Sunday, July 31, 2011

111 E. Spring

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When I was 18, I stumbled into a very special place: 111 E. Spring. Not much to look at on the outside: grey stucco, two inviting porches topped by two balconies and a lived-in look ... across from the legendary alley that led uptown. But that's not what drew me.

As a wide-eyed freshman on my own for the first time, I wanted to delve into this new life headfirst: on my terms. So, when two well-dressed, smiling young men showed up at my dorm's lobby to escort those interested in attending their fraternity's little-sis rush, I declined. I had already tasted other rushes, mostly for the free food and beer, shying away at the meat-market mentality. But these guys were different right off the bat. The showed up, not expecting us to arrive drooling at their door and thankful for the privilege of being rated, berated, accepted and snubbed. Rather, they offered an invitation to see if we fit.

Of course, at the time, I didn't see it this way.

111 E. Spring was off the beaten path and fraternity row – thankfully. It became my home away from home for four years, though its after effects linger and color my sense of community and belonging. All of that was stirred this week as I reunited with four of my best buddies from those days.

We were a motley crew, someone noted last  night. That's the truth and beauty of the matter. We were such a diverse, eclectic mix under the guise of being middle-class white kids at a prestigious Midwestern university. Ok, so there was a little more diversity, but not much as this school attracted students from the same pool.

Look beyond skin color, economic and educational status, and there were all sorts of personalities: the partiers, the studiers, the artists, the scientists, the business majors, the studs, the wall flowers, the geeks, confident seniors ready to take off and new pledges finding their grounding. We played hard, worked hard, held each other up and, generally, grew up together.

As a little sis, I was not a member of the fraternity, more an auxiliary, which meant I had no part in rituals or decision making. Except that we ran our own organization and were encouraged to interact with the brothers. I never felt less than or excluded. Of course, many people believed it was merely a dating or convenience service. Some of that existed, but, in the bigger picture, it was a group of young adults forging their own community for the first time.

It worked, I believe, because we each arrived with our quirkiness and were able to accept that in one another. We were not get-in-the-most-popular fraternity or sorority material, nor did we want that. Just about everyone received a nickname, one that stuck, which meant we were open to re-creating ourselves.    I loved mine, Rosie, and still feel different when anyone calls me that. It was at 111 E. Spring that I felt accepted and valued for who I am, not what I do, how good I am, what I look like, etc. I shone here because we were mirrors for each other, reflecting back the brightness we witnessed and experienced. I was stunned one year to be named the fraternity sweetheart. I am by no means beautiful or fit the typical model, except this group rewarded my inner beauty. That was a rare gift.

Last night, surrounded by my guy friends from 111 E. Spring, I felt that same sense of unconditional belonging. I have struggled in my faith community desiring that. Our rooting in old patterns prevents us from being that open, accepting and optimistic as when we were young. Since re-experiencing that, however, I plan to resurrect that part in myself. I believe the mirror still exists to reflect our brightness to one another no matter our age or circumstance.

• Where have I felt a strong sense of belonging in community?
• What helped create that?
• If I don't have that now, what can I change to create it?
• How can I resurrect the openness of young adulthood right now in my life?
• How can I nurture those kinds of relationships?

wide eyed and ready

now I wonder what for,
thankfully then, I didn't stop to consider

only dove in
into the sea of life

along with others
doing the same

and recognizing that
in each other

I don't want to hesitate
next time

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Overwhelming the Responsible One

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A bacterial infection and two rounds of antibiotics finally have my full attention. My body has been speaking violently and I had no choice but to listen. In the throes, however, when I screamed at God that I couldn't take any more pain, it stopped.

It was enough to know I am not alone and, certainly, not unloved or unheard. But, boy, I am sick of the pain. Literally. Enough to take on some deep wading, wrung out as I have been.

When all I could do was pick up a book to read and nothing more, I happened onto "The 12 Stages of Healing" by Donald M. Epstein, D.C., loaned to me by my spiritual friend weeks ago. It was laying dormant in my get-to stack.

I was ready for this book and the work of identifying where I am in the healing process, places I am stuck and have stumbled. It has made me realize that what seem like isolated chaotic incidents do form a pattern: one deeply rutted and imbedded since childhood, maybe before. Lately, I have wondered what this suffocating sense of responsibility I have is; it paralyzes me.

I would wager I am about half way or so through the stages, though I have been some of these places before and will be again. In case you're curious, they are:
1) Suffering
2) Polarities and Rhythms
3) Stuck in a Perspective
4) Reclaiming our Power
5) Merging with Illusion
6) Preparation for Resolution
7) Resolution
8) Emptiness in Connectedness
9) Light Behind the Form
10) Ascent
11) Descent
12) Community

Yesterday, I completed several of the exercises at the ends of chapters, one of  which cautioned "You may have all of the acknowledgement you ever wanted." The doc was right. By simply asking my shadow/suffering what it wanted and why, I was flooded with a string of responses that, first, stunned me, then gave me a giant AH-HA moment.

My shadowy suffering said it wanted to hurt me for locking it up and putting it away. Then, I knew exactly that a cause of my fibromyalgia is my inner child calling for attention by creating tension. It was tired of hiding in the shadows of my adult, responsible self for years, never getting a chance to shine. I truly believe a miscarriage before my daughters was symbolic of this child coming out, that I must not hang onto her, but open the door and grant her freedom, integrating her into myself.

I joke that my youngest is a wild child and I'll write a book called "Letting my Lily out" some day, but she really is teaching me not to lock those wild parts away. To, occasionally, let them overwhelm the Responsible One.

In working through this with my intuitive counselor/massage therapist, I did something so uncouth that I can't even believe I am writing it: I spit onto his floor, expelling old patterns I had been holding. He told me to do and it was, almost, involuntary. God, it felt good to get it out and break the social morays. Made me wonder if I ought to start chewin' tobacco ... only a fleeting thought.

• How has my body spoken to me?
• In what ways do I pay attention?
• What old patterns do I hold?
• What is the state of my inner child?
• How can I let my Lily out?

wretched, curled
into a fetal position

expelling the poison
to the point of 
pleading for it to stop

recognizing the
process is my path
to wholeness

casting out the tar
of what's not me,
clearing room for
all that is

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Breathing into the golden bubble

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Remember the golden bubble of God's love I wrote about last post? The one I had briefly and rarely experienced, yet was so confirming of her strong, pure love. Well, I had another epiphany while swimming this morning.

Sometimes I think the gentle rhythmic body movement of stroking, breathing and gliding empties a lot of irrelevant thoughts, making room for deeper ones. This morning, in that meditative place, I realized that the golden bubble is always there, protecting and surrounding us. Can you imagine? It boggles my mind. Always there, whether we recognize it or not.

Most people would describe me as positive, hopeful and optimistic. And, for most of my life, I have been a glass-is-half-full girl. And yet living with a chronic disease, though by no means live-threatening, has slowly cracked that optimism, which makes me forget where I came from and the gifts I have been given. And that God's love is constant, plentiful and powerful.

In my forgetfulness and unawarenness, I waste too much precious time and energy fighting for what I already have been given.  I lapse into worry, anxiety, fear and shallow breathing. I become shallow. I just read that the latin root of the word spiritual means breath or to blow. When I breathe deeply, plumbing myself, I retrieve a piece of that feeling of love and remember again. Remember who I am, how I am, that I am loved, and love.

Just now I am recalling a sweet revelation I had while falling asleep last night in that liminal place between consciousness and coma. I had fallen asleep earlier in response to some new antibiotics for an infection I am fighting, then awoke and tried to return. But the thoughts worked their way in and I couldn't find the peaceful place in which I succomb. Money entered my brain and, of course, delayed the onset of anything helpful. Then my thoughts softened, almost dreamlike, and something told me my frustration about not earning money in the present moment is because I am trapped in the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth mentality.

It seems that I am always "paying" for something though never being paid. But if I can look beyond the almightly dollar and into the exchange with depth and gratitude, I can see that I receive far more than repayment in cash. That things are working within me that don't even relate to materialism. That my current gifts are great and cannot be purchased; only earned with spaciousness to struggle, be myself, work through my weaknesses, learn to trust and open to experience the golden bubble and know it is always in place ... whether I am aware of it or not.

The key for me to remain openly aware, I firmly believe, is a regular prayer/meditation practice that, somehow, always falls by the wayside come summer. Today, I did so after my first cup of coffee, returning to a yogic meditation book from years ago. I started with the practice of ahimsa, non-violence, and worked with using it on myself, then others and tapping places within myself of acceptance and forgiveness. The accompanying meditation suggested visualizing an open, pink lotus in your heart, shooting rays of love, first through your own body, then out into the world. It made me see that when I can be gentle with myself, including drawing boundaries, then perhaps, I won't need the shield of fibromyalgia to let me know those lines so loudly. I ended with these words on my heart:

I am loved.
I am love.
I am.

•When can I feel the divine golden bubble protecting me?
• What spiritual practice enhances that awareness in me?
• How can I release negative thoughts or painful patterns?
• Do I remember to breath deeply often enough?
• How do I practice ahimsa?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Garden of beauty, not blemishes

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I wondered last post if a weed has a soul. I believe it does, but it takes an extraordinarily open heart to see it.

That notion arrived when a friend shared how her grown son, who has been troubled since childhood, came to live with her in the past two years and has made a marvelous, even miraculous, turn-around. She said society considers him a weed, but he has shown her more of God's grace than anyone. It seems she has always known the color and full petals others perceive as dullness and thorns. She has seen him the way God views each of us.

On several occasions, I have been given flashes of what that powerful unconditional love feels like. We each need a dose from time to time. Able to fully unwind in the loving and trusted hands of my massage therapist/pastoral counselor, I experienced a golden egg of energy enveloping my body and pouring directly into my heart. I had no doubt what it was or its source. Momentarily, I knew a love so deep and boundless I can't forget. A love that is always there and sees the beauty, not the blemishes.

I wish I had the gift for always seeing others and myself in that manner. Parental love is comparable and I recognize my gift to see deeply into people, but it cowers in comparison to what Spirit offers. Its current is so swift and so pure it washes every doubt away.

Again, this Sunday's message focused on the garden and, particularly, how the roots get tangled and it's hard to tell the plant from the weed, the good from the bad. The minister used the example of German business opportunist Oskar Schindler. On the surface, he led less than a model life, betraying his wife and playing into the Nazis. And yet, he used his skill and cunning to protect his Jewish laborers.

Was he a weed?

There's something very interesting growing up in the center of our garden. We assumed it was a volunteer from last year and let it be. It's grown very erect with buds that resemble mini sunflowers. Apparently it's a tree that many consider junk. I, however, have enjoyed watching it emerge with no help, strong and tall as the vegetables, which, with much tending, have staggered, stumbled, and some, succombed to the elements.

It makes me think I should replant my metaphorical garden and this is how I would go about it:
• By tending the good;
• Weeding out the negative;
• Having a clear vision;
• Developing defined tasks;
• Making time for play and joy alongside the work; and
• Practicing gratitude.

If I am honest, I sometimes produce the fruits of worry, anxiety, doubt and fear. I would like to replace them with love, kindness, compassion, freedom, creativity, joy and color. To do so, I need to start with myself by:
– Trusting;
– Making room for daily time with God;
– Knowing when to say no; and
– To accept everything else as a gift.

A TALL order that may become my new spiritual practice.

• Where do I see weeds?
• What happens when I look more deeply into them?
• What lessons are there for me?
• How have I experienced divine love?
• What difference has that made?

carefully planted
seed by seed
into moist, organic earth

illuminated 24/7,
gently moved to larger pots
and, finally, the prepared garden

rain has rotted some
heat exhausted others
bugs chewed off nourishment

as we pick, spray, water and prune

yet this lone hitchhiker
stands tallest in the ground
straight, purposeful and

how can it be a weed
just because it was unwanted, unplanted

Saturday, July 16, 2011

If a weed has a soul

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Gardens have been on my mind for a number of reasons: one is that ours has been a particular struggle this year [everything has had an issue of one sort or another] and Sunday's message in worship focused on seeds, weed, gardens and the notion that a weed may not be what it seems. In fact, weeds are more like humans than any other plant. They grow where they please, even in terrible conditions, are quite stubborn and multiply quickly. Though the master gardener (God/Spirit) may weed the garden, she can see the same potential in the weed to bloom as in any showy flower.

In that vein, we were asked to imagine what plant we would be. My wonderful friend next to me wondered out loud if she were an orchid. "I think a big, giant colorful sunflower, grown together with others and kids playing underneath," I offered. She smiled, then asked what I might consider for myself. An herb, Rosemary, no doubt about it. Didn't even have to think as it IS my favorite. "Yeah, growing out with a quiet presence," she said. I had thought more of its ancient roots and healing qualities, but rather like her take.

The deeper I entered into silent worship, the more the idea of companion planting struck me. You know, when you plant things next to each other that nurture one another, like tomatoes and basil or eggplants and peppers. The idea of depicting each of my communities (faith, neighborhood, family and circles of friends) as gardens is something I wish to explore more fully. I think as companion plants, we are charged with helping each other: nourishing the weak, leaning on the strong, negating pests and disease for one another, encouraging growth, recognizing one another's beauty and belonging to something larger than ourselves.

I also don't necessarily find weeds a foe (though in the garden and some beds, I do remove them); rather, they fascinate me with their obstinance and ability to grow anywhere with so little care and nurturing. Sometimes, I wish I had more of that in me; however, I think I would be less shaped into the person I am becoming. But if a weed has a soul (ok, take this as a metaphor), in what state is it with no tending, no companioning, strictly fending for itself ... alone?

Think I'll stick with my companions.

• What plant would I be in the garden?
• Who are my companions?
• How do I companion?
• What do I see as a weed?
• When have I experienced beauty or awe at a weed?

prickly and thick
so much so
the deer are repelled

yet fragrant, soothing, beautiful
and alluring to bees
when flowering

restorative and healing
dancing on the palate
in stews, bread and
exotic dishes

hailed as the cure-all
from weddings to

I desire the essence
of the rosemary plant

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bright lipstick and big earrings II

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Apparently my friend Patia has a bigger circle of fans than I knew ... thanks to the response from the July 3 post about her big heart and its complications. http://salonforthesoul.blogspot.com/2011/07/bright-lipstick-and-big-earrings.html

I just returned from a visit to the nursing home where she is recuperating for another week before she's able to be home alone. It's been years since I visited such a facility and not much has changed. Hallways were cheery, staff, friendly and activities tailored to every taste. But so many vacant faces searched for recognition, any acknowledgment. A simple hello elicited a thaw in the frozen features, transforming emptiness to awareness, then smiles. It's heart wrenching.

And Patia knows it. There's no way she belongs in this place other than to get her strength back. She is far too vibrant and young. But she's working hard.

"You know, God wants me here and not just to get better," Patia told me as she cozied her wheel chair closer. "I make a point to reach out to all of these people; they need it."

Leave it to Patia to know she has a job besides the monumental task of bouncing back from heart surgery. As I awkwardly wheeled her to her room and back, she said hello to everyone we passed, often making a personal comment. "Do you know all of their names?" I wondered out loud ... remembering the woman two weeks ago so frustrated at her shotty memory in the icu (intensive care unit). "No, but I recognize every face. They need someone to talk to them."

I confessed that her plummet after surgery into what she called a living hell shook me to the core. She momentarily teared up and responded that is where she had BEEN. Not now.

Though her room does not overlook the courtyard and gazebo, Patia is grateful for the rocks and sliver of blue sky, her small connection to nature. It was tough in icu not knowing what time it was, let alone which day. One sterile, gunea-pig day melted into the next. Even the rootfop view gave her no grounding. As we discussed the adequateness her current quarters, she mentioned she'd seen the flash of a cardinal today. It thrilled her. Nature is her sanctuary. Her house, a former church (how fitting) has a beautiful meditation garden she tends. I told her that every time I see a red bird, I believe it's a sign that I am on the right path.

Patia agreed with her bright smile and hearty laugh that it may be hers as well.

• When has another person inspired me by their response to adversity?
• When was a time I could see the silver lining?
• How can I remind myself that I am not alone in such difficult times?
• For what can I be grateful right now?
• What prayer can I offer for those feeling alone and forgotten?

it was a long walk to her room,
yet miles away from the hospital setting

still nurses, aides, long corridors
and wheel chairs

yet a different rhythm
one of life and activity

but of lives already lived
and more vicarious activities

less of a hopeful recovery
and more of a peaceful decline

NOT where Patia belongs
... except that's where she says
God wants her right now

Monday, July 11, 2011

Praying to the porcelain God

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With the flush of a toilet, I had a flash of insight. No kidding. People in my house don't like to flush the toilet, neither do those who frequent the women's changing room at my local pool. Tell me what that's about.

It gets old cleaning up other people's, well, shit LITERALLY. When I said this out loud to myself, it hit something big, really, really big. All of my life I have been cleaning up for others, worrying myself about what I can do to make things better, how I can accommodate even strangers so that I am out of their way.

Last summer, when I took a half dozen Alexander Technique lessons from a very gifted teacher, she told me to "stop holding the door and moving out of the way for people. It takes too much of your energy," which she knew I didn't have. The technique is about moving fluidly, efficiently without extra effort or pain.

Yesterday I was taxi-driver galore, carting kids to lessons, the pool and home from friend's houses. Seems to be the pattern this summer. No wonder I'm not getting much work accomplished. I'm so wiped out that I don't have anything left for anyone, including my ill friend (who IS better) and myself. A couple of weeks ago when I needed a week just to rebound, someone wondered why I could not visit the hospital all week. The answer is: "because I couldn't." I know my energy robbers and parking in what seems like another state, walking as far as humanly possible across the hospital's suburban acreage, then from the very front of the building to the extreme back just to visit was taxing. And it's not that I'm out of shape; I swim a half mile daily ... just to have the energy I require. Then there's the sterile environment with florescent lights that used to trigger migraines, now they just make me cower, which is an improvement. All before I even get to my friend. I am used up with little to give her. But I force a smile, say a prayer and have enough for her.

I found four hours yesterday (after I swam at 5:30 a.m.) to work at a nearby Starbuck's, was deep in thought and transitioning as I packed up and some invisible guy materialized to ask me what I was writing and tell me his deep desire to write. My good-girl persona would not brush him off, but my sense of self preservation knew this could be an entanglement, so I was honest and said I had to go pick up my kids. Funny, my friend said he was flirting. I was so engrossed I didn't even get that. The only pickup on my mind was of my kids.

This string of messages about doing for myself first seems to be knitting itself together into a very loud and clear call. I am ready to listen and respond appropriately.

• What unhealthy patterns have I created?
• How can I extricate myself?
• How can those of us with the "helper" mentality disengage from the harmful aspects of this persona?
• How can we do so with no guilt?
• What might my prayer be for greater balance in my life in this regard?

lined up
blue doors swung open

and I know
whichever I choose
will require something of
me to clean up after the last person

how can I temper my anger,
channeling it to fuel, not foul me?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bright lipstick and big earrings

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Today, she was sitting up, her back toward me, as I wandered into her sterile home of the last week. The icu (intensive-care unit) is not a place anyone should spend that much time. At least she was out of bed and the nasty tube that had looked like a hasty trach, out of her chest. I understood it performed some necessary function, but its placement and subsequent bruising only added to my friend's smallness.

Patia is, by no means, a small person. She's 5'10", vivacious as a toddler, with a booming voice and a heart of gold. In her weeks of revolving-door visits to the er, the fourth floor, and, now, the icu, she has captivated the nursing staff and her docs. But not this week.

I have watched this shiny, radiant soul tear up, wail and wonder what God is asking of her. In the ten years of our friendship, it's been apparent that knowing what God wants in her life is her anchor.

When I discerned and was clear to lead a spiritual-nurture group for adults and kids, Patia briskly walked over to me, plopped down, looked me in the eyes and said "God says I'm supposed to be in this group." I believed her and only mentioned that I wanted it to be for her and not because she felt the children needed her. She has been our child caregiver at the Quaker meetinghouse for those ten years and watched my Lily in our home over two years as I attended nurture school periodically in Philadelphia.

I've never known anyone else named Patia and I've never known anyone like Patia. She's not every adult's cup of tea ... unless you take the time to know her. Young children gravitate to her and their parents eventually figure out why. Patia is a child in a way most adults are not. She doesn't realize she's shouting when she's especially joyful. She lives simply, loves fully and is immune to contrived social nuances. I'd stop short of saying what you see is what you get, because she has depth, drive, determination and strives to learn. She "gets" more than most adults realize. She worked for a degree in early-childhood education over the course of years and with measured perseverance. That may not sound like much until you understand she fought her way out of special education in high school, cheered by her mentor, her grandmother. She asked the school to outline the steps necessary to move up and met those benchmarks.

In her mid 50s, she bought her first house and meticulously cares for it, along with her beloved companion dog. She was married young until she felt her husband wilted her independent spirit. She says God did not bless them with children, but gave her so many more working in daycare and privately.

She has taught me so much about faith, listening to God and keeping a steady path. Which is why it pains me to see her questioning, let alone hurting. From personal experience, I know this is part of the spiritual journey. It's just kinda hard when your role model appears human.

Patia's medical problems stem from her heart, but so does her whole being. I am prayerful she is being reshaped carefully and look forward to the return of her boisterousness.

• Who inspires my faith?
• What examples of faithfulness have I witnessed?
• Have can I apply those to myself?
• What happens when I look deeper into people?
• What have I learned from unexpected sources?

red-headed and bubbly
bright lipstick and big earrings

that's how I remember
my friend

the long face and tears
are just temporary

as she gives into
the pain of the repair
of an out-of-sync heart

today, I told her
she is loved just as
she is, in this moment
of streaked cheeks
and little hope

God is big enough
to hold it all and
restore it all