Saturday, July 31, 2010

When Lightning Strikes

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."--Helen Keller

Security is a myth. Anything can happen at any moment. Intellectually, I know this. And there have been times when I have experienced it, the feeling one has when the so-called rug is pulled out and there you are in the midst of nowhere going no place and being nobody, everything you identified yourself by vanished.

I aspire to get comfortable with that. I want to relax about it, open up easily beyond the finite boundaries of my familiar self and life. Something easier said than done, something worthy of practice.

A friend told me that two days ago, after an enormous sound, a blinding experience of light flooded her living room. When it was over, there was nothing scorched or burnt. But it was lightning. Others nearby called to check on her because they saw it strike her home and were concerned for her wellbeing. Lightning can be like that. Powerful, yet leaving no trace of its visit. If you are fortunate. It infuses you somehow, but you live through it, as a childhood friend of my younger daughter did when lightning passed through her body as she swam in a pool.

Sometimes it feels like being struck by lightning to be reflected by one's spiritual teacher. I haven't had the experience lately, but over the past 35 years I have definitely had it. My spiritual mentors have let loose with bolts of shattering insight and effortless, inherently loving snapshots of my unique predicament. I cannot imagine what my life would have been without the presence of my spiritual teachers, beautiful, profound, earthy, humorous and deeply compassionate Tibetan lamas. So many people have never even met an authentic spiritual guide. Or they scoff at the idea. I find it very sad. It is difficult being a spiritual/religious person in a society that is either relentlessly secular or fanatically religious in ways that are inconceivable to me.

I guess that's why I am thinking of India so much. It would feel relaxing to be in a country where thousands of naked sadhus running into the Ganges is their version of a marathon, and where the importance of spiritual practice and development is taken for granted. Maybe I'll travel there one of these days.
Lately, I've been thinking of traveling to India as a celebration of turning 70.

My younger daughter is 28 today. Astounding. The spirit is timeless, but the body is carried along in linear time. She and I had dinner together the other night to celebrate. What a beautiful, deep person she is. I always feel fortunate that she is my daughter. When I was her age, I made the journey from the East coast to the West coast. I discovered Buddhism, healing arts and environmental activism. I wonder what this year will bring to her life.

I'm often reading various stuff. I just finished reading a book about India titled Empire of the Soul. It has some truly marvelous writing about India and the spiritual search. But overall I found it rather dispiriting. It was the writer's distance from and distrust of his spiritual life that got to me eventually.

Yesterday I read a poem by David Wright titled Lines on Retirement, After Reading Lear. I like this part of the poem.

"...Feel the storm's sweet sting invade you to the skin,
the strange, sore comforts of the wind. Embrace
your children's ragged praise and that of friends.
Go ahead, take it off, take it all off.
Run naked in the tempests. Weave flowers
into your hair. Bellow at cataracts.
If you dare, scream at the gods..."

Take it all off. How about deconstructing the self? It's a good idea to practice expanding into the infinite, letting go of the particular markers of the individual life.

Even so, I still have ordinary work to do here, and it is naturally an expression of the sacred.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Letting the Imagination Run Wild, and Talking to the Air

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." ~Michelangelo

"The Possible's slow fuse is lit By the Imagination." ~Emily Dickinson

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." ~Albert Einstein

I like to let my imagination run wild. Being a grown-up can be way too serious at times. And I do have adult matters to attend to. My musical play on aging is finished, and now I am about to raise the money to produce it. That's serious business, and something I look forward to accomplishing within the next couple of months.

But my imagination wants to run wild, too. So I revisited my old fantasy of taking off in a painted gypsy wagon, something my father always talked about when I was a child. And after several days of great longing and looking at pictures of gypsy wagons, imagining packing everything up and taking off, I had a stark revelation. I would not want to take a gypsy wagon out in America. Contraindicated, period. Maybe there was still a rosy glow for my father, but it doesn't work for me. So I put that one aside. It's not as if I have no other dreams and adventures. So I leave the gypsy wagon adventure for folks in England, Ireland and other parts of Europe, where there is culture and tradition that supports the experience.

Last night I went back to my unfinished memoir Songs of the Inner Life, a project I began when I was 53. It has gone through various incarnations as I explored voice and content. Now I am certainly old enough to finish it. And I want to finish it. It is an expression that is important for me to complete.

To me, letting the imagination run wild is profoundly nourishing and exhilarating. My own favorite ways to do it are writing, performing, dancing and singing. Sometimes the imagination wants to play with no outer activity. Then I love letting it run wild while I am lying in the dark or floating in the water or sitting on a hill with a broad vista all around. Talking to the air. Things do show up from thin air. Listening to the air. Resting and playing while doing absolutely nothing at all.

How do you let your imagination run wild?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shift Happens and A Gypsy Wagon Appears

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is - infinite --William Blake

It's good to act as if you're on a vacation, and my town is a great place to do it. It's full of visitors who have come to see plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and to shop and stroll in the marvelous milieu of Ashland, Oregon.

After my third house concert at Tangren's, which was enjoyable and instructive, and after a conversation with my life coach friend Melanie, I decided it would be very refreshing to act as if I were on vacation. Just shifting that way opened things up for me. I felt a bit like these dolphins in the cartoon here.

Yesterday I started the day by heading to the hot springs. The sky and water were blue. A serious and attentive man was carefully watering the colorful hanging baskets full of flowers that ornament the walls and deck of the pool. A father and son were playing together. The swallows, beautiful birds really, were as usual swooping and diving over the pool and into the fields beyond on their quest to find food for their babies nested under the eaves of the hot spring's main building. There were red dragonflies and the occasional hawk. The leaves of nearby trees were shimmering in the sun. In the hot pool, the water was delightful. Lying on my back and floating, I felt my tightness both physical and mental dissolving into the water. Meanwhile, a man gave a woman a Watsu massage in the hot pool, gently pulling her this way and that. All the while her beautiful relaxed face had a faint smile, as if she was seeing angels.

A soak, then a swim in the big pool, then lying in the sun for awhile. This is the life. The very life. I draped my wet blue towel over the back seat of my car and left the hot springs. I ate a delicious marzipan danish. I dropped my compost off at Valerie and Edeltraud's and had some cool tea with them. I sat and meditated for awhile. Later I visited Melanie and had more tea. She was packaging sets of cards to send to various friends. Each card had a beautiful photograph of a flower she had taken. I loved watching her write on the cards, then tie them with thin, transparent ribbons into a packet. Beautiful gifts she was preparing.

It's always a lush treat for the senses to visit her home. The colors, textures, statues, paintings, flowers, fabrics....ummmm....very wonderful. She's a feng shui consultant and her home really shows it.

Yesterday I was investigating what it is that I enjoy and how to infuse my life with more bursts of it, because I focus on creative work far too much at times. I enjoy creative work, but sometimes it gets to be too much work and not enough creative.

In the early evening, I decided to go downtown and just hang out for awhile. We used to do that so easily and often years ago. I got a cup of gelato and sat on a bench outside the ice cream parlor to watch the people and contemplate time and infinity. Among all the visitors, also known as tourists, I saw six locals within the first five minutes. One woman I've known for 30 years sat down and talked for about 15 minutes about aging. Hey, I thought, hang out here more often Gaea.

In the bank parking lot nearby, a guy was displaying a lovely gypsy wagon type of camper he had built on the back of a pickup truck. I went over to look at it because gypsy wagons are often on my mind, and this one looked especially delightful. It had beautiful wood ornamentation, magical windows, one of them round, and was equipped with a bed, storage space, stove, sink and refrigerator. What would it be like to pack up and take off in a gypsy wagon? That's something I've been wondering about for years now.

I could blame it on my father, who used to regale me with tales of how he would get a painted gypsy wagon and we would take off for parts unknown in an adventure that would surely lead us out of mundane reality and into a freshness and freedom most humans long for, and we were certainly among them. My father and I never did that and I have never done it myself, not yet anyway.

That particular gypsy wagon cost too much but the creator said he was going to create others that were more affordable soon. He lives here so I can talk more with him about it. And there's Rima, a woman in England whose blog I just discovered. I recommend your checking her blog of July 7th filled with wonderful images which describes how several old women painted the interiors of their houses in marvelous ways. Rima lived in her version of a gypsy wagon for a year. I'm going to write to her about her experience. I like the idea of living small. I like the idea of traveling around. Hmmm....

That's what happens when you "go on vacation," shifting ordinary habits and perception, inviting a welcome openness. And today is another day, as my mother was fond of saying.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Scanners don't like to choose one subject

Scanners and renaissance people are really the same kind of bird. They have many interests and often they have many careers and many, many creative projects, ideas and plans. I'm a scanner so I speak from experience. I remember how my mother used to say, shaking her head sadly, "You can never finish anything." I did finish some things, just not everything I started. I had so many things I wanted to do! When new fascinating fields of study and expression appeared, I just dropped whatever I had been doing to immerse myself in the fresh adventure. If you think you're a scanner then check out Barbara Sher's marvelous books on how to accept it and turn it to your profound advantage.

Modern culture favors specialists. And that is an understatement. We are pruned and shaped by our society's tendency to homogenize and standardize until our variety, innate curiosity and sense of exploration is fairly well tamed. That's been our model, especially since the Industrial Revolution. Seth Godin writes so well about that in his new book Linchpin.

Being a scanner came up for me as I thought of what I wanted to write about in the blog format, where people often present one subject, and quite briefly too. But I had so many things I wanted to write about! I wanted to write about two books I read recently, Seth Godin's Linchpin and The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, which I read many years ago and had a yen to read again.

Both books are about freedom. Seth Godin's book is wonderful, and I am totally in favor of everyone becoming a linchpin and an artist in the workplace, rather than a replaceable expendable cog. But I have to say that the world described in Yogananda's book exerts a far deeper pull on me. The real-life experiences of saints, yogis and spiritual masters described in Yogananda's book make me deeply happy. Human potential is so much bigger than the small slice we settle for in the materialistic worldview.

Things are always happening all at once. You are reading books, meeting people, going to events, thinking various things, listening to music, dancing. The other day I was sitting in a chair at Tashi Choling, the Tibetan Buddhist temple where I worship. In fact there was a whole group of us sitting in chairs, rather than sitting on meditation mats the way most other people were sitting. Now we're chair sitters. We've been praying together for 30 years and we've grown old. One of us had had a stroke recently. Another was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I have been thinking of those aspects of aging a lot these days. How will we support each other? In what ways can we prepare?

I am getting ready to do another house concert tomorrow night. I enjoy performing. It's part of my calling. I love having permission to be bigger than life, to show more of myself, to delve into mythic dimensions and the various characters that live within me. I love the opportunity to go deeper, to express more fully. Doing more performing has got me thinking about the relationship between the artist and the audience again.

I read something from Downbeat Magazine about the artist and audience. It was written by a jazz pianist. He said that people usually don't feel very free and that when they go to an artistic event, they put themselves in the hands of the artist as a way of letting go into a bigger freedom than they are used to having in their everyday life. He talked about the risk the audience takes. The artist takes a risk too. Art is intimate and that can be risky. But what is the other option? How dull that would be, not to risk anything.

I love the photo I've inserted into this blog entry--the old tree, which stands there in all its years, worn but a steady support for the profuse beauty of the rose bush. Why did I choose that photo? It seems tender to me, the way the rose climbs and ornaments the tree. Tender and alive. And that is how I feel right now. What about you? What is moving in your blood and brain and soul?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Influence and Inspiration

Have you ever sat down to contemplate just how many people have influenced and inspired you over the course of your life? I haven't undertaken it yet in any systematic way, but even casual musing makes me realize that it's a pretty potent subject.

I immediately think of my father, whose enthusiasm for Nature, poetry and whimsy and whose keen interest in metaphysical matters have stayed with me all these years. What about Miss Cartwright, the neighbor who lived across the street with her old mother? Their house was warm, gentle and quiet. They moved at a slower pace than other people in our neighborhood. They seemed to pay more attention.

There were people whose sense of beauty astounded me, people who elevated my heart with their poetry, people with whom I investigated the arcane mysteries of synchronicity and magic. People who taught me about cooking good food, lovemaking and taking risks. People who taught me about generosity and healing. Quite a bouquet of inspiration and influence. I imagine if you take a look at your life, you'll find that you are similarly endowed with a mandala of beings who have touched you.

When I was living in New York as a single mother, life sometimes felt isolated and difficult. Money was tight. Once I asked my friend Lex Hixon for a loan of $100. Lex's life was much more expansive than mine. He was wealthy; he was also very kind. He loaned me the money and I paid him back within a few months. Soon after that, I got a card in the mail from a Quaker group devoted to peace. It said, "A donation of $100 has been made in your name by Lex Hixon." How I cried when I read that. I had become a philanthropist! His gesture had a lasting influence on me.

Years ago, I had a wonderful spiritual teacher named Sister Palmo, an English woman who became a Tibetan Buddhist lama. I never really understood anything about the profound qualities of the feminine until I met her. Up until that time I had been a woman who tried to act like a man. I remember that Sister Palmo once wrote me a note that included the line, "In gentleness is all Dharma." Gentleness. What resistance I had to that! I was afraid of it. Her example shifted me in a very essential way. I began to become comfortable about being a woman. I started to recognize the unique value of feminine qualities.

I never even met many of the people who have profoundly influenced and inspired me over the decades. Writers, artists, healers, philosophers, saints, explorers, social change agents. So many people. It's because we are really so permeable to each other, so interconnected.

One person who influenced and inspired me died the other day. I was very sad to hear about his passing. Dr. Robert N. Butler is often credited with starting the field of aging. I first discovered his work six or seven years ago when I read a report titled Ageism in America, which he was instrumental in developing. It was Dr. Butler who coined the word ageism in the Sixties to describe prejudice against older people. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for one of his books titled Why Survive? Being Old in America. He founded the National Institute on Aging and the first department of geriatrics at a U.S. medical school. I admired him and his groundbreaking work. He left a grand legacy.

I think about the legacy of my own life these days as I sail toward 70. Do you? It's a natural part of aging to contemplate the meaning and the patterns of the years, what one will leave behind. But now it's late. I'm ready for sleep, not for reflecting on my life's legacy, whatever that may be. I want to be fresh because tomorrow I happily head to Tashi Choling to participate in a practice intensive. Ahhhh. That is real delight.