Archive for June, 2012

“Shadow owes its birth to light.”

— John Gay

It is important to remember, as we walk through our days, that shadow does not exist in its own right.  There is darkness in the world — varying levels of shadow that can make us feel as though we are being overtaken by something sinister and frightening — but we must remember that the only thing that can create a shadow is light. We must not allow ourselves to feel lost in the shadows.  Instead, we must walk as long as it takes to discover what is being touched by the Light in order for that shadow to exist.  We learn little about anything by looking at its shadow.

If we study about light, we learn that there are three types of objects — transparent ones that allow light to pass through them, translucent ones that filter a bit of light but block some of it and cast a faint shadow, and opaque ones that do not allow the light to enter at all and create a heavy shadow where the light cannot penetrate.  We can learn the outer shape of an object by seeing its shadow, but we cannot begin to understand its details and its substance simply by looking at the darkness it casts when it blocks the light.

We are human, and that means that we are beings of Light who live in solid bodies.  When we stand in the sun, we cast a shadow — long in the morning and the evening, and shorter in the middle of the day.  Our physical form is opaque, and we can move it into different positions that change the look of its shadow.  Any child can tell you, or show you, that the shadow of a very small being can be made to appear huge and frightening by adjusting the angle of the light that hits it.  We must not judge another only by the shadow he casts.  There is so much more to being human than simply being opaque.

We are beings of Light.  We are not only our physical bodies, but we are transparent and translucent as well.  Our eyes take in the Light in an unfiltered way and carry it to feed our souls.  When we look at another in love, that Light shines from us and touches them with its beauty.  No shadow is cast inside of me when the Light shines into my eyes and I see it in all its splendor.  When I see that Light in another person — eye to eye — his shadow means nothing to me.  It cannot exist without the Light to create it.  When we feel the Light as it penetrates our being and allow it to migrate to our heart and be pumped to every part of our body, we can sense a sort of glow.  When that warmth shines from our heart in the love we send to the world, we learn about being translucent.  Although we do not disappear in the shadow, we can diffuse the light so that it touches everything around us.

We are human.  We cast shadow, we diffuse love, and sometimes we radiate with the very Light that creates our existence.  We must not be afraid of the shadows.  Instead, we should search for the Light that calls them into being.

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

— Nathaniel Hawthorne

I wrote yesterday about my restlessness at being plunked down in the middle of a resort town at the New Jersey shore.  Wildwood is a bit too wild for my taste — not the unspoiled and natural sort of “wild,” but the “wild ride” sort of wild that is manufactured and mechanical and noisy.  I must say that I spent a good bit of my time there pursuing happiness and not being able to catch it.

In the midst of all the hubbub, a most surprising thing took place; and it filled me with joy in spite of my wishes to be somewhere else.  My four youngest grandchildren, Oskar, Cheyenne, Atticus, and Harper were digging in the sand.  They built mountains and dug rivers.  They sang impromptu songs that were so much a part of their joy in the moment that it was hard to believe they hadn’t been composed, taught to them, and practiced. “Gonna dig lots of rivers, oh yeah!” sang the five-year-olds.  Suddenly, Cheyenne let out a small shriek.  She had been startled by the sensation of something landing on her shoulder.  As she looked more closely, her shock became delight.

“I always WANTED a butterfly!” she sang.  “Can I take it home, Mommy?”

“Well…let’s see if it decides to stick around.”

“Look!” Chey called out again and again, “I have a butterfly!”

“Don’t touch its wings,” he mother cautioned, “it takes the fairies a long time to paint the dust on them just right!”

Chey and her butterfly spent a good fifteen minutes together.  The dug in the sand, they sang their digging songs, they walked to the water’s edge and back.  Only when we began the walk from the beach back to the motel did her magical friend decide to take flight.

I suppose some would say that her wings had been wet and finally were dry enough to carry her into the sky again.  Some would say that it was a rare coincidence.  Cheyenne knows better than that.  When we returned to the motel that afternoon, she found a penny — face up — lying on the pool deck.  Later that night, at the end of an evening of noisy boardwalk fun, a little voice came up from the stroller rolling next to me.

“I can’t believe I wanted my whole life to have a butterfly, and today it came and sat on my arm!  And I found a lucky penny, too!”

She beamed with the delight of knowing that of all the days in the history of the world, this had been the best ever.

“I guess it was just your lucky day,” I replied.

“Yes,” Cheyenne answered with conviction, “I know.”

“Whatever is a reality today, whatever you touch and believe in and that seems real for you today, is going to be — like the reality of yesterday — an illusion.”

— Luigi Pirandello

Last night I sat outside my motel room in Wildwood, NJ, listening to the sounds of the other visitors, watching the flashing lights of the boardwalk, and trying to imagine how I landed in this world of neon and noise.  I struggled to take it all in, feeling over-stimulated and distracted and unable to focus on any single sight without being grabbed by the next flashing display.  I am a small-town girl at heart, and the lights of the city always have struck me as intrusive rather than exciting; but life in a resort town feels downright painful as I sit and try to see anything real beyond the glittering surface.

In the midst of it all, I tried to remember home — to remember the simple tasks that made up yesterday in a far quieter world.  What I discovered was that I could remember the events of the day but no longer could really embrace it all.  It was as though all my prior reality had slipped into the mist.  My only reality was the neon-lit one where I sat, watching a sign across the street flash, “STARDUST!”  “STARDUST!”  “STARDUST!”  It had absolutely no resemblance to the stardust I watch when I gaze toward the night sky in my own back yard; but that was yesterday.  Today the sky looks black and starless, and I have been plunked down in a world of artificial light.  I hardly feel quite real in such surroundings, and I long to grasp the lost reality of home.

I suppose the consolation in such an experience is this:  If I know and love and crave my peaceful life at home, but even with all my desire I cannot connect with it in this noisy place; I can trust that when I return home in a couple of days, all the glitz and glitter will live in my memories but not in my heart.  Whatever unusual and not-s0-pleasant things might come our way, we can rest assured that nothing lasts forever.  So I guess the best I can do is to take it all in — live where I find myself today — and do my best to hold onto this neon world.  Tomorrow it will be only a memory.

Farewell, my friends,

Farewell and hail,

I’m off to seek the holy grail!

I cannot tell you why.

Remember, please,

When I am gone,

Twas aspiration

Led me on.

Twiddly Widdly

Tootle-le-oo,

I’d really love to stay with you

But here I go…

Goodbye!

— Unknown

For the first time in 2 1/2 years, I will not be writing my blog today.  Instead, as I head toward the shore, I leave you with this one — originally posted in March of 2011.  Wishing you all wonderful days as I go to the sea to be renewed.

Love and Light,

Pam

“maggie and millie and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)

…may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”

— e. e. cummings

“As small as a world and as large as alone.”

Whenever I join the millions of grains of sand on the beach, I am taken to a place that can only be found by the sea.  Local Floridians will tell you that March is no time to walk barefoot in the surf; but my northern body was feeling Springish, and my sneakers were brand new.  Did I really want to be finding sand in my socks for the next year?  I left them behind with socks tucked inside and made the trip across the sunbathers’ sand to the edge of the water.  I began to think that the locals might be right as I stepped onto the still-wet sand above the water’s edge; but soon my feet were numb with cold and the water felt less icy as I let it lap gently around my ankles.

Except for a few joggers who passed quickly and then disappeared, my sister and I had the beach to ourselves.  The tide was receding and the castle-building, sun-worshiping swimmers were still asleep.  The only measure of time was the rhythmic song of saltwater over sand; and we walked silently, scanning the shell-line for treasures.  It always amazes me to see the endless supply of  seaweed and sponges and shells that appear as the tide flows out.

Farther and farther we walked, and soon two sisters were engaged in catching up — not only on the news, because we know the happenings of each other’s lives, but on the mutual feelings and joys and sorrows that are part of our shared past.  We bring them into the present as we make our way along the shore, and only the sea birds are there to hear our words.  This is not the first time that I have brought my sadness to the great ocean and found something of myself in the sea.  We walked and we talked as our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments, our griefs, and our sisterhood poured out in waves.  I thought, as I spoke, with the water rising and falling at my feet that perhaps the sea was washing some of our words away and carrying them out to the place that makes the world seem so very small.  I thought of the similarity between the whooshing of a mother’s womb and the whooshing of the waves flowing in and out.  I thought of the way that life mimics the motion of the sea — coming and going, ebbing and flowing, swelling and retreating, ever changing — and leaving behind a never-ending supply of the most surprising treasures.

Perhaps I find myself in the sea because it takes a little piece of me out with its tide to a place where the “me” becomes small as I join with the “all.”  I love that on this one quiet morning I was able to walk with my sister and we were able to share the magic of losing ourselves as we walked and then finding something fresh and new in the cleansing waves of the sea.

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.”

— Pearl S. Buck

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I took my granddaughter, Cheyenne, to see something I had told her about.  Chey is fascinated with the idea of fairies.  On one of my early-morning walks, I had spotted this formation in the center of an ornamental cherry tree:

I had showed the picture to my granddaughter, catching hold of her vivid imagination and telling her, “I think it may be a fairy house!”

Several weeks later, when Chey and I took a walk through the park, she wanted to see the “real” fairy house.  I lifted her up and brought her to eye level.  Without missing a beat, she thrust her arm into the hole and began feeling around for fairies.

“I don’t think there are any in here,” she remarked, “only bugs.”

Now her very adult grandmother could only stare in amazement as the fearless fairy hunter groped blindly in the hole in the tree.  ‘Only bugs,’ I thought.  That would be enough to keep my arm out of that hole!  But kids are fearless.  They are driven by their dreams.  Their imaginations give substance to their dreams, and they act without considering that bugs might be icky — or might bite.  Cheyenne’s fairy hunt did not produce a fairy, but it did remind her grandma that not all holes are full of scary things and not all scary things bite.  It took the enthusiasm, inexperience, and love of adventure that belongs only to the innocence of childhood to bring the lesson to light.

How many inventions that we all take for granted began as the crazy dreams of visionaries?  How many very adult and very rational people tried to convince the dreamers to think instead of dream — to live within the boundaries of reality.  The Wright Brothers endured ridicule and criticism for thinking they could make something heavier than air take flight.  Early explorers were considered heretics when they posited that the world was round and sailed off toward the edge prescribed by the common knowledge of their times.  Electricity harnessed for use by humans?  Anyone who has seen lightning wreak its damage knows how insane one would be to hold such a belief.

Perhaps what sets inventors apart from the rest of humanity is the way they nurture the child that still lives within them.  Perhaps our society could learn a lesson from the way they encourage their inner children to dream the impossible with enough certainty to make it happen.

Perhaps we all would benefit from listening to the children — the ones entrusted to our care, and the ones that still lie hidden at our core.  We should encourage them to dream, encourage them to believe, encourage them to risk, and encourage them to act.  We should tread lightly in order not to crush a single dream.  We should remove from our vocabulary the word, “impossible.”  We should replace it with the word, “possible” or “potential” and never forget that impossible things are dreamed into being every single day.  All it takes is a child.

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders.  He is bolted to the earth.  But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

— Jacques Cousteau

In only two more days, I will jump into my car and drive away to a place where the weight of the world has no meaning.  When I emerge at the end of my three-hour trip, I will find myself in a spot where I can enjoy being weightless for a few days.  I am going to visit my mother, the sea.  I have made lists and done the shopping, I have assembled items for packing, I have arranged for the mail to be held until my return — so many preparations, but all I really need is some sunscreen, a pair of waterproof shoes, a bag for treasures, and my longing for peace.

I will visit my dreams — the old ones and the new.  They often are set along the shoreline; and no matter how many other people might walk that same beach, the only sound I can hear is the whooshing of the waves as they caress the land.  Whoosh!  The heart of the ocean contracts and sends cool water to wash away the cares of the mainland.  Swoosh!  The water recedes and carries with it the worries of the day, sending them far away on the tide to a place where curious fish swim around them, inspect them, and then flip their tails as they dismiss such nonsense and quickly dart away.  Whoosh and swoosh, whoosh and swoosh, the waves arrive and depart in time with the rhythm of my own heart as I nestle into my spot on the Earth and rock in the womb of our mother, the sea.

Whoosh!  She washes over me and cleanses and renews.  Swoosh!  She carries away the dust and debris that has collected since our last encounter.  Whoosh!  She sends life-giving water to nourish each cell.  Swoosh!  She carries away the burdens and troubles.  I walk into her bosom and lift my feet.  Her salt water suspends me between heaven and earth.  I am weightless again, as I was in the mysterious place where I floated before I was born.  As I drift in the land where dreams meet life, I remember the truth that this is the way I truly exist — except for the heaviness of living on Earth.

My drifting done, I return to the shore.  I choose a spot to stand at rest and let the waves wash back and forth.  Before very long, I discover that my feet have grown roots.  As the waters ebb and flow, they have planted me ankle-deep in the sand.  ‘Yes,’ I think, ‘this is the secret of my eternal ocean mother.’  It is not her desire to sweep me away and lose me in the depths of her vast waters.  She only borrows me for a time, draws me close, rinses my soul and then plants me firmly once again.  I stand upright and strong until my roots have spread beneath the sand.  Only then — when I trust they are sturdy — do I uproot myself and return to the land where gravity requires that our roots can hold when the wind blows.

I take my heart in my hand and fling it as far as I can into the endless waters.  Whoosh!  A wave crashes over me and returns it to my chest.  Whoosh!  Swoosh!  Whoosh!  Swoosh!  As I turn my back to the sea, I carry her cadence in my ears, in my heart, in the sound of my roots as they move along the surface of the sand and return, renewed, to the business of life.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

— Henry Ward Beecher

It takes faith to close one’s eyes at the end of the day and give over her soul to the land of sleep.  The image of the giant weaving loom creating a tapestry that is the universe is at the same time awe-inspiring and ominous.  If the part of the picture that is being created when our energy runs out for the day is frightening or sad or seems to predict disaster, going to sleep might be an act of will rather than a peaceful surrender to the rest we need to face another day.  What happens while we sleep?  Are we excluded during those hours from our part in the weaving?  Are we written out of the script that is being prepared by the Author of Life while our bodies are restored, and will we awaken to discover that we have been cast in a part we did not agree to play?  Should we stand watch all night and tend to the weaving in order to assure that the correct colors are threaded through the loom?  Should we sleep with one eye open at all times, even though it might mean that our perception of the tapestry is dimmed and our eyes are foggy with fatigue?  Worry is the child of weary souls who need to sleep but cannot trust that the picture woven in their absence will be one that they want to awaken to in the morning.

The bridge between sleeping and waking is forged in dreams.  It takes faith to close one’s eyes at the end of the day and give her soul over to the land of dreams.  It takes faith to know in the deepest and wisest depths of our souls that even as we sleep, our dreams are woven into the tapestry.  It takes faith to understand that the colors too vibrant for seeing in the sunlight come out to play when we dream.  In the land of dreams, we are free to express all the colorful and beautiful visions we hold for our world without challenge, without the graying down that can happen in our waking hours when someone large stands between our dreams and the light that inspires them and casts them in shadows that dull their appearance.  In the land of dreams, we see our vision in the full light of the divine, if only for a moment of subconscious delight.  We must hold onto our dreams.  If the loom weaves all night long, then our dreams are our contribution to the tapestry.

Dream big.  When you awake in the morning and look at the tapestry that has emerged from the loom overnight, be sure to look for the colors of your dreams.  Remember that they are woven into the larger picture.  Have the faith needed to close your eyes at night and the faith to open them again in the morning and see the world through the eyes of a dreamer.  Only then can your weary soul dare to seek the rest it needs.  It takes faith to know that no matter how dark it may seem, tomorrow will have hope woven into each shadow.  After all, we have dreamed it into existence.

“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

— Jonas Salk

For several years now, my sister, my husband and I have been involved in tracing our family histories through generations.  It is hard to say exactly what the fascination is, but I think it has something to do with discovering the things about ourselves that showed in our ancestors.  I think it also is a mission to discover the answer to the sometimes puzzling question, “Who am I?”

As an adoptive parent, I obviously have to believe that in the nature vs. nurture debate, nurture is an important ingredient; but as I have seen traits come forward that have nothing to do with our nurturing, I have a whole new sense of respect for nature — for the inborn strengths and weaknesses that are handed down from generation to generation. If nature plays an important role in our lives, then there may be things we can discover about ourselves as we explore the lives of our ancestors.

When I began to really pay attention to the accounts of life in my midwestern forbears, I was struck by their tenacity, their courage, and their resourcefulness as they settled in new lands without the conveniences of city life.  How does one decide to leave her homeland, take a long ocean voyage to a new shore, and then follow a path into the wilderness to build a new life?  I tried to imagine the stamina, the spirit of adventure, and the quiet strength that these people — my ancestors — must have practiced in order to carve out such an existence.  As I thought of the hardships they endured, I would also think of the difficult times in my own life and draw strength from the connection, from generation to generation, that predisposed me to stand strong in the face of adversity.

As I studied evolutionary biology with my granddaughter this year, we learned about adaptive evolution.  This is the amazing process that a population undergoes when it makes changes to its habits in order to best survive its environment.  I thought of the ways that my ancestors must have increased their survival skills when challenged by life in the wilderness.  I thought of how brushes with danger or illness or difficulty allow us to hone our abilities and bring them to completeness.  I thought of how their nature combined with their environment — nurture — and changed the traits that made their way into my own life.

If adaptive evolution has played a role in my ability to face life’s challenges, then I should be attentive to the ways that I am changing my family’s footprint on the planet.  What pieces of my own life will make the subtle changes in the nature that is handed down to generations that are as yet unborn?  What sorts of traits would I like to see in my grandchildren’s grandchildren that might be enhancements of the things I love best about my heritage?

The legacy we hand down to our future family is not merely accidental.  It is our duty to be mindful about being good ancestors.  The future of our world depends on it.

“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.”

— Anne Morrow Lindbergh

We celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth with cake and candles with singing and gifts, all with the intention of sharing happiness with the person who is celebrated that day.  It is hard to be unhappy when surrounded by friends and family who deliver their tokens of appreciation and esteem.  A birthday party is a happy time; but when the streamers have been taken down and the party is over, when the house is dark and the birthday is done, when there is no family to surround us and life is difficult, we still can feel the joy of simply being alive. Happiness comes and goes, and it is lots of fun, but joy resides deep within the soul and abides with us even when there is no happiness to be found.

Recently, I wrote about making the choice to be happy — about happiness being something we choose to find rather than something that might pursue us.  A friend challenged me that day, reminding me that there are people who suffer from depression and cannot choose to be happy.  She was right; and as someone who has suffered from clinical depression, I can tell you that in those days I could barely choose to get out of bed, let alone feel happy to face another day.  I am no longer depressed.  The huge pile of life experiences that weighed me down at the time have been sorted and filed and don’t seem so impossible; and through examining that pile and working on the sorting, I have learned ways to keep the heaviness of life better under control.  Depression is a huge and heavy burden; and there is little happiness to be found in the mountain of debris that comprises such heaviness.  What remains true, however, is that at the very bottom of that heap of sadness — right in the heart that is being crushed — there is joy.

That was the great lesson I learned while undoing depression.  Depression lies.  It tells us that happiness is for other people and not for us.  It tells us that happiness is dependent on the circumstances of life, and then it goes on to list all the impossible circumstances that stand between us and anything that resembles being happy.  Depression convinces our minds that we face a hopeless future.  Each time we move aside a bit of debris, it drops two more pieces in its place and laughs as we try to escape its control.

The blessing of depression was this:  In feeling beaten down and crushed, in feeling unable to lift all the junk that had taken residence on top of my shoulders and weighed me down, I had no choice but to retreat and rediscover my own insides.  It was there that I discovered my joy.  Underneath all the heaviness, I found a tiny spark that whispered in an equally tiny voice.  What it whispered was, “hope.”  Sometimes a whisper gains our attention more readily than a shout; and soon I was straining to hear the voice of hope and learning to tune out the loud voice of despair.

We cannot control the world and guarantee that happiness will come our way; but we can tend the spark that shines inside of it all and grow it steadily until its light becomes bigger and brighter and easier to find.  We can choose to cultivate joy, right in the middle of all the stuff that clutters our lives.  Like gardeners whose beds are overgrown, we can choose to give up on our dream of fresh vegetables or we can choose to pull some weeds and discover the beauty that still grows, whether we can see it today or not.  When happiness seems far away, remember that joy is always with you.  Go to the dark places underneath all the debris — it is there that it shines brightest, even if it only is a tiny spark.

“Understanding is often a prelude to forgiveness, but they are not the same; and we often forgive what we cannot understand (seeing nothing else to do) and understand what we cannot pardon.”

— Mary McCarthy

Which is more difficult?  Which requires more love – to forgive something we can understand or to forgive something we cannot comprehend?

I have tried to teach my children to use the words, “I forgive you,” instead of, “that’s okay,” when someone apologizes for hurting them.  It is never “okay” to lash out and hurt another person — even when the resulting hurt is unintended; and I do not want the people I love to use words that imply to their subconscious that being hurt is excusable.  What I do want them to know is that it is forgivable; and I want them to understand that it is a powerful thing to speak the words of peace — “I forgive you.”

If we are to be love to our world, then we must master the art of forgiveness.  If we intend to bring love to every situation that comes our way, then we must learn every way there is to love; and when all other loves have failed, we often find ourselves faced with the daunting task of forgiving.  It is simple, when we are unprovoked or stirred by kindness or responding to beauty, to say “I love you.”  It is more challenging, when we face conflict or see the way someone’s thoughtless behavior harms another, to speak the words of love that might illuminate another path and inspire a response that draws out the offender’s love in return.  Most challenging of all is to love when evil leaves us speechless, when no amount of kindness touches the soul of the other, when no apologies are made and no recognition of a need for change enters the mind of the one who delivers hurt to his fellow man.

The only love that can enter into the irretrievable situation is forgiveness.  Some may tell you that it is weak to forgive what cannot be excused.  Some may tell you that an unrepentant bully does not deserve to be forgiven; but the truth is that we do not forgive in response to another person’s actions — we forgive as an intentional expression of our own strength and power and love.  Even if our final action is to walk away, forgiveness leaves behind the scent of love and gives evil a reason to think twice.

Never say, “that’s okay” when evil harms you or someone you love; but reach into the depths of your soul, fill your heart with love, and forgive.