Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wearing Autumnal Robes

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 -- William Shakespeare

This Shakespeare sonnet is one of my favorites. It speaks so poignantly of the kind of thoughts one tends to have as an older person. The autumn season, glorious and pensive, accentuates our contemplations of impermanence and aging. Or perhaps I should just speak for myself. It accentuates my contemplations of aging and impermanence, of this later stage of life which moves toward the inevitable end. Of course, right now, I am right perky, but as Jane Kenyon noted at the end of one of her marvelous poems titled Otherwise:
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Shakespeare says, "To love that well which thou must leave ere long." What a wonderful line. I loved it so much that I included it in Sex after Sixty, one of the 20 songs in A New Wrinkle, the musical revue on aging that I created with composer Laura Rich. (You can read the lyrics for that song at the end of this post.) 

I have not forgotten about our as yet unproduced musical revue, though I have not written about it in many months. The revue is very close to my heart,  a piece of social change theater with important messages about the power and beauty of aging. I imagine it being well produced and shared widely. I hold that vision steadily in my heart.

Yesterday Laura Rich and I went to see The Tempest at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was a gorgeous production. Great acting, costumes, set and choreography. Completely delightful. Of course, I loved spending the afternoon with Laura, who is very dear to me. My imminent leavetaking has galvanized meetings with other friends, too. I had lunch with dear Barbara C. the other day, too, and spent time with Lisbeth as well. 

I'm not sure whether I will return to take up life here again, or whether I will decide to live mainly in Mexico. I imagine that is why my friends are wanting to say goodby, not knowing when we will meet again. The flurry of get-togethers with friends reminds me of how fortunate I am in that territory.

Up the street from where I am staying with Franny, another woman whose friendship I am grateful for, there is a lovely house, elegant and warm. The folks there have put a skeleton who sports a big feathered hat on their porch to welcome the Halloween season. Halloween is well-celebrated in Ashland. A wonderful parade of children and adults in childlike moods appears on Main Street, followed by dances and other events. I will be in Guanajuato then, settling into Aunt Lucy's Guesthouse. Today, that seems a little surreal, as I look around at my messy half-packed room. It will be real enough in a week, when I board the plane.

Early this morning,  I read a message on Facebook from a young woman I have never met. She is a friend of a friend. She was sounding quite desperate and suicidal. I had to write to her to encourage her to go on, to relax into the darkness and befriend the one inside who is so sad and scared and angry. I hope she finds the help she needs to climb up out of the abyss she's in. I really do. I am praying for her. She is on my list.

Every day there is something. A friend, a family member, a stranger. Today on the bus a man who sat nearby told another man that his daughter had just been stabbed 5 times by her former fiance. "It's hard," he said. "She's in the hospital in Eugene in intensive care. One stab hit a lung, another her heart." 

Suffering is pervasive. I feel for that father, for the young woman, and for everyone, because we all suffer. And yet, and yet..... In a recent teaching in the Bay area, Khenpo Namdrol uttered one sentence that shocked me open. "There is no suffering." This is the work. This is the work. Having an expansive, open view and also not turning away from suffering. 

There is a story of one Tibetan master who never stopped crying and I can understand why. And yet, and this difficult time on the planet, I aspire to maintain an uplifted way of being in the midst of everything. I aspire to that, but it is not easy sometimes.

This Tibetan calligraphy was done by the previous Karmapa, and it is the word Compassion. It is a beautiful reminder of what a boundless quality compassion really is.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
        ---Dalai Lama

"If your compassion does not include yourself, 
it is incomplete."
  ---  Jack Kornfield

The Radical Age Movement

If you have been reading the Sage's Play blog for awhile, you know how passionate I am about shifting current attitudes about aging to those that are more positive and uplifted. 

I want to share news about a new website called The Radical Age Movement created by Alice Fisher MSW, who works in the office of New York State Senator Liz Kreuger and Sheila Roher MPH, a veteran of the feminist and LGBT movements. Both women see aging as an issue that requires a social movement approach to catalyze change. 

I have always felt this way too. That is the main reason why I created our musical revue A New Wrinkle, to communicate issues and topics in a format that could reach a lot of people. 

It is great to see the work of Liz and Sheila expand and gain a wider audience. Take a look at what they are doing. It is exciting to see more and more advocates of radical, positive, creative aging appearing....the more that happens, more easily change is gonna come.

Here are the lyrics to Sex after Sixty, a song I wrote in response to hackneyed popular attitudes about sex and intimacy in later life. Sending a warm smile to each of you, wherever you may be.

Some old people are like Sophocles
They think it is a big relief
That as they age, libido leaves.
It’s just as well, some will say.
O lalalalala
“Too old for that. They’ve had their day.
Their sex life’s in the past. It’s gone.”

Correct me if you think I’m wrong
you don’t expect the ancestors
to roll out in the meadow grass
under the trail of shooting stars
voluptuary luminaries.
That’s how much you know
about love’s  glow—shine.

Peace to those who find it muy placido
To be released from their libido
And to those who still smoulder—a little bit slower—
While doing the fandango and tango
with their well-seasoned mango
from here to Durango.

Don’t you think it’s good news
that pleasure’s not reserved for use
the beat goes on
so even when you’re old
you still like your jelly roll? Uh huh.

Ahhh s-e-x….a passionate embrace
a gift that opens out to brilliant space.
Within it all, this is our song
“To love that well
which thou must leave ere long.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

In the Midst of the Mystery

Full moon over the mountains, 3 Sisters, Oregon

I Looked Up

I looked up and there it was
among the green branches of the pitchpines -

thick bird,
a ruffle of fire trailing over the shoulders and down the back -
color of copper, iron, bronze –
lighting up the dark branches of the pine.

What misery to be afraid of death.
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.

When I made a little sound
it looked at me, then it looked past me.
Then it rose, the wings enormous and opulent,
and, as I said, wreathed in fire.

                                                                                 --Mary Oliver

People are telling me that they want to follow my adventures. The ones I will supposedly be having when I start traveling. What about the adventures that I am having right now? My homeless, car-less woman adventures.  I am walking everywhere and also taking the bus, which makes me feel I am in a new town, rather than one I have lived in since 1977.

A beautiful moment during Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal's teachings at Tashi Choling.
It's slower moving around this way. You have much more opportunity to look at the sky and the clouds, what's growing in people's gardens, kids playing ball. Everything seems a lot more immediate. Today I got lost. I was on my way to get some bodywork. Two words: Beth Heller. She has long experience and combines Feldenkreis and Aston patterning work. Amazing, subtle, effective work.

Anyway, I was on my way to that appointment, walking up a steep hill and apparently I made a wrong turn. I saw a man who was polishing his truck. He looked like a good guy and I said, "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Peachy Street?" He must have thought I looked like a good woman because he said "Oh, you're a long way off. Let me give you a ride." I was happy to accept and he got me to the appointment on time, and in good company.  When I thanked him, he told me with a smile, "No good deed goes unrewarded."   He was a real mensch.

Later I ate some sushi while I waited at a bus stop at the south end of town. I wrote some poetry on a receipt from the grocery store. On the bus, I met a woman who lives in Estes Park, Colorado. Turned out she taught at Eagle Rock School, where my daughter attended high school. This doesn't happen when you are in a car.

I don't think of myself as a traveler, though I have been to a few places, including Japan, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico and various states in the US. For the past few years I have been telling myself I have to get out and explore the world a bit more to see if there is another place I might live more affordably. I am very fond of Ashland, Oregon and it feels right to be taking a break.

It is hard for me to imagine living away from Tashi Choling, the Tibetan Buddhist center I helped to found many years ago. Especially as I age, I want to have the companionship and friendship of others who are on the same spiritual path as I am. And their support at the time of my death, which is an important time. Speaking of adventure! Wheee! Nothing can match death for adventure, except maybe birth.

As Mary Oliver says it is wretched to be afraid of death and to believe only in what can be proven.  I have never had much problem with the second part. I don't think I am afraid of death, but I would prefer to die in the midst of my spiritual community. So is it likely I will relocate to Mexico? Probably not, unless I find a congenial place where there are other Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, which there are in Ensenada, Cholula and Mexico City, according to my current research.

Why does everyone equate travel with adventure? Is it because we become so accustomed to living our everyday lives in our familiar environments that we lose the crisp and surprising qualities that can occur in travel? I think it must be that. And we are longing for new vistas, new peoples, new dances, new foods, new and strangely wonderful landscapes. These elements, we feel, will teach us new things about ourselves. I'm sure it is all true. As Danny Kaye once said, "To travel is to take a journey into yourself."

I will be in Guanajuato for Day of the Dead. I know only a little about this ancient holy day. Maybe that's good. I know it is about honoring the ancestors. That could be enough to begin with. I can learn more.

I know very little Spanish. Since I like communicating, that makes me a bit nervous. I will learn some Spanish. I can learn more.

Mi siente muy feliz!

Yes, and probably I will meet a lot of other people learning Spanish, too. Who knows who I will meet?
Hopefully, some of them will be marvelous.

I know absolutely nobody in Guanajuato. That is bound to be interesting. One reason why I am taking this trip is to challenge my limitations and stretch my imagination. So no problem not knowing anybody, right? Right.

A street in Guanajuato
I will be staying at Aunt Lucy's Guesthouse. Did I choose Aunt Lucy's Guesthouse because the name sounds so comforting and reassuringly friendly? Well yes that was part of it.

I am waiting to see whether Aunt Lucy is around my age. I have a hunch that she is.  She speaks no English, but everyone says that is not a problem.

Here's one person's comment: "Aunt Lucy was very kind, always helpful; we spent hours talking about each other's life, she is a well educated person with lots of knowledge, she's a life counselor, in just two days that I stayed there I really feel affection for her, I felt like home. I give her 20 out of 10, without a doubt the best part of being in Guanajuato was to meet her."

So this and other similar comments make me feel that I am going to be settling into a good place in Guanajuato for a month stay. And that's grand.

It's past the autumn equinox, and in the northern lattitudes the light is decreasing. What will it be like to be that much further south in the winter season? I am looking forward to finding out.

I will be in Guanajuato in November and Oaxaca in December. I want to find a beautiful beach place for January but so far everything I see is beyond my budget.  I am hoping I make some good connections in that regard once I am in Mexico. Or if any of you readers have any ideas, do tell.

Last but not least in any way , how wonderful that the 17-year old Palestinian woman Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize! It is a good reason for women to dance around the fire. May peace increase throughout the world, and may it begin within me.