Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Blessing of Friends

"Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." -- Albert Schweitzer

The other day I was contemplating various subjects. As usual I found myself musing about the brevity of life and my unfinished artistic and other projects. Will I live long enough to finish?

Of course not. One always pops the cork in the midst of things. Ha ha.

So I find it useful to practice bouyancy and detachment as well as passionate engagement. It's a paradox like so many things in life.

My thoughts turned to Occupy Wall Street-- a ray of hope for this sorry country. But even the unfolding saga of OWS cannot stop me from entertaining my escapist fantasies, which become more pronounced as the weather gets colder. I get the urge to pack everything up and move to Belize, Equador or Bali. The darker the days get the more attractive a leisurely expat life in some warm clime becomes.

Then my thoughts turned as they often do to the Tibetan master Gyatrul Rinpoche, who has been such a precious example and presence in my life since 1976. He continually lights the flame within me. He reminds me of the kind of being I aspire to become--thoroughly generous, kind without reservations and deeply wise.

I began to think of my other friends. I am blessed with some truly marvelous friends. Their character, qualities and the ways in which they respond to their lives also light the flame within me.

These beautiful flower images were taken by one of my friends, Melani Marx. Melani works with energy and helps people accomplish inner/outer change. She's a gifted healer and feng shui consultant-- she's brilliant on many levels. One of the gifts she shares is her ability to capture pure moments of beauty in photographs.

What a blessing it is to have real friends, who love, appreciate and accept everything you are -- and even give you a bit of constructive feedback sometimes on your habits or activities. (which can be shocking but is so useful when offered with all that love).

I think of my friends as a gorgeous mandala or bouquet. Each flower is gorgeous by itself, and altogether, quite a splendid display.

What is it that I find so beautiful about my friends? I began to reflect on their qualities and realized that my dearest friends are all complex and deep.

They are each committed to the process of healing and spiritual awakening.

Every one of them has a ridiculous and wonderful sense of humor.

My friends are insightful and creative. They are kind and sensitive.

They can be fierce if they feel it is needed.

Most of my friends have a marvelous capacity for storytelling.

One of my friends speaks in language that is so beautiful, rich and poetic, so ironic and incisive that when I'm conversing with her we enjoy a respite from the awful sound-byte style of communication folks ordinarily engage in these days. Instead, we venture into another more delicious way of being, exercising our poetic language muscles to row our boat far out into the ocean under the moon. I love that!

My friends have beautiful gifts and they share them with everyone they meet in the river of life. I am moved by each one of them, by their courage, their openness and their love.

Tesoro de mi vida--my friends are that to me.

One of my friends sent me this beautiful video clip of Mercedes Sosa and Joan Baez singing "Gracias a la Vida." Can you listen to this without crying? It sure moved me to tears the first time I heard it.

Now there are two sages at play!

"A friend is one before whom I may think aloud."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Yes'm, old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of."

- Sarah Orne Jewett

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Poetics of Aging

"As a white candle in a holy place so is the beauty of an aged face."

---the Irish poet Joseph Campbell

The Poetics of Aging conference had already been going on for 2 days when I arrived at the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco where it was being held. Described as "a gathering to celebrate elderhood and value aging as the basis for depth and wisdom," the conference featured some wonderful older artists, authors, psychologists and pioneers in the field of aging.

I missed some of the heavy hitters who were scheduled during the first two days. I was sad to have missed dancer/choreographer Anna Halprin's performance of The Courtesan and the Crone. I missed poet Judy Grahn's reading and the reading of old friend/poet Julie Rogers and her new husband David Meltzer, a well-known poet in the Beat school. I missed Marion Rosen, who developed the Rosen Method of bodywork. Halprin remains a vivid presence in her 80s and Rosen is still going strong in her 90s.

I've been to some big aging conferences, but the mood of those conferences never engaged me the way that The Poetics of Aging did, right from the start. I think it is because of the sensibilities and vision of Dr. Nader Shabahangi.
Dr. Shabahangi is a psychotherapist and the CEO of AgeSong, an organization that operates several residential centers for elders as well as a training institute. AgeSong was the main sponsor of the conference.

I think that if I share a few excerpts from a recent interview with him at the SevenPonds blog you'll understand more about why I was so drawn to The Poetics of Aging, which certainly was a vivid expression of Dr. Shabahangi's philosophy and work.

In the interview, Dr. Shabahangi said, "When I got thrown into the world of assisted living in my mid-30s, I thought, this can’t be true; how is it possible that you have these beautiful, deep elders, tucked away, not part of society? I looked around and saw very few elders on the street, mingling with young people. I have lived in Italy, where you can go to any park and see people of all ages, but here I did not see any of that. I would tell elders, you have all this experience and knowledge; why are you tucked away? Often, I would hear, oh, I’m useless, I have no purpose. This came to me as a shock."

I am pro-aging. I want to age because the more I age or mature, the better of a human being I become."
--Dr. Nader Shabahangi

"I was raised by my grandparents," he continued. "From early on, the highlight of my day was to sit on my grandfather or grandmother’s lap and have them tell me stories about their lives. Just to look at my grandfather’s 70- or 80-year-old face and think, wow, look at how much this person has lived. So from childhood, I had this incredible appreciation and love for elders," he said.

I was very happy to learn of the work of Dr. Shabahangi, whose perspectives on aging are very much like my own. May his wonderful work continue to flourish and may his positive influence expand. What a beautiful person from the inside out.

It was marvelous to have the opportunity to sing in the church's sanctuary with its high, vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. That architecture drew me to give voice to some wordless singing and it resonated beautifully in the space. I also rocked the place with Baba Yaga's Raga, shared a little from my book Songs of the Inner Life and talked about why I am so engaged with moving the musical revue A New Wrinkle out into the world. I had two other opportunities to share songs from the revue at the conference. Wearing the Baba Yaga wig, I played and sang along with songs from our new preview CD. It was a terrific experience on many levels. I enjoyed performing there and learned quite a bit by noticing the ways various people present.

John Gray was one speaker. Author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and other Mars/Venus books, he has been on the lecture circuit for years. He was a skillful, engaging speaker. Even though I agree with much of what he describes about the differences between men and women, the man just pushed my buttons. Bless his heart. I just don't see that the role of woman can be confined to sitting in the well-feathered nest waiting expectantly for her shining hero to return. Be that as it may. Not my cup of tea.

At the end of the first day, I joined my old friend Carolyn Myers and her theatrical colleague Terry Joan Baum, who had just run for mayor of SF on the Green Party ticket. We attended a retrospective celebration of the work of Krissy Keeler, founder of Wallflower Order and Dance Brigade. This was an absolutely astonishing event, far beyond easy description. I count it as one of the most outstanding artistic experiences of my life, period. What a fervent, amazingly varied, provocative artist Krissy Keeler is.

I enjoyed all the speakers at the conference, especially one cluster of presentations by Norm Amundson on metaphor, imagination and creativity really engaged my interest. I loved the improv comedy troupe from Stagebridge Theater and storytelling by Bob Kanegis and others, and the jazz singing by Faith Winthrop, who was celebrating her 80th birthday that day.

It was great to hear about the work of Barry and Debbie Barkan who have created warm and innovative ways of working with elders through Live Oak Institute in Berkeley. (I shared a house with Debbie at the time when she met Barry and haven't seen either of them since then, so it was wonderful to learn about how they have used the past 30 plus years.)

All in all, I think the Poetics of Aging conference was an auspicious beginning. It brought a wide variety of people together in order to contemplate aging in very fresh ways. I certainly hope that this conference is the first of many. I have so many ideas about what could enrich and expand the next gathering.

I was glad to spend a couple of days in the midst of the tribe of pro-aging elders. It was rejuvenating, stimulating, delightful.

The ride back up to southern Oregon was wonderful, too. We stopped in Mt. Shasta where the bright snowy mountain shone in the sun. We breathed in the fresh mountain air and collected some delicious water from the headwaters pool.

It's amazing how much can change while you are somewhere else for a couple of days. When I got home, I saw that all the leaves had fallen from the trees in wonderful deshabille, as this poetic image of Lithia Park by Graham Lewis shows.

That's the news from this cottage. Hope your Thanksgiving holiday is full of love and joy.

I am thankful for many things. For poetry. For awareness. For this strong wind that blows the trees around my house tonight.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A New Wrinkle's preview CD is here!

Monday morning and we are jazzed by the arrival of the first shipment of our preview CD for A New Wrinkle! Here is the back cover with its listing of songs and contributing artists plus a funding appeal and the front cover where the beautiful octagenarian Jonnie is blowing the seeds of a dandelion puff.

The 4 songs sound great and the whole package looks good. We are pleased.

The sun is out, the leaves are drifting down off the big trees on this quiet street, and I am musing about what we've accomplished so far as I prepare to attend the Poetics of Aging conference later this week in San Francisco.

I am very excited about the conference, because I suspect it will be an amazing gathering of exciting older artists, psychologists and other pro-aging people. Ahhhh! I'll give you a report when I return.

We've already sent out some copies of the new preview CD to our current donors and we are selling copies for $10 to local supporters we connect with in person in the Rogue Valley. I investigated listing the CD on amazon.com but decided not to do it when I realized that we ourselves would still be doing the mailing of the CD. So we will let people know about it through the Sage's Play website and other forms of networking.

If you'd like a copy, we can send you one for $14 including postage if you are in the US...Send your check to Sage's Play, Box 484, Ashland, OR 97520. International friends, if you want a hard copy, postage will be more of course.

Now more fun is in the air, as we begin to develop a promotional package that will include the CD. The promo package will contain a series of photos that portray characters in the revue--- I am starting to look at costumes and talent for that. That is going to be so much fun to put together--getting Baba Yaga, Hip Hop Elder and others in the revue out photographically.

And I am planning to send a copy of the CD to a variety of people--people who are well-known older adults like Betty White and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, as well as media folks and possible funders.

Anyone have good contacts at AARP or any other ideas on media to move this forward? Please do share.

Several readers of this blog and my monthly newsletter (you can subscribe at www.sagesplay.com) have suggested that I do a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter.

My fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, is affiliated with another crowdfunding platform called IndieGoGo. I am looking into developing a campaign through them. Crowdfunding is a great way to raise money. We may not be quite ready to apply for foundation grants so crowdfunding could be the most effective way to develop the funds to produce and film the revue.

I always appreciate your taking the time to write to me and present your thoughts and ideas. Thanks for your support of my work to raise awareness about the rich potential of later life and to catalyze positive change in our society's views on aging.

For breakfast this morning with my coffee, I had some of the delicious sweet Italian pumpkin bread I baked last night. That was wonderful, and I enjoyed it thoroughly even though I realize that I must return to my low-carb diet because I am puttting back on some of the weight I lost due to pasta, grains and yes the sweet Italian pumpkin bread.

There have been so many wonderful experiences in the past week or so--there was some ecstatic dancing with Rachel Resch at a NIA gathering. I loved making dinner for my daughter and her boyfriend. I received a beautiful gift of wild mushrooms from my daughter from her recent foray into the woods. Chantarelles, hedgehogs and false matsutakes. What delicious and potent foods they are. I visited my dear composer colleague Laura Rich and talked with her about next steps to move A New Wrinkle forward. I also reconnected with some old friends who run a lavender farm/ garden in nearby Williams, and had a visit with another cherished old friend here at my new home. An article I wrote on A New Wrinkle was just published in the current issue of Elderwoman News, Marian Van Eyck McCain's e-zine. Thanks to the amazing Barb Barasa who cares for my website, we now have snippets of some songs from the revue posted at www.sagesplay.com.

Gary Einhorn, my business consultant, suggested at our last meeting that I tend to focus on everything I have not gotten done yet, rather than acknowledging what I have done. Acknowledge your accomplishments, he gently urged. I've started to do that as part of my work life. I've found that it makes quite a difference. Now my attitude about my work is more balanced with my attitude about the rest of my life (if it's possible to make those distinctions since everything is so interconnected.)

Overall, I am quite aware that I am blessed in so many ways. I experience a great deal of love, beauty, inspiration and peacefulness in my life. That is leavened by the stimulation and challenge of my creative aging work which includes bursts of creativity and invention, uncertainty, wondering how to move forward, puzzling about this and that. Uncertainty, hesitation and puzzling over things add spice to life!

This morning I am sitting here wondering what new treasures, challenges and surprises this week will bring. Maybe I'll dig in the garden or take a walk in the park to break up my work day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Memento Mori: Impermanence and Death

"Life's most awesome event is death...Death is inevitable, but how you die--terrified and confused, or peacefully and with spiritual mastery--is within your control."
--Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

"Forgetfulness of your real nature is the real death;
rememberance of it is the true birth."
--Ramana Maharshi

In my early 30s, I became fascinated with Tibetan Buddhism and began attending teachings given by Tibetan lamas in Berkeley. My
first teacher was Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche. I attended heady seminars populated with leading intellectuals like Charles Tart and Claudio Naranjo. Studying with Tarthang Tulku, I had experiences of non-ordinary reality that opened up my perceptions about what actually is real. I've written about some of this in my book-in-progress, Songs of the Inner Life, but here in this blog essay I wanted to share one particular event that had a profound impact on me.

One day, two young women who lived near Tarthang Tulku's Berkeley residence knocked on his door, distraught. They wanted to talk with the lama because their father had just died with a tormented expression on his face. His daughters found that expression unbearably painful. They came to ask if there was anything that they could do to help their father. Tarthang Tulku went upstairs and came back holding in his hand a round mandala made of several kinds of metal. He gave the young women the round disc and told them to put it on their father’s heart. He gave them a simple prayer to recite. The two women returned an hour later, very happy. As soon as they put the mandala on their dead father’s chest, they reported, his body relaxed, and the expression on his face changed to a peaceful one.

What changed the torment of a dead man to peace? Was it the metal mandala? The power of the lama’s meditation training? The daughter’s faith? Or some mix of all of that? These were the questions I asked in the months after I heard the story. And though no one ever gave me an answer that could pass for scientific, I didn’t care, for the event itself described the kind of science I valued. I wanted to find ways to engage in positive spiritual practices with practical results.

A few years later, I moved up to Ashland, Oregon with a man that became my second husband. We started a healing center. A year later, we were fortunate to help to found Tashi Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist center in the mountains outside of Ashland, which remains a vital source of Tibetan Buddhist teachings today. One of the teachers who visited Tashi Choling in the early days was Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, whose photo is above. He was a truly beautiful, warm, humorous and profound being--a meditation master, physician and artist. One of the teachings I received from him was Phowa, a method of transferring one's consciousness at the moment of death. Chagdud Rinpoche became well-known during his life for sharing the Phowa teachings.

A group of us gathered together in the Tashi Choling shrine room and practiced Phowa meditations with Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche for nine days. It was a delightful time. At the end of the retreat, Chagdud Rinpoche tested each person for the results of the practice. With successful Phowa practice, the fontanelle at the top of the head opens and softens. A straw can be inserted into it. Some clear fluid or blood may come out, too. Every person in the group successfully displayed the results of the practice. Even the young daughter of one practitioner who came into the shrine room occasionally to sit on her father's lap had the fontanelle opening.

I have a great many things to be thankful for in this life, and my connection with Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and the blessing of his Phowa teachings is certainly one. The closer I come to my own death, the more grateful I am for that time we spent together.