Category Archives: Gratitude

Appreciating the Darkness (Or Happy Holidays!)

I tend to be much more reflective during this time of the waning sun.

I journal, read through old journals, sort through old photos, paint, meditate, revisit favorite well-worn books, think about what I want to experience in the new year and so on.

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The moon from my front porch

In other words, I go deep – reminiscing, ruminating, then reformulating how I want to spend my time on this earth, in this body.

It’s part of living in the rhythm of the seasons, keeping in step with the encroaching darkness.

How do you keep in step with the rhythm of the seasons?

Back on Halloween, my friends and I came together to honor Death, the dead and the season of dying and letting go. We can’t hide from Death, so we might as well face it together, with wine and good food, sharing by candlelight and even a little shouting under the moon.

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My dining room on Halloween

Letting go was more than just a metaphor for me this Fall, as it was the time I had to let my daughter move into young adulthood and I adjusted to a newly empty nest. It was also when I accompanied a dear friend as she transitioned into hospice care.

Face it – we have no choice but to let go  – of youth, health, loved ones, certain ideas about ourselves and what we’re here to do, rigid plans – all of it has to go sooner or later.

Ashes to ashes and so on.

From a Halloween Puppet Festival
From a Halloween Puppet Festival

Halloween confronts death, and the Fall season with its falling leaves reminds us to let go of whatever is dying in our lives.

Then November comes, Thanksgiving in the USA, and we express our gratitude for whatever has remained.

This turkey is happy to be alive and on my car.
Grateful turkey

I let go as my daughter moved into her next stage of life and then on Thanksgiving she and I came together and celebrated our familiar, yet evolving relationship with the familiar foods and rituals of Thanksgivings past. It was nice.

Now Winter Solstice is approaching. The Holiday Season. The days are getting so dark and we are moving so far from the sun we fear we may never see it again.

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This darkness drives us a little mad, and many start to maniacally shop, throw holiday parties and do all they can to be merry, merry, merry.

Some, like me, settle into the darkness, appreciating how snow silences the outdoors, how the quiet turns me inward until I find that the whole universe is inside of myself – the history of the world lies in wait to be found deep inside of me.

Oh, I like to make a little merry too. I go to some parties. I buy gifts. I sing loud in the car to Elvis’ Merry Christmas, Baby. I put up a big, fat Frasier Fir and fill it with lights and beads. I get out the ornaments made by my daughter, from my own childhood, and from my grandmother’s tree. I bake gingerbread cake.

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I enjoy all of that. I like to put some light and sparkle into the darkness, and make it cozy with warm smells and familiar music.

But I also enjoy making plenty of time to settle into the darkness. Reminiscing, ruminating,  and reformulating. Going down deep where I can feel the Divine and appreciate that the Sun is always there, even when we can’t see it.

My daughter will move away and still be my daughter. My friend will leave her body and still be my friend. I know these things by going deep into the darkness where true faith, peace and calm are found.

The sun will take command of the sky again soon, but in the meantime, let’s appreciate the darkness and all that we can find there.

How do you appreciate this time of darkness?

Legacies

  • I’m watching an American Experience episode about Walt Disney on PBS. He certainly was a flawed human, but I’m fascinated by his early designs and models of Disneyland and how deeply satisfied he was when his vision finally came to fruition. He kept an apartment underneath Disneyland’s Main Street USA, and could be found walking the park early mornings in his bath robe.

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  • Six months after Prince’s sudden death, people are flying across the globe to visit his home and studio, hear the music he was creating and absorb his energy. Just as he had hoped.

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  • A few days ago, I met with a dear 90 year old friend, who after serving as an important spiritual and meditation mentor for decades in our city, is retiring out of town. She presented me with beautifully printed booklets of her writings and icon paintings.
  • Meanwhile, a dear longtime friend, my age, has entered into hospice care. The trees around her house are filling with ribbons placed by friends and loved ones, each bearing a blessing for her. Messages are pouring into the house, telling stories of how she has impacted the lives of others and positively influenced her community. I read some of the messages aloud to her, and she smiled.

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As I sit here only middle aged and in fine health, I can’t help but wonder:

What can I do for my loved ones and my community?

What can I create that will surpass me?

I also wonder about the connection between the quality of the relationships we nurtured, the work we’ve done in our communities, the creativity we brought to life – and our comfort with death and dying.

Coming Out of Crisis Mode

After weeks of hospitals and family crisis…today was a new day. A better day.

It started this morning as I was sitting on my deck drinking tea and reading the paper, when an older woman on a little indoor-type scooter, scooted right up to me in the backyard. This was very unusual, as I live in a secluded spot at the end of a driveway that’s about a block long.

I didn’t even hear her, I just suddenly saw her head scooting by the rail of my deck.

She was looking all around and saying “What a secluded spot you have here!” “What big, beautiful trees you have!” “Your flowers are beautiful!” “What a perfect place to sit and have your tea!”

She was like an angel dropping down into my cup of caffeine and saying “LOOK! THERE IS BEAUTY ALL AROUND YOU! JUST LOOK!”

Of course, she also could have been casing the joint for a future crime spree, but I was so happy to have this unexpected visitor, I grinned the whole time we talked about flowers and trees and squirrels and then she just scooted away, back down the driveway.

Afterwards, I walked by the creek and saw this autumn leaf dancing in the breeze. I watched it twirl and spin and then stand still in mid-air! Ah, it was hanging on by a thread – an invisible spider web thread.

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It reminded me of the thread that holds onto me, even when I’m too tired to hold onto it.

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I watched this magical orange leaf dancing on its thread, took pics and felt grateful that I am held with a sense of purpose and peace.

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I next saw the sun sparkling off the water just so and thought “I am okay.” I have no idea what the future holds. I worry sick for the crisis in my family, oh, how I worry.

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But I don’t have to worry alone because there are angels all around, scooting right up to me and reminding me of the beauty and hope in the world. And there is an invisible thread that connects me to all that is.

What unexpected moments have you seen as a love note from the universe?

Breaking Free Into Your Life

Prisons are on my mind these days, both the literal prisons where law enforcement confines people, and the metaphorical prisons which make us feel that we are trapped outside of the life we wish to live.

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(Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian)

A young member of my extended family is currently awaiting prison sentencing – he is possibly looking at 25 years to life. The truth is he was born in a sort of prison – a crack house, to be exact – and was not given the care, education or even basic nutrition to develop his mind in a way that would lead him anywhere but to a life of crime and incarceration. At this point, the best we can hope for him is a correctional facility that will at least provide safety, access to education and decent food. His story is a devastating one.

I, on the other hand, was born free. Sure, I have a few complaints about my childhood, but the reality is that I was given tools to develop my mind and create a life of my choosing. Did I always see it that way, though? Or did I allow myself to feel limited by prisons of my own making?

There were definitely periods of my life when I lived as if I was in a sort of prison. Like when I held onto the desk job way past it bringing me any fulfillment, or when I stayed in a romantic relationship that was harmful to my spirit.

What situations are currently confining your spirit? Can you break free of them?

How can you more fully live and appreciate the freedom that you have?

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Overall though, I think I used my freedom to create a meaningful life and positively impact some of the people around me.

I could have done better and the great news is that I can still do better!

After all, I am still mostly free – with a few exceptions, like the health issue that prevents me from air travel. But I’m mostly free and while it’s common for health issues to create some limitations as we age, it is even more common for debilitating mindsets to confine us throughout our lives.

What limiting mindset have you placed around your life?

Some common self-created prisons I see around me are: deep-seated beliefs that we lack the ability to accomplish what we hope, anxieties that paralyze and lead to inaction, and resentments that cloud our judgment and make us feel that change is not worth the effort.

The Washington Post recently published an article with fascinating interviews of people who were released from long prison sentences one year ago after being granted clemency by President Obama. I highly recommend reading the article, because it reveals an array of attitudes and approaches to new found freedom that can get you thinking about your own life, your own freedom and how you do or don’t appreciate it.

Go ahead, click on the article!

For example, one of the interviewees, Alex William Jackson, who was sentenced in 1999, said:

“It’s natural to be angry. But when I went to prison and had time to sit down and really reflect and internalize the principles of religion, it had a transforming effect on my life. I didn’t take lightly the blessing and gift that the president gave me in commuting my sentence. I came home and I was immediately able to do the things I envisioned doing when I was incarcerated — being there for my mother, being able to establish myself in the community.”

So the question is: What blessings are YOU taking lightly?  What are you envisioning for the next stage of your life?

Another interviewee, Norman Brown, sentenced in 1993, said:

“In April, I was able to go to the arboretum. It was magnificent. We went to the cherry blossoms…When I was incarcerated I would see movies and read different books, and I would say, I want to try that. Walking on the beach, the walking through the parks. The eating out around a pond…Being right up on a flower and smelling it and breaking it off and maybe giving it to your woman. These things, when I get a chance to do them, I’m going to do them.”

How are you making the most of the freedoms you have been granted in life?

I am so fortunate, because I am not writing this from a jail cell or hospital bed, and my health is pretty good right now. Today I am going to use this freedom to swim, write this essay, help my daughter with something, and do some research for a project I’m working on.

You’re free!

What are you doing with this freedom you have right now?