Friday, November 21, 2014

Nakedness is blinding

Asking why appearances matter so much in the material world answers itself: because it IS the material world. Things are solids and shapes and we identify them by how they look.

In my world, where spirituality and creativity merge, I am much more interested in the inside. What composes someone? What is their interior life? Who is the self they don't often show?
Prickly self/paint and pastel on paper

My oldest is currently enamored with costume and fashion design and served as lead costumer for the high school play, for which she performed admirably. The fashion world seems superficial to me and yet, something she said yesterday has me thinking otherwise. "Mom, the thing I like about fashion is that it can be so individual and you get to express yourself." As an artist, I know that is true and surround myself with color and what I call the magic of accessories. I wore orange purposefully Wednesday to boost my energy and brighten my aura on a particularly tiring day.

One morning at the gym this week, I noticed the cute 40-something moms in their neon racer-back nylon shirts and matching shoes, hair looking perfect. Meanwhile, I was dressed in 10-year-old yoga pants, inherited gym shoes, a nondescript t-shirt and bedhead. I really don't care what I look like at the gym. I am there to work.

Apart from the pack of moms, I noticed a perky red-head with whom I had a long conversation about nine months ago. Our daughters attended elementary school together until the family moved. They changed schools, then districts for their daughter, who was struggling. When we spoke, she was excelling at an alternative school and I was lamenting the pressure my then-sophomore was experiencing. The mother opened my eyes to looking at other options for my daughter. She was a good listener and shared her wisdom generously.

So, I decided to interrupt, which is atypical for me, and let her know how much that had meant and that my daughter, now enrolled in a post-secondary program where she attends college classes part time, is blossoming. That the high school stressors were gone.

Her entire demeanor changed when I uttered those sentences. "I really needed to hear that today. I broke away from my friends, I am a rebel and independent, but mostly because I was furious today. Furious with how things are going for my daughter."

We spoke about 20 minutes and she shared how her daughter had missed her friends, so they tucked her back into a small suburban district known for its academics. And she'd sunk back into old anxiety patterns and was a mess. My heart broke. This teen struggles with anxiety, yet is cool as ice on the outside. The district doesn't get this and really is of little help. "They only see the strong exterior and assume she's like everybody else," the mother confessed ... though everybody else, who seems perfect on the exterior, is anything but inside.

We talked about my nephew, a very premature baby who has grown into a wonderful young adult and will always struggle with cerebral palsy. Had my sister not become his advocate, he would have been written off. In fifth grade, the district informed my sister they were placing him on the non-graduation track because, essentially, he impacted their test scores. She had a fit and asked what the point of finishing would be. Wouldn't that district love to know he's taking college classes ... thanks to mu sister's continued advocacy. He's a smart kid with processing difficulties.

This mom's other daughter shares some of those same issues. She's got her hands full.

"You're so open about all of this," I remarked. "I have to be real," she said.

Being real, that's exactly what I am looking for.  No pretenses, walls, fences or facades that project a perfect image. Because we're not.

Chronic pain has taught me that lesson and tomorrow I'll be co-leading an hour workshop on pain as teacher. Our goal is to provide safe, creative community where those struggling can share themselves and be open to what their physical pain may be signaling.

And I keep thinking about this beautiful teen who has learned the trick of pretending on the outside because most of the world isn't ready to deal with its realness. Nakedness can be blinding and awkward instead of real and beautiful.

• How do my insides and outsides mesh?
• When am I real?
• With whom can I be real?
• Am I comfortable being real with Spirit?
• What happens when I am?

as an artist,
I am attracted
by what something
looks like

as a mystic,
I want a closer
look, to
the inside

for that is
where the center
of anything,
can be found

and it's
where God


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Play: Zen and Zest

First snow of the season and I was snuggled up warm and tight inside. With a busy week looming, I was grateful for the break and took the day off with my girls. I greeted their late-morning risings with hot cocoa topped with whipped cream. As high schoolers, I understand these moments with them will vanish all too quickly.

I even skipped my visit to the gym. So, Lily's invitation to play in the snow would get me out and moving. When they were young, I'd bundle us all up and venture out with them, sleds in tow. As they could go on their own, I opted for comfort and grown-up things. Lily has always been the one to journey into the great white and play for hours. It's good for her soul. She'd lose track of time and the cold and I'd have to remind her to come in and relinquish the chill. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes and heart clear. The purity of concentrated play gave her new life.

In preparing to join her, this time, I broke out my oldest jeans, snow boots, thick socks, warmest jacket, fleece cap and scarf and mis-matched gloves. "We're not going for fashion." she announced. She'd found the snowball mold and we each scooped up the fuzziness, forming perfect balls and began lopping them at each other. Neither of us was a great shot, but it was still good fun. In mixing it up, we exchanged tosses. We ran around the paths we'd created and then I decided to stockpile all the temporary weapons I could carry, sauntered across the street and secretly launched them at the boys, my neighbors, playing inside the fence. My throws were thwarted by the trees and my ability, but the message got across. Out of ammo, I scurried back across the street when  a voice boomed "I know where you live." I giggled and responded, "So do I." When was the last time I'd done something like this ... silly and spontaneous, something that made me giddy? Lily hid herself in the pines. Clearly, I was embarrassing.

Sizing up that we'd made a monstrous mess of the perfect blanket in our yard, we agreed on a little hike (normally it would be a walk, but the snow changes everything) around the neighborhood on this beautiful, crisp, clear, cold and sunny day. The contrast was blinding. Gratefully so. As we sauntered past Phoebe's house, she's a twenty-something, I was inclined to ask her out to play. I knew she'd welcome the invitation, but we had plans for an outing, a more sophisticated one (i.e. shopping therapy), with my oldest.

After we'd returned to the warmth and undressed our layers, I checked the time on my phone. Pheobe had posted on Facebook that she'd noticed us walking by and almost ran out, except that she had no shoes on. I knew she'd be up for a snowy adventure!

What is it about play that, as an adult, is so exhilarating? Probably that it is so rare in our lives. The greatest piece of parenting that no one ever mentioned to me is that it gives you an awfully good excuse to play. Before my children, I had long forgotten the fascination of rocks, mud between the toes and exploring things closer to the ground.

In the work I have been doing the past few years, particularly the spiritual aspects, play has surfaced as a major vehicle. It seems a good medium for exploring the deep stuff. I was thinking about this again, yesterday, after my play in the snow and as I plan the next "Pain as Spiritual Teacher" mini workshop for Saturday during the Victory of Light Psychic Festival. I googled research on play and, especially, play and chronic pain, the focus of this particular workshop series. Only more recently have researchers begun paying attention to adult play and even then, have had trouble recording differences between positive play and addictions or negative play.

There are adult playgrounds in major cities. Can you imagine? Hubs strewn with adult-sized toys and hammocks for napping. Sounds wondrous.

We're so slammed in this culture and divided by technology: got a minute, better check e-mail, voice mail, send a text or see what's happening on Facebook. Some of these are not necessarily work, but they aren't really play either. We're still "on." True play allows us to switch off the busyness.

I find that play and creativity are so tied together. Each takes you beyond your mind and into new and interesting, often restful, but sometimes zestful territory. Like my nieces' daughters. One infant is so laid back that she allows us to position her in yoga poses; we call her Zen. The other, a toddler full of life and not wanting to miss any minute of it, we call Zest.

Play grounds us out of the vortex of work that makes us believe the entire Universe rests upon what we do for a living. Play reminds us that we are not God, but human and in need of balance and a break from ego. Play stokes our inner creative fires, loosening inspiration, revelation, wisdom and joy.

Next time you have the urge or opportunity to play: do it!

• When was the last time I was tempted to play?
• Did I sieze the opportunity?
• If not, why?
• How can play help me balance my life?
• Where do I find Spirit in play?

aaahhh, a snow day
permission to take
time off

and just
be with my girls

who really are
well on their
way to becoming
young women

much too quickly

so this moment
is relished and
I am present

when my 14-year
old asks if I'll
come play with
her in the snow

I accept

and it is a gift
for both
of us

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