Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rumi and the Groovaloos - Art and Inspiration

One of my favorite lines from Rumi is "Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground". Maybe at first the connection between a thirteenth century poet and mystic and a contemporary hip hop group isn't that obvious. And I'm not insinuating that I'm an expert about either of them. But the connection is what comes to mind after my trip to New York yesterday to see a Groovaloos performance.

This started out as a Christmas gift for my grandson (see previous blog 'A Business Lesson'). Shawn and I were both so excited about the concert itself and the idea that we'd get to meet the cast after the show. I was expecting skillful and energetic dancing, lively music, and hoping that the performers would be as gracious as my few brief contacts with Bradley Rapier's wife via Twitter. And I was hoping, also, that Shawn would see something that would somehow inspire him, to see that there are things worth working for.

Our experience surpassed our expectations. The show was fantastic! There were life stories movingly or explosively told through music, dance, poetry, and individual voices. There was such connection with the audience. It didn't feel like just performance. You were brought to care very much for each of the dancers. I thought of so many young people who face similar conflicts, roadblocks, and decisions - who may not have the outlets provided by movement, but who might be encouraged by these stories to find their own paths.

The audience was invited to meet the cast after the show in the lobby - autographs were signed, pictures were taken, conversations were going on all around us. I was so impressed by the graciousness of the group.

The difference between art and craft is much debated. For me, the distinguishing factor is that the artist makes meaning out of the tools at hand. So something can be beautifully made - but it would be the meaning of it that makes it art rather than craft. And there was plenty of art in this production.

One of the most inspiring stories of the group belongs to Stephen Stanton, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2003. Told he would not walk again, he shows up on stage, often with his cane, but definitely not only walking, but dancing. I loved that among this group of young people who often look like rules of gravity do not apply, he demonstrates that dance is so much more than just a well behaved body. It makes me wonder "So as these dancers age, will they still be telling their stories through their movement - what kind of art will they be sharing?" Maybe it will be through teaching, maybe they will morph into other things like so many of us do. But I have to admit that I would LOVE to see an older version of this sometime. If we learned nothing else yesterday, we were certainly inspired to dream - and pass it on.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is my dad's birthday. A lot of people who have a holiday birthday wish that they had a different date. I even had friends at one time who celebrated their child's half birthday so it could be more special, not get lost in the Christmas festivities. But when I asked my dad last year if he minded having his birthday on Christmas eve, he said that he enjoyed it. And my mom made sure it was a grand occasion.

Because of his birthday, we would have our biggest celebration on Christmas eve. Mom baked for months ahead, putting tins of cookies and appetizers in the freezer. We moved around frequently when I was growing up because of daddy's job, so we were often separated from extended family. My parents solved that by having an open house party on Christmas eve for neighbors and friends from work. I loved these gatherings! There was so much good food, festive decorations, lively conversation, and sometimes dancing. People would come for a short while before church or show up afterward. Some years we'd go to a late service after the guests left. It felt like a perfect ending to such an evening - the smells of pine and incense, the music, the beauty of the church, and the stories of another birth so long ago. And that dead tired feeling you get after so much excitement.

Last year my dad turned 85. We flew to Seattle to help them celebrate and had planned a big party with their friends at my brother's home. As it turned out, Seattle had the biggest snowstorms they'd had in over 25 years and the party was postponed several days. Many people couldn't get there even then - but it was such a treat to see how enthusiastic my dad still was. His delight is contagious.

This year we are back to celebrating the evening with our children and grandchildren. So many families share similar circumstances - separated from loved ones over these holidays, with phone calls and memories to maintain the ties.

When daddy turned 80 we couldn't be there so we made a video for him. One of the sequences had our grandchildren sitting on the couch doing "Are you 1, are you 2?....." and gradually falling over as they got closer to 80. As though they were getting exhausted, just counting. Never mind having lived through that many years! Here's to another journey around the sun. Happy Birthday, daddy! Are you 1, are you 2....?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Business Lesson

You know how you sometimes stand outside yourself and watch what just happened? And sometimes that becomes a great learning experience?

Last week I watched the So You Think You Can Dance finale with my grandsons. One of the groups they had on was the Groovaloos. We've seen them before and love them - so were eager to watch for their number. My 14 year old grandson was exclaiming over some of their moves, my 4 year old grandson was just dancing along. One of the dancers was wearing one of those earflap hats and Shawn suddenly commented that he'd like one of those. Shawn is very particular about his clothes, so when he says he wants something, I take notice. "Aha! A possible Christmas gift! One he might actually wear!"

Yesterday I went into NYC to see a play with some friends and we passed street vendors who were selling inexpensive versions of the hats. So I picked one up. Then last evening I tweeted about it, mentioning the Groovaloos' inspiration for this gift.

This morning when I checked my Twitter - there was a one word message to me from the Groovaloos! Well, that was cool enough. And I thought, "Wow, somebody there has it set up so they can check anything that comes along that refers to them. And they respond! "

I hadn't bought Shawn a real gift yet - he's at that age where it's hard to do much more than give them gift certificates or money. But I thought - "I wonder how much a ticket to the Groovaloos would be? I't's probably out of my range - but maybe." So I went to their site - and they had a range of prices that I could handle. They're only going to be in New York till January 3rd - so I had to make some quick decisions. There was nothing standing in the way - so click, click, click - I am now the proud holder of two tickets, and am thrilled at the idea of spending some fun time with Shawn.

After I finished all this and the dust settled, I realized what had just happened. Because this group responded to some little compliment, I was favorably impressed by them. And I realized that they had something (a performance) that might fit one of my needs (a cool gift for my grandson). So I bought tickets from them. If this happens to them even 5 % of the time, they're going to have a continuing stream of customers. For any of us in business, it's a great lesson. They didn't try to sell me anything. They just paid attention and responded. What a great marketing tool. It's the little communications that might make someone remember that you have what they want. And even if you're not in business, it's a good lesson. In this age where responses often seem to be too much effort for people, it's good to remember that a little courtesy goes a long way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What Do You Want for Christmas?

My earliest memories of Christmas are sensory. I can remember back to 3 - some I think is real memory, some may be embellished by family stories. I remember being in bed and hearing bells - like jingle bells. And I remember being pulled out of my sleep by someone, not wanting to wake up. The story part is that we were staying with my grandparents and my grandfather was telling me to get up, that Santa Claus was there and I'd better hurry if I wanted to see him. Grandpa would laugh telling that story years later.

Gifts were always a huge part of Christmas. We didn't have much money for many years - so mom would save up the things that we needed and get them then - all wrapped up. It made the tree look really full. Packages with socks, underwear, mittens - practical things made special. I still remember the ecstasy of getting a dollhouse one year, my beloved record player, various beautiful dolls, a pogo stick - and I think my all time favorite was the year my mom made a trunk full of clothes for two of my favorite dolls. I still have them - they were so beautiful and became more precious as I got old enough to realize that she had to wait till we went to bed each night or off to school to find some time to get the sewing or knitting done.

As an adult Christmas has never been the same. I remember crying the first few Christmases of my married life - it wasn't the same just going back to visit. Preparing for the holiday for your own family was so much work! You begin to realize that the events that you treasure in your memory didn't just happen magically - your parents struggled and sacrificed and worked hard to create something for you.

I tried to do that for my own children. One year when I was a single parent raising my kids, in a fairly new relationship with my present husband who had children of his own, we decided to get the kids together to share Christmas eve. I was frantically working to make everything perfect. I'd spent weeks after work decorating, cooking, baking, buying gifts, wrapping presents. Early that evening I asked for some help and didn't get the quick response I wanted and I snapped at Al. He asked why I was behaving like this. I said I wanted everything to be nice. And he said quietly "We'd rather have YOU to be nice."

I can tell you, I was furious! But after I stewed over that remark for a while, I began to realize that he was right. What I really wanted was for us to all enjoy being together, to share in the beauty of the holiday - much of which was available without all the work and frenzy. It has taken years to pare down, to give up what is non-essential, to come to a place where I don't identify with people all around me saying "I can't wait for Christmas to be over!"

I love being with my family. I love the family who can't be here. I love Christmas music. I love homemade cookies. The scents of Christmas - a balsam fir, citrus,cinnamon and cloves, the little bursts of light and color in darkness, the quiet of Advent, the stories and liturgies at church ground me in tradition and joyful reflection.

I enjoy small doses of shopping, especially for the children. I enjoy some baking if I can fit it in without feeling rushed. We love having gifts made in our name to groups that bring hope to people who have few options without a little assistance.

The Christmas story is rich in lessons; you could spend a lifetime uncovering the gifts it offers. I've come to realize that what I want for Christmas is the open heart that makes transformation possible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Time Vanishes

I remember participating in a women's evening potluck about ten years ago when we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell the group something about us that really caught our interest. I forget what I answered. I had interests - many of them. But a couple of women talked not just about something that interested them. They mentioned "When I do (whatever - painting, gardening, writing) I lose myself. I forget time. I come to after awhile and I've been in a different place. It sounded mystical, transformative. I wanted that. And I wasn't experiencing that.

It was the kind of thing that I felt that I should be able to get. It sounded like runner's high. In all the years I ran, I never experienced that, either. I was disciplined. I went out early every morning, through all kinds of weather. I got a little faster, could go a little farther - saw some progress. But I'll be darned if those endorphins ever kicked in - unless you count how good the shower felt when I got home again, and the virtuous feeling I had that I'd made myself do something good for me.

It was the same when I tried to meditate. I fidgeted, I made myself sit and practice letting thoughts go - but it was almost impossible for me to get to that place that you read about - the place of refreshment, revelation. If I were honest with myself, I had to admit that I couldn't quite see what all the hoopla was about. I must not be doing something right.

I think many of us lead lives that fall a little short of what we'd like for ourselves. We try various things, we decide that either they don't work for us or that other people are exaggerating. We give up and settle.

But I am here to offer you encouragement. There are times when I now know exactly what those women were talking about. It has been a long time coming. And I can't tell you what it is that works. But I've had the experience of losing the sense of time, of immersion in something that I was working on that was absolutely fascinating to me. I know that it has to do with many small steps, reading and listening to a number of suggestions, coming back over and over again to ideas that seemed to be useful but that I'd drop when I got busy or stressed.

Perhaps the first step is acknowledging there is something we want for our lives. Being in the moment, losing sense of time is treasure.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rural Women's Conference and workshop

This past weekend I had the privelege of being invited to do a workshop at the annual Rural Women's Conference held in Binghamton, NY. This is sponsored by the Rural and Migrant Ministry and was founded by my friend, Ruth Faircloth in 2006. The purpose of the conference is to provide connection for rural women who are "isolated by location, language, culture, and resources", and to help them "develop strategies and networks for change".

The location in central New York makes it possible for women in especially underserved areas to come together. One woman I met who recently retired and lives about 40 miles from Binghamton was so excited, "Things like this don't happen out here. You think of the big cities, but not here. This is so wonderful!" She returned to school getting a degree in ministry as she was preparing for retirement and she may become one of those who take on the role of ally to this group of women.

Workshops were geared to health, careers, domestic violence, justice, and families. Some address spiritual needs. I was asked to provide a session on creativity and joined forces with the other woman, Jill Austen, who had also been asked to do one. She was focussing on storytelling, I offered painting rocks. Blending the two gave participants the possibility to tell their stories in words or images - or to just play. We all ended up having such a good time. Ruth had told me that she'd been wanting to include a creativity segment for a couple of years. And while it is fun, there is ample evidence that stimulating creativity reduces stress and helps people rethink the ways they operate that keep them stuck.

For me, the most exciting part of these conferences is to see the young women who attend. They are often from families who have struggled through many barriers and to see them taking on leadership roles while still in their teens is really inspiring.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving. It's right up there with New Year's Day as one of my favorite holidays. I've come to really appreciate those celebrations that can't be taken over by commercialism, that offer space for reflection.

I know that if you're doing the cooking or trying to travel within certain time limits it can feel chaotic. But we have some control over that. The expectations are simpler than those holidays that are associated with gift giving or wild partying. For me, I am so happy to just gather together with others to be mindful of what we are given. As we get older, the list gets longer and longer. It might be remembering the touch football games in the backyard with friends or family no longer with us. It might be thinking about the times people have been so generous in the hospitality they've offered us. It could be for our health, for shelter, clothing, food, friends, family; the most creative friends also find reasons to be thankful for the lessons learned when things have not gone well.

A friend sent me this prayer that she had taken from John O'Donahue's To Bless the Space Between Us.

Grace After Meals

We end this meal with grace

For the joy and nourishment of food,

The slowed tome away from the world

To come into presence with each other

And sense the subtle lives behind our faces,

The different colors of our voices,

The edges of hungers we keep private,

The circle of love that unites us.

We pray the wise spirit who keeps us

To change the structures that make others hunger

And that after such grace we might now go forth

And impart dignity wherever we partake.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Joy Diet - Connection

This chapter of Martha Beck's book stood out for me. Maybe that's because I am a connector. I think it's my vocation.
I grew up moving around a lot. Learning to make fast connections became an important survival skill. And even when I settled as an adult, I found I loved pulling people together, meeting new people and finding ways to fit with them, figuring out what we had in common, enjoying learning about our differences. I like to stay in touch. Sometimes I make contact with people I haven't seen or heard from in years. Some connections get broken, and some just seem to melt away. There has been pain and heartache from some of the losses, relief occasionally; but the overall joy and satisfaction of building relationships is more than worth the risk of loss. The Little Prince was always a favorite story about connection.

I recognized in reading this chapter that sometimes my tendency is to give up my ground in the interest of making things easier. And I make assumptions all over the place.

A couple of years ago I picked up an interesting book that had a personality test in it; you figured out where you were in a spectrum of about 15 categories and that information might help you understand yourself and the people in your life. I took it, my parents took it, some friends took it - we had a few aha moments. I realized that I'm not as adventurous as I thought I was. My husband wouldn't take it. He didn't really say he refused - he just never got around to it. I was dying to find out how he would score. So I took it for him!
I answered 104 questions as I thought he would answer. I figured him out. And later we were with friends talking about the test and I said something like "Well, he is more this than that so that explains ..." He looked at me and said, "But I didn't take the test." He had become in my mind what I had determined he was. We doubled over laughing and have laughed a lot over it since then. I realized how easy it is for me to make assumptions about people. And then I'm not really connecting with them. It's a one sided relationship. I think it's a hazard in many relationships - I can recognize times when I've made incorrect assumptions about customers, friends, and family. And I see that by becoming still in myself, I may be able to be more true to them and let them show me more of who they are. I started practicing this in small bits - I like the calmness it brings, even if it is only for an instant.

By the way, I have to say that my favorite line in this chapter was "When you're doing nothing, caring for your screaming toddler creates only empathy for what it's like to be a very ambitious person in a very small body."

I've loved the connections that we've been making in this book club - even if they are just for this short time, I'm so grateful for the willingness of my fellow participants to share themselves so readily. Thank you, thank you.

You can follow the wonderful discussions that this chapter has generated by going to

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Joy Diet - Laughter

Now really, once you take a look at this picture of the man I live with, do you think I needed this chapter? Martha Beck suggests that you laugh at least 30 times a day as part of her Joy Diet. Piece of cake!

I had the good fortune years ago to interview and hire a colleague where I worked who had laughter down to a science. She had set up humor carts in hospitals where she'd worked. She had countless tricks - things she'd learned, things she'd made up - to keep the department, patients, students not only laughing but coming up with creative ways to solve problems. It was exposure to her that got me going to the Humor Project's Laughter and Creativity Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. Even after she moved away we'd still meet there. It was a terrific education for me.

I come from a family who likes to laugh anyway. It's often how we cope with the fact that we have some big differences in the way we think. When we can find things to laugh about together, we know how much we care for each other, and it reminds us we are so much more than our opinions. But actually learning more about laughter and how to facilitate it in certain situations made it a much more intentional activity. And as Martha points out, it multiplies exponentially.

One of my favorite props is the red sponge nose. They're small and light enough that you can ambush groups with bags of them. I met a CEO who kept one in his briefcase. If a board meeting got too contentious, he'd bend over as if to get a tissue or something and come back up to the table with his nose on. While the attention of the group was focussed on the ones arguing, he'd sit patiently till someone noticed and the bickering would stop dead.

I love to play with the noses. When my niece got married, I brought a couple of bags of them and passed them out to people at the reception. Suddenly everyone was dancing with red noses, making conversation with folks they didn't know, and the fun just kicked up a few notches.

Years ago I was laid off from a job that I'd had for 9 years. There was a large restructuring in the hospital and a lot of people's jobs disappeared. It was a very traumatic event. I'd never quite understood how awful that can feel - that when you've worked hard and done a good job, you can still be so vulnerable. You feel such rejection. The method they chose to tell the employees who were to leave was humiliating - they called you in, asked you to turn in your passwords, etc., and you were escorted to your car. My co-worker who had the same level position as I did was called in first and came back crying, saying "I don't have a job." We were both trying to absorb that information when they called me in - and I, too, was gone. I'd just come back from the Humor Conference a week or so before that. And I think the effects from being there were what helped me get through that period with some grace. To begin with, I suggested to Janet that we go to Mohonk - a gorgeous place to hike. It was 10 am, the most beautiful late spring day, and rather than go home alone and sit and mope, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we were free to do what we wanted. We hiked, we groused, we stewed, and we laughed that day. Of all the surrounding memories, that's my favorite.

When my husband's brother died suddenly at 48, it was the laughter that started everyone on their journeys to healing. Chris had left us with lots of memories that we could share with tears running down our faces - because they were so funny.

My grandchildren keep me laughing; each one has given us some priceless stories that have become part of the family lore. The four year old alone, pictured, keeps me well above the threshold of 30 laughs per day.

I'm intrigued by the HoHoHaHaHa yoga. Maybe I'll check that out.

I hope you're getting your daily dose of mirth. You might want to check out the Humor Conference Website:

And to read my Joy Diet companions' responses to this menu item take a look at Jamie Ridler's blog:

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Joy Diet - Play

The adventure with The Joy Diet by Martha Beck continues. I loved this chapter on play! It really caught me by surprise, as some of the other sections have. But when I read this one it felt like an aha moment!

Ever since I was a teenager I've occasionally framed my life in the most dramatic scenarios I could think of. I remember throwing up to my mother in my mind's eye - "I don't care if my room is neat! Is it important to have on my tombstone 'Here lies Becky. She always had a neat room? or She could wear a size 8' " Whatever the current demands were that I wasn't meeting.

As I've grown older the line that I often find useful to remind myself what's important is from Psalm 90: "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."

My early heroes were people who were selfless, smart, inquisitive, compassionate, dedicated. And they went up a few notches if they had a good sense of humor.

While my earlier dreams of going off to save the world never materialized, my "jobs" and my career actually did line up quite well. I ended up as a physical therapist for 40 years. Some aspects of that can be aggravating, frustrating just like any other job. But for the most part I loved working with people in a way that I hope did make a difference for them. We were frequently able to make play out of our visits together. Since I spent a lot of that time in home care, we could use our sessions to tailor their efforts to what was most important to them.

In my retirement I'm often reflecting on what I'm called to do. Time with our grandchildren, being able to support our kids' busy lives by helping with transportation or errands, having time to visit aging family members, being able to enjoy friends - these are clearly part of my career. I feel so lucky to be able to do these things.

Painting, using my painting to promote a vision that I embrace, has come as such a surprise to me at this point in my life! It brings me so much joy, opens so many new doors.

Rowing, walking, yoga, exercise - are small steps to my larger visions. By keeping myself in good shape I'll have the ability to continue doing what I love as long as possible.

Martha talks about the games we play - and how we need to evaluate them in terms of our real career. If they don't serve that, then we need to find a different game. I didn't have those words or concepts to use at the time but when I made a job change that surprised some of my family and flew in the face of societal norms I realize that that's what I was doing - walking away from a game that didn't serve my real purpose. Those events in our lives can be really scarey, but deep down we know they're right.

I feel like I have reached the stage where it IS more like water flowing than swimming against a current. There are surely going to be difficult times. But I like having this concept of career and play to keep myself honest - to keep checking to make sure that I'm serving that divine spark that I've been given. It keeps going back to identifying that desire.

I've posted an image of one of my standing stones that was inspired by Catherine DeVinck's poem The Womanly Song of God.
To see how others in the Jamie Ridler's book club responded to this chapter check out her blog at:


Friday, October 30, 2009

The Joy Diet - Treats

So here's where we find ourselves this week - in the land of treats! They're everywhere, they're everywhere! I love treats! I work for treats! I practice gratuitous treating! It's what has gotten me through the highs and lows of my life.

Each week in this wonderful journey through Martha Beck's The Joy Diet as part of Jamie Ridler's online book club we read, practice, and inwardly digest a particular menu item. This week's subject was treats. Some parts of this adventure have felt difficult, required some digging. This one feels like walking on a beach and finding one more beautiful shell or rock after another.

Write down a list of smile sparkers: good jokes, great color combinations ( sometimes just someone's laundry line makes me smile), running into friends spontaneously, listening to children or grandchildren laughing, the delicious crisp little center of bok choy or crunch of a good fall apple, a gorgeous day, swirling leaves, a glimpse of our majestic river, singing with kids, the notes my husband leaves me if he's unexpectedly gone out all kinds of silliness.

Write down things that delight your senses: the fragrant oil my yoga teacher strokes into my hair at the end of a class, good poetry read aloud, music for any mood, snuggling with my four year old grandson, my neighbor's crab apple tree - in spring it holds a breathtaking explosion of blossoms, carpeting the sidewalk as they drift down; in summer it provides a welcome pool of shade; in fall it is voluptous with it's small fruits; in winter it's gray bark and wild scramble of branches accept all kind of lights to make an intriguing sculpture; and this week I happened to get to the orchard where we'd leased a tree just as they were pressing apples into fresh cider. It was nectar from the gods! Boy, was I smiling with each sip!!

Practice divine decadence! We don't have tv and I tend to like "good" books, movies, etc. saving what I consider junkier reading for the beach or travel. But when I'm watching my grandson and he'd be busy or napping I'd turn on the tv at my daughter's. She had tivoed "America's Next Top Model." I started to follow it somewhat, and one morning she had some cheesecake sitting on the counter. So I made some coffee, sat there watching all these thin young women going through their paces, as I was savoring a delicious piece of caramel cheesecake. I suddenly saw myself from the outside and started laughing out loud, thinking "If my friends could see me now!"

I do hold treats out as a reward for getting unpleasant tasks accomplished. If I finish vacuuming, I can sit and have a cup of tea - in a real little pot. Or maybe I'll sit on the steps and watch the trees, clouds, and sky. Or sit out on the porch in a good rainstorm and feel the mist blow in on me. I'm a cheap date, easily pleased with small things. And they are everywhere.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Joy Diet - Risk

Looking back over the past 30 years I see a long trail of risks I've taken. One of the advantages of getting older is having a history of successes as well as all the failures accumulated. So in reading this chapter of Martha Beck's The Joy Diet in preparation to join Jamie Ridler's book club discussion, I've found myself thinking about some of those milestones. And the line pops into my head "What have you done for me lately?"

Are there risks now that I need to work through to get to my heart's desires? For example, one of the things I really want is to deepen my art, to continue to build skills and techniques, but more to find what it is that I'm in a unique position to express. A small step toward that would be to get out on a regular basis to go look at art. There's a lot available where I live. I'm only an hour and a half out of NYC. I've been saying for several years that I need to get on a train and go down by myself, even four times a year. I don't see myself being afraid to do that. I'm pretty comfortable travelling by myself. But unless I plan something with a friend or family I don't do it.

Maybe a risk would be to enter a competition. I know that challenges result in my work taking off in new directions that I usually find very interesting. But I hesitate to enter beyond an occasional local show that I'm comfortable with.

I did do a small thing for myself yesterday in yoga class. I've been recovering from a back injury and decided that yoga would be helpful. I've been really careful in class, babying myself a bit. For the first several classes I'd avoided trying the shoulder stands because I found getting into a position like that difficult - whereas it used to be so easy. But yesterday I decided I was ready to try and it felt fine. A little thing - but it made me so happy.

I've put in a picture of a plane for this menu item. Last night I had a dream that I'd had to fly someone in a plane. I'm not a pilot, but I managed this successfully. After I delivered them to wherever they needed to be, I remember looking at the plane and thinking "But now I have to fly it back by myself." and I was thinking that maybe I'd just hang around for awhile. Till spring.

The thought entered - but if you wait till spring there might be water in the gas and the engine could falter. You might forget how you landed the plane. Maybe you'd better just go now.

I think this dream fits risk - it might be better to go now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Joy Diet - Creativity

This group reading of Martha Beck's The Joy Diet is turning into quite an adventure. It's certainly not for the faint hearted. Jamie Ridler organized this online book club - and I enjoyed it through Desire. Having gone away and gotten out of my rythms, I'm behind and don't feel like I'm doing justice to the practice, but want to add my response to the fourth menu item - Creativity.

I thought I'd love this one. I'm creative. I'm pretty open to new ideas. But I didn't find much new in this chapter. Some of the more controversial exercises such as looking at traits of your "enemies" to see what relates to you and might be useful, or the dichotomous thinking, I've worked with a little before. And maybe it would be good for me to do more with those - but right now, I 'm not interested. I want something juicier. The sentence that did resonate a lot with me was one relating to building our lives without consciousness: "Their plans for living come from half-formed inclinations and other people's demands, meaning their creativity is never targeted at resolving the issues that really matter to them."

So the previous chapter on figuring out desires is critical. I know that my nature is often to coast. It's not that I don't work hard - but my work hasn't always been directed to what I'm most deeply interested in; I haven't taken the time to figure that out. Sometimes I have been lucky in stumbling into something that I think "Hey, I love this." "I'm good at this." And sometimes I've found myself going through motions because I was doing what outside forces suggested or required. I've often been someone who could say -"Well, this is good enough." It's easy for me to make do, to tolerate a certain amount of dissatisfaction.

There was a lifestyle consultant who spoke at a meeting I attended who said something that impressed me. It was that we lose a lot of energy putting up with small things that annoy us. She was talking about organizing your work space, looking at your systems of operation, figuring out what you could do to support your work rather than detract from it. And her words came back to me when I started thinking about desire and creativity. For me, that is a place I need to spend some time cleaning up my act and getting in closer contact with my desire. I know the creativity is there - it will manifest itself if I can remove some of the emotional clutter.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Joy Diet - Desire

I am late with this post. I have not accomplished a visual to go with it. But this chapter was really important to me.

I worried beforehand, before reading this menu item, that it would not be about me. I felt like I was in a pretty good place in my life. In your 60's, if you're lucky, you might feel like you have the basic things that you want out of life. For me that means a good partner, kids who have more or less settled in their lives, health, grandchildren nearby, interesting things to do, some passion about work, supportive friends, enough money to take care of necessities and some wants.

But when I read Martha's description about figuring out what we really want, I realized that I did still have some unfulfilled desires. That there were things worth digging around for.

Let me tell you how this hit me.

The reason this post is so late is that I went to visit an aunt who lives at some distance for over a week. While there, I had no access to my usual supports - friends, computer, routines - and limited access to other family. I took my Joy Diet Book and notebook with me to try to keep up my practice. In the midst of some rather barren days, I found that working with this chapter stirred up some juices, got me thinking excitedly about things that I'd like to make happen for myself.

My aunt lost her husband over a year ago. He was a dear, they'd been together for a long time. Now she sees nothing in her future. When I asked her what she might look forward to, she cited a couple of tv shows. I'm sure that if she were able to work with a book like this earlier, she might be in a very different place in her life. I've seen how dead a life is without desire. And I'm not going to give it up.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Joy Diet - Truth

This was a tough week! The menu called for continuing the practice of Nothing each day and afterward to answer some questions, trying to get past the nontruths we regularly tell ourselves. The questions are not that hard on the surface. But I had a great deal of difficulty answering them most days. I could answer "How am I feeling?" and "What hurts?" easily with regard to my physical being. I could answer to some extent emotionally. The questions that asked about the stories that I tell, whether they are true, whether they work for me, whether I could come up with another story that worked better, were hard. I don't always know these things. Given my mood on any given day I tell different stories. Some of these I've known for many years and tried to work through them - so I can offer various perspectives. I'm very good at role playing - I can put myself in my parents' positions, my daughter's, my husband's, my friends', my previous employers', the people who look at my art. I can make excuses for anybody, including myself. And I can be hard on everybody, especially myself.

I feel frustrated with this week. I don't feel like I did a good job. What did come out of it was a greater awareness to pay attention to what I'm feeling and to decide what the best story might be.

My vision card expresses my feeling about trying to get at the truth, slippery as it can often be.
If you want to see what this online book club is about and read how other people respond to the diet, you can find Jamie Ridler's blog here:
You're welcome to join us! It's never too late.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Joy Diet - Nothing

I'm still waiting for a copy of Martha Beck's book The Joy Diet. What I gathered from reading other people's posts and listening to Jamie Ridler's delightful vidio that introduced this book club adventure was that the first chapter was on moving to nothing - and the three suggestions for the week's practice were to 1) spend about 15 minutes a day doing nothing, 2) pay attention to the moments when you experience joy throughout the week, 3) make some kind of collage or visual card that represents your experience of nothing. Not having more guidelines than that, I decided to experiment.

I played with my 15 minutes doing nothing in different settings: lying on my bed with my feet up on the wall, sitting in the parking lot waiting for my little grandson to emerge from preschool, sitting on my front steps - and sitting in my studio where I had caused total chaos by pulling the contents out of a closet. I chose not to call my time meditation - because that felt too structured to me. Instead, I watched my breathing ( I know, you do this in meditation, too), heard things around me, felt breeze or not, noticed people going by or not, put aside things that tried to make me make plans, and let myself sink toward nothing.

It takes a while. No matter where I practiced, initially I tensed. My breathing speeded up. My head became a clutter, a whirlwind. As I stuck with it, thoughts drifted away - some returned or captured me, but gradually they gently subsided. And every once in a while I was floating - so briefly, not even a breath's length before I noticed and lost it. But when I was at that still point, I felt fully supported. When I started this week and wondered what I'd paint at the end, I anticipated gray. But that's not what it felt like to me - it was a very soft surrounding, more vibrant than gray but not intrusive. I couldn't quite paint in one static image - because getting to nothing took time. So I layered this little journey. The top layer is full of chaotic thoughts and images. When I remove that the next layer has things floating in and out, but there is a pattern of settling occurring. And the last layer is that short experience of nothingness.

I'm so eager to see and read what others found in their week. And if you're not already doing this book club, but find it intriguing, it's open to all at any time. You can find Jamie's blog link on my first post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Joy Diet Begins

The kick in the pants, the cosmic nudge - whatever it takes to move you from "I should do this" to " I finally did this" sometimes comes from an unexpected place. So it was when I saw Jamie Ridler's invitation on twitter to join her book club, using Martha Beck's book The Joy Diet. I first checked it out thinking it might be a book written by another woman named Joy who recommends a raw food diet and has interesting things to say.

But this wasn't a recipe book for meal preparation. I still don't know what exactly it is - decided to get it from the library first and am still waiting for my copy to come in. Our library is undergoing renovations, the library my copy was found in is only open on limited days, and so I'm still waiting eagerly to see what it's all about.

When I read Jamie's description of how this would work, I was intrigued - both by the book and the process. Sharing perspectives with others is appealing as we move along on our journeys.

So I started my blog, I'm waiting patiently for my book ( if I don't get it in the next couple of days I'll go ahead and buy it - because I'd probably end up buying it anyway) and I look forward to sharing this experience with you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wrong Turns

It's been four years since I enrolled in my first iconography class. I'd been painting small stones that I called "pocket icons" and a nun who attended one of my "stone painting as meditation" classes told me that she'd studied with a local woman who taught traditional iconography. I thought it would be interesting to try that but was intimidated because it seemed to call for skills I didn't possess. I vascillated back and forth and then one day walked into a gallery to see a new show. The paintings on the walls were like nothing else I'd seen - they were so stunning in both subject and technique. As I was reading through the artist's bio, I realized that this was THE iconographer and before I could lose my nerve, I went home and called for an appointment.

I thought that I'd only go for one session - enough to complete an icon. I thought that the structure, the discipline might be too much for me on a long term basis. I thought wrong. Here it is, four years later, and I have no intention of quitting. I still do lots of other painting - which offers challenges and joys in other ways. I feel like everything I do is a learning adventure. There are times when I combine some of my own techniques of working on stones with methods and procedures that I've learned while writing icons. What I thought was a brief lookout point on my path actually became a different road, taking me somewhere interesting, though I couldn't tell you the destination.

I'll spend a few blogs soon on the process of iconography.

When have you been delightfully surprised by finding your preconceived assumptions wrong?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Want to Go to School!

My daughter called me last night. "What are you doing tomorrow?" I had a couple of appointments to deliver work so was a little busy. She said my four year old grandson was coughing and went to bed early so she was worried that he might not be able to go to school today. She's had to take a lot of time off lately and didn't want to miss more work. So we made tentative plans.

But this morning she called and said he was insisting on going to school. He didn't have a fever, so she was going to let him go.

I can't tell you how thrilled I am that he loves to go to school. I know it's only the second week, but so often the kids become resistant to school early on. Especially when they have older siblings, they learn that going to school is not cool.

I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea. When Greg Mortenson talked about seeing 50 children gathering on a windswept plateau, even without a teacher some days, quietly scratching their lessons in the dirt, I was so struck by that image. It has been haunting my days. I think about how the privilege of schools, teachers, supplies, transportation, never mind arts, music, games, all the extras are taken for granted.

And I wonder - how do we instill the joy of learning? the joy of self discipline? the satisfaction of doing your best?

I am so grateful today that Marcus loves to go to school. I know that a big part of why he wants to go is to see his friends. But I'm really grateful to his teachers who make it an inviting and exciting place to be. He's off to a good start. And I'm wondering how we support their efforts - maintain this attitude. I think it involves examining our lifestyles.

Monday, September 14, 2009


This morning I'm thinking about how much I get out of Twitter. It surprises me how many people are resistant to it, sometimes adamantly so, without having looked at it.

Clearly, I'm not very tech saavy. But that's why Twitter has been so unintimidating for me. There is more to it than I take advantage of, but it's easy enough to jump in and get started.

It didn't take long to discover that some of the people I followed were not right for me. I'm not interested in folks who constantly try to sell something, who repeatedly say "I'm bored", "I'm washing my hair", who only post quotes a hundred times a day, whatever. So you "unfollow" them - simple.

But gradually you come across people who do offer something that adds to your life. You really do make connections - with people all over the world. They reveal bits of their lives and you become interested in them. They show you pictures of things they're working on or places they're visiting- and you might find inspiration. They point you to videos, blogs, websites - and you marvel at how much is out there that you're unaware of - all the time. It's mind boggling, humbling, and exhilarating.

Yesterday alone I came across these two great finds: the first was posted by Alyson Stanfield at : a list of 100 articles on all kinds of art topics

The second was a mention of the poet Sharon Olds. I'd never heard of her before so looked her up on Google. And I have to go get one of her books. Her imagery is so powerful that I can't get her words out of my head or heart. Take a look for yourself and maybe you will want to find her books, too. They are the kind to be taken in small doses, over and over. Soul medicine. Tonics and stimulants.

Where do you find new ideas and connections? What keeps you growing?

Friday, September 11, 2009

first pebble

I've been planning to start a blog for two years. "I'll get to it". And there are many reasons not to do it. Does the world need another blog? Do I need another task? I haven't had time to figure it ALL out. Oh, you know, this list goes on.

Then today I came across a book club that I would like to join - but you have to have a blog to participate. And Jamie says it's easy to set this up. I worry - I don't know how to add pictures. I don't know how to list URL's. I don't know....

But she says if you have questions, you can email her. So maybe this is the kick I need. And a hand to hold.

So I'm taking the plunge. Do you want to come along? Her blog describing the book club is here: They're going to discuss The Joy Diet by Martha Beck.

Ready, set, jump!