Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, A cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, This is the best season of your life. – Wu-me
The poem cleared – unclouded – my mind. Cleansed me. The way a novel, say, the Overstory by Richard Powers, wipes away worries every night. I read a page, another, I try to block out my worries – for family, country, future – take comfort in the overhang of branches.
A novel, like a tree, offers shade. Does not throw shade, offers a respite from worries.
I’ve been telling one daughter to stop saying, “I’m worried about…” and instead try, “I’m wondering about…”
My mindfulness class showed me that I’m fixated on fixing. What is the difference between fixing and healing? I wondered. My mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher, Elaine Retholtz, a wise guru, introduced me to Wu-me’s poem. We shared some reflections:
What do you want to see next? – Lake Bell
You will never own the future if you care what other people think. – Cindy Gallop
A signpost is usually found at a crossroads. So says the definition. And in the teaching book Notice and Note, you’re given six avenues — ways to go or topics of conversation. What should we notice in a book? How do we note what we read?
When discussing literature, there’s often no right or wrong answer. You’re using the signposts to get into the characters of ask the book questions. And questioning is what we want young people to do — in literature and in life. After all, we all have essential questions, such as Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning? The word ‘essential’ has taken on such important meaning this year, with the rise in respect for essential workers.
Have your heard of ‘essential questions?’ When I first started teaching high school five years ago, the department chair told me, “Be sure that you have your Essential Questions posted for all to see somewhere in the classroom.”
I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ I had no idea. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to have the right — the most essential — questions on my bulletin board. So I did what all teachers do when they don’t know and they don’t want to ask. I googled, “What is an essential question?” And of course, I fell into the rabbit hole of what makes a good question. The more questions I had, the more confused I became. But my mentor at my new school four years ago turned me on to this Notice and Note process. Look for the signposts. Discuss these topics. Yes, one category is called Tough Questions, which to me is the same as Essential Questions.
Ultimately, I decided that an essential question is a deep question — one that that leads to more questions and cannot be answered simply with a yes or no response.
Hey, I love learning about learning. Yes, I’m meta like that!
I have writing to do and teaching — and thinking to do. And don’t forget the gratitude list. There’s a new/old dog to walk and friends to phone. There’s much to do. And then, again, there’s nothing to do. A helplessness — a desire to read — to stay in, stay safe, stay put. And curl into a ball to let this big wave pass. So we hunker down in this farmhouse in this town that I love with family and friends. With children and trees. Set to bloom. Set to bud. Set to flower. Game, set, match. My mind keeps turning to this twist — my love gov says tennis courts can open. Where is my nearest tennis court? And does it matter that I have no racket, balls, nor opponents? Or tennis whites? I keep thinking about tennis. As if I was Billie Jean King. Fierce like that. All women are – for simply surviving this potus abuse. I cannot get over this administration – the way that man speaks to journalists, to women, to poc. I must to stop watching his cruelty. It breaks my heart. I aim to maintain my soft-hearted nature and happy-go-lucky disposition. I will not let this wave of fear and despair submerge me. Better days, ahead. Chin up and all that.
Think about tennis and flowers and Billie Jean King. Family dinners in the farmhouse.
I’m thinking this pandemic has unleashed ‘our new spiritual earth,’ a theme found in this morning’s #spiritchat, a wonderful Sunday morning twitter chat. To me, a spiritual earth means we have to give our home and human family a break — for spring to blossom forth and new growth to emerge. We wait and welcome quiet before jets return to their booms across the sky and trucks rumble across the highways.
Let’s remember that every day belongs to the earth. Every day is Earth Day. Children seem to know this instinctively and are way smarter than adults; they are more enthusiastic about recycling and protecting the environment than we, older folks.
Among my favorite of the elements of earth, water, wind, fire, space, I am an Aries, a fire sign. I tingle with sparks of fire. I love a good campfire.
But also I love the water that puts out the fire. Gentle in its quiet or violent in its rush, tug, waves in the ocean.
Dogsitting this last month (or more? how long has it been? where has the time gone?) has forced me to walk on the earth every morning. So I feel the solid ground beneath me. I look and listen for nature as we walk. The calling, quacking, and homing of birds. The healing in the beauty of blossoms tightly furled.
I surrender to the forces of nature, powers far greater than myself.
Returning to the image of water: when we hiked yesterday, we got a little lost, we thought about following the water – because a stream or river always leads to civilization.
Water helps us find our way home. It is the primary element in Baptism. And blessings. And holy water.
I intend to create a positivity ripple to make impact of health, healing, hope. Love overcomes hatred.
I also am:
walking 10K steps a day.
thanking mother earth.
celebrating every blossom and bud.
pushing back against injustice and hatred and intolerance.
choosing love and unconditional positive regard for everyone whom I meet.
The world doesn’t want to be saved. It wants to be loved. That is what will save it! – April Peerless
We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. – Shakespeare, The Tempest
At any moment, you have a choice / that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it. – Thich Nhat Hanh
We are Earth people on a spiritual journey to the stars. Our quest, our Earth walk, is to look within, to know who we are, to see that we are connected to all things, that there is no separation, only in the mind. – Lakota Seer
I’ve been attending meditation at least once a week with the JCC community in Manhattan. This is such a lovely respite. The other day, I had a small victory when, during my meditation, I heard the kids talking loudly in the kitchen. I wanted to find out what was going on: were they fighting? Laughing? I stayed in my meditative state.
When I am on one of these JCC zoom sessions, I can see that everyone else is sitting comfortably, yet I am enjoying meditation in a sivasana pose. So be it.
When this whole covid thing started, one of my first inclinations was: “Great, I’ll use my free time to become a certified life coach.” I’ve always wanted to do this. After all, I love encouraging people and helping them find their authentic purpose in life. But as the days, weeks, and now months, have worn on, I’ve begun to lose my life-long learning mojo.
This morning I perked up again, as I read about workshops in MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, offered at medical centers and hospitals everywhere. The eight-week course begins with mindfulness — sitting, breathing, becoming aware, letting go of judgment. The outcome is that as you develop skills consciously, so these coping strategies seep into your unconscious life and improve your knee jerk response to life’s daily challenges.
I like this because I am constantly choosing to be less defensive and reactive. I allow myself to have human feelings without judging myself harshly. It’s so simple and yet, it can be so hard. In getting myself help in my daily mindfulness practice, I can then help others. And they can help others. And so on.
You start your hand moving. And then you just keep it moving. You write, I remember… and you keep writing memories… popping like popcorn. One memory after another. Don’t worry about which era from your life wherein the memory emeges or how you feel or what it all means.
I learned this from Dani Shapiro who learned it from a book IRemember by Joe Brainard.
I remember. And the important thing with this writing exercise is to keep going. Keep your mind moving from memory to memory. I found it very relaxing and centering. It’s also a great way to mine some gems which may become sparkling jewels in your larger memoir story.
Weave the memory jewels into the tapestry of your life.
At about 10:30 pm, I went to sleep with three young adults laughing together in kitchen. It warmed my heart. At about 1:30 am, I woke to doors slamming and young people yelling. It froze my heart. I cop to joining in the fray. I am a beast when I’m awoken from a deep sleep. Or maybe a beast within me awakens. Even the dog started whimpering.
When the ruckus settled, I could not fall back asleep. Adrenaline. Guilt. Fear. Worry. Sadness. Failure. I don’t know. I’m reading Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion so I tried to comfort myself and recognize that we are in difficult times and there will be interpersonal conflict during our days and nights.
I am only human. And, as Neff suggests, how would I console a friend who was in a similar situation? Am I a not a friend to myself?
The upshot — hey, you know me, there has to be an upside — is that first thing this morning, I reached out to T.C. at BetterHelp, an online counselor. See, last fall, my primary care doc, Dr. E., had suggested, given the circumstances of my life, a regular mental health appointment could not hurt, might even help. I’m no longer on Zoloft. When I had protested, saying, “I’m too busy,” she, my wonderful Dr. E, said, “Try a virtual therapist. They can be just as good. Convenient.” Which I did. (I chose BetterHelp as it was offering free trials, which I discovered on one of my social media sites. But I’m sure TalkSpace or any other virtual therapy is also decent.) I was assigned T.C. who was smart and pragmatic. I think that she lives in the Albany area and has a bit of a Brooklyn accent.
We had several useful phone conversations and some texting check-ins. It definitely helped. But, hey, you know me, I was super busy. I did not want to be confined to any regular appointments, even phone calls.
Fast forward these several months to today: I am, like the whole world, circumstantially challenged by this time of necessary confinement. The circumference of my life has been compressed. While I’d rather not have woken and become a part of the middle-of-the-night mudslinging fest, I’m glad, in a way, that I did, because it prompted me to seek help. Over the course of my life, I have found therapy — talk therapy, especially — extremely beneficial. It helps me see the forest for the trees. I am grateful for any strategies for hope and healing. I look forward to better communications within the family about our emotions during these difficult days.
There’s a noise in my chimney. that only the dog and I hear. Of course, I wear hearing aids and the dog is finely tuned for sound so it could be that we’re special? I worry that some poor thing’s stuck in there– not a vicious wolf in the wall (a la Neil Gaiman). And it’s not that I’m scared. No, not me. I’m not scared, not at all You’re scared, not me. There’s nothing in the chimney. but this morning when I walked away from the house, with Charlie on the leash, he and I looked back at the house, at the tin man’s hat at the top of the house. at the top of the chimney. A black bird was looking down the chimney. It called for a lost chick down my chimney. Why a lost child? and not a lost spouse? I’m surely projecting. There’s no wolf or black bird in my farmhouse chimney. Chimney’s are jolly places, just ask Santa. Still. I thought I just heard a slight thump or a scampering. It was the wind. There’s nothing in the chimney. Yet I hesitate to start a fire. We need a fire in the fireplace for it snowed last night, a little drafty at the beginning of spring, at the tail end of winter in the Adirondacks. I’m happy to do nothing. It’s only me Pandora who hears strange noises. Well, me and Charlie.
Yesterday we bought Charlie a dog bed. And yes, he loved it. But the dog flipped it over and lay on it, upside down. “Oh God, you really are becoming my dog,” I thought with a little dread and a little relief. Who else turns things upside down? Who else hears wolves and birds in the chimney?
I’ve been writing my posts first thing in the morning. I wanted to write about Earth Day today. Earth Day for 50 years! The commemoration lands on April 22, because it is the fullest, richest day of buds and blossoms of the whole year. Well, this morning I did not notice the beauty of springtime, because, again, WE HAD SNOW TODAY!! But here are a few pictures of flowers in the past. And they will be in our future too. Have hope.
Grace comes from Latin, meaning ‘pleasing’ or ‘grateful.’ When are you in a state of grace? Find grace in nature: dolphins, butterflies, that fox there darting across the field. Graceful belongs in a dance. But also in the way you make your coffee, set the table, wipe the counter, turn the page of the book you’re reading as you snuggle in before you fall asleep. Grace is found in dreams. Grace is found in bedtime prayers. And before we eat, children with their heads bowed mouthing words, an incantation of gratitude, in remembrance of the hands that grew and picked and prepared the food we eat. While there are many things that I miss about life and school BC (Before Covid) Oddly, I miss the ruckus of the dining hall and the hastily said grace, the pause before the pandemonium of eating, laughing, arguing. You still have grace, I remind myself. There are still dolphins, butterflies, foxes that dart. There is still the coffee, the table, the countertop to wipe. There are still rote prayers of gratitude for the hands who grew, picked, prepared our food. And I am visited by grace as I use my hands to cook, to clean, to pray, To turn the page as I snuggle in. Before the dreams dart like foxes into the night
The morning light hit the daffodils at the dining room table. Flowers that my mother-in-law planted decades ago, Years before her grandchildren – my now adult children – were born. What do you plant? What is the gift of beauty for descendants or daughters-in-law whom you have yet to meet? Plant kindness. Treasure hope. Look for signs of spring.