too much of a good thing would leave all of us wilted without a break for some cooling water.  The light of the sun brings such joy and color and growth to our lives that sometimes we simply need to step back for a minute and find shelter from the intensity of its power.

For this, we are given the nights of almost-summer.  Wherever we walk, our feet leave behind some dry spots in the dewy grass.  The aroma of Spring hangs in the nighttime air; and as colors of the day fade into the gray of night, we breathe in the subtle perfume of the season of renewal and life.  It would make sense just to close our eyes and breathe in the cool respite from the heat of the day.  Instead, we turn our eyes toward the heavens and search the sky for the many tiny points of light that pulse and shine and challenge the darkness.

At times like these, I think of my own small existence as a microscopic speck in an infinite universe.  I realize how small I am when the hugeness of the sun bathes me in its heat and light and power; but I realize how important each tiny point of light is when I gaze at the million suns that poke holes in the darkness of the night.  It is under the starry night that I marvel at the fact that each of us, no matter how tiny, has been created out of the darkness and filled with the Light.  Just as the sun helps us understand the infinite power of the Source of Light, the night sky and its stars teach us about our own light — the light we can bring to the world around us.

I love the sun, just as I love the Light that is around me and in me and creates all that is woven to be the wonder of existence.  I love each star, because they call me to see the light that each of us carries as our birthright.  It is the light within us that binds us all together.  It is the light we allow to shine that will illuminate our lives and light our paths through the world.  Take my hand, and let’s dance together in the light.

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Stardust

Under soft, black velvet sky,

My eyes soon found

The points of Light;

Reliable, dependable,

Twinkling assurance

From one to the next,

Delighting and lighting

My spirit as well.

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

On the soft, green velvet sod,

My heart soon played

The pulse of Life;

Steady, strong,

Solid assurance

From Mother Earth

To foundling child,

Planting my feet

And grounding my soul.

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Brought to life by Earth and Sky,

My heart and soul

Began to sing

Of Love and Light;

And gently, the Wind

Blew my song,

Made of Stardust,

Sparkling and shining,

And floating like Peace through the land.

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

In April, I introduced you to Mother Teresa and the Basketball Coach and the way that each of them told us to make an impact on our world by doing small things with great love.  This weekend marked the final tournament of the season for the basketball girls who only two months ago were working at becoming a team.  They’ve practiced, they’ve learned, they’ve played in gyms that could double as saunas.  They have let their passion for the game of basketball unite them, and they finished their season as a team.  It is a beautiful thing, and this fan will miss watching the girls bring their individual talents to the court and connect them in a way that has brought them success.

I would be using that word — success — whether the team had won a single game or not, because the beautiful thing has been watching our children learn that basketball is another place in their world where doing small things with great love can make a difference.  Many coaches give the pep-talk, “There is no ‘i’ in ‘team.’ ”  One of the things their coach has remarked about throughout the season is how selfless these girls are, and it shows off the court as well as in the midst of a game.  I’ve watched them congratulate one another on good plays.  I’ve seen the way that each girl who is substituted out of a game walks down the row on the bench and receives a high-five from each of her teammates.  I’ve watched them persevere as individuals and then bring that tenacity to the group.  I’ve watched them lose games and then pick themselves up, regroup, and enter the next contest with renewed enthusiasm.

Not all of life is filled with fairy-tale endings.  Many times we do our best and still fail to win at the contests life brings us.  What does the coach tell us?  “Do your best.  If you don’t succeed, forgive yourself.  Never give up.”  I’m here today to tell you the fairy-tale ending of our team’s season, and I hope that the girls who made it happen will take the memory of their last tournament with them to the next challenge that lies ahead of them.  After perseverance, forgiveness, and tenacity; after encouraging one another through many contests where the losses outnumbered the wins; after doing small things with great love; it all came together this weekend.  Our girls finished their season by winning four games out of five in two days of strenuous competition.  They play because they love the game, but finishing on top is always sweet.  They will be forever united by their shared experience, and I hope they will take the lessons they have learned as part of this team and apply them to their lives as they mature and choose their life’s work.

“Do your best.  If you don’t succeed, forgive yourself.  Never give up.”

Win or lose, it’s the recipe for success.

“I shut my eyes in order to see.”

— Paul Gauguin

What a strange thing for an artist to say!  He shuts his eyes in order to see.  We are taught from the time we are born to use our eyes to see the world around us.  Our parents hold up objects and say their names, and we acquire language by repeating the words they say.  We learn colors and shapes and relative size by looking at hundreds of things in our world and comparing them.  We know that yellow is not green, because we have seen many things called “yellow” and learned by seeing the things with that name just what yellow means.

Gauguin is famous for his paintings of the Tahitian people — paintings that capture the depth of colors and shapes and objects and people who were the first inhabitants of the island.  One can only imagine that an artist’s eye would have been captivated by the array of vibrant hues in an island paradise.  What a contrast to the city streets of Paris!  We are captivated by his bold use of colors; but we are equally captivated by the way his subjects come to life, although they are portrayed in two dimensions with paint on canvas.

Perhaps Gauguin looked at the world through the eyes of the artist — attending to the subtle change in color and light that to less-gifted eyes might not be obvious.  Perhaps, once he had taken it all in, he then closed his eyes and began to see what it was that he would portray in his art.  When we close our eyes, we then are able to see with the heart.  We pass all the images our eyes have delivered through the passion for life that lies within us; and by doing this, we see the essence of the image that allows it to come to life.

Few people are gifted with the ability to translate to canvas what their eyes deliver to the eyes of their heart so that others may experience what it is that they have seen.  This does not limit us from keeping our eyes open every day to the special wonders of life that greet us; and we have the opportunity, every single day, to close our eyes for a minute and see with our hearts what our eyes have brought into view.  It is a magical thing — seeing with the heart — and it is what allows us to see our place in a beautifully woven universe.  And as one heart sees and portrays its vision in painting or sculpture or music or words, another soul has the chance to look with its eyes and see with its heart what the artist has experienced.  It is then that we learn that we truly are connected — to the world, and to each other; but such wonderful things can only be seen when we shut our eyes and open our hearts.

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

— Dalai Lama

My mother told me, on my first day of school, to be nice to others and try to get along with everyone.  It sounds so simple when we say such things to a child in kindergarten.  Our world was so small in those days, and rules were laid down and enforced by a benevolent adult — the teacher — so that we could learn to live within the boundaries of a classroom.  Later we would expand these lessons and these boundaries to have relevance in a much larger world.

We learned early on, in the kindergarten classroom that there were answers that the teacher considered to be correct where rules and cooperation and peaceful coexistence were concerned.  As life became more complicated and our choices were left to each individual, knowing which answer was right and which was wrong became less obvious.  The larger our world becomes, the more likely we are to rub elbows with others whose ideas and values will challenge us to reconsider our own.  Unless we choose to keep our world very small, we will sooner or later find ourselves challenged to work out ways to get along with other folks whose ideas of right and wrong may anger us, confuse us, or cause us to disagree about matters that seem obvious and simple to us.

Where does tolerance fit into all of this?  How are we supposed to tolerate behaviors and ideas that we have been taught is absolutely wrong?  Should we risk losing touch with the things that are true in the name of not making waves?  I think we often see tolerance as a mixture of pity for the other person’s ignorance and glorification of our own ability to grasp what our inferior simply is not able to understand.  We judge in the name of tolerance, and that is not tolerance at all.  The Dalai Lama makes an excellent point when he says that our enemy will be our best teacher if we truly decide to practice tolerance.

Tolerance means slipping your feet out of your own shoes and into those of your enemy.  It means walking in the path that he walks and trying to understand his point of view.  How can we practice tolerance and not learn something about our own limited ability to have compassion for people who disagree with our ideals?  Today I will be thankful for opportunities to practice tolerance and increase my compassion for all I meet.


“How do the birds make great sky circles…They fall and falling they are given wings.”

–Rumi

Yesterday I watched a remarkable video over on Karen’s blog. It spoke to me about the way we give up parts of ourselves — incredibly authentic parts — in order to present a facade that we think will appeal to others.  I began to think about all the time and energy we consume in our efforts to fit into a mold that society, including us, has declared is acceptable.   I began to think about what we might be doing with that time and energy if we decided to reclaim our authenticity.  What might we create or achieve if only we had the time.

Do you have regrets?  Are there things you’ve always wanted to do that have been displaced by your efforts to fit an acceptable mold?  As we accept the stereotype as our own identities, we become critical of the things we desire that might set us apart.  We may blame the group for redefining us and holding us back from following the desires of our hearts, but the truth is that we do it to ourselves.  Over time, our truth becomes eroded by our fear of not fitting in — even though the mold seems too tight and we know deep inside that we only pretend to be comfortable there.

As time passes, we define ourselves by the box we have chosen to inhabit; and we push away the dreams that call us back to being who we really are.  We accept our new identity as true and fear that we would fail at anything that doesn’t fit inside our chosen mold.  It is only by taking the first step toward a resisted dream that we will learn that there is more outside the box and more inside of us.  We may fall in the beginning; but, as Rumi says, it is by falling that the birds learn to use their wings and make great circles in the sky.

What is your hidden passion?  Can you stop regretting the lost years spent on other things and take the first step toward realizing your dream?  It is never too late to take to the sky and learn how to fall.  We only fail when we stop trying.  It is in learning how to fall gracefully that ultimately we learn to fly.

“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.”

— Kahlil Gibran

Wisdom that is free to cry, philosophy which is free to laugh and greatness which is able to bow before children — these must come from the heart.  In the past few days, I’ve had two opportunities to enjoy two of my favorite things, drumming and children.  I love drumming.  I love kids.  When you bring the two together, I love the magic it creates; and I bow before the children.

On Saturday, we attended the Great Djembe Jam at Mayfair, a local arts festival in our area.  A group of drummers had rehearsed some rhythms and took the stage to create delightful beats that filled the air of the festival tent will joy.  Some of us brought our own drums and sat in the audience to participate in the interactive performance.  It was such fun to be a part of the music that drew a crowd to clap and bob and be a part of the process.

Then there were the children.  While the adults in the group sat in the folding chairs provided, the little ones were drawn toward the stage like moths to the flame.  They danced and bobbed and laughed and grinned, climbing the fence at the front of the stage in order to get the best view.  They were one with the music, and they only paused to look around for their parents when one song would end and the next had not yet begun.  A new beat would start, and they would fall right back into the power of the music.  As I sat in the first row, enjoying the chance to play, I found myself taken to a new level of enjoyment by the wide-eyed wonder of these little people.

The experience was repeated last night at our local community drum circle.  Again, we all had fun.  Again, the wide-open and unbridled joy reflected in the faces of the children made the rest of us seem a bit dull by comparison.  When is it that we lose the ability to meet the world with arms wide open and let our joy tumble out in response?  When is it that we learn to trust our thoughts over our inborn sense of joy and wonder?

Yesterday, for the first time in a month, Mark and I took our morning walk together.  We moved at a quicker pace than I do when I walk alone, since his longer legs only need two strides to cover the distance that I do in three.  I suppose I’ve lost my edge for exercise walking since a knee problem last Fall forced me to take a break and come back at a slower pace.  It probably doesn’t help matters that I’ve also grown accustomed to bringing my camera on my morning jaunts.  And did I mention my love of rock collecting?  Well, I have to keep my eyes open for shiny stones, too.  Otherwise, I might arrive home with empty pockets; and that would never do.

We walked for about half an hour, and Mark would patiently walk in circles now and then as I took a picture or picked up a stone.  When we arrived back at the house, he turned to me and said, “walking with you reminds me of walking with David (our son) when he was three.”  I knew exactly what he meant, because David has always had more than the average dose of curiosity.  A walk around the block with three-year-old Dave could take an hour.

At first, I felt a little bit insulted and ruffled by Mark’s observation.  Then I remembered the kids at the Djembe Jam and the delight in our little grandchildren at Christmastime when their Uncle Max let them play along.  I realized then what a compliment my sweetheart had bestowed on me.  Could it be that as I get older my focus is shifting again?  Could it be that my heart takes the lead more often and sees the world with eyes wide open?  Let’s never become to great to bow before the wisdom of a child.  They have things to teach us that we have forgotten.

Here is my son, Max with some of my grandchildren.  (The critic in the background was having trouble sharing his Daddy that day)

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“The sky was clear — remarkably clear– and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse.”

— Thomas Hardy

I have stood under the night sky on exactly the night Thomas Hardy describes, which is remarkable since he died before my parents were born.  Still, he captured in the language of eternity a human experience that lives on.  Perhaps it is woven in our DNA or tightly rooted in the human spirit — but I have lived that very night in my own lifetime.  It is fitting that today would be Hardy’s birthday, because the world I walked through this morning certainly would have inspired him to speak again the eternal language of the human soul.

After the humid heat of yesterday, today’s cool morning air renewed my enthusiasm for walking.   I would take the long route, a path I haven’t followed for several weeks — the one that winds up alleyways and side streets to the spot where the sunrise is showcased in full splendor.  A misty fog hung in the air and muted the colors and sounds of my early morning world.  Still, the awakening universe begged to be seen and heard; and the roll call began.

Birds called out incessantly, playing a game of Marco Polo from their obscure perches in treetops shrouded in fog.  The cardinal’s shrill tweet was answered by the mewing of the catbird in the ancient pine.  Finches and robins swooped from tree to ground and back again, appearing and disappearing as if by magic into the haze.  Were they really louder today, or was my subdued sense of sight making my hearing more acute?  Their calls and responses followed me along the way, and I had the feeling Hardy describes of their hearts beating in sync with the Heart of the universe.

The roll call continued as my bubble of clarity moved through the fog.  Each flower and stone, all glistening with dew, would cry out, “Here!” as they entered my sphere.  So many new blossoms had arrived since my last visit to this path — each with its own voice, each with its own sparkle, each with its own color — each taking its place in the tapestry that later wouldl emerge as the mist dissolves in the morning sun.

As I crested the hill, the mockingbird, straight from his study of Rosetta Stone, perched on top of the highest flagpole and answered each bird in its own language.  It was as though his many-tongued voice united them all and recognized the meaning and purpose of each individual song.  The sun exploded on the eastern horizon; and for a few minutes, as I stood on top of my world, I could see the whole picture — the entire tapestry — and feel the sense of unity that comes from recognizing my own small part in the eternal dance.

I breathed it all in and then began my descent into the fog once again, seeing each magnified being that entered my sphere as simple and separate and beautiful, but also as an integral piece in the big picture revealed on the sunlit hilltop.

“I want to grow old without facelifts…I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you?  You’d never wholly know you.”

–Marilyn Monroe

It is sad that Marilyn did not live to the age where she would know herself completely.  She seemed to grasp what a wonderful gift that would be — to grow old and ripe and fully aware of who we are.

Today is the 97th birthday of my great-aunt, Alice Stead Whiting.  Marilyn Monroe was born on Alice’s 13th birthday, as was laid-back TV sheriff, Andy Griffith.  Singer Pat Boone joined their birthday club the year Alice turned 21, and Morgan Freeman and Heidi Klum also joined the ranks as years went by.  I don’t tell you this so we can reach some conclusion about astrological signs or shared birthdays, but rather to sweep my mind across the years and try to realize how many interesting people and events must make up ninety-seven years on Earth!

When I think of Aunt Alice, I think of pearls and white gloves and lovely little shirt-waisted frocks that the happy homemaker would wear while cleaning the house and cooking meals.  I think of a time when ladies wore hats to church and dressed in semi-formal attire for airplane flights.  I remember these times from my own childhood and can picture Alice in the frame that would hold such photographs.

What is remarkable, though, is the way that my Aunt Alice has continued to be a modern woman as the definition has evolved over all these years.  She moved from dresses and high heels, to pantsuits and flats, to capris and sneakers as the world moved on.  And always she reads.  Oprah would have loved to have Alice in her book club, because she always was current on the latest bestsellers and the issues being reported in the news.  She kept her mind open to the changes happening all around her and accepted the younger generation and their new ideas as a way to stay current in a world so different from the one she was born into so many years ago.

She wears the face that life has given her, and she pays attention to being clean and well-groomed.  She continues to stay as active as her health will allow, and she looks for the surprises that each new day might bring.  I noticed, about fifteen years ago, that Alice began to recognize the things that came her way in life as “the best ever,” and I think this attitude of enjoyment and gratitude has gone a long way toward making the later years more pleasant.  It lifts our spirits to say, “that was the best piece of lemon meringue pie I’ve ever had!”  And it doesn’t hurt the baker to hear it either.

A certain sadness has entered Alice’s life in the last couple of years — the years where she feels like the sole survivor among her peers.  Maybe it is when we find ourselves no longer surrounded by those who have known us through the years that we come to wholly know ourselves.  You’ve touched my heart, Aunt Alice;  and I hope that you can find the place within you that will let this be the best birthday ever!