Archive for April, 2011

“White in the moon the long road lies.”

— A.E. Housman

As I slept last night, my soul ventured to the land of dreams.  The night there was dark, and the stars struggled valiantly to push pinholes of light through the cloud-covered sky.  The world as I know it had disappeared, and I stood frozen in place as the darkness descended.  There was no way to know what lay ahead of me, but I knew I had to walk on.  My destination, as yet unknown, beckoned to me; and my heart nearly burst from my body with its desire to follow the call.  Still, I stood in the black, wishing I had made better note of what lay around me before the light had disappeared, my mind telling me to plant my feet and simply breathe until daylight returned to show me the safe road.  ‘No,’ my spirit cried, ‘there is no time for standing still.  You must go on.   Your heart knows the way.  Listen for the music.’

I opened the ears of my soul and let the sweet melodies weave their way into my being.  They lifted me,  weightless, and broke free the roots that fear had grown.  I raised my foot and placed it one step ahead of its resting place.  It fell on soft grass, and the night dew splashed all around, glowing softly with a magical light.  Filled with light-hearted joy, I followed that step with another, and another, until my eyes were lifted to the horizon.  There, in the distance, the moon began to rise.  It’s soft glow reached across the darkness and met with the dew-light that splashed at my feet.  I followed the trail with my eyes and saw it once again — my path, the Light, unwavering in the darkness that lay all around.  I twirled and skipped my joyful dance to the strains of the musical moonlight that once again showed me the way.

“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.”

— Henri Poincare

Have you ever been drunk with nature?  With the wild weather patterns at work in the U.S. these past few days, finding time to wander outside and trust the clouds has made taking in my usual sips of nature a bit challenging.  Even when the rain was not falling, the humidity, heat, and tree pollen that hung in the air have made breathing an Olympic event.  If I closed my eyes, I could picture myself underwater in a hot spring trying to breathe the warm water.  Yesterday, the two fronts collided — hot versus cold — in a cosmic battle complete with thunder cannons and the flash of lightning swords.  The cold front was victorious; and by evening, the air was more friendly — both cooler and less muggy.

Ordinarily, I like to walk at daybreak.  I am a morning person; and by the time the evening meal is cleared and the kitchen cleaned, I am ready to kick back and take stock of my day.  Last night was different.  There was a siren song calling from the fresh, sparkling world; and it encouraged me to lace up my sneakers and hurry along, while daylight still lingered, to enjoy the aftermath of the storm.

For the first time in days, the outdoor air was cooler than it was in the house.  I breathed an audible sigh of relief as it washed over me and cooled away the work of the day.  As much as I love sunrises, I must admit that the glint of the setting sun on the freshly-washed landscape was magnificent.  When I walk in the morning, I choose my path so that I can take in as much of the eastern sky as possible.  This time, I reversed my route so that I would see as much of the effect of the setting sun as I possibly could.  Everywhere it touched, the world glittered golden, as though Midas himself walked just ahead of me and blazed a sparkling trail for me to follow.

There may not be such a magical evening again this season; and after being held captive by the weather, I took it in by gulps, not sips.  Drunk with nature, I turned the corner toward home, parked my wet shoes on the porch, and flung wide the windows and doors.  There I stood, giddy with the evening, and let the fresh, cool air wash over my being.

“People usually think according to their inclinations, speak according to their learning and ingrained opinions, but generally act according to custom.”

— Francis Bacon

Who would you be if you didn’t feel the need to conform?  My first thought is that maybe I shouldn’t ask myself that question, since it seems to be a natural thing for me to consider how I might embarrass myself.  I suppose that in some ways it is conformity that allows us to live among other people and be a part of a community rather than keeping to ourselves.  From the time we are born, as self-centered little packages of adorable need, we begin to learn to conform.  Our parents teach us to wait for gratification by stretching out their response time to our cries but always showing up with the things we need.  We go to school and learn to sit and listen as well as run and explore.  Who our early teachers are has a great deal of influence on the ways we contain our impulses.  The ideas we are given during those early years have a great deal of influence on our opinions and behavior as we venture out to make our mark on the world.  We learn to conform or be ostracized — conform or be punished in one way or another.

When I step aside from my negative reaction to non-conformity, I wonder what it would be like to be truly myself among others.  In the quiet times I spend in meditation, I am comfortable with the person who generates the thoughts that later are filtered by convention.  What would it be like to speak my truth and not be concerned with the judgment of others?  How would I be transformed if I let my own thoughts flow freely and unrestrained by the concerns of what others might think of them?

My mind goes to a recent visit to my elderly mother.  Mom was of the generation of white gloves and ballroom dancing class and a long list of rules concocted by Emily Post that constrained one’s behavior if one were to be considered a lady.  Her teaching about polite society went a long way in encouraging her daughters to conform; and I have passed her ideas along to my own children.  “Let’s pretend that the Queen of England is coming for dinner tonight and use our very best manners at the table.”  Mom now suffers from dementia.  In many ways, she has forgotten the things she learned about conforming.  The Mom I see now is an unfiltered version of Emily Post who uses her thought energy to manage communication and has less left over for the niceties of life.  As we sat at lunch one day, I watched Emily Post cut a piece of pie with her butter knife and then balance each bite on the end of the knife to eat it.  I have a hunch that the queen might have dropped her pinky and touched it to her teacup if she had seen such a thing, but it made me smile.  As I hold that image in my mind now, I think of what fun it might be to drop the filters and enjoy being all that I really am.

I don’t want to wait for dementia to be my excuse, so I will begin the transformation now.  I will remember, as my great-aunt would say — “Your liberty ends where my nose begins” — and remember not to trample on the feelings of others.  I have a hunch, though, that since kindness is one of my favorite virtues, I might bring more of that to people that I do when I color neatly inside the lines.  I think of the way a colored filter on a camera lens changes the look of everything we view; and I smile as I think of living an unfiltered life and bringing my true color to the world.  Maybe each of us is born with a unique gift and a unique view because the world needs all that diversity.  Let’s stop trying to be who we think society wants us to be.  Let’s just be.

“The wise man must remember that while he is a descendant of the past, he is a parent of the future.”

— Herbert Spencer

At no time in history have these words been more true.  The moment I read them, I thought of the river — of the many rivers that have been a beloved part of my life.  Spencer’s words trickle and flow and dance in the sunlight as I see them stretching from the distant past into the unknowable future.  I look at the picture of our small creek in early Spring, and I see it all.  The new grass springs from the brown nothingness of a week ago.  The leaves begin to emerge from the buds that were so tight they seemed like part of the bark that covered last year’s branches.  The melting snow on the mountain adds vigor to the flow of the water as all of life thaws once again and a new cycle begins.

There is a larger river, not far from my home, where I have enjoyed many fine days through many seasons of my own life.  I remember how huge the willows seemed when I first played there — how we would grab their hanging branches and swing through the air until our hands could hold on no longer.  I remember the fine, soft grass that grew beneath the trees, the kind that grows in filtered sunlight and sends out many tiny blades that form a thick carpet and tickle your feet when you run to the shelter near the heart of the willow and rest in its shade.  I remember the glistening water that sparkled and glittered in the summer sun, and the large, flat rock that rose in the center of a shallow spot where the river turned in its endless journey to the sea.  I remember wading, my pant legs rolled high, toward that slab of stone.  It would warm my feet after their walk through the cold water; and I would watch as my footprints left their mark on my gray-brown perch and then disappeared, erased by the sun.

The rock seems smaller now and the river not as wide, when I return in the Spring to watch it all unfold one more time.  The willows still stand like guardians of the river, shading its banks and drawing life-giving water from the one they protect.  Here and there, stumps remain of the trees where I played so long ago; and the small saplings that barely existed then now have become the next generation of the willow guard.  So much has changed by the river; so much has changed in me;  yet both of us remain a part of the eternal story of our mother, the Earth.

When I was a child, the route to the river wound through fields and meadows and thickets of trees.  Now I travel there on a paved road through neighborhoods of houses that have turned our countryside to towns and our towns to cities.  The river still flows, and it always will; but the land it flows through has been disturbed and the cycle of life has been intruded upon by the hand of humanity.  We have altered the way that the river regenerates.  Whether we know it or not, by choosing to change nature’s system of regeneration, we also have chosen to be responsible for seeing that the river continues to flow.

As I sit on my stone, in the center of the river, I remember the joy I was given so freely by my mother, the Earth, simply because I was one of her children.  She has given so much, in tangible and intangible ways, that has brought meaning to my awareness of my own place in the great story of life.  Now it is time for those of us who love our mother to see that she is cared for and to preserve her legacy for generations to come.  We are not only the descendants; we are the parents.  The future is waiting to be born.  What it will be is up to us.

“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”

— Buddha

I always tell my kids that when it comes to being successful or happy in what you do, the first step is to show up.  We live in a competitive society, one of rapid changes and new technologies, where the success of one person often rides on the shoulders of another.  Everyone seems to want the spot on top; and sometimes it seems that we are consigned to some brutal sort of leap-frog game in order to remain members of the game of life.  We create stress for ourselves by focusing on our imperfections and feeling inadequate unless we find ourselves at the top.  When this happens, we can begin to teeter and soon lose our balance, stumbling as another player climbs aboard and uses us as a way to higher ground.

Perfection is enticing, especially when we are good at what we do; but needing perfection also can be our undoing.  Not one of us can be any better than our own personal best.  If we strive always to do the best we can at whatever we undertake to do, it is inevitable that we will improve in our abilities.  What is important is that we show up, dive in, and do our best.  The less we judge ourselves for falling short of perfection, the more likely we are to find the courage, the motivation, and the dedication to move steadily toward our goals.  The Tortoise and the Hare taught us something about playing leapfrog as we watched them run their race.  In the end, the Hare who seemed so perfectly equipped for victory became ensnared in his own perfection and forgot to show up.  The Tortoise, doing the best he could — even when that meant facing ridicule — finished the race by doing all that he could do.

Whatever it is that you take on today; whatever challenge might greet you, just pull together the best you have, know that your best is enough, and show up.  The world is waiting for your personal best.

When was the last time you blew bubbles?  If you close your eyes and think about bubble blowing, what do you see in your mind’s eye?  For me, I remember summer days in the backyard of my childhood home with my two sisters and our brand new jars of bubble fluid.  We would dip our fingers into the sticky soap and retrieve the blowers, wiping the excess on the sides of our shorts and resisting the urge to lick our fingers clean.  Soon the air would be filled with bubbles.  There would be iridescent spheres floating everywhere, and we would watch them to see how high they flew before they touched the trees and popped. Now and then, one would make it all the way to the sky; and I would think, ‘that one made it all the way to heaven.’  Inevitably, one of us would spill our bubble jar.  There would be pleas for sharing someone else’s that sometimes resulted in a partial refill; but even on days when we were bubble stingy, the option always remained to become the bubble popper.  This was serious business.  With a light breeze for assistance, two sisters with bubble wands waving could create hundreds of bubbles — it was no easy thing to swat every one before they floated out of reach.

It seems that blowing bubbles is one childhood activity that has not become passé in an age of electronic entertainment.  Yesterday was a perfect Spring day; and after the Easter Egg Hunt was finished at our community park, we decided to take our little girls to play at the playground.  As we walked toward the back door, little Harper spotted the bubble bucket on the shelf near the door.  “Bubbles!” she crooned.  “Shall we take them?” I asked.  And the fun began.  Today’s bubbles are packaged in wonderful new containers with slotted tops that keep them from spilling.  As the grandmother, I like that feature, because I can be sure that the bubbles will survive until another visit; but as a former bubble maker, I do think it detracts a bit from the transient nature of the whole bubble experience.  What has not changed is the delight the little ones find in watching their iridescent orbs spring to life and take flight.

If you close your eyes at just the right moment, you will find when you open them that your bubble has blown right past Grandpa’s leg and soon is rising toward the sky.

The two-fisted approach seems like a good idea when you have the plan to blow the most bubbles ever; but it doesn’t take long to figure out that the wands get in each other’s way.  I suppose it’s better to share one with your sister after all.

And, when Grandma insists on taking pictures of everything you do, there is nothing like a well-aimed bubble to let her know she could take her camera elsewhere and let the bubbles fly where they might without photographic proof.

At the end of the afternoon, we packed up the bubbles and walked back home for supper.  As I walked, I remembered the other thing about bubble-blowing that earlier had escaped my memory — the round spots on our sneakers where the drips of soap had attracted dust and made polka dots.  I remembered the dismay of seeing those brown dots on my new canvas sneaks and knowing they would never be completely clean again no matter how we tried to clean them.  Thankfully, slotted lids are not the only advancements that benefit modern-day bubblers — Crocs can be wiped clean with a sponge.  So with bubbly hearts and un-spotted shoes, we skipped up the alley toward home.

Easter Morning

For every bird

Whose song rings true

For every bloom

That bursts anew

For cleansing rain

And sky of blue

For budding trees

And Promise true

For Life, for Love,

Through darkest night

For sunrise sweet

And Dawning Light

For Peace to bless

The longing Earth

Give thanks and

Celebrate

Rebirth.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2011

“To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.”

— Bernadette Devlin

With the rebirth of Spring bursting forth all around, our thoughts turn to transformation.  As bare branches suddenly send out buds and buds pop open to become leaves or flowers, we see a rapid-fire display of change — change from one state that is beautiful to another that also is beautiful, but different.  We watch the young birds who hatched only a year ago assume their spots in the treetops and listen as they sing their ancestral songs, hoping that another of their kind will hear them and discover they are not alone.  They, too, have undergone transformation — from egg to nestling, from nestling to fledgling, from fledgling to adult — and now they will discover what lies ahead in the next stage of their lives.

It is easy to become comfortably stuck in the groove our life follows.  It is easy to continue in the same groove until it becomes a rut, with high walls on either side, that soon traps us in a place that is difficult to see beyond and impossible to escape.  It is a good thing to know who we are.  If the birds forgot they were birds, their species soon would die out and disappear.  Like the birds and the buds and the flowers and the trees, we also have a place on the great web of life.  What we must remember, though, is that even as we respect our place on the web, we must be open to growth and transformation.  Only when we are able to let go of what we are today will we have a chance to discover who we can become tomorrow.

When the butterflies appear this year and entertain you with their beauty, remember that they began their lives crawling as caterpillars.  If they had feared the time of spinning a chrysalis, they might have died as caterpillars.  Sometimes,in order to become what we are destined to be, we must leave behind the familiar and step off the precipice into the unknown.  Only when we are able to leave our many legs behind will we learn how to fly.  Don’t worry…it’s going to be amazing!

“The only things in my life that compatibly exist with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit.”

— Ansel Adams

For the first time in quite a while, I was free to take my walk today at sunrise.  The new morning schedule that came along with high school this year has had me busy in the mornings; and by the time I get outside, the sky already is light.  Today there is no school, so my morning is my own.  At the first hint of pink along the horizon, I dropped everything and took off at a trot for my favorite place to greet the new day.  I was not disappointed.  Gathering clouds that will bring some rain later in the day provided the perfect contrast for the fiery glow of the sun as it silhouetted the trees and showed every branch and bud in amazing detail.

Finding my way to another perfect sunrise reminded me that opening ourselves to all that the world has to offer is absolutely vital to our being able to say we are truly alive.  I have missed my morning jaunts to the place where the sun says good morning.  I can look at past photos of sunrises and remember them, but there is something about actually being there at the moment of newness and fresh beginnings that lifts my spirit and compels me to stretch past my own limits and create something uniquely my own as I set out on another day’s journey through life.

As I stood this morning and watched the sun slowly climb behind the trees – as I saw the light move from the base of each trunk to the very tip of each branch -I found my own arms raising above my head and waiting for the new day to fill me with light, too.  I took a few minutes to really see the way that the tree was filled with the joy of the light’s return, and I knew that I also must look radiant and alive as I stood, like the tree, and greeted the day.  Saying goodbye to my rooted friend, I let my feet move toward the promise of a day that began with the gift of light.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

— John Muir

Spring is in full bloom this week.  Everywhere I look, another bud is bursting open, and each day a little more green appears along the branches of the maple trees.  I just love maple flowers.  Their delicate yellow-green is a color I only see at this time of the year, and I try to take it in as often as I can before the darker green leaves replace its lacy beauty.  Last weekend, I attended a conference in the country.  By the time I arrived at my destination, rain was falling at quite a fast pace.  My plan to walk with camera in hand and snap some Spring memories was a bit dampened by the realization that every shot would be of the rain on my lens.  When we took a break, I found myself looking longingly out of a window that overlooked a small stream.  The rain had the water dancing along over stones and branches that lay in the creek bed.  On the near bank stood a maple tree, its yellow-green flowers looking brighter than ever as they glistened with raindrops.  I opened the window, aimed my camera, and took a shot of a maple bud that was just on the verge of opening.  ‘Beautiful!’  I thought.  I couldn’t wait to see the result when I returned home at the end of the afternoon.

When I opened the file on my computer, I was surprised to see that I had brought back more than just a maple flower.  There on my screen was a perfect example of the way nature connects — one small piece to another — so that the cycle of life can unfold year after year.  Unless we capture a moment like this one, we might never be aware of the tiny drop of rain that falls on the branch above and then collects on the smallest end of a twig directly above a flower until it becomes heavy enough to drip into the waiting bud below.  There the bud takes in the raindrop, absorbs it, and takes it in so the tree can be nourished and grow.

I think about the way our bodies work with complicated systems that all connect in a miraculous way to feed one another and support our life.  I think about the way we forget about these intricate connections and simply take them for granted until they break down and fail to do their jobs.  We need to respect the delicate web that connects each piece of life to the next.  We need to be aware of the miraculous way that nature works for the survival of all.  John Muir had it right.  If you tug on one piece, you will find that it is attached to all that is.