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.