A few weeks ago I “pulled a muscle.” You’d think at my age that I would know better than to shovel snow; but it was such a pretty, blue-sky day, and I felt so good, that I simply didn’t think. Two days later my back ached. By the end of the week I couldn’t walk, and soon an old sciatica, reignited, was shooting pain down into my foot.
I’ve done everything imaginable to get well again, including doctors, chiropractors and PT, heat, cold, back brace, and prayers by wonderful Silent Unity, plus energy work like Reiki and Cranial Sacral. It’s just going to take time. Meanwhile I would find myself falling sometimes into such self-pity that I started scolding myself for the pity-parties I despise.
“If self-pity hastened the cure,” laughed one friend who has her own problems, “I’d have an amazing recovery!” And yet the pity is not wrong. Instead of critical self-pity, though, why don’t I call it self-compassion? When I acknowledge my sorrow, my low spirits shift, move off. Let’s talk, therefore, about loving ourselves with all our frailties and failures.
Last week as I lay on the massage table for a long and luxurious cranial-sacral treatment, drifting in and out of awareness, I found myself praying to my body. All my life my body has done whatever I asked of it, and I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before to give it thanks. Continue reading
Oh boy, here we are in January. The new year. This time the new Decade. January is the month when we make Resolutions—and usually forget them in a week. Instead of resolutions, I offer myself one word, an Intention, that I can muse on and meander beside throughout the year.
One year I took the word Gratitude.
Another year Generosity, and a third Beauty and Bounty, which I liked so much that the following year I repeated it as Bounty and Beauty.
An intention requires no effort, no demands for success. It is simply that throughout the year I remember my word and pause to look around, especially in challenging moments, reminding myself of gratitude or the beauty and bounty and goodness and generosity that lies about me, that fall as blessings with mercy and grace, unearned.
An intention is similar to an affirmation, but different. Continue reading
We all know Christmas is about giving. We forget that receiving is another gift. It’s hard to receive. It’s as hard as asking for help. Some people naturally know how to do it: They open the present slowly, shaking the box, pulling off ribbon with delighted attention, mischievously examining the paper, wondering what’s inside . . . followed by a cheer of delight. But others—I know a man who just can’t manage it. As the son of an alcoholic, he was never taught to break into a smile, eyes crinkling with pleasure, much less leap to his feet and give the giver a kiss at receiving “just what I wanted!”
It takes some of the pleasure out of giving. Not everyone is by nature exuberant. But this man is an extreme example. Another person might cast down her eyes in shy embarrassment, or slide the present under a pillow in an effort to take the attention off herself; and still you know she liked the gift. Sometimes a gentle smile, a quiet nod, is enough to tell you that your gift hit home, and moments such as these are treasured as well. On the other hand I know a little girl who, without any training at all, knows everything about the gift of receiving. “Oh!” she cries, her face lighting up. “This is the just the best!” And even if you know it isn’t, that you had to buy a less expensive version than you wanted, her pleasure is so infectious that you feel the warmth lift up your frozen heart.
But giving is hard too, and fraught with perils, like sunken shipwrecks ready to stove us in. Once my former husband gave me a whole set of cooking pots for Christmas. I burst into tears. I wanted something related to my work. A typewriter ribbon would have done. Continue reading
“Writing is a form of therapy: sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation.” Graham Greene
October, and again we have the pleasure of frightening ourselves with witches, goblins, ghouls, and ghosts; with skeletal hands reaching from the grave, or zombies clunking heavily toward us with sightless eyes to drink our blood.
Why do we like to frighten ourselves? Most animals find life quite scary enough without adding in imagination. We court fear. We pay to watch horror films (there is always a girl who descends the basement steps in the dark where you KNOW the murderer lies waiting!). When I was just a little girl, I remember reading Dracula late one night in my father’s study, and being so frightened that I couldn’t leave the lighted room to go to bed! Such is the thrill of being afraid—when it’s safe.
Then there’s unsafe fear. Once when I was a young girl I met a man who confessed that he saw a therapist for his anxiety—and my innocent response, “What’s anxiety?”
I don’t think I ever heard the word as a girl, but as I grew older, a wave would wash over me sometimes, boiling me like an ocean breaker. I’d be sitting at a swimming pool watching my little children play, and suddenly I’d be overwhelmed by the sense that I ought to be somewhere else, except I didn’t know where— Continue reading
“Look, the trees are turning,” she said, glancing out the picture window toward the New Hampshire woods, and everything in me wanted to cry out: Not yet! Too soon!
September marks the beginning of the new year. The children are back at school, anxious or excited, happy with their new classes, or disappointed. You see them on early mornings at the side of the road waiting for their yellow buses. The little ones are so brave, their enormous book bags towering over their heads, almost taller than their tiny legs. The big kids jostle and push, overflowing with energy too strong to allow just standing still. My garden, too, is in transition. The grass grows slower now, needing less mowing. The straggly, leggy plants have given an explosion of defiant berries and bloom, as glorious as springtime but more beautiful somehow, yet moving inexorably toward decline– as leggy as my teenage granddaughter, who is also in transition, but in her case toward young womanhood. The squirrels dash heedlessly across the roads and spiral up the trees, as if there’s no time left to relax in late summer heat. Burrs fly onto our clothes if we take a walk, clinging to be carried to new environments, and all of life—bees, moths, chipmunks, squirrels, children, grass, trees, and, yes, we adults too—feel the planet tilt in its orbit, sharpening and shortening the light: Time speeding up.
We are all in transition. To be closer to her children, my sister has sold her house and is moving to a city where she knows no one. Continue reading
Summertime, and the living is easy. Our cultural memories are rich with summertime: the slap of a screen door to the excited calls of children; of dozing in a hammock over a good book, or casting a fishing line onto the black river; of days on the beach, ice cream cones, and iced tea sipped on the porch; of just slowing down; baseball games, and barbecues, or cold suppers served in a long, sweet dusk that extends for hours. More recently it’s remembering to snatch a sweater as you step into the heat, because of the freezing air conditioning at the store.
Summertime. And in this period when we are assaulted—barraged—by our culture of FEAR and the constant recording of inescapable grief, anguish, sorrow and suffering . . . I think we need reminders of the bubbling, playful, lighthearted side of life. We need to remember that all is not lost, and it is our heritage to laugh and play. I don’t know who first coined most of these sayings, but here I offer to you, little bubbles of happiness: Continue reading
There is a saying in the 12-step Alcoholic Anonymous program that “You will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it.” And mostly this is true, except when I find myself awake in the darkest hours of a morning night defenseless against the Inner Judge who prowls the corridors of my mind, slashing the heads off any blooming optimism with his savage cane. Why am I so helpless at that dark hour? Are all the angels sleeping still?
It has set me thinking: Where did I learn that although lesser mortals may make mistakes I’m not allowed to? Of course, we were taught so many axioms as children that are downright wrong. For example: Opportunity Knocks But Once. NONSENSE! I shout. Observation and experience have shown me that so generous is Providence, so loving, so adventurous, that She offers opportunities over and over and over again; and never does She feel annoyed by our refusal to accept. “You don’t like that opportunity? She cries out tenderly, Here! Try this one instead.”
Here’s another thing that I was taught at my elders’ perfectionist knees: that mistakes are bad. Yet how many times have I made a mistake, tripped off in a completely wrong direction, only to discover the misstep was a blessing. Continue reading
May is Osteoporosis Month, whatever that means. It’s also, as most people in the USA know by now, Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of the month, when I phone my children to remind them that they have a loving mother without whom (plus chance, God, a father and doctors) they would not be doing whatever they are doing right now.
It’s also the month when I remember longingly my own mother. I waken in the balmy dark, the stars still swinging gallantly overhead, and squirm with regrets made harsher by my defenselessness in these black hours. Did I tell my mother I loved her? Certainly I never sent a card. My mother was a woman of strong convictions. When she told us, voice dripping with scorn, of her disdain for a Hallmark day—created by Business to make people drop their well-earned money on soppy cards for the benefit of some unknown Business—none of us would have dreamt of sending her a card.
But lying anguished in bed at 4:00 a.m. with the bats of remorse battering at my brainpan, I wonder if her scorn was not a defense, to ensure that she would not be disappointed when she didn’t receive a card. Why did I never send my mother a Mother’s Day card in spite of her disapproval? Or phone. Did I ever phone? Continue reading
“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. ”
W. H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
If you get lost in life, put your ear to the ground and listen to its pounding heart.
Old Sami saying
As I write this one cold and windy March, I find myself longing for April springtime, with the flowers blooming yellow, pink, and blue against green grass and the trees stretch and come awake. By April, here in the mid-Atlantic states, the little leaves of trees uncurl so fast that in only hours they are waving their little paws in delight. The squirrels dash up and down the wrinkled bark, and birds raise a chorus of alleluias to the equinoxian light.
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,”wrote the novelist George Eliot, “it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
Surely if we had ears keen enough, we would hear the thunder of the tulips as they thrust violently up through the soil, unfurling leaves and blooms, or we’d hear the low bass of the petrichoring rocks, lifting dusty faces to be washed. This is the time when we are called to go out “forest bathing,” as the Japanese call it, though most of us, living in cities, have to make an effort to be in the presence of tall trees. So, let us talk, now, about trees—and of the only vicious tree I’ve ever met. Continue reading