Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tools for the Journey #22 - UP

What is your UP? (Up as noun not adverb)

In my corner of the Blue-Green the rusty counterpane of autumn has all but finished its blanketing of the world outside my windows; the yard is a mess of auburn foliage yet my eyes are drawn upward. There are still apples clinging to the high branches of trees, and stubborn leaves holding on at the tops of old maples determined to avoid their flight to earth. Yet even with the crunchy messiness below, my eyes are pulled heavenward.

The smoke rising from burning leaf piles in the dooryard of old farmhouses and the stunning, crystalline blue sky. Everything around me in this leafy cathedral makes me want to look UP!

Have you noticed how fall and winter make you look up at things falling down, and spring and summer tend to make you look down at things coming up?

Autumn reminds me of ancient cathedrals built tall so religious pilgrims would turn their eyes toward heaven; a reminder of where their blessings rain down from like so many falling leaves.

For the past twelve months I’ve been a pilgrim on a harrowing pilgrimage through hospital rooms, infusion suites, pain meds and feeding tubes. This time last year my husband had stage IV, metastatic cancer and we were uncertain of the future. My 'up' at that time was the fervent prayer Paul could somehow survive the horrid chemotherapy treatments and by some miracle return to being the vibrant husband and father he had been. This year my 'up' is in profound gratitude for the manifestation of this miracle.

There were many dark days in the past twelve months and yet there were also many friends who stood by the road and shown their lights to guide us through those days. Some made quilts and hats to keep Paul warm, some raked leaves so I could be at the hospital, and Meals for Neighbors quietly deposited meals on our doorstep three days a week for months. These are but a few of the kindnesses extended by the fellow pilgrims we’re blessed to call our friends.

My habit in fall-time is to be mindful of my 'harvest' over the past year and this year is no different. Ever since I was a child I've loved the idea of a holiday all about people being grateful. What is different this year is what my 'up' is focused on.

My friend, Erik Weihenmayer, who lost his eyesight at thirteen years old, talks about alchemy and how to turn the lead of our lives into gold - the transmutation of something base into something extraordinary. This past year has been one of the most 'lead-filled' and challenging of my life, yet friends and neighbors selflessly rose up and made the journey far less painful than it might have been. An ear, a shoulder, a hand extended - all helped us to look up from our troubles with gratitude; giving us eyes to see gold where we thought there was only lead.

This Thanksgiving my 'up' is focused with gratitude on the blessing and miracle of true friends. The grace of God is omnipresent and witnessed by the presence of these earthly angels He has put in our way.

As you bow your heads this Thanksgiving think about what your 'up' is this year; what has your harvest brought you? Savor what is upon your table up the good from your bounty because there will no doubt be an equinox of bright and blustery days ahead on this unpredictable leaf-strewn journey.

Autumn is an alchemist turning these leaves to gold and we are supposed to look up and take notice of this overflowing cornucopia.

 In Joy and Gratitude and for lifting us UP!
Chery, Paul, Alia and YuYu

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."     -Marcel Proust

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tool for the Journey #21 - Already More

This tool for the journey comes from Ben Taylor. Unbeknownst to him he gave me this 'tool' a few years ago and it is because of this tool I ultimately came to know him. Ben gave me this gift through his exhale in the bridge of one of his songs long before I met him. Subsequent to receiving this gift I have had the blessing of coming to know more closely the spirit in which he and his band share their musical offerings.

In my humble opinion we live in a musical era where their type of creative generosity and thoughtfulness is rarer than it should be. Far too many musicians trade grace for gloss, yet Ben (et al) seems gently insistent that we 'listeners' be intelligent and engaged... and I respect their artistic integrity and posture a great deal.

Regarding the 'tool' he gave order to show it to you I need to share with you the lyrics of Ben's powerful song:


When it gets me depressed I find
That it's best with my chest high
As I stretch my lungs & express my love,
Hold my breath & forget my pride,
To reflect that the rest of our lives are a measure of time.
We may as well try to express some style.
I exhale my prayer.
(And) follow it with my eyes as it fills the air.
In the back of my mind I imagine that you can hear
As if you could still be near me.


Lately I've been breaking my mind,
Trying my best but it's taking its time.
I've been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness.
I'm supposed to laugh as if there's nothing going on.
I know life goes on regardless,
But nothing's been the same
Since you've been gone.

Another run around the sun,

Look at the things we've seen.
What have we both become?
What have we dreamed?
Who have we lost?
And what have we won?

I never could've believed that you wouldn't have finished what we'd begun.

I never dared to imagine you would've been taken away from us.

Lately I've been breaking my mind,

Trying my best but it's taking its time.
I've been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness.
I'm supposed to laugh as if there's nothing going on.
I know life goes on regardless,
But nothing's been the same
Since you've been gone,
Since you've been gone,
Since you've been gone.

Now times change & the game plays on,

And the truth remains but the rules have all gone wrong.
Life rises, now here we are
Still looking for the place where we belong.
Stronger than habit & fantasy,
Deeper than gravity.
What will be has to be.
God planned it, I understand it.
I hadn't imagined you'd leave me stranded
On this stage in these lights where I'm standing.
No right to complain
Cause it's already more than I'd ever have asked.

But without you
The best has yet to pass & now this song is about you.

And I've been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness.

I'm supposed to laugh as if there's nothing going on.
I know life goes on regardless,
But nothing's been the same
Since you've been gone,
Since you've been gone,
Since you've been gone.

No right to complain 
'cause it's already more than I'd ever have asked

Wow - what a gift and a scolding, a reminder and an affirmation these words have been to me. 

It should be said it does not matter what Ben meant when he sang these words because as the listener I am not only allowed but also expected to do my part in this creative circle. It is my job to slow down, listen and interpret his lyrics to find the gift he was giving - viewing it through my own lens. Within each song is a gift specifically for me if I am willing to take the time to hear it. This lovely 'dance' between singer and listener is why music - more than any other creative medium - is the 'Universal Language'.

One never truly knows the impact our words, our exhale, will have on we are not always aware of who is 'listening' or how our words will be heard.  As a singer/songwriter this seems especially challenging because songs ripple out far and wide (for years) and thus have more potential to touch people repeatedly than other forms of art. The glorious part is their gifts are given freely for us to interpret and what we receive is shaped by our ability to 'listen', and by our own life experiences. We get to add ourselves to the art through our interpretation if it.

An artist's painting, or poem, song or story - all are snapshots of moments in time; flashes of joy and pain, love and beauty, frenzy and repose - introspection and insights breathed out onto vinyl and canvas and paper - these things of the heart and mind become something solid through the willingness of the artist to feel and then share those feelings. This type of 'eyes wide open' exploration and examination takes more courage than many people realize.

As patrons of art our interpretations become an essential part of completing the circle of giving which was initiated by the artist. We give back by our ability to listen with open hearts and minds; to hear not only what was said, but also to listen well enough to discern the more invisible, harder to find bits. Their treasure is found when we engage with the art and breathe in their gifts, when we listen and actually hear what is being said in the places high above the words which were sung or spoken...

My interpretation of Ben Taylor is he is generous as an artist in his exhale. He is intelligent and witty and he is certainly willing to step outside the box and take risks with his music, yet his lyrics also leave much low-hanging fruit for the listener. He reminds us of gravity but also lifts us up with lighter gifts and gives us permission to laugh at him as well as ourselves. His heart is palpable because he is willing to share it. He does not appear to have the need to emulate anyone else in his craft, yet his respect for others in his field is certainly evident.

Ben's gifts to me through his music have been many, but the one which will always stand out for me remains the same:

'No right to complain cuz' it's already more than I'd ever have asked'.

Already much more than I'd ever have asked.
These words started as a reminder but have become a part of my foundation - part of the ground I stand on; a valuable tool for my journey.

I don't want to take things for granted, not my life, not the people in it, nor the gifts and blessings I have been given. It isn't as though these words sung by Ben were new to me, but somehow I listened and heard them in a new way that day - and this changed something inside of me for the better. Ben didn't do this - I did, but he contributed through his art, through his exhale...and this has been a gift to me from him.

Already more...rather than 'not enough' the glass half full or half empty? Perhaps we should just be so damned glad we are blessed to have a glass at all when so many in the world do not. For me it isn't about how much is in the glass but rather what we do with however much we are given. Do we recognize the glass and the gifts...and then pay it forward?

In this life I have already more than I'd ever have asked, and a singer I didn't even know reminded me to keep my priorities and perspective in their proper place...all because I was listening.

In-Joy the journey! Stay open and keep listening!

You can find more info about Ben and his band as well as their upcoming tour dates at:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tools for the Journey #20 - Who do you carry?

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart] 
By E. E. Cumming

 i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
                             i fear 
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)
i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) 
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant 
and whatever a sun will always sing is you       
       here is the deepest secret nobody knows 
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud 
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) 
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
   i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

  I have always loved Cummings' works, however this particular poem has long been my favorite. As with all good poetry - it has held different meaning for me at various points on my journey. During a recent trip to California my old friend and mentor, Wendy Palmer, posed a question to me which brought this poem back into my mind once again and gave it new meaning. Her question was:  

"Who do you carry with you?"

Wendy and I were talking about ways of walking through this life; during our conversation she shared with me both the question and her own answer to it. She told me, "In my heart I carry the Dali Lama, in my belly I carry O-Sensei (Japanese martial arts master and founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba)". I cannot recall now whom she said she carried in her head but her point was she carries in her head, heart and belly those people she feels can help her be more grounded, centered and powerful as she walks through her life. This is a mindfulness practice and one which I had never thought of before in quite this way...

Who do I carry with me?"

Each body center contributes to our understanding of the world around us and if open can enhance our experience of life.

Head - intuitive intelligence - self-awareness, new ideas, paying attention to the world around us, wisdom, thinking, consciousness, listening and our connection to concepts; intellectual knowing.

Heart - emotional intelligence - self-concept, radiation of  love, kindness, compassion, emotions and creativity, how we feel, sense and experience life and our connection to people; inner knowing.

Belly - somatic intelligence - self-portrayal, the solidity and connectivity; the embodiment of how we stand up and walk through this life, our connection to Mother Earth and the natural world, our foundation; movement and physical knowing.

Since the conversation with Wendy, I have given quite a lot of thought to who I would want to carry in my head, heart and belly. Each person I have chosen is a person I feel embodies in a significant way, the strength of that particular body center.

After I decided who those people would be then began the process of actually walking through my daily life carrying them with me. This means paying more attention to how I am looking out of my eyes, listening, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, paying attention, and exhaling (what I give back to the world) as myself yet also endeavoring to embody some of the essence of the people I 'carry' - because the way they walk through the world resonates with me. This practice has enriched me in ways I would never have imagined possible. The benefits have been subtle, but the changes in my point of view have added a richness and texture to my day to day life which has been wonderful and surprising.

Who do I carry?

In my head I carry Erik Weihenmayer. I carry Erik because of how he listens to and thinks about the world, how he intellectually engages with the planet and the people on it, how he uses his wisdom in unconventional ways and challenges conventional thinking. He is my "head person" because of his stunning capacity to problem solve and because he looks for what is possible past what is simply visible.

In my heart I carry His Holiness, the XIV Dali Lama. I carry the Dali Lama with me because of his compassion and love for all living things. His Holiness summarizes Buddhism and his life philosophy in this way: "Try to help others. If you are not able to be of help then at least do them no harm." Kindness, compassion and wisdom...for His Holiness the Dali Lama these are not just empty words, but rather foundational principals. My most sincere wish in life is to be a kind, caring and compassionate person. I carry the Dali Lama as my "heart person" because I know of no other living being who has so mastered the art of true compassion.

In my belly I carry Wendy Palmer. I carry Wendy because she is the steadiest, most peaceful, rooted and centered person I have ever had the blessing to know. She seems to be a tree in human form and her roots go all the way to the center of the earth. She is solid and unshakable. She embodies for me creativity, intuition and a calmness which I strive for but have not yet achieved. Wendy is my "heart person" because she reminds me it is not just about the journey but about being conscious on the journey. In my pursuit of wisdom I have much still to learn and Wendy taught in times of uncertainty there is value in simply entering the sanctuary of not-knowing and having the courage to wait.

I believe E. E. Cummings got it right in his poem - about who we carry with us.

"...(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud 
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) 
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart..."

On our internal and outward journeys we may not find 'the whole truth' or come to know all the secrets of the universe exactly, but if we carry with us those who keep us grounded yet also open and honest, then we will certainly find pieces enough to enrich and sustain us. This seeking is a worthwhile endeavor and what we gather along the way will be sufficient to grow our Selves in rich soil with deep roots...

Ask yourself who you are 'carrying' out and place these people within you because the celebration of those who nourish and sustain us on our journey is indeed part of the wonder that's keeping the stars apart.

On this Mother's Day I wish to say 'thank you' to one person in particular who nourished and sustained me for much of my journey - my mother, Carol.

Mama, I carry you in my heart in a special 'center' reserved just for you. You left this life fourteen years ago but you are still the voice inside my head and part of the fabric of my heart. Not a day goes by when I don't use one of the many 'tools' you gave me.

It is my belief that even if your mother is already gone from this life she will come close on Mother's Day each year to listen to her children. So if you are listening, mama - I love you and I always carry you with me - I carry you in my heart!

Happy Mother's Day