Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Matter of Perspective

When I was a kid, I loved seeing the world upside down. One of my favorite pastimes was to recline on my living room floor and stare up at the ceiling. From this perspective, the ceiling became the floor, and one had to step up over the door archways to get from room to room. My cluttered Victorian childhood home seemed incredibly neat and spacious from this upside down vantage point. I could spend hours just contentedly gazing while my mom dusted nearby or watched her afternoon soaps.

I also loved to gaze into puddles at the reflected sky. It was endlessly entertaining to stomp my feet in a puddle and watch the ripples spread across the reflected clouds. This pastime sometimes led to unexpected adventure. Once, my best friend and I, on our way home from school on a windy April day, decided not only to gaze at a giant puddle but to splash our way into the deep middle and purposely fall on our knees. Cold, wet, and giggling, we then ran home to tell my mother we had “accidentally fallen,” change into warm clothes, and treat ourselves to hot chocolate and marshmallows.

I also loved gazing through the stained glass window on the stairwell. The yard below took on otherworldly qualities, depending upon the green, blue, or red pane. Another favorite resting spot (in the summer) was to relax on a small incline on the front yard (back then it seemed like a hill). From here I could gaze directly up into the leaves of three towering maple trees, where I could imagine all sorts of fairies and animal shapes in the leaves.

The other day, out on a walk, I came across a few puddles and stopped with my camera. The experience brought back a rush of memory and emotion, thinking not just of how easily entertained I was in my childhood, but also of how willing and ready I was to look at the world from different vantage points. Today, I have my set opinions, political views, and habits; I’m less likely to ponder something from another’s perspective, or from the perspective of a rabbit or bird, for that matter. I see things straight ahead from my 5’3 vantage point, with my glasses or contacts on, and with plenty of thoughts and judgments spinning about in my mind. I’ve become less willing to splash and muddy my clothes in a cold, wet puddle, that’s for sure.

However…when I go to yoga class, sometimes I relish the headstand (or as we say in Iyengar yoga, head balance pose), or the handstand. Though I can’t stay up for long, I always feel energized, revitalized and strong when I come down. I guess these inversions are my grown up way of still playing with perspective. If I can stand on my head, all is not lost. I’m still able to see the world upside down--in a good way, that is, with fascination rather than fear, and with trust that I have the power to return to upright whenever I choose.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Joy Of...Serving

This year, due to a lingering minor illness, I faced the possibility that I would not be able to make Christmas dinner at my house. The idea of not hosting the annual December family feast sent terror racing through my veins. Not make Christmas dinner? Unthinkable!

I remember a year when my mother (who passed 15 years ago, and whose Christmas dinner I have loyally replicated every year since), had injured her back and was bedridden during the holiday. My father hung and angled a mirror on the bedroom door so that she could see our reflection in the dining room from her nearby prone position, and I’m sure (though I don’t exactly recall) that many of us spent a lot of time in my parents’ bedroom that holiday season. I know she was frustrated and saddened by the development, but the celebrations went on and my sister and other family members made the dinner happen. It was a Christmas my mother never forgot, and never wanted to repeat!

More than a decade ago, I received a breast cancer diagnosis just before Christmas. Though I was frightened and distracted, that was one of the most memorable holidays of my life. I distinctly remember making the cranberry sauce that year, reveling in the brilliant red of the berries, feeling the small, colorful orbs between my fingers as I washed them. I clearly remember the faces of my family that year around the table, their expressions of concern and love. The mere thought that this might be my last Christmas with them (thank God it was not) made every moment and every ritual more significant.

Often, come December, I find myself complaining about all the work that needs to be done, the shopping for gifts and food, the cleaning of the house, the decorating and preparations, card-sending, and dealing with traffic and lines at the store. It’s easy to fall into a negative mindset, even while looking forward to spending time with my beloveds.

But when threatened with an illness or when some other complication puts the honor of serving in jeopardy, I’m reminded again of how much my mother loved—and how much I love—to provide. There is true joy in serving (whether you serve at a soup kitchen or in your own home).

The specter of the day when I will be forced to scale back or cancel some of our traditions makes ‘keeping up’ as long as I can all the more crucial! (I recall my mom doggedly making multiple trips to the grocery store in her later years, hell-bent on doing all the shopping herself even though it was a struggle for her to carry the bags home). This season underscores the truism that to love and care for others is the greatest gift of all: As the sacred prayer so rightly asserts, “For it is in giving that we receive." Happy Holidays to all! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Summer's End

The other day, a friend commented to me that she was very sorry to see summer end. It had been a great summer for her, filled with travel, fun, and relaxation. For me, however, the summer of 2016 has been challenging, tiring, hot, scary, and downright un-enjoyable in many ways. I’m not sorry to see it end, though there were also moments and days when I felt blessed, lucky, and filled with joy and gratitude.

This was, for me, a summer that did not go as planned. In fact, I decided in June that I would stop making any plans at all because everything I conjured up was somehow blocked. I did not spend countless hours on my deck reading books and meditating. My “vacation” at the lake with family was spent tending to my eldest son, who was healing from surgery. I made it to the town pool exactly once. The tomatoes I planted in my backyard yielded not even one tomato. I never made it to the beach. I didn’t get to drive south to visit my sister. My hanging plants wilted and collapsed from lack of watering early on in the season. After a short yoga retreat I attended in the countryside, I ended up with a serious eye infection. And so on! This was definitely not the summer of my dreams! Nothing really worked out the way I envisioned.

And yet, as you can see from this picture, I’m still standing and smiling (a little!).  I’m grateful that my worst fears and worries did not come true, and that even though my tomatoes crapped out on me, my friends and family did not. I realize that we can’t all be happy and have everything go swimmingly all the time; we learn from failure, mistakes, and even from tragedy. We also learn that we can’t plan and control everything, that life takes us on unexpected journeys, that we may intend to go right and find that we are suddenly forced to turn left, that we want to stay up when the powers that be determine our direction will be down.

This summer reminded me a bit of days long ago when my kids were toddlers. I recall planning productive afternoons—a trip to the park, the bank, grocery shopping, followed by story reading and naps. On so many occasions my plans were thwarted by the indomitable will of a two-year-old, who suddenly decided he would not put on his shoes, he would not eat his breakfast, or he would spend the next three hours poking at moss with a stick.

This is life, and whether summer brought you more of the highs or more of the lows, we’re all in this churning stew together. Anyway, autumn is my favorite season. May it be a good one for all!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Automatic Pilot

Most days, when I wake up, I feel like I’m on automatic pilot. First, the alarm goes off (or not; if I’ve spoken directly to the Universe requesting a wake-up call the night before my eyes pop open before it rings). Second, I automatically think to myself “Oh, no. Not time to get up already!” or “Yay! Today’s the day I’m going to the beach!” depending on whether my plans involve work or play. Then I roll out of bed, search for my glasses and mouth guard (a loathsome thing that’s supposed to quell my teeth-grinding, but which I invariably throw on the floor in my sleep), grab my robe, unplug my cellphone from its charger, and head downstairs for a cup of tea. As I said: automatic pilot.
            One recent day, however, I decided to spend a bit more time in bed before rising. That was the day I snapped the above picture, after noticing that the leaves of the pear tree near my window were tapping against the pane outside the closed shade. That morning, I spent quite a bit of time gazing and snapping photos. It was such a pretty sight, and reminded me once again of how I tend to rush about without really noticing the details.
            Later that day I was eating dinner with my family at the kitchen table. The curtains were drawn because bright sunlight was streaming onto our faces, but at one point I got up and looked outside. Just below my window were two adorable mourning doves. They were hopping about in the grass cooing (I could hear them through the pane). The grass was wet and green from a recent rain, and the doves seemed playful. Once again, I was struck by the scenes that are outside my ordinary field of vision.
            This spring an owl came to visit our home for a few days. We would hear him at 3 in the morning, hooting in a tall tree. No amount of peering or searching brought him to our sight, but we were alert in bed for more than an hour just listening. Deep in the night, right outside my window, was a vast owl world unknown to me.
One day, returning home from a local café with a cup of coffee, I went to my computer for a while, but then got up again to check to see if a package had arrived. I’d heard a truck coming up our hill and was curious. When I opened the door, the truck was gone and there was no package, but a huge mound of dirt was piled up right at our front step, and there was a large open hole just beneath the foundation. A skunk, woodchuck, or some other creature had been hard at work digging while I’d been writing. Who knew?
Another day, I pulled open the shade in my living room to find a dozen tall, bright yellow weeds I’d never seen before. I snapped their photo, sadly knowing it will only be days before my neighbor notices and mows them down.
            I often write about this sort of thing because I find it intriguing. How much goes on while we’re not aware, not looking, or listening? I know that we can’t touch, see, or feel every breeze, every flower, or every birdsong. But can’t we try?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Where in the Heck?

The other day I was looking for something. I scoured the Internet, doing a million and one Google searches. I looked in my overflowing home library for a book that might contain the information. I searched my Nook, feeling as if I had definitely seen the piece somewhere; it was something about a yoga set I wanted to try. I went on Amazon and read a bunch of descriptions. Then, since it was past midnight, I decided to give up my search.

I got ready for bed and started to head upstairs, but I had the nagging feeling that if I didn’t find the piece I was searching for I wouldn’t be able to sleep. So I went back to my computer and typed in a few more search words. Low and behold! The information came up, I happily printed it out, and went to bed. I was infinitely proud of myself for not giving up (actually, I was so proud of myself that I couldn’t sleep!) I love a determined search, and I heartily patted myself on the back (metaphorically of course) for my persistence and success.

The next day, I was rummaging through some papers on my desk, still gloating from the previous night’s treasure hunt, when I came across a book. The book looked exceedingly familiar. The book looked like it might contain some valuable information. In fact, I had truly forgotten that I owned the book at all. I picked it up, opened to the table of contents and found precisely what I had been searching for the night before.

I had been searching for something I already had! Omg.

Obviously, I just had to take this as a message from the universe. We are all constantly searching for stuff that we already have! We are all searching for love, and success, and contentment, and abundance, and excitement, and who knows what else. We are all searching for answers and acknowledgement, and yes, for articles and socks. A lot of time is wasted turning things upside down, endlessly searching for that which is already found or for that which was never even lost to begin with.

Hug your kids, collect your hugs back, and Happy Mother’s Day to all!