Archive for October, 2011

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.  We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

— Joseph Campbell

There has been a lot of sorrow in our neck of the woods this weekend.  An unprecedented October snowstorm has dropped nearly a foot of snow on trees whose leaves still hang on the branches.  Leaves can hold a lot of snow; and the sort of heavy snow that came with this storm tested even the sturdiest trees, sending huge limbs crashing to the ground.  Before they reached the ground, they also crashed on electrical wires and roofs and vehicles.  Our home was unaffected; and until the storm had subsided, we lived encapsulated in our own four walls, oblivious to the challenges our neighbors faced until daybreak revealed sidewalks impassable due to fallen trees, traffic signals sitting dead and useless, and people as close as next door trudging out in hope of finding a restaurant whose gas-powered kitchen could provide them with breakfast.  A trip to the grocery store took us through a silent town where everything sat in blackout.  A news report told us that the power outage was widespread, with more than 100,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

Cars lined the streets near gas stations whose pumps still had electricity, and every diner and restaurant we passed had lines of people shivering in the cold, waiting for their turn to be fed.  We checked in on friends and family, offering our oasis.  At last, at the end of the second day, our son and his family appeared, longing for a hot meal and some warm water.  A few came to visit and to charge their cell phones or portable DVD players to keep in touch and to amuse their children.  I don’t think we’ve ever been so aware of the blessing of electricity and heat.  It is hard to live in joy when your knees knock and your body shivers and there seems to be no end in sight.

Still, there was the neighbor who declined refuge, saying that his family was enjoying the chance to play some board games and nestle in for quiet time without the intrusions electronics can bring to their life.  There were the folks who offered their warm homes to others who had no heat, their food to others who had no way to prepare their own.  There was more warmth generated in the acts of community than in the furnaces that heated their homes.

Probably my favorite reminder came from the friends who joyfully bundled themselves against the cold and walked outside in the most silent night we have experienced in a long time and looked up.  There, in the crystal-clear heavens, undimmed by the artificial light that usually competes with their glory, one friend spoke of seeing Saturn’s rings through his telescope.  Another coveted the moons of Jupiter.  Still another spoke of seeing the Milky Way for the very first time.  As I heard them speak of these wonders, I was taken for a moment to the days of our ancestors.  Long before electric lighting and in times when a wood fire heated their homes — in days when every day was like the weekend we just experienced — there was joy in their lives.  There is nothing like a blackout to dim the clutter of our modern lives and let our own joy radiate more brightly.  Perhaps, at a time when electronic entertainment and constant distraction has filled the place of abiding joy with transient happiness, it is a good thing to sit in the dark and see our own joy illuminate the sorrow.  It is at the time of our deepest sorrow that the tiniest speck of joy is most visible.  When we participate fully in the sorrows that come and go, we discover that joy is constant and abiding.

“Let there be many windows to your soul, that all the glory of the world may beautify it.”

— Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I was getting ready to run some errands.  Finishing my list, I folded it safely into my pocket and began my leaving ritual.  Lights out, door locked, puppy secured.  Jacket from the hook, purse over my shoulder, car keys in hand.  Before heading for the door, I made a habitual stop at the full-length mirror near the door.  No food between my teeth, wild hair tamed to a respectable mass of curls…hey, I’m looking pretty good!  After falling off the diet wagon last summer, I’ve been reining in my eating habits and reclaiming my healthy lifestyle.  The result is that I have lost ten pounds.  I am still the same person I was before, but I have to admit that I’m liking what I see.  I am happy to be more healthy, but I have to ask myself why I judge how I feel about that look in the mirror based on how much of me looks back.

Before my recent changes, I still made that stop at the mirror as I left the house; but I didn’t look as closely at my reflection, and I certainly didn’t skip lightheartedly toward that moment of truth.  Isn’t it funny how our judgments of the way we look can affect our willingness to face the world with arms and hearts wide open?  A few extra pounds can draw the curtains on our beauty if we think our lumps and bumps make us unworthy to be seen in all our splendor.  How much of our true beauty, how much of our souls do we hide away behind our own veils of judgment?  How many windows do we close that might not only allow us to shine, but also allow the beauty of the world to enter and touch the same beautiful places that live on the other side of the mirror?  We must unlock the beauty that lives within us, and the key is love.  When we love ourselves in all our imperfections, we then can allow the beautiful imperfections of the whole world to touch us and grow us and make us ever more beautiful.  Pull back the curtains!  Let the sunlight touch the dark and hidden corners and call forth the beauty that lies beneath the shame and doubt.  Celebrate the asymmetrical, imperfect beauty of the universe as it touches your own lack of perfection and calls it forth in love.  Keep your windows clean.  The world needs the light of your soul.

Changing Seasons

When I was young,

The fiery Autumn days

Blew their trumpets,

Calling me to play.

The dancing colors

Swirled and turned, and I

Was certain that the Wind

Could lift me high,

And prove, at last, that

Surely, I could fly.

Carefree, I danced

Into the Autumn breeze

Kicking up my heels

Through rustling leaves,

Heedless of the

Dying all around.

Immortal, with my

Head held high,

I ruled the Earth,

I owned the Sky.

My blood like fire,

I shed my useless coat,

And burned like childhood,

Bright, and fierce and bold,

Heedless and mindless

Of the damp and cold;

Separate from the chill

That filled the air,

Without a thought

That Winter would appear.

The flames of Autumn

Now begin to fade.

I tiptoe through the

Many-colored leaves,

Not wanting to disturb

Their Beauty sleep.

A sweater holds me warm

Against the chill,

And yet, I feel it

Deep within my soul.

As my own Autumn

Now begins to sound

Its trumpet call

Beyond the distant hill,

I find myself dissolving

Like the leaves

Into the beauty of

Its siren song.

I hug myself,

And fade into the mist.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2011

“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

— Jonas Salk

As the leaves begin to fall by the hundreds, raining down on the earth at the slightest breath of the wind, I heave a great sigh and think of all that has fallen away in my own life.  Autumn is the bittersweet time when we count the things we have lost or left behind, knowing that the only reason we count them is the love, the joy, and the richness that they brought to our lives.  We are both uplifted and bereaved by the memories of people and times gone by; and the older we get, the more we begin to acknowledge that one day we will be those who have fallen away.  As I visit my memories of the people who have gone before me, I wonder what sort of legacy I will leave for the next generation of dreamers.

I wonder, as I think of the dear ones whose existence helped to shape my life, whether they had any idea that they were being so influential in their interactions with a young girl, a teenager, a  young woman, a middle-aged friend.  Our days sometimes slip through our fingers like sand, falling away in bits and pieces that blow away in the wind and are forgotten as soon as they’ve ended; and I’m sure the ones I hold so closely in my heart felt the same way about their own brief time on earth.  Still, there was something about the way they lived, something about the love and the light they brought to our days together, that touched my budding heart and encouraged it to open and to mirror the beauty they offered it.

It is hard to imagine that before very long, I will be the older generation.  My parents, like the last lingering leaves that cling to the branches of Autumn, soon will join their own ancestors and become the ones who are revered and remembered at this bittersweet season of falling away.  I ask myself what sort of legacy I would like to leave for the next generation to ponder when they reach this point in their journey.  In Autumn, we give thanks for all that has touched us and made us more than we were a year ago.  We give thanks for all that has fallen away and allowed us to travel light.  We give thanks for the bittersweet realization that every piece, our own and others, joyful or sorrowful, has been a gift.  The harvest is done.  The abundance is stored away for winter.  May we awaken in Spring with strong intentions to be the sort of legacy we will one day leave behind.

“A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand.  I think, I too, have known autumn too long.”

— e. e. cummings

For all its beauty, the sadness of Autumn is undeniable; and there is nothing less forgiving than the cold Autumn rain.  I awoke today to its persistent tapping at my bedroom window; and before I lifted the shade to see the glistening world, I knew that this was no passing shower.  I lay in the pre-dawn stillness, the comforter pulled tightly around my chin to conserve the warmth it had taken a whole night to collect.  My nose, like the bulb of a thermometer, told me that the air outside my cocoon was damp and cold; and I steeled myself as I threw back the covers and hurried to get dressed.  Not satisfied with one layer of clothing, I added a sweater.  As I scanned my closet for another, I realized that there was no sweater that would satisfy my shivering soul.  The chill in the air today is a familiar one.  It is not the cool breeze that stirs us to action, it is not the frigid water of a stream that cools our feet on a hot summer day.  It is the clammy, penetrating chill of dying that ends in the all-consuming cold of death. The year is dying.  There is no escaping the truth today, no matter how vibrant the colors may be.  This Autumn rain is filled with finality.

The world grows still as the whole family gathers to send the year on its way to winter.  The birds keep silent vigil in the center of the trees.  The creatures of the forest peer out from the shelter of their burrows and thickets, listening for the last breath of their beloved summer.  The fallen leaves pave a soundless path to a place deep inside of me; and I raise my own hand to touch my breath and assure me that it still hangs warm in the sacred place of endings.

I raise my voice and sing of changes, of the seasons and cycles the year has taught us; and my heart feels the familiar rhythm that is part of me as well.  I hold the Earth close and tell her the stories of first buds in Spring and bounty of summer, of bluebirds and sunrise, of the spectacular flames that have lit the sky at the end of each day.  “You’re beautiful,” I tell her, “and long after you have faded, I will carry your beauty in my heart.”  Her colors begin to fade, and I love her pastel remnants until they have disappeared in the gray-brown soil at my feet.  “To everything – turn, turn, turn, there is a season – turn, turn turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven…a time to be born, a time to die.”

I wrap my sweater more tightly around my shoulders and take a sip of tea.  I feel the blood running warm through my veins and realize that this year is not my time.  “Rest peacefully,” I tell my mother, the Earth, as I commit her to memory and watch her dissolve into the Autumn rain.

“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.”

— Nikos Kazantzakis

It can be difficult sometimes to live in a dim, dark world.  As economic times have become more difficult and people have become more afraid of what might lie ahead, we often feel as though we are traveling through a desert with a very small flask of water.  The trip used to be more temperate, with grassy hills and sparkling streams lining the path; but lately, it seems that half the plants have died and the merciless sun has left the creek beds stark and dry.  What remains now are only memories of the world that once existed; and we walk heavily, clutching our water and hoping to make it last until we reach the other side.

What if that lush green world never really existed at all?  What if we chose to see only the parts of life where our own feet touched down?  What if there always has been a treacherous trek to be made through the desert, but we have averted our eyes and refused to see it?  What if we have shielded our eyes against the darkness and pretended that it does not exist?

When hard times come, whatever that might mean, we have choices to make.  We can scurry fearfully through a land we have not noticed before, never really seeing that it has been a part of our world all along; or we can allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness and see it for what it truly is — a part of the world we live in that cries out to be seen and loved and made green.  There are blessings hidden in the desert landscape.  When we truly look, with enlightened eyes, when we make the decision to look darkness square in the face, the healing can begin.

It is only by bringing enlightened eyes to the landscape that the darkness can be transformed.  However difficult it may be, we must see the darkness for what it is, love its lessons, and work toward healing and transforming our world.  Don’t avert your eyes.  The world needs to be seen.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

— Pablo Picasso

“That’s nice, but I’m not very creative.”  If I had a quarter for every time I’ve said that, I could probably own the art supply store.  It is true that there are probably millions of people who draw pictures that are far more recognizable than my own attempts.  I love to watch them.  Because my own drawings usually require people — even me — to turn their heads, first one way and then the other, as they try to figure out what the subject might have been that generated this result, I see the natural ability to draw as a sort of magical gift.  For some folks, a blank sheet of paper and a pencil are like the magician’s cape and wand.  Presto!  One line adds to another, and suddenly an image appears — an appealing image that says, “remember this?”

When we hear the word, “art,” I think that we sometimes limit our view of what it really means.  If it only meant working magic with paper and pencil, I would hold to my view that an artist is something I would never be.  If we extend the meaning of “art” to including every creative impulse or venture that we humans undertake, then I would contend that each of us is an artist of one sort or another and that the urge to create is part of who we are.  Picasso’s words are a reminder to dust off our souls and exercise the creativity that we often ignore.  Take a look at your own artistic ability.  How do you express your art?  Is it with pencil and paper or paint and canvas?  Do you paint pictures with your words or use the cadence of poetry to call to mind the sights and sounds of an experience?  Do you add color to your surroundings with decorations and accents that bring the indoors to life?  Do you have a flair for cooking that makes every plate you serve a masterpiece, even when the menu only calls for burgers and fries?

There is no need to awaken the artist who lives within us, but we should take some time to recognize the creativity that is part of us.  I will continue to make attempts with paper and pencil, canvas and paint; but I will acknowledge my love of writing and continue to paint with words.  Dust off your soul.  Say hello to your inner artist.  What will you create today?

“God whispers in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.”

— C.S. Lewis

My back hurts.  I think it may have something to do with the trip we made to the playground yesterday with our little granddaughters.  They are light as feathers, or so I see them; but when they are jumping and climbing and I am catching and balancing, my old body stops and cries our, “Wait a minute!  What do you think you are doing?”  This morning, my lower back is complaining vigorously; and I am reminded that I don’t exercise those muscles in ways that allow for such sudden bursts of exertion.  My pain will propel me back to the recumbent bike; and as I work out the kinks in my back, I also will strengthen it for the next time I decide to play. I suppose you could say that the pain has caught my attention, engaged my awareness, and allowed me to move toward becoming stronger through transforming that pain into positive action.

I am thinking that this describes the function of pain in our lives, whether the pain is physical, emotional, or spiritual.  It is an attention-getter.  It reminds us that there is something we have been overlooking that needs to be addressed.  It leads us to the place where transformation can occur and growth can take place.  I will listen to my pain today, and I will search out the other painful spots in my being that may be crying out for transformation.  Perhaps this pain in my back will turn out to be a blessing.  Perhaps it will bring me to an awareness of something deeper that I need to attend to.  Perhaps I will find that I have grown when this day is done.

My back hurts.  I will love the pain that protects my body and listen to its message that leads me to healing.

“We write our own destiny; we become what we do.”

— Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

We all have dreams — dreams of the things we will do one day, the things that will express the work of our souls.  It is good to dream, because it is in dreaming that we discover what it is that we want to contribute to the world.  The problem is that we often stop at dreaming, filling ourselves with early congratulations for things that we will someday achieve.  When we become bogged down in our dreams, they sometimes die, existing only in the fog of imagination and never coming to light.

Who we are may begin with our dreams, but it ends with what we actually do.  How we bring our dreams to life is the important thing; and ultimately, we will become what we do.  Inspiration is wonderful, but Thomas Edison told us that it only accounts for one percent of genius — the other ninety-nine percent is made of perspiration.

We should be sure to take time each day to visit our dreams, to imagine what it is that we want to contribute to the world.  Our busy lives allow little time for dreaming, and we must get in the habit of making time for imagining.  We must be equally self-disciplined about making time to act on our dreams.  By spending scheduled time in working on them, we can gradually see our dreams unfold.  Often it feels as though our dreams are too big to achieve.  We become bogged down in feelings of discouragement and tell ourselves that there is just no time to do great things.

“What is the best way to eat an elephant?” I once heard someone ask.  The answer:  One bite at a time.  Dream big — dream elephants!  And remember that it only takes one bite at a time to fulfill even the biggest dream.

“Right now a moment of time is passing by!  We must become that moment.”

— Paul Cezanne

As I sit down this morning to write my grocery list and plan for a gathering for tonight’s Halloween Parade, I pause and consider how much of my mind is taken up with things past and things yet to come.  I must plan for meals in the coming week and refreshments for parade-goers tonight.  In order to do that, I must reflect on the last seven days.  How much milk did we drink?  Are there any bagels left, or were they a popular breakfast item this week?  How many rolls will we need for the Sloppy Joes?  In times before supermarkets and prepared foods, I might find myself outdoors, picking the last pepper from a garden patch or foraging for wild mushrooms.  I would be a part of the moment that now is consumed with only the thinking and planning required to use what already is at my disposal.

I think of Cezanne, an impressionist painter.  I think of the way that his artwork expresses more than the black, white, and multi-colored depictions of photographic snapshots of life.  His work was created in the moment, not thinking about a moment past or one yet to come.  When we live in the moment, we are engaged in more ways that just thinking — we see, touch, feel, smell, and hear all the things that come together to create our ever-changing environment.  We pay attention to the emotions we feel in response to our part in the ongoing production that is our life.

There is a certain authenticity that pervades each moment; and although we can remember it later, we never can recapture it.  Cezanne also said, “When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or a flower.  If it clashes, it is not art.” Living in the moment is like that.  We can judge whether we are fully present by considering whether we are an integral part of each moment, or whether we clash with reality by living it somewhere else, in the past or the future.

Let’s cultivate the art of living in the moment.  Let’s become fully part of the here and now and not miss a precious second of the life we are given.  Certainly, we must attend to things like grocery lists, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that they are the substance of our lives.  For an hour or two today, let’s make a promise that we simply will be.  Let’s take in all the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the world we live in.  Perhaps we will discover exactly how we fit.