Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Life is the Ultimate Art Form

The creative act is a courageous, ancient gesture, a dynamic exploration of the dark mystery that is human existence.
                          - Adriana Diaz

A few nights ago, I had a potent dream. In it I received a sacred bundle composed of an archaic compost with wonderful regenerative powers. That archaic substance was a kind of homeopathic medicine. Even in small amounts, it enriched and rejuvenated the earth wherever it was placed.

The numinous figures that gave me that bundle told me that the archaic compost was as old as time itself. They said that it came from the deepest recesses of the richness of the Earth and was filled with all the knowing experience that had accumulated from aeons past to the present.

The archaic earth was soft, dense and dark, fragrant and of course deeply mysterious.  I took a tiny pinch of it and cast it out over the landscape, which was enhanced, enriched, beautified. Just a small pinch rejuvenated a vast territory.

Whenever I took a small pinch of the earth for healing, the delicate membrane that covered the bundle repaired itself easily. I was astounded and full of joy to have been given this gift and this responsibility, which felt so buoyant and healing for myself, the Earth and all beings.

Since that night, I have been contemplating this dream. How does it translate into my everyday life, to my creativity and my deeper purpose? I have no answers yet, but the dream has lifted me up and provided me with a reminder of the powerful nature of the subconscious mind.

The past 7 months have been very difficult. In January my younger daughter and I traveled to rescue my older daughter,  whom I have seldom seen for decades. So began a rough and consuming ride on a rocky road as we did our best to support her in dropping her long-standing addictions.  It was heartbreaking. And piercingly sweet at times. Now she is gone again. She left a week ago, returning to the city where she had been living. 

That was a gigantic effort for me, one in which I discovered deep wellsprings of love and acceptance of my daughter's very difficult life. It has also been very hard to come right up against the truth that I cannot fix my daughter's life, no matter how hard I try or how much I do. It is up to each of us to live our lives, make our choices, construct a reality that we inhabit. She has her own journey, and I pray that it goes well. My heart feels very tender these days, even raw at times. I am in a time of self-healing.

Then there is the business of selling my flower cottage, which I put on the market at the end of March. It attracted a buyer quickly, but that first sale fell through. Again, buyers quickly appeared but at the very last moment, a second sale fell through. My realtor tells me she has never seen anything like it. Well, I am happy that not too many have to go through anything similar.

I was so confident about the second deal, I  got rid of almost all my furniture and moved into a room in a friend's place.  That was a month ago. Now I've lowered the price on the cottage and we are focusing on magnetizing the right buyer and completing the sale successfully. May it  be so, and soon.

Every time I go there to water the gardens, I feel what a delightfully welcoming place it is. Somebody is going to love living there as much as I did.

Attitudes about Aging --- OLD as a Word of Power

 As you no doubt are aware, many people are afraid of aging and being old. In our culture,  there are many noxious ageist stereotypes.  People seem surprised when someone over 60 is vital, vibrant, creative, happy and capable. That's because people buy into stereotypes. Older people buy into them, too. They start to collapse into and become those stereotypes.

Well, I'm too old to do that.
That's what happens when you get older.

It's bad enough that people who are not yet old have unreal, unkind and prejudicial attitudes about aging, but when older people themselves take on those limiting beliefs and perspectives, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I may be too old to do certain things now. That could be true. But why should I focus on that, rather than on what is good, rich and enjoyable? We are all subject to the ravages of time (a phrase I happen to enjoy). I have less energy than I did 10 years ago. I cannot easily drive at night. These are age-related limitations. Others I know are grappling with chronic illness, neurological conditions, things that bring even more significant limitations. No matter what, I notice that when a person brings positive self regard, acceptance and optimism into their life situation, it benefits them and everyone around them.

Lately I've been thinking about Elaine Stritch and Rabbi Zalman Schachter, two elders who passed recently. Such different lives, but so similar in the way they poured their creative joy into everything they did. That's attitude.

And I've been thinking of Olga Kotelko, a nonagenarian athlete from Canada who passed recently. She was outstanding and passionately engaged. We don't have to be famous to be engaged, passionate, creative and joyful. We can just be ourselves fully.

I think that is good news.

OLD is a word of power. It really is. It's time to reclaim the word OLD from the junk heap of language. Be old and proud of it. Set a good example. Leave a meaningful legacy, of whatever genre or type. Don't get caught up trying to maintain the superficial facade of youthfulness. It's demeaning and it doesn't really work either. We were already young. Let's plunge into the waters of oldness. There is a lot to learn and share in this time of life.

In the midst of this world so full of conflict and war, may we find peace within ourselves and may that peace radiate out to others. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bulletin: Adventures in House Sharing

I've had three house share experiences in the past 5 years. First I shared a town house with Louise, who has a Ph.D. in womens' spirituality. The year we lived under the same roof ignited a friendship that continues to be a source of pleasure and richness in each of our lives. While we lived together we shared meals from time to time, watched movies, enjoyed each others' intellectual and spiritual interests, and provided valuable emotional support for each other.

Then I bought the flower cottage and after mishaps with two unsuitable housemates, Anne appeared. We had already met through a mutual friend and knew we liked each other. She moved in to the back part of the house, which is a self-contained apartment. Anne and I had fun together too on walks, in dance classes, eating at the local taco joint and of course talking about our lives.  After a year, Anne moved north with her daughter Angela and started putting together a new business, Travel That Matters. The mother-daughter duo are developing tours and trips that satisfy the wish to experience a country more deeply. "When being a tourist isn't enough" is their website's tagline.  It has been fun watching Anne move into fulfilling this dream of hers. What she and Angela are doing is exciting. I think it would be great fun to do a creative aging trip with them for a group of older women.

Both house sharing experiences were full of surprises, new insights and a beautiful quality of community. Now I've moved in with my friend Linda, who I've known for over 30 years. I expect to be here for a few months and am very glad that we are having this opportunity to be with each other.

Many older women are choosing to find house share partners. This New York Times article  talks about the trend and the experiences of some women who have engaged in house sharing in various cities. It makes sense to me both in financial and emotional terms.

Have you tried house sharing yet? What is your experience?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Riding The Chariot of Disappointment

I have moved out of the flower cottage into my friend Linda's house, which is perched high on a hill with expansive views of the mountains and sky. This is the view I see each day from the balcony of my room.  It's beautiful here, and it has the panache of a new environment for me. In spite of having lived in this valley for decades, this particular area is one I never explored before now. It's full of gorgeous old houses, beautiful trees and elegant gardens. There's a big historical cemetery nearby, which is a great place to take a walk and contemplate the transitory nature of life. Or just have a good time walking with a friend.

I moved out of the flower cottage on June 20th.  The cottage was as good as sold, or so I thought. But at the 11th hour, the buyers pulled out because of an IRS lien whose total for some reason they didn't know. Go figure. It seems one should know the status of debts when trying to buy property. Rant, rave, etc. This is the second sale that has fallen through.  So I am disappointed. Very disappointed in fact. My disappointment led me to re-read a section in Chogyam Trungpa's book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.  In it, Trungpa says,

"We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our 
fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with 
disappointment, go into it and make it our way of life, which is a 
very hard thing to do...Disappointment is the best chariot to use on the path of the 
Riding the chariot of disappointment as a way of life. Okay. Okay.

I have to put some oil on the axles.  It's great to have a chariot, I tell myself, so enjoy the ride. Having a chariot of disappointment is not the same as dragging your tail in the dust of disappointment or crawling through the stinky mud of disappointment or rolling around in the garbage heap of disappointment.

I mean, you have a chariot!

I went to the coast for a few days and it was glorious, even chilly at times, amidst the redwoods at the ocean.  I found these sunflowers backed by a wonderful corrugated curtain just as I was leaving town.

It is very hot here in the inland areas--over 100 degrees many days in a row. The air conditioning at my new abode is not working at the moment either. Which is of course disappointing, stickily so.  But there is a pool close to the house. If I had any sense at all I would stop typing this blog and take a dip. Yes, I had sense and took a dip which was refreshing. Some neighbors were poolside with their granddaughter.  The condo complex where I am living is populated with older people, so I expect I'll witness many grandparents in action while I am here. As an an elder with no grandchildren, I like seeing the interaction that grandparents have with their grandkids.

I am expecting to be here for a stay of about 3 months. Then I am planning to head to Mexico, but right at the moment with the cottage unsold, still recovering from the move to Linda's and a nasty cold that came along with that, I don't want to think too much about Mexico. Not today anyway.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter died on July 3rd at the age of eighty-nine. He was famous as a pioneer of Jewish renewal. I read a number of obituaries, which confirmed his vitality, originality, ecumenical perspective and lovingkindness. He had a profound influence on many people, not only because of his innovative style of Jewish prayer and worship, but also because of his work in the field of aging. His book From Aging to Saging has become a classic. Have you ever read it? If not, I highly recommend that you do.


 This Japanese art involves repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer so that it is more beautiful for having been broken. I think that the transformed, enriched vessel depicts character, the way wrinkles do on the faces of old people. If we are lucky in our later years,  we take the time to repair and restore whatever has been broken from the deeper perspective age can bring.  And when old people make those efforts, they often appear to be very beautiful, just as this bowl is beautiful.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Moving, shifting, inventing, letting go

News from the flower cottage

The gardens are marvelous here right now. The climbing roses adorn the swing, peonies, poppies, love in a mist, Jupiter's beard, Japanese iris and many colored roses are blooming profusely.

It will be my last spring here, because the flower cottage is on the market.
Click here if you'd like to learn more and to see the wonderful photos that realtor Patie Millen took of my lovely place.

I had a sale cooking, but it fell through. Such is life. Life is often like that.

You never know what is coming next. I mean, seriously. I should understand this by the age of 73, but am still surprised by it at times.
Here's an example. In December, I made a decision to let go of many of my Sage's Play projects, including the musical revue I spent 4 years developing with composer Laura Rich. the Audacious Aging Kit I created and which needed a marketing strategy and creative aging workshops I wanted to develop.  I had grown weary of my change the paradigm on aging mission. I see that there are others, many of whom are marvelously brilliant, who are working in this area, and so I reasoned, I don't have to hold onto this mission, which I no longer enjoy, but can move into other areas of life. I have always been afflicted with a save the world disorder, and it seems time to shift how I relate to that.

My plan was simple. I would sell the flower cottage and head to Mexico.

Then, in January I found myself immersed in a consuming and challenging family situation, wbich still occupies my focus and heart. I really can't say more about that here or now, but I will say that these past months have been very difficult, heartrending, tender, and full of opportunity.

Of course, you might think it's difficult for me to let go of the flower cottage. But compared to the work I have been called to do to support a dear family member, letting go of the flower cottage is pablum.

Fantasy and Reality
My house is not sold.  So meanwhile, I am sorting things, packing them up, giving them away, selling and bequeathing them--just generally unloading almost all I own before I pop the cork. This seems like a worthy goal to me, though of course it does have its sharp edges. It's wise to get comfortable with uncertainty, because that's really a constant element in life, as far as I can tell.

In the process, I revisit many icons of my life, such as these prescriptions, which I found in my baby book. They were written for me when I was a baby by poet William Carlos Williams, who also practised medicine in New Jersey. My parents took me to him when I was less than a month old because I cried all the time, and it turned out that the reason I was crying was because I was hungry.

"Just feed her more," the doctor/poet told them, and gave them prescriptions on how to accomplish that goal.

I am grateful for his help, and for this early contact with poetry magic.

 I have thrown out so many records and mementos of the life I've lived.  I like getting rid of things. I feel a marvelous exhuberence when I am flinging them into the recycling bin.

But I could not throw out the file folder with the press clippings of my trip to Japan in the 70s.  That was an incandescent time of my life. I was the first Western activist to travel to Japan on behalf of the whales.  I was working for Project Jonah. It was before Greenpeace appeared on the scene. My mission was to magnetize international media attention, to talk with cultural movers and shakers, meet with government and whaling officials. I really had no qualifications, but that didn't deter me in any way. And I did succeed in all those goals. I got enormous media coverage internationally through articles posted by two wire services, AP and UPI, plus cover articles in the Japanese version of Business Week and Fortune.  I did meet with government and whaling officials, artists, activists, poets.  I've written about the capstone of this experience, which occurred after I left Japan, as well as the place whales have inhabited in my imagination since childhood, in my book Songs of the Inner Life.

 So I threw many things out and they are gone. Posters and press clippings of one-woman shows and performances and workshops--all gone. Because they are in the past. Not that I am laboring under the assumption that if I get rid of everything, it will automatically free me from whatever constrains me. If only one could do that. But it is not the way things work here on the Earth Plane.

I have a folder of photos taken to illustrate my various endeavors. Here is one from a one-woman show I did in the early 90s, whose title was Forces of Nature.

I like this picture. My costume was red, with a fringe of colored ribbons on the sleeves.

That was a long time ago now.

I want to honor the past, which has allowed me to mature into the woman I am now, but that doesn't mean I have to live in a museum of my assumed identity. I can let go of some of the mementos of the past.

I want to live in the present.  No matter how uncomfortable some aspects of it may be.

Toward the end of life, it is important to pay attention to everything, to make reparations, to heal, to extend love, to let go, to go within and connect with one's deeper spiritual wellsprings and sources. That is the work I am engaged in. It is not easy at times. But it seems essential.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

After a long hiatus

This brief announcement comes as a test. I spent at least an hour creating a newsy post, my first since December, but when I tried to publish it, it  disappeared.Technology, like everything else, has a mind of its own. Well, I do plan to write something at more length soon. Happy spring!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Time of the Long Night Moon

Downtown Ashland, Oregon in December snowstorm. Photo by Mark Arinsburg
Over a week ago, we had an unusual snowstorm that dropped 4-6 inches on the floor of the Rogue Valley. We are accustomed to snow in the mountains, but that amount of snow on the valley floor is rare. Temperatures fell to 4-6 degrees for several nights. Snowplows were unable to make a dent in the icy snow.

Even attempts to strew cinders on the dangerous surfaces did not succeed, with cinder loads sticking together, making them useless. Road conditions were quite dangerous for 5 or 6 days.

Schools were closed, and if they could people just stayed home.

Not a Christmas tree, but a festive jungle cactus
What in the world is up with her?
It was very beautiful though, as this photo of the downtown area shows. It was a good respite to stay at home for 5 days. Finally, there was a thaw, and everyone started to move around in the world again.

I've lived in the Ashland area since 1977, except for 4 years spent in Portland in the mid 80s. I never consciously intended to stay here that long. It just happened. I love it here. It is familiar. I have many longtime friends and connections. Yet I am feeling that it's time for a change.

I bought a house 2 1/2 years ago, a place I call the flower cottage. For years, I dreamed of having a house like this with a beautiful flower garden, and I have been enjoying living here. My younger daughter did a beautiful job painting the walls when I first moved in. It was such a loving gesture on her part. Still, it is feeling like time for  change.

Here we are at the end of year holidays. It will be full moon in two days, the "long night moon." I'm a Buddhist, and now that my kids are grown, I don't much celebrate Christmas. But it is the darkest time of the year, and that darkness calls out for some ornamentation to offset the long nights. So I found a few festive objects to decorate the jungle cactus in the kitchen, and that is my version of a Christmas tree this year.

I'm going to put my house on the market in January and I am planning to move to Baja. I want to be near the ocean. I want to be in a different culture. In letting go of the flower cottage and moving to Baja, I want to create a lifestyle that is simpler, slower and more affordable.

I have some friends in northern Baja. They are a large Mexican family who have grounded a meditation center in Ensenada for many years. I am hoping that they will help me find my way past the gringo ghettos. I have to learn Spanish. I keep telling myself it will not be that difficult, because I know French. But really, I have to get with it.

I wonder how I will dispose of the many beautiful objects I surround myself with. When this seems too impossible, I remind myself of all the beautiful clothing, chairs, tables, houses, pets, and lovers-- not necessarily in that order--that I have enjoyed and left along the way. Like the orange wing chair I had when I was 19 and lived in NYC, or the blue and white checked gingham pinafore I loved so much when I lived at Cherrymont in the Pennsylvania countryside. Or that thick beaver coat, which was so warm and stylish. I won't get into the lovers at the moment, though the beaver coat reminded me of them somehow.

Accumulating and dispersing. I've already started to take books off the shelves in order to donate them to the library. I will have to be careful not to try to dismantle things too fast. I want to keep the ceramic pomegranate from Italy and the bright blue butterfly. But many things will get passed along to be enjoyed afresh by others. This time of life is a time of letting go. It's good to practice letting go. I am looking around my house and thinking of who among my friends would enjoy certain objects and implements.

 I just read an article about hygge, which is pronounced  HYU-gah.  Hygge describes a way that people cultivate happiness in Denmark, which is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, despite the fact it is so cold and dark in winter. They seem to have a good thing going, so I thought you might like to tune into some of the ways the Danes cultivate their happiness.

Hope your holidays are full of happiness, warmth and love. May this coming year bring beauty, delight and richness of all kinds into your world.

Monday, December 2, 2013

New moon contemplations

Two small figures made of Herend China from Hungary circle a small Tibetan prayer wheel on the mantel

It has been so long since I've felt inclined to share here in any real way that I feel I should be opening the door with a big grin and yelling, "Honey, I'm home!"

Sometimes I learn by eliminating what I do not want. This has been the case recently. I joined the Ashland Chamber of Commerce a couple of months ago, with the encouragement of my business consultant. I am not placing any blame on him. His job is to help his clients move forward with their business. And he is very helpful in that regard. I have enjoyed working with him for the past few years. He has a lot of wonderful qualities. It's not about him. It's about me.

It found it instructive to attend Greeters meetings on Friday mornings at 8:15 and experience the manic and usually sincere energies of such a varied group of humans, all doing their best to make a good impression on each other and also make a living.

I am humbled by what I've experienced there. I feel for all of us, all of us human beings. And there were some magical and delightful moments, not only when the energetic gal in a red evening dress jumped up on the bar during the meeting she sponsored. That was dramatic enough but it was just as sweet to see how people engage each other with humor, props and stories. I was moved to see each of us present ourselves. Every one of us is uniquely marvelous. And it has been my long belief that we are often reduced to confining ourselves by the circumstances of our lives. Attending the Greeters meetings brought that up for me. 

Then I agreed to advertise in a wonderful paper here called Locals Guide. I like the fellow who runs it. I appreciate his philosophy and his qualities. He is a real sweetie. But the closer it came to my interview being featured in the paper (something I was paying for), the more uneasy I felt.

So I had to bail out. I felt very bad about leaving him in the lurch. I did leave him in the lurch and I am not a person who makes a habit of that. While all this was happening, it occurred to me at long last that my heart was really not in it,  really not into promoting my various talents and skills in this way anymore.

I have done it for a long time, and I am weary of it.  I began to think, "Maybe I should just drop it completely." It being the many unfinished creative projects and services I have been concocting for the past 5 years. The musical revue, the individual coaching work, the workshops.

The prayer flags in front of the Tashi Choling temple make a beautiful sound in the wind

I think my passion for shifting the paradigm on aging is a version of saving the world. Of course, it will be great when the paradigm on aging shifts to a more positive one. That's not what I am talking about though.  As you probably already know, thinking he or she can save the world has a certain fairly immense amount of egotism to it. But leaving that aside, the question of egotism, my heart was just not in  it anymore. I was burned out. I had lost the joy and inspiration, and was just slogging along as a responsible adult often does.

Too adult, too responsible. Fortunately, there are many other people who care about shifting the paradigm, so it is just fine if I shift my own attention. And I am.

I am re-imagining the ways I engage in Sage's Play in order to include my own growth and pleasure in the equation.  I am letting go into a new field of experience. And this includes a certain amount of change, loss, and uncertainty. I'm okay with that.

New moon is the time in the lunar cycle for new beginnings. New vistas. Am I retired? Have I dropped out? Stay tuned....