Early Morning Pages

Ganesha

It is early morning and I am here. I am committed to writing daily for ten weeks as part of Susanna Harwood Rubin’s writing circle, “Write Your Practice-2013.” This writing circle has the added element of Yoga. Susanna is a yoga teacher and student of Hindu Mythology, a subject of long-standing interest for me.
I feel empowered by choosing to write this morning. I realize how much I missed the discipline I kept sacred for six months from January through June of this year. I stopped the practice in July as I prepared to be away from home for five weeks. I am grateful to have found the inspiration to return to my writing practice. Thank you, Susanna!
The theme for week one is “Finding Your Voice” represented by the Hindu deity and mythological being, Ganesha. Easily recognized by his elephant head, I regard Ganesha, the patron of intellect and wisdom, during this writing session. It is a common Hindu practice to honor Ganesha, the Hindu god of beginnings, at the start of a ritual or ceremony.
Today is the start of such a ritual for me. I invoke Ganesha and welcome his support in this new writing endeavor.
Susanna offered some intriguing prompts for this week’s writing. As I read through them, two stand out. The first is to explore my story through the objects around me. “In what ways is my personal creation myth represented by the objects I choose to have near me? What do those objects have to tell about themselves and about me?”
The second concept that attracts me is, “Always be poised at a threshold and then move through it – embrace change.” I wonder about the thresholds I have crossed in my lifetime and how well I have embraced the changes that ensued.
My monitor sits on top of a wooden box that was a gift from my Japanese sister, Keiko. Kay is an artist who creates beautiful objects from glass, yarn, fabric, wood and metal. She built the box and painted it inside and out in a Scandinavian style of artistic design. She incorporated my name on the lid. I have had the box for over forty years and it has until recently held keepsakes and letters that touched my heart. When I remodeled my laundry room into an office, my monitor needed a platform to raise it and the box was perfect. I like that I look at it every day when before it was hidden in a cabinet. I feel my connection to Kay through it.

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As I consider it now and give it a “voice” this is what I hear:
“I am a loving expression of the Divine Feminine. Through me, Kay reveals her compassion. She demonstrates her intention to serve. I am showing you the intricate details of nature finely created by Kay’s pure focus and rapt attention. Feel into my field and experience her joyfulness as she participates in this beautiful creation.”
I feel deeply touched by my experience with this box that I have kept close for so many years. Kay was a heart opening influence in my life for the year she lived with my family. I was twelve years old and she was an eighteen-year-old American Field Service student from Yokohama, Japan. I absolutely adored her. She and I spent endless hours sewing doll clothes, making origami cranes, and playing cards.
I understand now why she spent more time with me than my sister, Sandy, who was eighteen. The more sheltered and innocent upbringing of Japanese youth was not equal to the American teen’s level of sophistication, even in 1962. Kay and I were more alike in our interests and emotional maturity even though we were six years apart…and we shared an interest in artistic endeavors. I loved to draw, paint and sew and she was my more-than willing teacher.
I look at this box she made for me and tears come to my eyes. I miss her. I am so grateful for the gift she was to me at that formative time in my life. She is a gem to be treasured. Ah, now I understand why I have kept this box near me all these years.IMG_4673[1]IMG_4678[1]

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Back in the Saddle Again

I returned yesterday from a week-long visit to my parents in Spearfish, South Dakota. The occasion was my mother’s 89th birthday. It was great to see my aging parents handling the process with a high level of grace and ease…but not without challenges for us all.
My brother and sister-in-law, Gregg and Jo, childhood pals Duane and John and their crew, lifelong family friends Phyllis, Tim, Lloyd and Margaret, niece Tracy and her family and “like a sister” Tammi were all part of the week-long event.
The Black Hills were turning to gold as the aspen and birch trees took on their fall colors and we ended the week with a day-long ride through the hills to and from Crazy Horse Memorial where we participated in a 6.2 mile Volksmarch.
I am in the adjusting phase of returning home and committing (once again) to posting a daily page. Today’s post is ending here with photos from the last day of our trip.  The photos are “granite eye” on Needles Highway.  Crazy Horse Memorial.  Deadwood main street.  Galena historic cabin.  Tunnel on Needles Highway.  Vista from Mt. Mariah, Deadwood.  Crazy Horse Memorial.  George and Gregg cross the finish line.  Gregg, Tracy, Chery and George begin the Volksmarch.

eye of needlecrazy horse memorialDeadwood Main StreetGalena housetunnelNeedles HwyIMG_4631 IMG_4649IMG_4625

Lemur Returned

Lemur

I have had mystical experiences throughout my life. It is only recently, in the past decade, that I have embraced them without reservation and only very recently, in the past year or so, that I have written about them and shared them publicly.

Lemur was special. Over the years I have given home to over fifty cats but Lemur stood out as unusually beautiful, intelligent and charming.

He was extra large, weighing in at almost twenty pounds and pure white with that tail that gave him his name. Standing straight as a stick into the air, his tail was grey with black rings looking every bit like a lemur’s.

I don’t know his lineage or early history…just that he showed up in the urban neighborhood of my friend Paul and worked the ‘hood getting attention and food from several families.

The day Paul was moving across town he discovered Lemur had crawled into his open car as he made trips back and forth to the house. Paul got the message that Lemur wanted to go with him and that day he became Paul’s cat and best friend. Paul often talked about the antics and idiosyncrasies of Lemur as I sat across from him admiring the framed photo of Lemur on his desk.

After Paul died, at the too early age of fifty, I was standing with his four sisters at the funeral home. I asked which of them was taking Lemur. Eva looked at me with a degree of embarrassment and said, “None of us.” I asked, “Really? Who then?” When they told me they were taking Paul’s beloved Lemur to the pound I was truly shocked. Without thinking I said, “I’ll take him.”

At that point I had four dogs and six cats but I figured it would be easy to find a good home for this beautiful well mannered cat I had heard so much about but never met. It didn’t take long before I knew the “good home” was mine. He was just too special not to keep.

A few years later my life took a 180 degree turn and as I packed my things to move away from the life I had known for thirty-five years, I never even considered leaving Lemur behind.

Lemur and I had two great years alone in the woods in a little log cabin and then it was time to make the big leap and we crossed the country in our version of a covered wagon to California.

I am in my fifth year here in the mountains that rise from the desert floor just short of the Pacific Ocean. Lemur died a couple of months ago following a short but vicious bout of cancer. He is buried under the huge oak tree in the northwest corner of the property with a pile of stones marking his spot.

My story takes a turn now. Let me tell you about the hummingbirds.albino hummingbird

When G and I set up house I unpacked a hummingbird feeder but it didn’t make it into a tree until about a year ago. I would fill it with sugar water and the acorn woodpeckers that proliferate the many oak trees on our property would promptly suck it dry. The hummers didn’t have a chance against these large aggressive birds and I let the feeder hang empty.

In June we built a patio and in it’s center is a beautiful fountain. The day we turned it on six hummingbirds arrived to bathe in and drink the running water  We removed the perches from the feeder, moved it closer to the fountain and filled it with nectar.  The hummingbirds started feeding almost immediately without the competition of the ‘peckers.

At the end of July I headed for a five week stint at Esalen Institute. By this time the hummingbirds were crowding the feeder that G was filling twice a day so he went to the bird store and bought four more figuring he wouldn’t have to fill them so often…or more birds would come.

In a few days he was counting 30-40 hummingbirds on the feeders at a time!

Meanwhile, I was at Esalen in a shamanic workshop with Hank Wesselman. One of the ceremonies we did was a partner journey. With someone in the group that we did not know, we journeyed via the drumbeat to the lower world with the intention to find a power animal for our partner and bring it back to them. My partner, who knew none of what was going on back at my house, brought me a hummingbird. Her name is Joy.

The next day I was privileged to receive a healing from a Huichol Indian currendero.  During the healing she asked if I had lost anyone to death recently.  I told her no, thinking of the people in my life.  She persisted and I thought of Lemur.  When I said “Yes, my cat” she told me I was still “holding ” him and it was important for me to reach closure and let him go.

Lemur’s death had been shocking not only because of it’s sudden nature but also because I had not felt that the veterinarian had done her best for Lemur and those of us who loved him.  I had written a letter to her telling her how I felt, but concerned that perhaps I was over-reacting in my grief, I filed it away.  Now I understood I needed to revisit the letter and either mail it or burn it and let the issues I had around his death finally rest.

When I returned home from Esalen mailing the letter was one of the first things I did.

On the following day, G and I were sitting on the patio enjoying the fountain and the feeders with their flock of hummingbirds when suddenly a pure white bird appeared.  An extremely rare Albino hummingbird was at our feeder!  I ran into the house and got the camera and we took pictures and made a video of it.  As I was filming the video G was tracking it verbally and I heard him say, “there it goes!”  I looked up from the camera and watched as it flew across the property and landed on Lemur’s grave.  It sat for a few seconds on the stones and then flew up and perched on a limb directly over the grave.  For several hours it flew back and forth between the feeders near the house and to the tree under which Lemur’s body lies.  None of the other hummers left the grove of oaks the feeders hang from.  As I watched this beautiful, rare event unfolding in my yard I said to G, “It is Lemur.  He is back to tell me everything is alright now.”

One other person saw the white hummingbird.  My friend Jan, who lives about one-half mile away, took a picture of it the next day at her feeder.  Jan was the person who cared for Lemur when we were out of town. She adored him. He visited the two of us for four days.  We haven’t seen him since.

We live in a wonderful, mysterious world.  I am so grateful for this life I’ve been given.Lemur and GenSnowflake aka Lemur

Joy

hummingbird2

I had an email this morning from a dear friend. He said I seemed like a joyful person and asked me how I felt about that.

Joy, the name of the hummingbird that is the official bird of Mountain Vally Retreat. I am not always joyful. I am often consumed by the thoughts in my mind which are busy at best and stressed at worst. My joy usually comes out when I am with other people, animals, or walking or sitting outside without an agenda.

If I am alone in the house, I can become depressed feeling. It is an unregulated feeling that rises out of nowhere and creates a lethargy in my body…a feeling of laziness, lack of ambition, and lack of desire…sometimes even worry!

My joy feeling may return if I play the piano, listen to music, dance, go to the mat and stretch or meditate, read, paint, draw…anything creative or self-restorative.

I have come to believe that my joy never leaves me. It is always running as a background undercurrent which gets over-laid by stress, worry, anxiety thoughts and feelings. As soon as I clear my field of negative thought forms, ah, there it is, rising to the surface again. The trick is to clear my field of negative thought-forms and I feel as though I am getting better and better at that.

The surest way to bring myself to a feeling of joy is to practice gratitude.  When I start thinking about all of the positive experiences and people in my life I cannot help but smile and feel fortunate which leads me straight into joy.

I am alive.  I am healthy.  I want for nothing.  I am loved.  Remembering these important facts leave me helplessly in joy.

The Biology of Courage and Compassion

Chemical structure of Neuropeptide Y

Chemical structure of Neuropeptide Y

Today is the anniversary of the attack on the twin towers in NYC. It seems like a good day for me to resume my lost practice of writing a daily blog. A friend sent me a “Ted Talk” link this morning by a young woman named Kelly McGonigal. It is about stress.
Like Kelly, I have thought of stress as my enemy, the underlying cause of all disease and disorder in the human body. I have thought if only I could practice enough meditation and other stress-releasing techniques I might offset the negative effects of everyday stressors in my body. I am thrilled to learn that stress does not kill! The belief that stress kills, kills.
I learned this morning that when my environment feels stressful to me, my body goes into a “stress response.” This is my body “rising to the occasion” to meet the stressor. Among the many chemical reactions happening, like adrenalin, which raises my heart rate, oxytocin, a neuropeptide, releases from my pituitary gland. Oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone”, fine-tunes the brain creating a craving for physical contact. It increases empathy and compassion. It motivates my body to seek out support. It creates an urge to surround myself with those who care about me.
I am amazed and fascinated to discover that a belief I have held all of my adult life has been proven wrong. I love that! It reinforces my intention to recognize that all of my beliefs are simply opinions, not truths. I recognize that this belief about the negative effects of stress is simply an opinion that is false and I can let it go and respond differently to stressors in the future.
My amazing body has a system for meeting stress in a way that is protective of my heart if I choose to believe it. Listening to my body, I will follow the urge to seek out support in times of stress. I will be watchful of opportunities to be supportive to others who are experiencing stress. It is in moments of heart-felt connection when we feel empathy and compassion, that our bodies go into heart healing. Our cells release natural anti-inflammatory neuropeptides and our heart cells relax and regenerate resulting in a stronger more resilient heart. This new information makes my heart sing.
Listen to Kelly’s Ted Talk and reinforce your heart health today!

Into My Wild

Wild LionsWild…is untamed, undomesticated, uncultivated…in its natural state and habitat.
Wild has other connotations as well. Wild places can be remote, harsh and desolate. Wild children may seem undisciplined and act with spontaneous enthusiasm. Wild weather is stormy and turbulent. Wild people may be disheveled and behave in ways that are rebellious and unmanageable. Wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous.
I have certain friends…when we are together in a place that is safe enough we bring out the wild in each other. Our behavior becomes unconventional. We invite out the parts of ourselves that ordinary society finds outrageous…the foolish, the crazy, the irreverent, the irrational, the madcap. We revel in taking off our cloaks of domestication and sensibility and exposing our vulnerable authentic natures. In these times I become the risk-taker I was as a child who raced bareback on horses through the woods and climbed to the top of tall trees not knowing my actions were considered reckless and dangerous. Aliveness moves through me when I let out my wild. I feel open, unrestricted, authentic and free.
I have moved through my life with various goals, aspirations and dreams. I have fulfilled many of them, others have shifted and morphed from one thing to another. I am in the midst of a dream right now, creating a magical place, a destination I call home. When the vision of my Mountain Valley Retreat came to me I didn’t know what it was about. I saw the physical structures of this place and the primary feeling my vision elicited in me was safety and comfort. That was enough for me to follow through and manifest the structures. Now that most of the structures are in place I am feeling into what else this vision is about. The word “wild” keeps surfacing. I like the word “wild.” I like the way “wild” sounds and feels in my body.
I am feeling into my resistance to becoming fully wild. Surely, there must be some resistance to this concept that has such negative connotations in our society. The concept I am considering? I may be losing my concern for what anyone thinks of me. I may have reached the condition of loving myself enough to return me to my natural, wild state of being. More will be revealed.Wild Child

Connecting to My Wild

Today is Monday; the second of five weeks at Esalen has begun. Our Legacy month-long group meets tonight for Leadership and Presence. I am assisting Suzanne Scurlock-Durana with her goal of pointing a group of twenty Esalen Work Scholars in the direction of becoming better leaders through full body presence.
Last week Suzanne and I, with four other assistants, practiced a gentle midwifery as twenty-two courageous women faced their fears and practiced the art of self-love. They each brought forward their most wounded parts to be loved and held without expectation or judgment, releasing shame and guilt. The seven-day workshop is called Healing the Pelvic Floor, Reclaiming Your Power, Sexuality and Pleasure Potential.
This is my eighth year of sitting on this circle. Every year, by week’s end, I am celebrating the deep heart connections these women have formed with one another. Brilliant smiles and shining faces beam forth once the cloaks of fear and shame come off. My belief in the healing power of loving support is confirmed.
When I return to Esalen each year I meet many of the same people who either live here or return repeatedly as I do. My heart connection with these sweet souls deepens with each meeting and I feel blessed to have a global circle of friends. My daily experience of life is richer and deeper because I have the opportunity to view the world through the broad lens of different cultures, places and life experiences.
As I listen to the stories and share laughter at our commonality and differences, I feel that I am not alone. My story is theirs and their story is mine…we are all in the soup together. Life is short and it carries whatever meaning I give it. I can live in fear or I can live in love…genuinely expressing myself in each moment without filters or shame.
Animals are labeled as wild or domesticated. A wild animal lives according to its natural instincts. It accommodates only as needed for survival. It lives by a code of conduct that comes through its DNA, according to its species.
As I live out my sixth decade in this incarnation, I am moving away from domestication in the direction of wild. Conformity to social mores and need for approval have lost their hooks in me. I feel safe enough to be simply myself. I am attracted to other humans who have or are moving beyond the limitations of domestication to experience their wildness. I have a deep abiding belief in the goodness of humankind. I believe we are pack animals who thrive on deep, heart-based connection.
Conformity steals my joy and desiccates my creative flow. I have experienced the rush of creativity that is unleashed when I feel deeply connected to the seen and unseen support that is here for me. I know the joy I feel when I see the wild, uninhibited nature of another human being. I feel delight and freedom when I unleash my own wild woman.
I am filled with curiosity and a willingness to discover where this journey into my wild will take me.wild woman