Sunday, December 29, 2013

Just Around the Corner...

Recently, I was talking to a friend who doesn’t like to travel. She visits the same vacation spot every year and doesn’t enjoy stepping out of her comfort zone. She doesn’t like eating at exotic restaurants, has no tolerance for airplanes, and is perfectly content to sit by a lake and read a book. I can kind of relate to that (at least the book by the lake part).
            At the other extreme, I have friends who’ve traveled all over the world. They’ve dined in Venice, dipped in the Red Sea, gambled in Macau and hung out at ashrams in India. Part of me can relate to that kind of life, too. It must be nice to see the world as your oyster.
            As much as I’d love to do more traveling (actually, I’m trying to manifest a trip to Hong Kong right now), I’m always reminded that we don’t have to go very far to see our surroundings with awe and wonder. In fact, this realization popped up yet again when I was walking less than a mile from my house recently and passed by this eagle. I’d be willing to bet that most of the people in my neighborhood don’t even know he (she?) exists, as his favorite tree is off the beaten track, on a path that pretty much leads to nowhere. For several years now, he and his family have been roosting from November until March.
            Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a dramatic turn of events to get us to open our eyes and see the beauty that’s in our own backyard. A cancer diagnosis, a near-miss with an oncoming truck, or the loss of a family member or close friend can remind us that we don’t have time to waste and that it’s a good idea to take our eyes off our computer screens every day and look up at the sky, or into the trees, or into our children’s faces. And though I’d like to go to Bali or Japan, I also want to remain aware of the fact that there are hummingbirds, butterflies and yes, even eagles, just a stone’s throw from my house.
            A young man I know often tells me he doesn’t like to visit the same place twice. But I have found certain places that I could visit hundreds of times and always find something new. Along the river where this eagle winters is one such place. Even though I don’t need to buy a plane ticket to get there, I’m always amazed by the seemingly infinite gifts of the here and now.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Mom and me, way back when.

When she passed on, my mother left me very big shoes to fill when it comes to Christmas (btw, we wore the same shoe size). Mom was a big believer in family and tradition; she devoted her entire life to making her husband, children, and grandchildren happy, sometimes, I fear, at the expense of her personal happiness. However, I never saw a wider smile on my mother’s face than on Christmas. She reveled in being surrounded by family, and it was her joy and honor to care for us.
            So! Not being my mother, I sometimes tend to get a little cranky around Christmastime. Cleaning, for one thing, is my least favorite activity. I enjoy cooking, but there’s a difference between roasting a pan of Brussels sprouts for my husband and me, and putting on an entire Christmas Eve and Christmas Day spread for 13 people. Shopping…well, let’s just say I’d prefer to order everything online, but because I waited until the last moment that wasn’t possible. The mall, much to my horror, simply could not be avoided.
            That said, I am not only looking forward to the holidays this year, I am enjoying the preparations as well. The reason? I’ve finally figured out that it really is about the journey, not just the arrival, as my Iyengar yoga teacher firmly pointed out (once again!) in class last week when we were all in a hurry to get into a pose.
            In many Christmases past, I’ve felt a sense of loss and sadness when the holiday ended. That was probably because I placed so much focus on its arrival, so much focus on the actual events of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But “The Season of Light” isn’t just about the moment the lights go on; it’s also about the darkness before, and the warmth that stays with us after the lights are lit.
There’s an afterglow to Christmas, that’s for sure, that lasts long after the presents are opened, the pies are devoured, the tree is trimmed and everyone has finally arrived home from places far and wide. But there’s also a pre-glow that can be lost in the hurry and worry of it all. There’s a pre-glow as you sort and wrap presents, bake cookies (personally I hate baking cookies, but whatever floats your boat), as you write out your holiday cards (or send your holiday emails!).
That pre-glow is something I’m sure my mother knew about as well, for even though she did tend to “pre-worry,” she didn’t lose sight of the joy of preparation. It’s not just about one day; it’s also about the anticipation of waking up in the morning and knowing that your son who’s moved far away is coming home tomorrow or the next day, the pleasure of picking out just the right cranberries to make your cranberry sauce, the happiness of knowing all your grown children will be joking and sleeping again under the same roof (or if you have little children, the joy of knowing that just for this brief period, it doesn’t matter if they’re too excited to fall asleep).
There’s a reason why my mother always said she was looking forward to “Christmastime.” Religiously, it’s about the birth of Christ, of course. But it’s also about the gift of savoring the season, the season of family, friends, and the light we feel in our hearts when we’re together.
 And for me, it’s also about the joy of discovering that my mother’s “shoes” still fit.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Buddha in Bloom

Recently, I was lamenting the sorry state of my sacred space. In days of yore, I did not have a sacred space nor did I know that such a thing existed. But ever since I began practicing yoga, teachers have been emphasizing the importance of having a special place of your own where you can go to meditate and enjoy some solitude. It seems like a simple idea, but creating and maintaining a sacred space in a house shared with family can be a challenge.
            For a while, I had a very nice sacred space in my living room-- a small, lovely table, with pictures, flowers, and special stones, a Buddha, a Ganesh, the usual stuff. But then the “kids” came home from college, and I decided to move my space up to the attic.
            In the attic, I created a perfect space. I had a cool table I picked up at a yard sale; I covered it with a cotton print from India, put all the usual suspects out (Buddha, Ganesh, stones, pix, and added a candle)….
            But before long the “boys” (now young men) decided the attic was a great place to lift weights. They were respectful of my sacred space, and didn’t disturb any of my little sacred reminders, but somehow meditating up there on a sweaty rug, surrounded by (for me, un-liftable) weights wasn’t exactly inspiring. I suppose one should be able to meditate anywhere, anytime (airports and grocery store lines, I’ve heard, are good places to challenge one’s meditative skills) but I was rather attached to the idea of a place away from distraction.
             And so, I moved my “sacred” space (now becoming not-so-sacred) back downstairs. (My bedroom is not in the running as my husband has his music practice space there.)
            Things went sacredly-swimmingly for week or so, when another son came home with his goldfish, and asked if I could move my sacred table to accommodate his pet. Having an affinity for the fish (the subject of several past blogs), I agreed. This meant moving my sacred space table into a corner nearby which is rather hard to reach. The result, unfortunately, was that though I could see my beloved reminders, I rarely sat with them. I still managed to meditate, squeezed in a little room with all my books, computer, and papers, but this meditative atmosphere left much to be desired. Space yes, but hardly sacred.
            Recently, passing by my dusty sacred altar in the unreachable corner, I noticed that my Christmas Cactus was blooming close to my little Buddha, almost tapping him on the shoulder, which reminded me that it’s time to seriously revisit this sacred space concept. The blooming Buddha seemed to be calling to me, reminding me that I need to own this space, to claim my little corner of the universe again.
            If you live alone, this probably isn’t an issue for you. But for those of us who live with others (especially, perhaps, moms) it may be easy to forget that our space, time, and solitude are just as important as anyone’s. The single bloom on my neglected Christmas Cactus freshened my perspective on this: Whatever it takes, claim your sacred space and don’t let anything, anyone, or any fish (no matter how lovable) stop you.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Case of the Missing Mala

When I was a kid, I loved Nancy Drew. I loved her so much that she inspired me—and another ten year old girl—to co-author a (very) small “book” of mysteries with illustrations (a limited-edition self-publishing venture that ended up in our elementary school library). In our collection, you can be sure there would not have been a chapter called “The Case of the Missing Mala” because when I was ten years old I had absolutely no idea what a mala was.
            Years later, when my sister went to India I discovered what a mala was (but that’s another story). This story is about a mala I actually lost last week, a lovely mala that I had purchased more than a year ago at a yoga center I frequent. I had been using this mala over the summer while doing a 21-day online meditation. After that mediation was over, I thought I placed the mala on the doorknob of my office; or possibly, put it away in one of my little jewelry boxes. But this week when I was thinking about it, I couldn’t find the thing anywhere.
            I scoured my house looking for that mala. I looked in every box I could find (and discovered to my horror, that I am the owner of many, many little boxes). I looked on every doorknob. I searched under my bed. (As my mother used to say, “It couldn’t have just walked away!”). I dismantled the bathroom closet (where I found things I never even knew I had). But…no mala. 
            And now I began to want that mala, need that mala, desire that mala more than anything in the world. I suddenly could not meditate without it. I suddenly could not go to yoga class without it. I suddenly was obsessed each time I entered my bedroom or home office. The lack of the mala became huge. It prompted me to go through a mountainous pile of papers (thinking that it might be beneath). It prompted me to dust things that hadn’t been dusted in quite some time. It prompted me to think about the fact that I really haven’t been meditating as much as I should be, and that I really haven’t been de-cluttering and letting go as much as I should be, and I really haven’t been clearing out my thoughts or emptying my life of things that “do not serve me” as much as I (even though I hate these words) “should be.”
            Suddenly I realized that the missing mala was a lot more useful than the one that was here somewhere, because the mala’s very absence was teaching me that there are things I need to get rid of and “lose” (work that bores me and takes up too much time for too little money, for instance). Oddly, during this same week my dear sister was going through a similar experience (though she didn’t to my knowledge lose her mala). I found out that she had decided to make a career change she’s been thinking about for years.
            Long story short, last night I gave up looking for the mala. I informed the Universe, “I surrender.” I admit I asked the Universe to help me find my mala because I really like it, but I also decided to give up searching. The mala would re-surface—one day, I was sure-- in a little box I’d forgotten about.
            Minutes after my declaration to the powers that be, I went back into my office to face the work I’d been putting off. But just as I sat down at my desk, I had a sudden urge to take everything off my doorknob one last time. I removed three pocketbooks that I haven’t used in years, and as I did so I had a sudden urge to peek within the folds of an old fabric bag. Of course, there was the mala. Apparently, it had slipped off the knob and fallen inside.
            I fished it out and placed it around my neck, relieved that the mystery was solved!  Then, grateful to the Universe, and to my role model, Nancy Drew, I decided to begin meditating daily with my mala again…beginning…right now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nothing Stays the Same

I used to wonder why folks would keep pictures of their babies around on mantels or walls even after the babies had long grown up. I used to wonder, that is, until I decided to do the same thing myself. Yes, I have more current photos of my now-grown sons that I proudly display on my piano. But I also have three baby pictures that hang on my wall that I can’t give up. And each time I gaze at these pictures I’m reminded that the personalities of each were firmly established from day one.
          For instance, without naming names, since I don’t want my kids to be annoyed with me (I procured their permission, btw, before writing about them in my forthcoming memoir), I’ll just say that the expression on the face of my first child is exactly the expression that I see so often now that he is 30 years old: serious, pensive, and just a bit critical (as in, "Why are you pointing and flashing that thing at my face?").
           My second son, 25, can also be clearly identified in his baby picture: joyful, playful, sensitive, and a bit of a joker; the same at 15 months as he is now. The third picture also perfectly captures my youngest son (now 22): Pensive, sweet, and just a tiny bit mischievous.
           It’s often said that nothing stays the same, that people change, and that we shouldn’t get too attached to things the way they are. Yet I take some comfort in the fact that even though my children (and if you have them, possibly yours as well) are no longer cute little babies, they still possess many of the same characteristics and attributes that made me love them from the very start. Certainly they’ve grown and evolved, and would mostly likely prefer a beer to a bottle of milk these days. Yet they still, in some ways, are precisely the same children I met in the labor room, the same babies I carried in my womb for nine months, the same toddlers who climbed on the counters and chased fireflies in the backyard.
             Sure, things change. But some things—if you look closely enough—stay exactly the same. And for that I am grateful.