Archive for March, 2013

“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”

  — St. Teresa of Avila

Yesterday I wrote about the ways that life can be interrupted and our plans can be changed in an instant.  I wrote about a cup of coffee, reheated many times before I had a chance to drink it, a little too close to bedtime.  I wrote about plans made and aborted, about tasks left undone and different ones taking their place.  We spend a lot of time worrying and planning and completing tasks; and there is nothing wrong with this, because that is what human beings do.  We search for our purpose in life and then complete the tasks that lead us closer to achieving our goal.  And then we die.

On days when we are too busy, life can seem interminably long.  On days when we are in touch with our reason for existing, we know that life is terribly short.  It is knowing that our days to work and produce are limited that sometimes calls us onward and fills us with the energy we need to walk the path we have plotted.  It is easy to become so single-minded that we forget to take our compass on the walk; and when that happens, we can lose our way.

How do we navigate our chosen path.  More importantly, how do we know that it leads to our purpose for being?

“Accustom yourself constantly to make many acts of love…”

In the beginning, it was Love that brought us into this world; and we carry the essence of that Love deep inside us.  When we become accustomed — when we make it habitual — to walk in love, to act in love, to reach out in love, we discover that it is Love that is the compass designed to lead us to our reason for being here.  Just as the needle on the compass points to true north, the love embedded in us will point us in the direction we are created to walk.  All we need to do is trust its truth and keep on walking.

And when we spread loving acts wherever we go, “they will enkindle and melt the soul.”

When we live love, our soul melts and flows all around us, touching our world with love.

It is said that we live in a cold and dark world; but when we let the love in our soul flow out into the world around us, we fill it with warmth and light.

We have only so many days to do the work that is our purpose for being.  We begin, we work, and ultimately we end.  The tasks we perform may live on for a while after we are gone; but in the end, everything fades but the love.  So work diligently at the work that greets you as you walk, but remember to work in love, to walk in love, to let your love enkindle your soul and touch the souls of others.  Love never dies.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life.  It goes on.”

  — Robert Frost

Today was one of those days.  I had great plans for all the tasks I would accomplish today.  Being alive and human means that we have maintenance tasks to perform in order to sustain our lives, be responsible to those around us, and assure that the foundation is in place so that we are free to build the life we choose.  Although the conveniences of modern living have carried us far beyond the days of  “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,”  where Monday was set aside for washing the clothes, Tuesday for drying, Wednesday for ironing, and so on.  Now we might have lists like, “answer the email, order the groceries, and cart the kids to countless activities — while the laundry machines take care of the mulberry bush.

Today was supposed to be a catch-up day after several busy weeks of driving my son to appointments after his knee surgery.  Breakfast was done and cleared away, my sweetheart and my granddaughter were out the door to work and school, and I sat down at my computer to manage the household budget.  Just as I took my first sip of coffee, the phone rang.  It was the school nurse, informing me that my student was not feeling well.  I put aside my work, grabbed the car keys, and picked her up from school.  She settled in for some rest, hoping her upset stomach would soon feel better.  I retrieved my lukewarm coffee and stuck it in the microwave for a quick zap to reheat it and returned to the task at hand.

Just as I opened my files, my other granddaughter, Lily, walked in the door with her dad.  She was going to stay with me while he went for his physical therapy appointment.  When I saw the pink drawstring bag in her hand, I was pretty sure that doing paperwork was not going to fit into the schedule she had planned for our time together.  I closed the file and dove into a morning of making dresses for Barbie and watching Lily weave a potholder for her new house with the little loom and the loops I keep for just such an occasion.

We talked while she worked, and I told her stories of weaving potholders when I was a girl, “when TV had only three channels, in black and white, and the stations shut down at midnight.”  She thought it was strange that weaving potholders was one of the most exciting things I did at her age, and that television for kids was limited to an hour after school, cartoons on Saturday morning, and the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday at seven.

The time flew by, and soon her dad returned from his morning appointment.  ‘Now I’ll get that paperwork done,’ I thought; but just as he walked in, so did his youngest sister and her boyfriend.  Soon my four visitors were happily making brunch in my kitchen, and I couldn’t miss something that exciting, could I?  I picked up my coffee mug again and discovered that it had grown cold.  Back into the microwave it went!  Zap!

We sat and talked over brunch and I had the best time hearing my kids and their friends and kids banter and joke and enjoy each other’s company.  Before long it was way past two; and just as they cleared the dishes away, my sick girl appeared from upstairs.  She still felt lousy, but wanted to study for her Chemistry test scheduled for tomorrow.  I grabbed my coffee, noticed it was cold again, and gave it another zap.  We hunkered down with covalent and ionic bonds for a while and then both lay back on the reclining ends of the sofa and fell asleep.  When I awoke later, I found the dog snuggled into my lap and the clock ready to strike five.

I glanced at my computer as I grabbed my mug and carried it with me to the kitchen for a warm-up while I cooked dinner.  Soon my sweetheart was walking in the door.  We had a bite to eat and began our shared time of the day.  At last I sipped my coffee as we left the day behind us.

On my way to bed, I realized that I never did make any progress today on the tasks at hand.  Sometimes life just gets in the way of the plans we have made; and if we don’t let things drop every day, we should feel free to embrace all that comes our way on such a full and special adventure.  Life goes on.  It goes on whether we complete every little plan today or whether we have the chance to take a little side trip to something spontaneous.  Three little words:  Life Goes On.  As for the budget, that’s what tomorrow is for.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”

  — Joseph Campbell

It is the tale of the hero’s quest — following one’s bliss.  It is a journey to the very soul of the traveler that leads us to discover what lies within ourselves as we explore what lies without.  It is the sort of story that myths are made of, and it is no secret that I love a good myth probably more than the average person.  Today is Joseph Campbell’s birthday; and anyone who cares to explore the seemingly mundane existence we have been handed and discover what lies beneath the surface or beyond the boundaries we draw to define our world should get to know Joseph Campbell.  He holds up the mirror and asks us to see the hero or the heroine who looks back at us.  He asks us to journey beyond the walls and deep into the recesses of our souls and to discover a life of mythical proportion — a life that belongs to us.

Before I knew that today was Campbell’s birthday, I followed my bliss as I often do on an early-morning walk through the park near my home.  I love the early morning, the time before the noises of human life drown out the whispers of the dawn and the singing of the birds that herald its arrival.  The sky was filled with clouds this morning, and all of the sunrise was a study in black and white, in shadow and light, in monochromatic and colorless mist.  I felt it swirl all around me and hem me in as I walked the familiar path near the creek.  Suddenly, something caught my eye and drew it upward.  There, in the middle of the sky, a circular opening suddenly appeared.

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I felt myself grow weightless as my feet left the ground and hovered several inches above the Spring mud.  Soon I was soaring through the gray and toward the blue patch of sky in the center of the cloud wall.  A door had opened, and I rediscovered the light and the color that seemed lost in the morning mist.

As I returned to Earth, another wonder caught my eye.  A deep hollow in the center of the trunk of an old, worn tree drew me in.

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
       — Joseph Campbell

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I quickly snapped it for my “who lives here?” collection; and as I drew closer it seemed to open wide and invite me to explore.  I climbed over the lip of the cavern and descended into the dark of the tree trunk.  A tunnel ran to the ground below and opened into a giant tap root that penetrated deep beneath the surface of the earth.  The farther I walked, the wider it opened; and soon I could see a faint glow around a bend in the tunnel.  When I turned the corner, I found myself in a magnificent cavern, its walls lined with glowing crystals of every color.  There was a steady hum and a rhythmic pulsing that seemed to make the walls breathe — first in and then out — in sync with my own breathing.  As the walls pulsed in and out, I suddenly knew that I had made my way to the center of my own heart.  The hum of my blood coursing through the cavern made me warm and comfortable, and the light that emanated from the crystals all around showed me once again that I am made of more than flesh and blood.

I closed my eyes and let my own heart beat as it enfolded my being; and when I opened them, I had returned to my spot by the stream.  In a matter of minutes, I had journeyed beyond the walls that encased me and far into the depths of my own being.  On a misty Spring morning, in a very familiar place in the very real world where I live out my days, I was reconnected once again with the myth that is my own existence.  Some people think that myths are simply the fantastic meanderings of our imaginations; but I learned again today that it is the myth that is our truest story and that the things that seem most fantastic often are the most real.

As the sky opened wider above me, I opened my heart to the day — a day of mythological proportion, filled with the magic and wonder of being human and being truly alive.

 

 

“A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.”

— Novalis

My dad is 91 years old.  Ask most any little girl, and she will tell you that her daddy is her hero.  I am no longer little, and it has been years since I have called my father, “Daddy,” but he remains my hero in spite of — or because of — all the years we have shared on planet Earth.

It has been years since the onset of my mother’s dementia.  How many years?  Honestly, it’s kind of a blur.  It feels like forever; but I still can remember the sound of her voice as though we had a heart-to-heart talk only yesterday.  It’s easier to let that memory live vividly in my mind than it is to think of the abortive attempts at phone conversations for the past several years.  I always end up in tears after Dad puts Mom on the phone with me — tears for the loss of her wonderful mind and wit and sense of humor; selfish tears of a daughter who wishes she could seek her mother’s wisdom and advice just one more time; tears for my Dad, who feels he has failed the love of his life by seeing her slip away and not being able to rescue her.

My mom and dad have had a wonderful life.  In July, they will mark sixty-eight years together — years of love and romance and building a family and a business together, years of enjoying their shared passion for singing and dancing, years of knowing at the end of every day that they were meant to be together.  Forever.

Forever has taken on a whole new meaning lately.  As mom slips farther and farther away and Dad is alternately raging and depressed with having no control over his life any more, he no longer looks in the mirror and sees Mom’s knight in shining armor.  He sees only failure.  Failure to hold onto their ability to communicate.  Failure to rescue Mom from her isolation and distress.  Failure to be able to change what cannot be changed.  He wants to be her hero, but in his mind he comes up short.

I wanted to take a moment today to recognize the hero who is my dad.  He frustrates me with his resistance to accepting help.  He saddens me when I watch him spending what little life remains to him in a state of exhaustion and sadness rather than letting someone help him care for mom.  But when he finishes his laundry list of complaints for the day and says, “but you know, your mother is the most beautiful ninety-year-old woman you’ve ever seen,” and the love behind his words shines a small ray of hope, I want to tell him that heroes do not always ride triumphantly into town with a parade and a flourish.  Sometimes they just hang on for one more minute.

My Dad is my hero, one minute at a time.  Even if Mom can’t see that any more, I hope he can look in the mirror and be proud.

“My feeling is that there is nothing in life but refraining from hurting others, and comforting those that are sad.”

— Olive Schreiner

Every thread of existence is intricately woven into a web that connects one strand to another and then another until, whether we realize it or not, each of us is part of a greater whole that sustains us all.  There are those people who walk heavily on the web and shake the foundation for all others around them.  There are those who do this deliberately, and there are those who simply lose sight of the fact that they are connected and that their actions affect more than just their own lives.

When we stop to comfort wounded travelers along our path through the web, we are given the opportunity to experience the consequences that each individual can create for us all.  When the web becomes torn — when someone’s foundation is so rattled that they slip and fall — we are given a holy opportunity to re-weave the torn strands and help our fellow travelers to stand tall and walk once again.  Through the strands of the web, we can trace our DNA back to the source of all existence.  When we are mindful of its shimmering beauty, we become aware that truly we are all connected and are all brothers and sisters from a common source and sharing a common legacy.  What that legacy will be is our choice.  When we find a broken place in someone’s life, we are able to restore the web beneath their feet by honoring our oneness and sharing the stories of our common human experience.  When that primordial DNA begins to grow between us and mend the connection, the web grows strong once again.

When we honor the connection that binds us all to an existence on our shared planet, we begin to walk with care and value the power in not bringing harm to all that sustains us.  Close your eyes.  Look with the eyes of your heart and see the oneness we all share.  Look all around you and see that we are walking on massive web that glistens with crystals of dew.  Now step lightly and see that not a single dewdrop is disturbed.  Celebrate the beauty of bringing only love and healing to your world.

“If I love you, what business is it of yours?”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How much of our lives do we live worrying whether other people find us acceptable?

How many arguments include the words, “if you just loved me more?”

How much more love might there be in our world if we were less focused on who loves us and more focused on who we decide to love?

Love is not an emotion, it is an action.  When we choose to love, we make a conscious choice to send out the best we have to offer to our world, without worrying about whether we will get something in return.  There is nothing to lose by beginning each moment with a heart that overflows with love.  We have no idea who that love might touch or what sort of love it might call out of the heart of another.  When we feel that connection, it is nothing short of marvelous; but if our love bounces off the hardened exterior of someone else, it only means that it returns to us for future use.

Let’s tear down the surface differences that we perceive between ourselves and other people.  Let’s open the floodgates and let our love flow toward the soul of every other creature we encounter.  Close your eyes.  Imagine what it would look like to see your most heartfelt love swirling ahead of you and around you wherever you go.  Now, open your eyes and open your heart.  Send out the love that resides in your soul — the divine love that is born of the one who created you.  Don’t worry about what you will gain, but focus on what you have to give.

Tell the whole world, “if I love you, what business is it of yours?”

Equinox, Spring 2013

Darkness and Light,

Night and Day.

Inhale and Exhale

Equinox.

*

Roots and Wings,

Earth and Sky.

Stand and Stretch

Equinox.

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Yin and Yang,

Moon and Sun.

South and North,

Equinox.

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Here and Now

One and All.

Perfect Balance,

Equinox.

*

One one toe,

On razor’s edge.

Stand serene,

Equinox.

© 2013 Pamela Stead Jones

“It’s spring fever…You don’t quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

— Mark Twain

Last week the crocuses popped out of the ground.  The tips of the iris began to sprout.  We sloshed around the muddy park in only hoodies and listened to the birds as their songs grew restless in the treetops and nearly burst wide open with the melody of Spring.

This week, two small storms have covered it all with snow and slush, and tomorrow’s first day of Spring seems miles away once again.  When the birds sing out their tentative dress-rehearsal overture, my heart takes in their restless longing.  First it flutters and skips with the excitement of opening night, and then it seems to stop dead and dread the thought that Spring might never come at all.

‘Hurry up and wait; hurry up and wait,’ I think as I see the snow falling once again.  My dreams of tilling the garden move aside one more time and my thoughts return to locating the snow shovel and the rock salt for yet another reminder that not all of life is predictable and under our control.  Spring will come, whether the calendar supports its arrival or not.  Until then, my heart will hurry up and my soul will wait — marveling, as it has so many times before, at the way that the cycles and seasons of the universe show us the truth about our own lives.

Winter will soon give birth to Spring; but first the Earth must labor — it must hurry up and wait, just as we do so often in our own lives, for just the right moment.  When we learn to trust that everything will happen when the moment is right, we can be at peace with our unfolding humanity.  Today my heart aches for Spring.  Tomorrow it will come, whether the snow has melted or not; but my soul will rest easy, knowing that sometimes truth lies hidden like a crocus under the snow.  At just the right moment, it will burst forth in all its color and make us smile with the knowledge that it had been there all the time.

“One of the dreariest spots on life’s road is the point of conviction that nothing will ever again happen to you.”

— Faith Baldwin

Growing old has been on my mind lately.  Yes, I am aware that I am not as young as I used to be; but it is more my experience with my aging parents that has me pondering what lies ahead as I continue to age.  As someone who grew up in a multi-generational household, I am no stranger to the changes that occur in us all as we reach our golden years.  Before I ever arrived, my great-aunt, the surrogate mother to my mother, was a member of our nuclear family.  She suffered from heart disease that most likely would have been corrected these days; but her only option was to spend most of her time resting in bed and conserving her energy for the small amounts of time when she could get up and exert herself for a bit.  She lived in a time when there were few expectations of resolving her health issues, and she accepted her limited existence as her lot in life.  “Eat when you’re hungry and drink when you’re dry,” she used to tell us, “and if the devil don’t get you, you’ll live ’til you die.”  Essie was full of proverbs, and I never gave much thought to this one until recently.

My family is blessed with longevity.  Even Essie, whose condition had her certain that she would not live far beyond her seventies, lived to be ninety-three years old.  My parents, who have aged in a time when medicine has made advances in maintaining the health of the elderly, seemed destined to enjoy their long lives with fewer limitations than the previous generation.

When my granddaughter was born in 1996, my mother was seventy-four years old.  That summer, when the folks came to visit, four generations of women went shopping together.  In one of those snapshot moments that remains imprinted on the mind, I remember watching my mother carry her great-granddaughter all through the outlet mall.  I preserved that memory of my mother, vital and strong in her mid-seventies and quite a contrast to her aunt at the same age.  No one could have told me that only seven years later I would begin to notice subtle changes in Mom’s gait and small lapses in her memory.  I wouldn’t have believed that only three years after that, she would fall into the abyss of dementia and lead a very compromised existence.  All of this is at the root of my musings about growing old, but the proverb comes to mind when I think of my dad.

Mom has no decisions to make these days.  Other people make them for her, and the chief decision-maker is my father, who struggles to hold onto at least a little control over his own life as he tries to support his wife.  As more and more control slips away, I see him falling into a sort of misery that I would like to avoid for myself if I can’t manage to ease it for my dad.  I think of Essie’s words again.  “Eat when you’re hungry and drink when you’re dry” — this speaks of a sort of comfortable moderation, of meeting your own physical needs without excess.  But what did she mean when she said, “if the devil don’t get you, you’ll live ’til you die.”

One of the lessons I learned at Essie’s knee was grace under pressure.  She did her best to be a part of life, even though she was confined to bed most of the time.  She saved her energy to dry the dishes while my sisters and I took turns as the washer.  She made it a point to wash the bathroom from top to bottom once a week and be productive while saving my mother from the chore.  In doing this, I think, she was making an effort to live until she died.  As I reflect on those times, I wonder if the devil she spoke of was the temptation to give in to the frustration of having her life made so small.  I wonder now how many times she struggled to remain positive and determined to make a contribution.

As we extend our life span through new medical practices, we have become more and more secure in the idea that we will remain young and vital into our old age due to all the tools at our disposal.  When this does not happen, we feel singled out for misery and lose the desire to live ’til we die.  I see this in my dad, and it worries me.  I wonder how to cultivate the flexibility, the positive outlook, the grace under pressure, that is needed to grow old.  How do we keep the devil away and truly believe that we have something to offer, even when our lives grow small and confined?  How do we cultivate the sort of optimism that can carry us through the changes we face and keep us from being discouraged?

How do we avoid the terrible feeling that nothing will ever again happen to us?

Perched

Perched on the edge,

Selfishly hesitant,

Winter concedes

The battle to Spring.

Birdsong returns,

Filling the sunrise,

Songs of warmth

Melt frozen earth.

Perched on the edge,

Calling his mate,

Cardinal sings red songs

Of summer dreams.

His partner sings softly,

In muted gray,

Answers his dream,

And invites him home.

Poised on the edge,

Selfish Winter

Refuses to jump

As the snow swirls around him.

Perched on the lilac,

Sparrow and finch

Flick their tails in disgust,

And send the snow flying.

“Snow!  Go!” they chirp,

As they clear every branch

Banishing Winter,

Preparing for Spring.

Perched on the doorstep,

I sweep away winter,

Clean every corner,

Breathe in the freshness.

Swirl if you will,

I tell my friend Winter,

The sweet birds of springtime

Have sung your farewell.

© 2013 Pamela Stead Jones