Monday, November 29, 2010

Lonely, but not alone

I am re-posting this as I have submitted it to a contest; a link for that follows.

lmost a year ago exactly, I took off for a week in Italy by myself.

And I haven’t really even begun to process it. It was rich and wonderful, lonely and painful all at the same time.

If you’ll indulge me, I think I may do some of that here because I know there are lessons to be uncovered.

I remember the last wave to my daughters and husband as I turned my back and headed for the airport tram. Bittersweet because I was leaving them, but exhilarating as I was accompanying myself on what I hoped would be an adventure of a lifetime.
This is my dream
This is the dream of many others unable to muster
whatever I mustered to be here
I’ll remind myself of that when I feel alone

Those were some of the first words in my journal.

Immediately I met my seatmate Marco and we talked nonstop through the flight, the night, the meals, Charles de Gaulle Airport and, finally from the same gate, where we parted. He, to Genoa and me, to Pisa. Such a gift, only to be ripped away. His English was impeccable, providing me with a grand illusion: that I would be understood.

Two plans, three shuttles, two trains a bus and a long, uphill walk before I entered my Florence home, a quiet convent – formerly a villa – on the outskirts. That sentence hardly conveys the journey. No one I encountered in Florence spoke English [to me], although I purchased a timed bus ticket, eventually climbed aboard (another long story) and, in desperation, held out my map to an Italian woman who anxiously shoved me off somewhere.

Somewhere on a deserted street corner. I entered the scooter shop to a frown when I spoke English after the customary “Buon giorno” greeting, but elicited a smile and pointing finger when I drew out my map. Outside, I discovered street names are embedded in the sides of buildings. Never mentioned in 
any of the travel tips I had poured over.

Weary, but not broken, I picked up my bag and began to climb the hill not really knowing where I was going, when something caught my attention. A sign written in English in the back window of a parked car: “I am with you.” I was too stunned to even think to take a photo.

knew I would not be alone on this strip.

A half-mile later, I smiled as I spotted the big iron gates of the convent, entered and was received in Italian. They were waiting for me and the nun even taught me a couple of Italian words: giardino/garden (where I think she said I might want to unwind) and verde/green (the door I would enter after hours).

She led me down a long corridor to the very end and opened my door. It was perfect. Small, intimate, welcoming. Things I had not yet experienced in Italy. I dropped my bag, threw open the heavy shutters and teared up at the beautiful lawn and call of the birds. Even the bathroom overlooked a small city of terracotta tile roofs. Breathtaking: all of it.

I had arrived.
• What is a literal or metaphorical journey to which I have been called?
• How did I respond?
• Who accompanied me, even if I didn’t realize it in the present?
• What gifts/riches did I experience?
• What hardships?

This post is an entry for
A Language Learning Blog Contest hosted by

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The fresh act of forgiveness

It's the tail end of a beautiful Thanksgiving Day even thought the rain has kept its current tempo of taps on the roof since I awoke and the temperature spirals downward. My internal fire has been stoked.

My sister and her family, which is quickly becoming extended with the boyfriends, and my parents met us an hour away at the house they just purchased and are readying to rent. We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to christen the new place before it's occupied by others. We had to import everything, yet there was a simple charm to having only the basics, mostly including each other.

We moseyed back to our house for dessert and a jam session with all interested picking up an instrument of sorts from the French horn to a plastic accordian, rain stick, xylophone, baby grand, lute, saxaphone and recorder. There was more laughter than music, but I think that had been the point.

The gift, however, for which I am most thankful today is a six-sentence message from someone apologizing for something I never quite understood, but had accepted as just the way things are. It blew me away and at the same time opened the door for me to apologize for something related in which I participated, but never felt good about. No sooner had I sent that reply than I read a friend's blog* on forgiveness with a profound insight:

“Forgiveness is a condition in which the sin of the past is not altered, nor its inevitable consequences change. Rather in forgiveness a fresh act is added to those of the past which restores the broken relationship and opens the way for the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven to meet and communicate deeply with each other in the present and the future.  Thus, forgiveness heals the past, though the scars remain and the consequences go on.”   ~ Douglas Steere (Quaker)

A fresh act. I believe that's what the writer of my message created in her apology: a fresh act. I could never have asked her to apologize; she just did. And in doing so, allowed me to unburden myself of something I never thought I could. This is a person with whom I had desired to get closer, but the wall was rigid and high. Now it seems she has disassembled that barrier.

What if every day, every conflict, slight or ill word prompted a fresh act? The world would be a very different place. Maybe I can attempt my part.

• What are my thoughts on forgiveness?
• What is my experience with forgiveness (as forgiver and forgivee)?
• Has there been a time when it arrived unexpectedly?
• How did that alter the situation? Me?
* How can forgiveness lead to gratitude (thanksgiving)

My heart is large and wide and open.
Pulsating, flowing and oozing
with love, compassion and energy.

Yet, deep down. Way down.
Underneath a lot of stuff.
Lays something dark and hard.
Discarded, forgotten, untended.

On this day of family, food and warmth,
I received a gift from such a far-away place.
Unexpected, unknown and unelicited,
you offered it. Gave me something so
very big that pried the hard space loose,
allowing me to enter it, remember and tend
that wound. Creating a new space for love ...
love for you, myself and others.

It is a true day of Thanksgiving!
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

* My friend Iris's blog link

Monday, November 22, 2010

My old friends: furry and crusty

Last week, I drove my 17-year-old cat to the vet, who happens to be an old friend from college. I really trust him.

My cat has been declining and it was time to get him checked. I really live this furry old guy. We've been through a lot together: a miscarriage, the deaths of both my in-laws, the births of my daughters, the loss of our first cat, stressful situations in which he taught me to relax just by sitting beside me and letting me stroke him, eliciting his lovable purr. I also know he's a healer and has offered himself to help me. I imagine if he were human he'd wear a bow tie and wire-rimmed glasses.

I first noticed him in our yard with a look-alike. They'd romp and play ... at a distance. As winter set in, they sat rump to rump like bookends on the wicker love seat on my front porch. Then one day, he looked at me through the glass door as pathetically as you can imagine. I fed him and the rest is history. I never did find out what happened to his sibling.

He never has liked the trip to the vet and it's always such a fight to get him in the cat carrier and I figured neither one of us had the strength to engage in that battle this time. So I bought a harness and leash, gently set him in a small laundry basket with towels, placed him on the front seat and attached the leash to the door. He snarled his low, angry growl the entire time, pacing and jumping from front to back, hiding in the wells of the inside of the car. A time or two, he placed his head on my lap. It was not an easy drive, particularly since the vet is downtown Cincinnati and it was raining. I paid special attention to the Columbia-Tusculum curve on Route 50, not wishing to wipe out. Fortunately, he never urinated as I had expected.

He was a mess waiting to be examined and through the check-up: heart pounding, spit frothing at the base of his lips. So was I, praying this trip would not end like the last, when I had to leave our female cat overnight for tests and she expired there. I was under strict orders from my girls to bring him home "no matter what."

Well, my crusty friend rolls in, greets me as a long-lost friend, but also wheels directly to my cat. Because he lives and works from a chair, my friend seems to be able to psychologically "lower" (I don't mean that as a slight; animals often get a lot more than we do) himself to the level of the animals for whom he cares. He talks to them the whole time, as well as answering any questions I may have. Animal or human, no difference.

He starts by opening the cat's mouth and announcing it's pretty nasty in there. I chime in that between kids and parents who have been somewhat ailing, I don't have time to brush the cat's teeth. He chuckles and moves on. After the exam and my meticulous litany of symptoms, he announces a diagnosis. "I'll check with a blood test, but I think he has hyper-throidism, which is easy to treat and, really, he's in amazing shape for a cat this old."

Just what I wanted to hear! I tell him this cat gets a lot of loving attention and in some way, he acknowledges that may be why this cat is in such good shape.

While we await the blood-test results, he offers to show off his new clinic. "It's 11:30 ... not too early for a brewski, we can have one while we wait." It's an offer I can't refuse and reminds me of the time in my life when I really knew this guy ... back in college. "Just one, I have to drive the cat back home." So we re-bond over a beer in the surgery room and I tease my friend that he reminds me of House, the snarky, not-so-nice genius doc on the tv series. "I'm not that mean," he insists with the intonation of it being a question. "No, you're not" I agree.

When he reads the test results, he shouts "Bingo, hyperthyroid and NOTHING else." I am so relieved and in my giddyness snap back: "See, you are like House, making the right guess!

The only ramification is the cat and I must figure out how to get the daily pill down without a tussle. NO big deal, really. And the ride home from the vet was much smoother. Perhaps the car seemed like a picnic compared to the clinic and the cat perched himself on the back seat and remained there the entire trip home.

He and I bonded more deeply over this trip. And I am breathing a sigh of relief and gratitude that this friend, this companion, will be in our lives awhile longer. And also for the reconnection with my crusty college buddy.

• What relationships do I have with animals?
• How has that made a difference in my life?
• What type of reciprocity is there?
• When was the last time I connected with an old friend?
• Do I express gratitude for the friends -- of all kinds -- in my life?

furry guy and I
go way back

before kids
the third cat

beyond the first cat

we've weathered
a lot together

he's been
a most

when I asked
my shamanic
counselor why
this cat would
take my pain
for me,
he simply says:
"Because he loves you."

And, I him.

Long live
Him Kitty!

* We did not intend to keep our first stray cat, so we gave her a generic, don't-het-attached name: Girl Kitty. She and the name stuck and when the male joined us, my young niece dubbed him "Him Kitty."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More than just a name

What’s in a name, specifically, my name?

Yesterday at a memorial service, someone I knew well a long while ago could not remember my name. I was somewhat stunned, but masked it. Had my husband been with me, I am certain he would have remembered. Perhaps I was out of context. Several weeks ago in a water-aerobics class I have been attending for several years, although this instructor’s tenure is closer to a year, she played the name game pointing at individuals around the circle. She knew most names, but not mine. It instantly made me feel separate. I was surprised because we had had several deep conversations and sharing after class; I always call her by name. 

Both experiences touched some deep hurt and longing in me.

I noticed I know so many people at my little gym, know them by name and use those names. Not many reply back so personally. This, I observed, after the water-aerobics experience, and yet it did not bother me. I was merely watching.

When I met with an editor recently and I compared my spiritual journals to Carl Jung’s Red Book, she remarked: “His is about who he was, yours is the what.”

My spiritual director/shamanic counselor intimated that my desire to publish a book may be rooted in acknowledgment. Granted, he didn’t say that was the entire push. He also said I was be struggling with identity … who I am right now (my take anyway).

All of these moments strung together contain a message I am attempting to decipher.

My current work is more about WHAT is unfolding than the WHO as the editor suggested. She also urged me to articulate more clearly what the one take-away for readers is in my book.

When I blurted out to my counselor that I didn’t know what the next step was, he responded: “Yes you do. You have a map. You wrote the map. It’s all in your book.

So right now, I am content being the maybe nameless what and not so much the who. The what that God is shaping into the who I will become.

• How do I feel when I am recognized by name?
• Do I attempt to do that for others?
• How do I feel when I seem anonymous?
• What do I need to be acknowledged in my life?
• How comfortable am I in my own skin?

at the gym

are done

body is
and clothed

and a
I haven't
seen in
the corner
with a
BIG smile

she greets
me like
a long,
lost sister

I call her
by name

I sense she
has forgotten

this time,
it doesn't

she sees
me for who
I am:
than just
a name



Friday, November 12, 2010

Growing my own soul

A painting I did years ago haunts me lately. I did it without thinking; the way I create most of my work ... well the stuff that matters most to me, is self revealing and, often, universal.

It's someone in a downward-dog yoga pose with a colorful and huge, embryonic bubble or sack of something on their back. It's more the focus than the person, who appears insignificant. At the time, I interpreted it as energy ... positive energy. But it's been revisiting me and I recognize – with the help of my shamanic counselor – it's me and the bundle is draining me.

Gary, my massage therapist and counselor, has taught me about ancestral patterns and energy. How we can inherit family archetypes, unknowingly passed from generation to generation. Often, they aren't helpful.

This sack has been asking something of me that is not mine to do and yet, because it seems it's always been there, I have, like a good girl, complied. Gary explained that family souls way back can attach to living members if they did not grow their soul to wholeness within their lifetime. So they seek another on whom to complete THEIR work. If asked, they would not mean to burden one this way. Release calls for sending it back to the one who gave it in the first place and expressing gratitude for giving life. We did that. And I feel so very different. As if I can do my own (which is plenty; more than enough for a lifetime) work and not some undefinable thing that has controlled me. I am prayerful that I can maintain this awareness and not slip back into the "locked" pattern. Nor do I wish to pass it on.

I have no animosity for from whomever this originated, but rather a sense of sadness and wanting to know more about this person, their journey and why their work is unfinished. It's also a lesson to me to do the work of soul growth and not leave it to someone else down the line.

• Is there anything in my life that directs me that I do not understand that could be a family pattern?
• How can I explore that, be more aware of the archetype and return what is not mine to do?
• What would that re-patterning look and feel like?
• How can I remain unlocked/freed from the burden that is not mine?
• Can I express gratitude to the source for giving me life?


has always

I'm not sure
I know a time
without it

it forces me
to behave
in ways
that are foreign,

now I understand

is different

I am freed
my own

to burden
my progeny

Monday, November 8, 2010

Unilluminated and steamy silence

Sometimes you have to enter the dark to be in the light.

That thought attached itself this morning during my regular after-laps-no-lights sauna visit when interrupted by another. She entered, then automatically flipped the switch. "Don't you want some light?" "No," I responded, "I prefer the dark because the light makes my sinuses worse," I weakly – and somewhat untruthfully – mustered.

Couldn't quite fathom telling a complete stranger why I like the dark. Maybe I could have. She countered with: "I don't really like it either. Guess I just do what everyone else does, to turn them on, without thinking. Maybe we should be rebels." I thanked her for honoring my request and asked if she wanted them on when I left. She didn't either.

I sense she would have understood that the dark, to me, is comforting and not a place to fear. It's a place to slow down, be myself, find myself and often find God. I have mentioned before that I consider this cedar sauna my prayer box. One I can actually enter ... usually alone. I have also connected frequently and deeply with others over conversation or just sitting in the unilluminated and steamy silence.

Today's experience reminds me of an extended silent Quaker worship I facilitated a couple of years ago. Another Friend and I arrived early and hunkered down for the duration of over two hours. This was something I was very much looking forward to, not dreading. A few streamed in later, but before then and just as the worldliness was beginning to fade and I was traveling to that foggy zone where my mind sleeps and something else takes over, someone walked in and asked: "Do you want light?" I had not even noticed we were worshipping in the natural light. Again, I said no. And this internal answer to that question arose:

Do you want light?
[a voice interrupts my worship in darkness]

Only the natural
I prefer darkness
to hibernate
to germinate.

being in the light, exposed
means pushing against
the grain and takes
all of my strength

In silent worship,
First I become bodily numb,
slowly the pain drains.
I feel the energy – God’s love –
creep back in.
The stillness is recharging.
As I recede inside
myself, I can detach
from my life . It loops
like film reels. I
watch it pass.

A sudden heavy sigh and
another layer of pain
is released. My body
grown lighter – more
deeply still. My roots
attach more deeply.
My heart’s burdens
are lifted and heard.
I begin to feel more
whole. More able to
be with God.

I am re-awakened into
a new place. A place
of wisdom, healing, love. A
place where I can be –
am with God.
Now, I can listen – truly.

Quakers spend so much time concerned with the light that some neglect the flip side. I am drawn to the traditional Quaker phrase "being convicted by the light," which means to let God's light shine into the dark recesses of ourselves. Any exploration into that darkness shines a light of some type: awareness, introspection, assistance, gratitude, healing, recovery. I don't claim that it's easy or pain free, but it does aid us in becoming more of who we are when we address the shadows, maybe even lingering: resting, waiting, percolating on the journey toward wholeness.

• What does darkness mean to me?
• Where do I find more comfort: in the dark or light?
• Why and is that a habit?
• What happens when I move out of my comfort zone?
• How can the darkness lead me to light?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Unencumbering myself

I feel as if I am on the warpath. The warpath of NOT being diverted into energy-draining tasks that are not mine to do. My spiritual friend helped me see this yesterday when she likened the distractions and encroachments on my creative life and real work to the tributaries that re-direct my energy from the main flowing path that's straight ahead. It has been a welcome visual.

It has been more than merely an image. Last night I boldly stated that I could not perform a task I felt was being shoved in my direction. I am also owning my responsibility and guilt in not saying no when I should.

Today, I was shopping. Something I only enjoy occasionally and never in a mean-spirited crowd ... such as are forming now in the pre-holiday rush. I was already over stimulated and incredibly tired before the checkout. So when I spied a hole, I sped into it ... not in any obnoxious fashion, just with the urgency of being very focused on ending an unpleasant task. Hey, there was an open path and only one person waiting. I was curtly told from the adjoining aisle that I was to move to the line at the left, which was serving both sets of cashiers. It took a minute to register because it made no sense. There were two distinct lines with a barricade of dvd shelves between. But the woman was adamant and I complied. She was polite after realizing I had not intended to barge my way ahead. The woman behind me did the same and we both shook our heads in confusion.

Then the shopper from hell arrived and would have none of the nonsense. No way, she said, shaking her head in an overtly menacing way. It was as if it was MY turn to perpetuate the funky line organization, so I explained we had all tried to do that, moved over in line and been waiting. She wouldn't budge, then turned to me and said, "Sorry." I replied, "I don't think so."

Usually, I would have ignored her, maybe cursed under my breath. Today, I said it out loud. And it felt good. Really good. And any anger toward this woman dissipated. I'd had my say.

I did something similar in line at the Redbox rental a couple of weeks ago and astounded my husband. I was selecting a movie when a woman emerged from the passenger seat of a car and instantly began tapping her long, flawless pink nails on the disc covers. For crying out loud, I thought, she just got in line. And the movie choices were not cooperating. So I looked back and said: "Do you want to return a movie or something" with a not-so-nice emphasis on something. I kind of shocked myself, yet was also tickled. I so rarely speak up to rudeness. She said yes and I let her ahead (no movies were jumping out at me) and we had a pleasant exchange.

These weren't angry rebuttals, just honest ones that helped me turn my frustration outward by vocalizing it. Typically, I would have let it stay inside and bounce around in a not particularly healthy manner.

Typically, I say yes to tasks I have no interest in, but feel it either won't get done or not done as well without me. Just about a year ago at a retreat, I had the epiphany that any task should not be undertaken unless I can do it with love in my heart. A few weeks ago, someone I met at another retreat and with whom I shared that inspiration said it had meant so much to her.

Now I'm walking the walk and letting my stream flow forward without side branches to dilute my work, my life and energy.

• What's my usual response to a request of my time or gifts?
• Do I have any framework for testing whether it is, indeed, my work to accomplish?
• How does taking something on I really don't want affect me?
• How can I discern what is mine to do?
• How can I respond to rudeness without making it worse for myself or the other?



be polite
ignore it
be a good