Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Succumbing to the flow

Roaring Fork Creek/Tad Barney photo

Why is the sound of flowing water so healing? As if anything and everything negative will
 flow right out of me.

It’s a brisk, slightly-less-than-50-degree afternoon on the northern edge of Gatlinburg along
the Roaring Fork Creek. All I want to do is sit and listen, gently let the water lull me wherever
it wants.

Much of the lulling is backwards in time, sparked by a stay in cabins my grandfather
discovered in the late 1960s and where my family has returned.

I feel him here and, also my mother, his daughter. She has always loved these particular
mountains and this specific stream. Even though she knew, as a Quaker, I didn’t observe
sacraments such as baptism, she gently splashed my teen daughters as infants. Secretly, 
it delighted me.

So I am called here. To listen, observe, unload, breathe, remember, let go, find my way, see 
Spirit more clearly and discover my peaceful center.

I don’t suppose it’s any accident that I landed here after a week-and-a-half of healing from a 
necessary, but unexpectedly seismic chiropractic shift.

After weeks of feeling really, really well – to the point of broadcasting that my fibro is no lon-
ger in charge – I waltzed into my practitioner one morning saying I felt my body was ready to 
move that day.

And, boy, was it; however, I was unprepared for my physical reaction. I have subconsciously
and intensely fought to return to the old, stiff patterns. The pain was so overwhelming that
I stopped moving, breathing and retreated into my default of curling in on myself. But I
caught myself. I’m not going there again, ever, I said. If I haven’t learned that lesson in 15
years then there as been no silver lining to this experience.

Some old vestiges are still holding on for dear life, but with a lot of help and wisdom from my 
priate cracker (that’s what Lily used to call him), I am letting my spine unwind from years of 
twisted disease.

And the rush water helps. It serves as a reminder to keep moving, that my life is abundant and
 flowing, that it does have direction; to let nature take its course and surrender to Spirit.

Grace helps me understand that this sacred place of family and faith is very much present in 
this process.

• What qualities does water bring to my life?
• As Ii magine a special or sacred spot, where does it lull me?
• When I relax into it, how is Spirit evident?
• From what must I unwind?
• Where can I witness grace in this process?


marching forward
and pulling me

yet willingly,
helping me
let go of
the unnecessary,
the useless

and the things
that hold me back

I want to succomb to the flow of
the living water

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Lens of possibility

Looking for a diversion last Friday evening, I landed on a British documentary called 7 Up, unaware it would ensnare me in its spell. By Monday, I had finished the seven segments, called the Up Series, on Netflix. The last was only released this year and not yet online.

The premise was to film 14 English seven-year-old from all walks of life, returning every seven years so we could eavesdrop on their lives and witness the shaping of these men and women from childhood. According to the film:
"Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old."
Probably not intended to be viewed as a marathon the way I did, I tired a bit of the closing quote – "Give me a child when he is seven and I will give you the man." – a Jesuit motto, though it was appropriate.

Honestly, what probably drew me in at first was these children were only a few years older than I and we inhibited a similar world: cold wars, racism, metal jungle gyms, a freer childhood and a time when girls never wore slacks. After I met these seven year olds, I wanted to see how life had treated them.

Haunting the background of the film was the idea that class plays a significant role in English mobility. I had not realized just how structured this society had been and it helped me understand my freedom of living in the States in a new light.

Of course I had my favorites: the poorest kid with the greatest energy, the working-class girl who said skin color makes no difference (some are brown and we're white, well, pinkish); and my least favorites, the boys who boasted in affected accents they read the Financial Times and other newspapers. And I noticed the inequity in gender representation of only four girls.

By 14, none would look at the camera and this segment was particularly short and relied heavily on the original film. Many of the others could stand alone.

After 21, some dropped out for good as participation was voluntary. Some lives seemed set here, but as time and clips went by, you watched life intervene with some surprising twists.

My preferences changed over the years of film and the person to whom I gravitated lived the most difficult life, yet he seemed the closest to God. The scrappy kid lived his dream by 21, went on to work himself into the middle class and yet was still the same, energetic charmer. The sad girl dripping in money was very lost as a young adult, but matured beautifully, becoming a bereavement counselor after raising her children. The most snobbish dropped out for awhile, but returned to garner press for his charity and, in the process, had mellowed. The idealist taught in the slums of London and India for years, blossoming late, eventually marrying, raising young sons and moving to a private-school setting. The pair we met in the orphanage drifted career wise, but became solid family men. The East-End girls worked hard, learning later the limitations of their class, but forging happily ahead. One of them struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and struck a chord with me. And one boy seemed destined for a law career and was very thankful for a steady life.

Several things touched me:
• That even though English society seemed very set and structured, there was always state help for those in need. Something called council houses were locally governed and ensured the working class always had decent shelter.
• Money does not equate to happiness.
• The most spiritual person struggled the most.
• Those for whom things flowed easily lacked depth.
• Childhood curiosity and interest often stuck for good.
• The friendships that developed among these seemingly disparate people.
• We all develop, achieve and mature at different rates and must honor our own rhythm, not compare ourselves.
• By 42 some of these people seemed old, when I only seem to be beginning.
• You must not judge someone's life because you don't see or know it all.

Mostly, this series caused me to reflect on my own life and, again, see the possibility.

This was on my heart as I entered worship Sunday and conversed with God:

I am tired of living in fear. 
I want to live in love. 
Seek God's direction, daily.
Know your heart.
Bring light to your fears; define them.
Live in the possibility.
Be open, not constricted.
Breathe deeply.
Look for the joy, no matter how small.
Practice gratitude.
Find the lesson in the hard stuff.
Remember that you are loved.
Spread love – even when you don't feel it.
Practice loving yourself; indulge it [yourself] sometimes.
Spend time in nature.
Observe nature, animals.
Spend time with children.
Spend time with the marginalized.
Pray, converse, directly with Spirit.
Worship regularly with others.
Share your heart, yourself, deeply.

• How have I been touched by witnessing the life of another?
• When I strip away the comparison and judgment, what can I learn?
• If I can look at my life in increments – @7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 29, 56 – what do I see?
• Who am I now as a result of my life?
• What role has Spirit played in all of this?

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Ready to jump off

Time to bite the bullet, take the next step and do what God has been hinting at for weeks, months, years: Offer my spiritual-nurture sessions publicly. I've honed them in private, given them in Quaker settings and planned for months to expand them in my studio.

The mask-making and labyrinth workshops were great introductions and, of course, Artsy Fartsy has stretched me. For some reason, though, I have been dragging my feet on these sessions. It's because I am afraid. These really expose me, my vulnerability, the-sometimes-difficult places I've traveled and it's not the sort of thing people jump into easily. Now, anyone who's participated in the workshops, retreats and groups is often surprised at how the creative bent helps them open to deeper spaces and explore some tougher spots in themselves.

I well remember the night-of-the-dark soul three-hour a day, five-day workshop I helped facilitate about six years ago with a gifted Quaker friend. She wanted an art component and I was enthusiastic. I joked that, perhaps, she could have selected a lighter subject. The first day, I doled out baggies full of moist clay and we did a meditation with it with our eyes closed. It wasn't mandatory and everyone complied, though some complained that it was dirty. My daughters, 6 and 9 at the time and who accompanied me to the gathering, thought it was funny anyone would worry that clay sullied their hands. That evening as they were helping me prep for the next day, one of them scrawled something like this on the classroom chalkboard: "Don't be afraid to get dirty or make art, just do it."

I had forgotten about it until several people were amused by the affirmation and said it opened them. Well, then it became a nightly ritual ... that the girls would leave little phrases each time for the class the next day. It had am amazing effect on all of us.

Almost a year-and-a-half ago, I began a 16-week series, broken over two sessions, of teaching from the book that I will someday publish. The workshops and the book are both called: "Turtlebox Stories: Nurturing the Divine Within." This was a small, but dedicated group. Each session focused on a chapter of the book, which is a specific movement within a spiritual journey; anything from pain to prayer, desolation to gratitude and many in between. Pain is the first session and I was somewhat nervous about starting there, but it is what launched my journey and that of so many others – whether we care to admit it or not. So we talked about how our culture avoids pain. It stirred childhood memories of spiritual woundedness and curiosity about God. After this gentle exploration, alternating among discussion, silence, imagery meditation and affirmation, it was clear we all shared pain in our wanderings. Speaking it safely bonded the group.

So, beginning in April on Thursdays evenings, I will show up and faithfully offer this series publicly – that's the clincher for me. I plan to advertise it within my Quaker Meeting, neighborhood, among friends, acquaintances, the two churches next to my studio and the community at large and we'll see who God brings in!

I think this is how I will start the materials I send out:
Ever wanted to:
– Mix spiritual yearnings and creativity?
– Share experiences, fears or ideas about the Universe/God/Spirit in a safe, non-judging context with others?
– Deepen your creativity with a spiritual bent?
– Be part of a small group whee you feel heard, affirmed and nurtured?

And I'll add these comments from past participants:
• "... a journey of discovery and reconnection, where time stood still and we had the gift of really paying attention. We walked in candlelight, drew with our eyes closed, built our own souls, shared then and laughed out loud."
• "Those peaceful retreats full of love and fellowship deeply enriched my journey ... each unique session revealed new insight that gently opened my soul."
• "A delightful surprise for me. Sessions were spiritually stimulating and appealed to our seeking spirit in different ways each time we met. Downright good fun too. Just show up and participate."

• When have I been afraid to take the next step?
• Why?
• How did I overcome my fear?
• When I have followed, where has God led?
• What's my current next step?

a deep breath
cleanses the fear

and I understand
it is time

time to do God's
work that has
also become mine

time to exercise
my ministry and
share it more widely

and pray that
I can accept
the response

with gratitude
and no judgment

now, I am
ready to jump off

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An unfiltered life

[Recording located at end of post]
Yesterday was a mess. More precisely, I was a mess. Bad nights' sleep, rainy day, kid home sick and, besides, honestly, I am usually a bit beat up the Monday after Artsy Fartsy. It's such a joyous occasion, but it takes an incredible amount of planning, orchestration and running around. And the kids ask me why it's not every Saturday!

Last-minute, I opted to work from home with Lily and her tummy ache. So, after yoga, I scooted to the studio to retrieve what I would need and hunker down. Switched on the laptop and the disk said almost full, so I did some house-cleaning. Before I hit empty trash, I inspected the folder and discovered my most precious, irreplaceable files (clients and grants, chapters of my book, blogs, etc.) in the trash. Phew. Good thing I never empty it without checking. Did my duty only to discover that my largest iPhoto stash got swept out. Dilly-dallied with paying $100 to retrieve them, but decided it was a purge and that anything prized was on my desktop. Still, not a great way to begin the day, let alone the week.

A little edgy, I decided, between waiting on Lily with this stomach-tolerant snack and that, to move onto the next task, one I had been belaboring for weeks. And that was call Cincinnati Bell for the third conversation about getting Zoomtown installed for some neighbors that my Quaker Meeting (Cincinnati Friends) and neighborhood had generously donated enough to purchase, along with a computer and printer. Even have a carton of computer paper to boot, thanks to the leftovers from the local Obama headquarters.

There had been confusion over the address as the church next door, which owns the neighbor's house, was listed at the same location. Church officials had cleared it up, so I decided, once again, to attempt to order online. I had been impeded with a "pending" notification when I typed in the address. This time it said there was no such place. Here we go again,  I thought as I dialed. I left my number for a call back. The phone rang and I waited some more. Adam answered and then I launched into my plight. It had been awhile since I'd heard anything, so I checked my phone screen: disconnected.

This would have been the third salesperson to whom I'd spoken about this matter. I hung up, screaming at God to make this easier. I'd been working on this since before Christmas.

I googled Cincy Bell's marketing director and, eventually, landed on a phone number for community relations. If this wasn't community relations, I wasn't sure what was. A live voice answered after two rings and actually listened to me! She said she was e-mailing the call-center boss and someone would get back to me. 

In the meantime, I swung by to pick up my high schooler from the bus stop since the Heavens had opened and all she had was a small, but, according to her cute, umbrella. Dropped her back home and went to visit the neighbors. In all these weeks of soliciting and collecting, studying, contemplating and buying to fit the budget, I had not yet mentioned it to the family. As almost all the ducks were aligned, I knew it was time to pay them a visit.

I pulled up just as the oldest, who happens to be an Artsy Fartsy kid, was walking in from school. I said I wanted to talk to him and his mom or dad. He furled his brow and I added, "It's all good." Dad took the news great and his son beamed, especially when I asked if he could be in charge. "Guess we'll need a desk" Dad sighed. "I may be able to find you one," I responded. "No, wait a minute, we have one." Indeed, he had the perfect, slide-out tabletop.

I asked if I could tell the mother. She had struggled for years with leukemia and I saw her napping.  "Come on in," she motioned. Then I delivered the news. She looked me dead in the eye, as she had all of those weeks ago, and said "Thank you, I can't believe it" and a lot of other very nice things. I think I spied a tear or two.

My phone rang with a call from Cincy Bell, so I took it and stepped outside. They were straightening things out, but I needed to collect a few pieces of information. So, I knocked and went back in. By this time, mom was in the kitchen as her oldest was cleaning out the freezer and doing a mighty fine job. She gave me another hug and said she had called her mother to give her the news." I told her you said you felt like it was God talking to you when I said we needed a computer."

She has this unfiltered way of looking at you, a very honest approach. In our snippets of conversation, pieced together around five children 11 and under vying for attention, I learned how little self esteem this woman has. She was brutally assaulted at age 14 and it seems like everything stopped there for her, including her education. She kept pointing to her forehead and saying how unintelligent she was. It broke my heart. "I never got my GED," she confessed. "It's never too late," I said and then she realized that with a computer and internet, it could be possible. Her being lit up.

So, who now cares that I lost some photos that I probably have duplicates of, or that I had a rough night and a kid home sick. This one woman just had a glimmer that her really hard life now has possibility.

Thank you, God.

• When I have given into unpleasant circumstance, what happens?
• And if I surrender it to God?
• How can helping someone else end up, often surprisingly, helping me?
• When Have I felt directly called by God to take an action?
• What has the result been?

My list of
ran a mile long

one thing after
another until

I reached the
breaking point
and just said
it out loud:

"God, why 
are you
making this
so hard?"

And then I
understood it
was time to
get out and shift
my demeanor.

God directed me
to someone with a
legitimate list.

And Spirit
gave me the
privilege of
helping this
hurting soul
see she, too,
is universally

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Friday, March 8, 2013

The corporate catch

[Recording located at end of post]
Sopping up a meaty bowl of steamy vegetable soup in a notable greasy spoon, conversing with a friend and former colleague, the modern-age conundrum reared its ugly head. Right there between his bites of fried chicken. Are we to pursue our passion and hope the money follows or sell our soul for the big-bucks corporate job?

Such a dilemma. One I understand all too well. One I am hoping I have answered differently and better this time around. But, my friend must choose, made all the harder with two young sons to account for that were not in the equation when he previously lived the corporate life. That is the one where your life is not its own.

I am grateful I had that experience, but it nearly robbed me. Funny thing is, the company had a lot of integrity and the people were nice, really nice, but there was an insidious institutional shadow that infiltrated everything. As if things were done a certain way just because that was the way and no one ever questioned it. I remember being hired to think outside of the box. On my exit interview, I said it was more like think to the inside edge of the box, but no farther.

The corporate and creative do not mix from my perspective. In a time well before children, I still harbor these explicit memories:
• Well-dressed lemmings silently soldiering up the stairwells at 8 a.m. each morning. No kidding, it looked like the parade of the living dead. No one spoke to anyone, just ambled over to their cubicles.
• The sea of new vehicles that arrived in the parking lot the day after bonuses were paid.
• The big, beautiful homes those who lived in town owned. Tradeoff was you were trapped in the company town in a job you may not, exactly, like.
• Every six months there was an organizational shake-up just to have a shake-up.
• The unarticulated "facetime" of rating hours at work over productivity.
• The Friday afternoon AIM (actions in management) reports that took all day just to let your boss know what you had done all week because he had no idea and I mean he ... in a company of 3,000, there were 12 women in management.
• The acronyms. I was serious when I suggested a dictionary of them for new hires.
• Being in the office at 8 a.m. every day you were in town, even if you'd arrived from traveling at 3 a.m. Why? I always wondered.
• Being hired and paid well, but under utilized. Listening to an outside "expert" deliver a talk on public relations that you learned in PR 101 and could have given off the top of your head for free, no fee beyond your current salary.

Obviously, there were benefits or I would not have stayed almost three years, until the birth of my first child. Mostly, the paycheck. I did like traveling and my first assignment in product development. The people were genuine, but I always wonder who really was in charge.

Not too long after I began attending my Quaker Meeting, I asked our minister what he thought about evil. He described an institutional evil, something that grows up and around a culture. I am not saying where I worked was evil, but I understand this concept as a result of my experience. Of course, there were CEOs and presidents in charge, but there was this weird enigma that seemed to be running things, subtly, very subtly.

Once I left, I felt as if, out of the vortex, I gained a new and saner perspective. That not every important thing in life hinged on what was happening in my workplace. That, in fact, much more important things were working outside of it.

Which may be why I currently find myself in the midst of middle schoolers with limited life experience, but that little of it hard, sharing creativity and beauty and relationship with no paycheck. I am hoping, at some point, that will follow my passion. I pray my friend finds his balance and peace.

• When I have chosen money, what difference has it made?
• What experience do I have of money following passion?
• How much importance do I place on creativity?
• What values must I not give up in the workplace?
• How do I let Spirit guide me in these decisions?

years ago, we were
discussing metal caskets

today, it was
artisinal copper pots

talk about coming
full circle

I was the one
leaving to
start a family

mine is now growing
and  I am beginning
to carve out a new identity

his is younger
and on his own

caught between
family needs and
earning a better
living, reluctant
to follow his

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