It was a 14 hour drive one way from here to my hometown of Paullina, Iowa.
That’s a long drive.
A long drive gives all sorts of time for self-reflection. Breathing space. Time to saunter aimlessly through childhood memories. Hour after hour and mile after mile of looking out the window at what’s growing in the fields between here and there.
It’s not just that my youngest brother passed away, and we buried his ashes in the graveyard at the Quaker Meeting House and sang a song for him. It’s not just that I visited the family farm again after many years, or talked to Bruce and Carol and Lowell and Eunice, among many others, whom I haven’t seen forever.
And it’s not just that I drove to Gaza, a tiny town where I went to grade school, to see that the building has been bulldozed into a pile of unrecognizable rubble.
Or that I walked down to the gravel pit where we played and swam on Sundays while growing up.
Or that the view of Uncle Orren and Aunt Florence’s home is overgrown with brambles, untrimmed trees, leggy bushes and tall weeds.
Or that my family and I dropped by to see my High School speech teacher on a whim and she welcomed us with open arms. She told my Mom and Dad that she wasn’t, of course, allowed to favor students for any reason, but in retrospect, she was admitting front and center that she secretly favored red heads. My five brothers and sisters and I were all red heads, and we adored her and knew full well that she adored us. And we knew, too, that pretty much every kid in school was a red head to her.
It’s not just one experience in my hometown that changed me yet again, tugged at my heart strings and opened my heart, or molded my cup of life in yet another way — it’s many experiences, all piled together, all of the above, and more.
I took photos and looked on in wonder at the difference between my memory of my past surroundings and the actual size and shape of things now. I stood by the rows of now ever present sky high and wide-as-the-world grain bins that are in every town. They weren’t there when I was young.
But they stand everywhere big as Moses now.
And by the time I arrived back in North Carolina, my now home, my experience of life had re-arranged itself into a new inner world order so to speak. Some ideas or priorities had fallen away somewhere along the journey home, some have grown. What I was most touched by were the people I grew up with, went to school with, and went to Quaker meeting with every Sunday. Their generosity and kindness run deep.
And I am a better person from having been raised there, for having left there, and for going back to visit there.
Thank you, my Iowa. Thank you, my Iowans, where the tall corn grows. I’m tippin’ my pretty green cap to all of you.
I don’t know how it all went so wrong, so fast.
But it did.
It began so innocently…
A long time male friend of mine came to visit with his new girlfriend. I’ve known this gentleman long before my (now 19 year old) daughter was born. I have photos of him holding her in the gray striped baby sling, walking through the pink azalea blossoms in an arboretum on a beautiful day in Los Angeles when she was about nine months old.
My friend and I have history. We’ve talked for hours, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve given each other a comforting shoulder from time to time, we talk about relationships, where are lives are going — the usual between friends.
We’ll call her Roxie and we’ll call him Jerry. Yes, the names have been changed.
Anyway, Jerry showed up pulling his trailer with plans to stay for a couple days to explore Asheville and visit friends on their way to the West Coast.
We decide to go shopping for food, which prompts a conversation about eating. Roxie begins a commentary about Jerry’s eating habits — something about how he never turns down good food, and he must eat about a pie a week, don’t you think? And he eats a lot of meat. All of this is done in a somewhat “friendly” way.
I find myself recoiling at this whole interchange, however, in an almost out-of-proportion way. My stream of consciousness thinking sounds something like, “that comment didn’t sound so bad, in the grand scheme of things, maybe this is how they talk to each other and it wouldn’t work for me, but it’s just fine for them — but why does it FEEL so bad???”
Hmmm. Weird. It’s the most unexplainable feeling. Her comments have an oddly-ever-so-slightly-ripping-edge to them, producing a microscopic tear in the fabric of one’s heart. Just the smallest cut. Practically imperceptible. It’s the oddest thing — you can’t see it happening if you listen only to the words of the communication.
But — you can feel the tearing as the words pass over, like a fog with tiny needles in it. And suddenly, you’re bleeding just a little bit and it’s a surprise, like how in the world did that happen? It’s a slight of hand, the soft handkerchief covering the knife — words said with a smile, but underneath, the vibration of the message isn’t kind at all.
Wow, we’re off to an interesting start. “Not exactly safe ground for anybody here,” I think to myself. I wish a great big crane would come and lift me right out of here.
Alas, there’s no crane.
I notice I’m not breathing much, so I take a deliberately deep breath. My kitchen is a safe haven at my house. I imagine white light everywhere and send a whoosh of love out of my heart.
All of this white light will hopefully lighten things up, don’t you think? But all in all, I figure it’s none of my business and do my best to disengage.
So here we are, getting to know each other, a bit of a rocky start, but things can change. I have hope. Maybe there is some kind of underlying misunderstanding causing all this trouble, who knows.
“What shall we do together tonight,” I ask. A movie?
Roxie mentions the idea of going to a David Wilcox acoustic guitar concert . I’m relieved to be talking about music. What a good thing!! Maybe all the “ouchy” stuff will go away now.
Apparently, he’s an acquaintance of Roxie’s, and based on her glowing comments about David and his guitar, we decide to go. We get the last three tickets to a sold out concert. Things are looking up. A musical evening could save the day.
After picking up the tickets and shopping for food, we eat a bite and get back in the car to go to the concert. I’m not exactly looking forward to making more conversation in the car.
Unfortunately, Jerry’s not talking. He’s practically absent. Silent as a mouse. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to try to prompt a conversation with him, but it didn’t. Since his lights weren’t on and nobody was home, I didn’t try.
So I continue talking to Roxie, because not talking seems weirder than silence. There are times when one should bow to silence. This was probably one of those times.
Roxie doesn’t initiate conversation, so I do. What could we talk about that is common ground or interesting to her? That always eases the way, doesn’t it?
So I ask her more about her work. She teaches non-violent communication.
Wow. Hold on. I reflect momentarily on the complete irony of this, since I experience her conversation as, well, violent.
She says she hates cities, and avoids them at all costs. She teaches exclusively in lovely retreat centers along the coast and doesn’t deal with cities. Well, good for her.
For a moment, I notice I feel wrong for ever having lived in a city. I smile to myself. There’s that “thing she does again.” It’s not what she says, it’s what she delivers energetically with the words.
I suppress sudden inner laughter. Call me crazy, but it struck me as funny how hard I was trying, and how badly I was doing in the conversation with her.
What the heck. Let’s see. What else can we talk about?
I ask her about other teachers she likes. She likes a few, Eckhart Tolle for one, and tells me she spent 80 days with him before he got famous. I wondered how it helped her. She told me that it was wonderful just BEING with him. She had listened (or tried to listen to him) on CD but it wasn’t even close to what it was like to BE with him. She mentioned the 80 days several times. Maybe it’s her trump card, I don’t know — that nobody can come close to her level of — whatever — because she’s spent 80 days with Eckhart.
We talk about Eckhart for a while longer, but it’s a report from her, and there’s no real interchange, no curiosity, no exploration, no discovery. It is my least favorite kind of “conversation.”
We haven’t arrived at our destination yet, so I ask about another teacher, and I see that she doesn’t seem too wild about this subject and states her (very negative) opinion about these people. Thank goodness we finally arrive at the concert location.
As we step out of the car, the evening air touches our faces — cold, clear and beautiful. We walk into The Grey Eagle — it’s a super casual venue, with folding chairs for the audience, and a short order type restaurant and bar. We find seats, leave our coats, and Jerry says he’s going to go get something to drink. He asks Roxie what she wants. She mentions lemonade.
I notice my thirst as well, and realize that, in the rush to leave and get those last three available tickets, I forgot my water bottle, and so did everyone else. I decide to buy water for all three of us.
My path to the water puts Jerry and I next to each other in line. I think to myself, “What a good time to talk to him by himself — how cool is this! I can finally SAY something to him — maybe wake him out of that deep slumber and have a little more fun. At least there would be one more person to talk to, a friendly face and a big heart to relate to.
“Jerry, do you think we could be a little closer while you’re here with Roxie…”
I’m saying those last words of the first sentence of my incomplete communication, when what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Unfortunately, not a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer….
Right. Roxie on his left.
She interrupts and starts talking to Jerry. I can’t really hear her, but she whisks him away before buying anything to drink, and I continue standing in line to get my water, wondering — what just happened here???? Since Roxie said something about lemonade, I buy one for her and three waters.
I go looking for them and find them deep in discussion and not in a fun way. I hand her the lemonade. She practically scowls as she states she’s having an important discussion and can’t drink that right now.
OMG. Everybody’s in trouble. I can feel it. All Hell Has Officially Broken Loose. Where are my supplies to survive this disaster? I hand them a bottle of water and walk away leave them to their important discussion. Maybe this will blow over quickly.
The concert begins, and it’s fabulous. David Wilcox is a master storyteller with his guitar. He makes us all laugh, he moves us deeply, he makes us appreciate life and all of the hard lessons, and how to learn from even the most difficult circumstances.
Perfect message for me right now. I begin to relax. This man can play a guitar, his all-knowing fingers move effortlessly through the cords and he tells stories in the most intimate way. How beautiful.
The two seats next to me are still empty, however.
At the break I go looking for them and Roxie explains how there is a big upset going on.
I see what happened and how my incomplete communication got interpreted by Ms. YouCan’tAndWon’t TakeMyManFromMe, but since I didn’t say what she thinks I said, not even remotely, I say, “Well, I didn’t say or want what you think I said or wanted. So there’s nothing wrong. Why be upset about what never happened?”
She’s been around Eckhart Tolle. She’ll understand that.
I turn to Jerry and say that I just wanted to have a better time with him, and that he seemed to have left his body and I missed being able to talk to him.
Didn’t matter. She “knew what I really meant” and was not having any of this follow-up explanation stuff.
And I thought to myself, “NO.”
“No, I’m not walking into that dimly-lit-MUD-up-to-your-neck-CAVE you’re in. Nothing of any value will come from three out of three folks sinking not so slowly into the dark abyss.”
They told me they were going to continue the conversation on their own. Not long after that, they called me saying they had taken a cab to a hotel for the night and would come get the trailer in the morning.
I listened to the second set of David Wilcox, and it was fabulous. Every song gave an answer to the dilemma/drama that had been created. Every song told a story with a suggestion about what works in relationships. Every single one.
My favorite song of David’s said exactly what I wanted to say to both of them. I don’t remember the name of the song, but it contained this line: “…beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, lies a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Maybe someday we can find that field.Continue Reading
This is something we have been talking about in my family lately — this little thing called Maintenance.
No, not exactly hammers, orange traffic cones and tool belts, but yes — when an area of your life is not working all that well, you take a look and say, “Hmmm, look at that! I bet I could do that a little differently if I just put a daily dose of my valuable attention there.”
Here’s another way of saying it — You take a little action every day in a particular area of your life that ultimately makes you a happier and healthier person. This action is something you do just for yourself and your own satisfaction, which benefits YOU directly in the future. This is a little something you do NOW — and five years from now you will be very glad you did what you did, and yes, it happened a little at a time. Nothing radical. Just little daily steps in the direction of happiness for you. (Think long term small initial investment with a big return on the other end.)
This is clearly not rocket science, but it takes consistent, dedicated effort in an area where you might be a little asleep at the wheel. I know there are places where I’m most certainly snoozing. How about you?
So first — and this is important! — poke around a bit in your life and see where you are really happy. Notice how you support yourself in these areas and notice how well you do it. Thank yourself, acknowledge yourself, give yourself a HOORAH! and a pat on the back.
Perhaps you LOVE long baths with candles, your favorite bubbles, and no time limit. It’s just your thing. You love it, and you give it to yourself at least once a week no matter what. One of my consulting clients does this. She will take time before she goes out on Saturday evening, or before she tucks herself in. One long bath is a pleasure that lasts — for her — for the whole week. Her week goes better when she takes time for that long pampering session.
One of my friends takes time to smell the roses every day, literally. She walks outside with her morning cup of coffee (no to-do list in hand!) and enjoys the spikes of color in her backyard. She smells them, touches the soft petals. She notices the amazing and brilliant color in the morning light. On special occasions, the hummingbirds dive in for a surprise sip of nectar.
Perhaps you have a well-maintained car. You rotate your tires, change the oil, get it serviced regularly, and keep it clean as a whistle. There’s a schedule. You follow it. And guess what? Your automobile runs beautifully and looks great. You never have car trouble. You’re always happy to have people in your car. You never have to move piles or dog leashes or wrappers from what you were eating a few days ago. Your car always looks clean and welcoming. You’re one of those folks that says, “Sure, I’ll drive” and everybody jumps in.
I recently made a new ALDA (A Little Daily Action) deal with myself. Exercising regularly is pretty easy for me now because I made a deal with myself 4 years ago. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week (pilates, yoga, light weights, the treadmill) and when I don’t feel like the gym, out comes the small trampoline and iPod, or I walk my dogs (not just sauntering along, either!), or I do something that gets my heart going for at least 30 minutes. That’s my deal with myself, and I am SO happy about it. This has made all the difference. I feel good. When I walk, I can feel all the muscles in my body working together — I love that feeling! — and I don’t think I’ve felt that since I was in my late 30’s or early 40’s. I’m actually stronger now than when I was younger.
From this happy and satisfied place, I look forward to the next shift I’m about to make. Try this — make new shifts from a place of being happy about how you already are. This is the opposite of pushing against a failure in an attempt to improve, which is hard work — and it doesn’t work. (Take diets for instance — regaining the weight as soon as the diet is over.) Coming from a place of satisfaction and joy and self-approval, ANY action taken is about a hundred times more effective. How fabulous is that!
So, here I am, happy with my exercising. It’s easy and makes me feel good. I’m strong and flexible. Now what? Here’s what!
I would enjoy the feeling of being lighter in every way. Lighter body, lighter thoughts, lighter attitudes, lighter outlook. Lighten up!
So during my day, I will shine a light on my state of mind. Do I need that snack I’m heading for or am I simply worried or uptight? What thoughts, what point of view would allow me to “lighten up?” How can I feel better right now just by seeing things in a more positive way?
Again, a little action every day. I did it with exercise, I can do it here. What will happen? I have no idea! It could be that I begin to pass up food that I don’t really need. It could be that I feel better, even when times get tough or there are challenges in the family. My younger brother in Iowa is recovering from surgery and some rather serious physical circumstances. How will things change if I look for a better feeling every time I think about him? What will happen if I see all of his strength every time I think about him? I don’t know, but I’ll be happy to report back to you.
And this is an important point — the “I can do it” part. You’ve done it before. You have the skill — make sure you find examples of your success with change. (If you can’t find them, ask a friend who knows you well — they’ll tell you plenty.) Bookmarking your successes turns off that (unkind) voice in your head. Transfer your skill to this area where you’ve been a little sleepy-eyed.
So these are the things I will be looking at in the days to come. I’ll give you a report in a few months! I’m curious about what changes I’ll see in myself and others as I go. Want to participate? Want to go for some new change in your life? You can do it. Look around for evidence that you already know how to make an important change! Send me a report or ask questions — I’d love to hear how this is working for you.
This morning as the rain stops and starts, and the sun goes under for a good long while and then comes out blazing and brilliant and all happy about the stir it causes, I think of our lives and how they are like that….
Your Rainbow — Where Does It Lead You?
Gray and cloudy followed by unprecedented brilliance and stunning color — rainbows complete with pots of gold! If we can handle the clouds, which is often difficult, we can handle the rainbows, right?
I don’t know. I keep having to remind myself that dark and light can be equally valuable, and I’ve been around the bend a few times!
All of us know the power of how we think about our life story, whether we see a cloudy future — or something brighter. Jean Houston, in “A Passion for the Possible,” talks about a woman who thought about her life as a play with an unhappy ending until a friend sent her an Emily Dickinson poem that spoke of sumptuous despair. She thought to herself, “How wonderful to rise out of my piddling desperation to a sumptuous celebration of my condition!”
This woman began to think of richer words to describe her feelings, and one thing led to another until she remembered that as a teenager she used to write poetry. She began to write again. One day, she sent a poem to her married daughter, who responded with a poem of her own. Soon they were talking on the phone and getting closer than they had been in years. On a whim, she offered to read one of her poems to her friends, who were quite taken with it. Within a week they had a poetry-writing circle. Pretty soon she was creating poetry circles for her church group and within a year, she was invited to create poetry circles for inner-city women. She became a volunteer to be a Friend in Court for teenage girls in trouble and became a social activist helping families.
Her life today is full of adventure and challenge and deliciousness, all because she saw value in revising and rethinking her interpretation of “cloudy skies.” Dark days were just fine after all. In fact, they became sumptuous and full of rich meaning.
opening in beautiful ways
She opened to this new and more inclusive view of things, which clearly beckoned the sun and rousing adventure as well as an ever-widening circle of positive influence.
So here’s to the weather in our lives — blazing sun, quiet and oppressive heat, strong and prevailing winds, dog days of summer, frigid winters, unrelenting rain, gentle showers, wild thunder — all of it. May you find delicious drops of creativity, love, awareness and surprising gifts in every well-weathered corner of your world.
In my life, I have three favorite women and we meet regularly. It’s something I look forward to with a smile on my face way before I get to wherever we are meeting. Connecting with a group of women and staying connected has never really happened to me before — not sure why— but I’m glad it’s happening now.
So there are four of us. According to my cursory research, the symbolic meaning of the number four deals with stability and groundedness and represents solidity, calmness and home. To realize the power of four, think of the four seasons, four directions, or four elements (air, earth, fire, water). Being in this supportive group of four encourages me to explore my roots. I feel stronger and more centered after leaving this fabulous group of women, I know myself better, whether or not I have been the center of conversation, and I am accepted no matter what is going on with me.
We meet in places where it’s quiet enough to talk. We don’t gossip. We don’t figure each other out or psycho-analyze. We ask a lot of questions and listen to each other. And laugh. Oh, do we laugh. To see one’s self reflected in the eyes of three others who love you is surprising — in a good way! Besides, laughter is the best ab workout around.
More evidence that four is a great and stable thing — you can build a pyramid on a base of four. With this group of four, I feel like we can rise above anything, and get a pyramidal (!) perspective on life while standing on solid ground.
And what a view that is. Thanks, girls. Here’s to more groups of four! Let me know if you have one, or when you build one and write me about it. I’d love to hear all about it.