Saturday, December 29, 2012

At the Year's End

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.” 
 --Yoko Ono

“Winter is not a season, it's an occupation.” --Sinclair Lewis

Both of these quotes speak to me. It's winter, and the end of another year. A time to reflect on the year that is ending and imagine the year to come.  That is what I will be doing the next few days, while I enjoy the company of my daughter's dog Samo.

This morning I woke way before the dawn. I am glad to be in my dear little cottage, and glad to be breathing in and out and feeling quite fine.  The white narcissus on the dining table are finished blooming, but the lovely coral-colored Christmas cactus and the happy purple blossoms of the African violet enliven my kitchen. I have a box full of persimmons my daughter gave me as she left to visit one of her good friends in Atlanta. I am thinking of making some persimmon pudding to begin with. Perhaps I'll freeze some of them. I love cooking, though I don't usually talk about that much here.

My circle gathering at Skylark Assisted Living yesterday went very well. I will be doing another circle there in January. It is different from gathering a circle in the wider community, because many people at Skylark have various forms of cognitive impairment. Four of the seven people who came to our circle yesterday "had their lights on" as my friend Kate describes it. We reflected, played, and laughed. It was tender. It was also sobering to be with several others who were not easily able to participate or keep track.

Kate is one of my oldest and dearest friends. She lives at Skylark now because she has a hereditary neurological disease that affects her movement and balance. Her mind remains keen. Our friendship has bloomed since she arrived at Skylark. She is a wonderful example of relaxing into a radical life change with grace. She sheds light as she goes. She has paradoxically also gotten more ascerbic as she ages. Her observations on human foibles, including her own, are often funny and trenchant. Bless her. I am so glad that we are friends.

Yesterday on Facebook, I found out about a movie titled How to Live Forever. Made in 2009, it is a documentary whose underlying theme is embracing aging. I ordered a copy and I'm excited about viewing it and reviewing it, too.

I wanted to share this positive aging poster that I learned about on Ronni Bennett's blog Time Goes By. Ronni covers many topics and issues of aging, and her blog is well worth reading. This poster is available from Syracuse Cultural Workers. It was developed by Portland, Oregon elder care attorney Orrin R. Onkin, who writes for Ronni's blog from time to time.

I like the positive messages it promotes. Many older adults internalize negative stereotypes about aging without even realizing it, and like any kind of prejudice, ageism has a negative impact on mental and physical health. I plan to get a copy of this to share at my upcoming classes and circles.

I am preparing for a 3-session class I will be offering in January and February--it is titled Retirement, Refirement and Successful Aging. It will meet at OLLI, our local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which is based on the campus of Southern Oregon University.

I will also be offering a class titled The Adventure of Aging in Ashland, starting in February. It will meet twice a month on Saturday afternoons. I'll share some of what we will be doing in an upcoming post. Or email me. I plan to start offering online courses sometime soon, too.

My friend Serena gave me a hand reading before we left on our Mayan cruise trip together. She says the lines on my hands indicate more travel, teaching, leadership, public speaking, performing and visibility, among other things. All that is just peachy with me. I love working with groups in class and workshop settings, and I love performing, too.  I want to move out with the messages of creative, conscious aging.

In terms of mood enhancement, it is inevitable that I contemplate images of spring and summer during the winter. It keeps me moving along when the weather is gray, rainy and snowy. Both of these places pictured below are quite appealing to me on this cold morning. I am getting an acupuncture treatment this morning. That helps, as do soaks in the hot springs, dancing, laughing and having a meal or a movie with friends, taking a walk up in the hills and getting some exercise at the Y. 

Those are some of the things I do to enhance my wellbeing in the cold season. How do you take care of yourself and bring joy into your life in the winter?

Oh, I also wanted to mention that my talk about creative, positive aging with Craig Comstock for his show Like Wow! is available at our website home page,

That's the story here. I am going to mull over the past year, maybe with some mulled wine. Oh, and the persimmon pudding.

I am going to spend time dreaming up my vision for the year to come.

I am going to welcome helpers, partners and allies to this creative, conscious aging work. I am dreaming up a colleague or partner who is excited about this work and who has the skills to help with marketing, pr and outreach.

Who knows, I could travel to a sunny beach before the winter is over.
Whether that happens or not, I wish each of you a beautiful new year full of blessings and happy surprises.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winter Solstice at the Mayan Ruins

There was a great deal of hoopla and some unfortunate fears about the "end of the Mayan calendar" on the winter solstice this year. There were people who believed that the world was going to end on that day. Actually, the winter solstice marked the shift from one Long Era of the Mayan calendar--over 5,000 years--to the next, and it is predicted that this new era will  be influenced and guided by more feminine and beneficent energies. May that be true.

The Castle pyramid at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan area of Mexico
Well, left to my own devices I never would have dreamed up going to Mayan ruins at the time of the winter solstice. Thousands of New Agers were headed there to celebrate.  It promised to be a real dense crowd and that would mean a lot of concern among the local police. Not appealing.

My friend Serena invited me to come on the trip as her guest, all expenses paid. Serena went to Woodstock and she imagined that visiting the Mayan ruins at the solstice might be just like Woodstock minus the mud.

I thought her invitation was quite generous and it seemed a good idea to get out of the winter cold for a few days, see some Mayan ruins, spend some time with Serena (whom I had not seen in over 25 years) and see what there is to see, learn what there is to learn.  I agreed to go.

The enormous Carnival cruise ship held over 2,000 people and our Mayan Galactic Shift (don't you love that?) group on the ship numbered 200. There was a roster of speakers who talked about the Mayans, spaceships in ancient times, past life regressions, prophecies, intuition and psychic knowing and various other metaphysically oriented topics.

I went to several of the presentations. I especially liked one by author Robert Sitler, who has spent many years with various Mayan groups. I liked his focus on the cooperative lifestyle of the Mayans, the positive ways they raise their children, their connection with Nature, the value they place on respect, humility and gratitude.

I also sat in on a talk given by Newton Kondaveti, an MD from India who led us in a past life regression. (I have done past life regressions many times. I am of the opinion that whatever pops up in my mind is useful information for further growth, whether I believe it is "actually" a past life experience or not.) My experience was being a 14-year old native American boy, going on a vision quest, growing into a healer, living a long life and then dying. When I died in that lifetime, people said "His life was a blessing."   I would be happy if that were said about me at my death in this current lifetime.

From that experience of a healer who was powerful and humble, I recognize the value of humility. In this next year, I want to place my attention on cultivating humility in myself.

We spent a couple of hours at the Chichen Itza archeological preserve. It was far too short a time to relax into visiting that site.  The movement of the serpent can be seen  on the steps of the temple at the time of the winter solstice. I did see that movement.

It is a beautiful place, and I wanted to spend more time there, but being part of our cruise group herd, I had to move along.

Columns of ancient temple at Chichen Itza

I have been decompressing since I returned on December 23rd. The experience was so different from what I would have chosen on my own. That was good in the sense that it took me into new territory, where I had a chance to view the world from a different perspective.

When I got back, I had to work through some serious disappointment about spending so little time at the sites and about some of the behaviors of members of our group, whose "offerings" at the sacred sites seemed so disrespectful and full of ego. Embarrassing.

I can only imagine what the Mayan elder who led our group into Chichen Itza thought of us, people who could not or would not follow the simple directions he gave about forming two lines, walking in rows of four or making a nice round circle.  Instead, I heard a lot of grumbling and irritation about following the directions. Oy vey.  More work to do here, people.

It was marvelous to be in the sun and balmy sea air. I loved sitting on the balcony outside our cabin and looking at the nighttime sky. I am drawn to Mexico, and often think of moving there, so I enjoyed those days we spent in Mexican waters and on Mexican land.

At Chachanaab, a site of the goddess Ixchel

From left to right, Serena, Quicksilver, me and Shima

Serena and I met in the 70s--we are both part of the Church of the Gentle Brothers and Sisters, a group of healers now dispersed in various geographies. There were two other GBS members on the cruise--Quicksilver, who played a major role in organizing our Galactic adventure and Shima, who works with him. It was delightful to reconnect and to spend time with each of them.

I could say a lot more about why I am severely disinclined ever to go on another cruise. How about a summary? Too many noxious chemicals, too much loud noise and music, too much alcoholic inebriation, too many dumb activities, plus the glitzy awful decor. You see, I am a gal who thinks a journey in a gypsy wagon on summer back roads  is just the thing.

I am glad that I had that time to spend with Serena. As she noted, "Who knows when we will ever see each other again?" At this time in life, every meeting is flavored with the fullness of time.

Now I am back in my home ground. Back in my sweet cottage. Back to completing some wonderful creative and conscious aging projects. I'll share more about these in a future post.

Today, I am going to Skylark Assisted Living, where my dear friend Kate lives, and I will be offering a circle gathering. When people are in assisted living facilities, they often have very little or no opportunity to reflect on the inner tasks of this time of life, to be playful, to make deeper connections with themselves and others. They grow accustomed to diverting themselves or to resigning themselves. They become isolated, even in the midst of living so closely with others. I already did two poetry events there, but this event will be a bit different. I have a variety of tools at the ready, but I will have to play a lot of it by ear, and by heart.

I know there are at least two people there at Skylark who are open to what I have to offer. Perhaps it's like performing for an audience. Focus on those two, and bring the others along. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Moon gifts

Freedom, the freedom of an Andalusian horse

Openness-- every moment new

The joy of running freely across a meadow, on sand at the edge of the sea

Being in the body fully and happily

Power, an experience of wholeness, integration, pleasure


Welcoming magic!

Setting sail on new journeys
and partaking of adventures in new landscapes seen with new eyes


Breaking up old structures with no effort

Transformation--going deeper
being more real

Living in the midst of the energy, radiance and mystery of this world with a sacred perspective

Deep stillness

The pleasure of solitude
Spiritual deepening

Playing and playfulness
Being with others in joy and discovery
Dancing, singing, laughing
Spontaneous connection through the heart 

These are the gifts I am giving to myself at this new moon. I am sending good wishes to you that you receive the gifts your heart desires, too. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Matter of Life and Death

In the night, there is time to contemplate matters of life and death
At 71 years, one may find that the subject of  life and death is a regular and ongoing contemplation. At least this one does. Many humans live to 90 or more these days, yet at 71 one wonders how many more years will be given to this particular life.

I wrote a song about death for my musical revue A New Wrinkle. It's titled Death is Right Around the Corner, which it is. Ignoring or denying death is quite usual in this era, but I felt it was essential to have a song about death in the revue.

Part of the song goes:

"Late at night when in the dark
the whole world disappears
there are times when I can hear
the radiant music of the spheres
a resonance that’s calling me
from time into eternity."

I have been contemplating death for many years because I am a Buddhist. Buddhists have an ongoing practice of meditating on impermanence and the immanence of death. We don't know when death will come, the teachings tell us. Last night at 3:45am I spent an hour or two in the dark reflecting on my life and my certain passing from this world. This is something that pops up from time to time in my nocturnal experience.

I like lying quietly in the dark. I am glad to have the time and quiet to muse about dying. And I know that there is a world of difference between contemplating death and actually dying. When I gave birth to my second daughter, I thought in the midst of the oceanic and all-absorbing experience of birth, "Oh, this must be what dying is like, this extinction of everything external into the gigantic pulse of the moment, the sensation of being poised at the edge of life and death. "If only I could practice this experience a few more times," I thought to myself then, "I could become more skilled in letting go."

I didn't have the practice of birthing any more children, but I do practice what I think of as a sacred exit strategy. It's the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Phowa, in which one visualizes one's consciousness shooting out of the top of the head, the fontanelle area, and merging with the immeasurable light, in the form of the Buddha Amitabha. I've been fortunate also to have had Tibetan teachings over the years on the dissolution of the earthly elements at the time of death and various emotional//psychological experiences that tend to arise with these aspects of our letting go.

You don't have to be a Buddhist of course to recognize how important a territory death is, especially in the later years. Carl Jung once said, "Shrinking away from death is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose."  In this film clip, Jung talks about death as a fulfillment of life.

Emma Thompson in the movie Wit
 It so happened that yesterday my friend Diane gave me a DVD of Wit,  a movie starring Emma Thompson playing an intellectual scholar of the poetry of John Donne. This woman discovers that she has stage 4 ovarian cancer. We are witness to her experience in hospital during a radical course of cancer treatment, which has no useful effect on her cancer. We see  her pride, isolation, wit, humiliation, regret and sorrow. We are privy to the crisp impersonality of much of hospital culture. We share in her experience as she realizes that she is dying. This is quite a profound movie, wonderfully acted by Emma Thompson. I highly recommend it.

Isn't it a great puzzlement how we appear in this world from simple joining of sperm and egg, how we come in with particular gifts and limitation, live this life and then vanish, leaving our body behind?

Marcel Proust on his deathbed
 When Allen Ginsberg died, I remember seeing a photo of him on his deathbed, right after his passing. This photo, which I could no longer find in my Google browsing today was published I think by some Buddhist magazine. Though you might find it strange, I found that photo comforting and generous. How like Ginsberg I thought, a poet whose life was so outrageous and provocative, to request publication of his deathbed photo in a culture so fearful of looking at death. I felt comforted by his generous last gesture to me, a stranger and a fan.

Everyone dies. Beauty, fame, wit, must all be surrendered up.

So it seems to me to be a great time for giving things away and practicing letting go. I am grateful to be part of the sage-ing community, as its founder, Rabbi Zalman Schacter, points out the importance of various later life tasks, including preparing for death.

Of course,  it's not advisable to climb into the coffin while still alive! (I will be cremated however.)

These later years can be a time of fullness, deeper understanding, growth and healing. I am such a different person from who I was in my earlier years. Though far from sainthood still, I have learned a great deal about compassion and kindness.

This morning, pouring cream in my coffee, I am immersed in the world of the living.

What shall I do with these years? How shall I live, and where? I think about my friend Shari, who is on retreat in a monastery in Nepal. Retreat is a compelling possibility, as is moving to Nepal, a country so enriched by Buddhism.

But for now, I am sitting on the couch in my cottage in Oregon, looking at this photo of Santa's clothes hung up to air out on the clothesline of a charming old wooden lodge. I imagine Santa is sitting inside by a good blazing fire.

It's the holiday season and the winter solstice is approaching. This winter, some of the buzz is about the Mayan calendar shift. I think I will be learning more about this topic because next week at this time, I will be boarding a cruise ship that will take my friend Serena and I into the Gulf of Mexico and down to Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. The cruise organizers call the adventure the Mayan Galactic Alignment. I am the kind receiver of Serena's gift, being her guest on this journey. I imagine it will be pretty darned interesting.

Isn't life amazing, strange and wonderful? I find it to be so.

Monday, December 3, 2012

After the poetry, more poetry

In the midst of the poetry, out in the wild blue yonder

Yesterday I did a performance reading titled The Poetry of Aging at the Ashland Library.

It went very well, with an enthusiastic audience of 15 or 20 people. Some of them were avid poetry buffs, and knew many of the poems I shared.

The poems were quite varied. Some were reflective, some were humorous or sardonic, some lyrical, and some were laments.

I thoroughly enjoyed sharing that feast of  poetry,  as you can see from the photo here which shows the truth of something Stanley Kunitz said, how "The poem comes in the form of a rapture breaking on the mind."

One of the folks who attended asked me to share the titles and authors of some of the poems I presented, and I am doing so here.

I read several poems by W.B. Yeats, including Sailing to Byzantium, When You are Old and John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore.

I sang Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas. I set that poem to music many years ago and always love to share it with others. Poetry was sung or chanted in the old days, and even today, when you hear poets "read' their work, many still do it in a musical, bardic way. I think that's even more true in places outside of the US, where we have adopted a rather flat-earth relationship to language.

One woman left while I sang Fern Hill. I wish I could have asked her whether it was just too much for her, too strange or difficult. This kind of singing is so different from the style of vocal presentation we are familiar with. I suppose that is one reason why I like it. I long for more variety, subtlety, more open and expansive voice that can lead us into deeper regions of the psyche. Bardic poetry. People used to sit for hours together and hear the deep songs. I am happy that some of us kindred spirits gathered to commune in that way yesterday.

I shared the humorous and poignant poem Forgetfulness by Billy Collins. You can listen to it while watching a  You Tube video.

I shared several poems by Polish poet Anna Swir, from her book Talking to My Body.

I presented Sonnet 73 by Shakespeare, some poems by May Sarton about becoming 80, the wonderful poem Otherwise by Jane Kenyon, Affirmation by Donald Hall, In View of the Fact by A. R. Ammons, With a Wave of Her Old Hand by Kathleen Raine, Touch Me and Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz, Past by Pablo Neruda, Lines on Retirement, After Reading Lear, by David Wright. I shared Break the Mirror by Nanao Sakaki and Maya Angelou's poem On Aging.

We did call and response for the poem Ancestors, the choral piece which begins my musical revue, A New Wrinkle. That was lovely, too. It gave me a glimpse of what that poem may sound like set to music and sung by a chorus.

I learned, as one often does in doing things. I felt fine about the way I shared the poems, but afterwards, I realized that I did not give the audience enough introduction to me or my work with creative aging, or tell them enough about the musical revue I'm working to finish and produce.  I was a bit disappointed in that and I will do better next time.

Playfulness and Wellness
The other day, I somehow (did someone send it to me?) found a video about Stephen Jepson, an active elder who likes relating to life as one big playground, as you will see from this video on Growing Bolder, an Internet community that focuses on positive aging.

Jepson is passionate about playfulness and physical activity and their role in happiness, health and wellbeing. I hope that he succeeds in sharing his methods and philosophy widely. Playful physical activity can build a set of skills that help coordination and prevent falls. Not only that, look at this fellow. He is having a wonderful time. His happiness is quite contagious. He has a Never Leave the Playground website you will enjoy, too.

Here we are in December!