Random Thought — June 24

My landlord moved out about 8 months ago. In getting rid of his unwanted stuff, he offered me an old dictionary, it didn’t even have a binding.   “I’m going to throw it away, otherwise,” he said, “but I thought you might like it.”  The implication is that geeks and writers like dictionaries, and how could I not love receiving a dictionary.  I reluctantly accepted the gift, not having a clue as to what I would do with it. I thought I’d do him the favor of taking it off his hands so that he could get on with his moving, and then secretly trash it at some point.

Besides, people like to give things to other people, especially when it acknowledges that they know a bit about you (“writer” and “dictionary”), it makes them feel good, so I didn’t refuse.

This dictionary is old school, and, as the binding and frontispiece information are missing, I don’t know the publication date. I’m guessing the 1930’s, maybe even 1920’s. It’s almost like an encyclopedia. Weighs no less than 15 pounds, the pages are delightfully fragile and yellowed and tattered. The main body is the dictionary, and the back pages are a trove of those small, detailed antique botanical, zoological, and entomological illustrations.  I wonder: who created these unsigned illustrations, artists without a name, selling their meticulous skill without recognition or glory?  And who transcribed the illustrations for printing, what hands made sure that these images were properly detailed onto a plate — I assume — for the printing press?  Hundreds and hundreds of small illustrations of flora, fauna, animals, fish, insects, butterflies, bats, as much of the natural world as the editors could stuff into a dictionary, given their publication restrictions.

There are also world and U.S. history graphs and charts galore, and tens and tens of pages of historical illustrations and maps, all printed in those beautiful antique fonts and in the stark simplicity of black on yellowed white.

I received this gift before I undertook my art journals, and hadn’t a clue that I would be doing them with pleasure and perseverance.  This morning, while puttering between writing and Facebook and feeling sorry for myself because of the mountain of stuff that I seem always to take on, I was thinking about an art journal page that I was working on. It needed something — well, it needed more than something — but I had to take the next step. I had already gessoed over the first attempt, which was an epic disaster. There sat the page, a mess of gesso covered failure, a haunting metaphor for my life if I didn’t do something to the page.

The dictionary. Stuffed in the corner of the front bedroom, the answer came to me from nowhere, “the dictionary.”  All these illustrations and maps and graphs and words waiting for me to cut-up, embellish with indigo blue gouache, splatter with black acrylic, line with magenta and pine green washi tape, etch with white watercolor crayon, and layer with the soft velvet of oil pastels. All this stuff waiting for me to lovingly exploit, reworking it into something that makes my day centered, and more hopeful for creating beauty from waste.

The page that was a horrific failure became something better than myself, for it encompassed giving, receiving, and creatively using what might have otherwise been put into the dumpster, without its value being recognized.

And now, someone else’s art silently lives on, having traveled down time’s stream in an old dictionary, and into my art journal.

Today’s random thought.

This Morning’s Rhythm

This morning I awoke about 4 am or so.  Stayed in bed until 4:45, doing my lazy woman’s I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed meditation (“thanks for my life, thanks for this breathe, thanks for these moments, thanks for another day  . . .  [ a drift into silence] . . . thanks for this silence”), giving myself another 45 minutes under the covers.

Pulled myself out of bed, remembering Rumi: “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep.”  Okay, I’m up.  Barely.

Open the front door.  Smell the lilac.  Listen to the birds and bugs.  Watch the trees play in the morning light.  Put the herb garden on the patio.  Water and talk to them.

Chug a pot of yerba maté, made the night before so that I don’t have to think.

Check email.  The Universe, that is ‘Notes From The Universe,’ tells me in today’s note that “There was a time in the life of every hero, champion, master, and tycoon, when they said to themselves,’I will not wait any longer.'”   Yes, that’s it.  Just do it.  The note’s better than the yerba maté, I’m feeling awake now.  Believe.

Meditate.

Write in my journal.  Ask about having my self-imposed limitations dissolve, quickly and permanently.  “Maya Angelou inspired confidence, in my way and my time,” I write.

Make another pot of yerba maté, for when I come home.

Wash my face.  Brush my teeth.  Throw on my sweats and sneakers for today’s excursion.  New route the past two weeks.  The hills are more arduous than the ones I conquered in April, and I am loving this route more.  The first 15 minutes are a fierce, unforgiving incline.  I’ve nicknamed it “Everest.”  The views at the top are breathtaking, and my reward: a vista overlooking a valley of flourishing woodlands, and a panoramic view of The White Mountains’ outer edges.  Only 4.2 miles today, 2.1 to the main road and back.  The 5.4 loop tomorrow.  Listen to Gould on the iPod.  Listen to affirmations.  Listen to the trees and the birds and the brooks and nature.  Listen.

Back into the village.  See my little friend, who waves and says my name with a sparkling smile.

Home.  Check phone messages.  Check email.

Make a large salad: one fresh avocado processed with fresh lemon juice and salt, a package of baby arugula, a few raisins, a couple of chopped dates, a chopped gala apple.  Slowly devour in gratitude, while the stream and birds supply the meal’s background music.

Log into Facebook.  Stumble on an NPR article about 91-year-young Harriette Thompson who is a cancer survivor and just set a world record for a woman’s marathon time in her age group.  Remember this morning’s journal entry on dissolving limitations.  Synchronicity abounds.  Keep showing up.

Sit down.  Listen to the birds.  Smell the lilac.  Watch the light dance off the tree tops.  Write a brief blog post.  Think of the things on today’s list, some of which I see as challenging and unpleasant.

Not so much.  Attitude is everything.  Just ask Harriette Thompson.

Live life vividly.  V-I-V-I-D-L-Y, the word keeps making its way into my journal pages, highlighted, decoratively boxed, boldly scripted in greens, purples, pinks, reds.  Live vividly, or it’s just existing.  “Let everything else go,” I remind myself.  Harriette Thompson would no doubt smile if I told her about my problems, and I do so with her when I see them from a 91-year-old’s record-breaking finish line.  Vividly.  She seems to know about that topic.

This morning was like many mornings, but I wanted to chronicle today’s unique and beautiful rhythm, and I wanted to remind myself that “when I get over that finish line, that’s the best part.”

 

[http://youtu.be/5vlGKyxl22M]

[This entry was originally sent to subscribers with Ms. Thompson’s first name misspelled.  The above reflects the correct spelling.]

 

 

 

 

More Creative Confluence

Last month, after some intense meditation on where next to take the book project, I discovered a conference taking place in Florida.  According to its promoters, the conference not only focuses on refining one’s submission, getting the agent, and getting the contract, but on writing from a personal and meaningful space.  In other words, the conference’s creative premise is that the quality of content is just as important as understanding the work as a product which must be presented and marketed to get an audience.

Several New York Times best selling authors will be there to help us understand the mechanics of both processes, writing and successfully submitting materials — and offering the best they have to give for those of us hammering out a dream.

When I stumbled on this conference, I felt like this was something I should do — a knowing.  I never heard back from the coordinator when I requested information on a scholarship application, and I thought, “well, I guess your gut was wrong.”  Then, two weeks ago, out of the proverbial blue, I received an application for the scholarship — tuition reduced by fifty percent.  It was the last space, and I didn’t have a dime in the bank.  I pressed for the space to be held, and it was reluctantly saved for me.

Through some very fortuitous circumstances — and I do mean, fortuitous, because I lost the scholarship twice, and got it back twice — I procured the scholarship.  “We rarely do this, we’re making an exception for you,” the coordinator wrote me last week.  Welcome to my world, I thought.  Yes, I’m the exception, and the better for it.  I’m the one who shouldn’t be here, but here I am.

I also quickly found cheap digs for staying, not easy in the heart of a Florida convention center city, and a generous friend has used his frequent flyer miles to get me there.

Here’s what’s inspired this entry.  My dear friend called me yesterday to book the reservation, and I was trying to micromanage flight times, squeezing in this and that, insisting that I could only afford to stay three nights, even though I have this feeling that I should stay the day after the conference.  I don’t know why, I just do.  Micromanaging the money and then trying to figure out how I could squeeze in an extra day wasn’t working at all: the bus trip from New Hampshire to Boston, then the flight to Florida leaves small windows for transfers and check-ins.  I got  all wound up in my predictable indecision, frustrated and not really certain how or what to do.  When pushed against the wall, I like to let circumstances dictate, pretending that I am going with the flow, when in reality I just don’t know what I am doing.  It wasn’t happening, circumstances weren’t dictating anything, I needed to make decisions.  My friend gently said to me, “here’s what I recommend,” and he convinced me to stay 5 nights in Florida.  It felt right.  Logically  insane, but it felt right.  “You will make it work,” he confidently said, without any doubt that I will do I need to do to stay for five nights in Florida.  I realized then that doing this trip right meant honoring the investment of myself that I have already made, and the conference deserves a full investment of my courage and wits.  My friend graciously swept away my insecurities, and my limited ideas.

I breathed deep.  It was beautiful and it felt right.

Some gifts are priceless, extending beyond a frequent flyer plane ticket.

With this gesture, his confidence broke new ground for me.  I majorly upped my life game during the course of one conversation.  If this is something that I know I am to do, then why would I worry about the extra bucks and set myself up for unnecessary stress because I thought I had to cram everything into a short time.  I’ve already given away most of what I own, hunkered down in the middle of nowhere without a car, and I’m going to worry about two extra nights in Florida?  His insight was part of the big picture, the thing that’s unfolding.

Yes, I will make it work. It’s not in the budget, although that assumes that I have a budget.  But I will make it work, and it will work.  Because it will.

I can also cross one thing off of my new yearly list:  “Every year, go one place that you have never gone before.”  I can’t say that Florida is a place that I would have wished to go, but I’ve never been.  So I’ve got one goal met, and since it’s early in the year, maybe I can squeeze in a visit to somewhere else that I’ve never been before 2015.

Five nights in the land of hanging chads, following my bliss into yet another leap into the unknown.

Couldn’t be happier knowing that my inner GPS and I are working it out just fine.

Not coincidently, I discovered a mesmerizing TEDTalk this past week, and it was part of the game changer mentality.

“Fake it until you become it” is a holy mantra these days.

Amy Cuddy On TEDTalks.  Twenty minutes worth investing in, if you’ve not seen it.

 

 

6 Million Dollar Spirit

The spirit is larger than the body.  The body is pathetic compared to what we have inside us.  —  Diana Nyad

I still have a handful of posts that I’ve pieced together, but not finished — as usual, I’m trying to do too much in a single post, instead of just hammering out something somewhat entertaining and enjoyable.

But they are good posts, and will be completed.  Although there is a tension between writing them and working on the book, which is gaining momentum, to the exclusion of most everything.  But training.  And art.  Because the writing and the training and the art are all connected, informing each other in an inexplicable and mystical and creative dialogue that constantly amazes me.  It’s not me who does a lot of this.  I just show up.  The rest comes with time and practice.  I show up.  Stuff starts happening.

I just returned home from my best 5 mile time in too long, and I thought to post a quick entry on the joys of training.

This post on training is actually part of one of the other posts I am working on, but posting this sequel entry first seems to make sense, for reasons that may be clear, should you read both entries.

I didn’t realize until a month or so ago that I had accidently landed into a paradise for training.  My front steps lead to four different routes for biking, walking, or running.  As a local friend said to me, “I didn’t realize it until you brought it up, you really are in the best spot in this area for taking off on the roads, aren’t you.”   Four routes converge on my doorstep — the only place in this area that can boast such a wonderful fluke of circumstance.

It’s really extraordinary, yet another confluence that’s taken place in my life.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect portal to place myself for training, with the hills, the pines, the rivers, the lakes, the fresh air.  And there’s no fighting with cyclists or cars for the right of way — a bane of existence during my life in Cambridge.  The few drivers that pass me here are excessively courteous, slowing way down for the strange, foot bound humanoid that is less common in these parts than deer.

The joys of training.  One mile becomes two.  Two miles become three.  Three miles become five.  Every day, a little more.  Soon the challenging five miles is not only effortless, but invigorating.  Not just invigorating, but thrilling and nurturing.

Today, I not only did my best time, but I came home energized.  Some of the hills around here are steep and unforgiving, and today for the first time, every incline was skillfully managed by slowing down, breathing deeply, and letting the endorphins kick in.  No stops.  No feeling like I was going to puke.  No making the hill and then stopping for the breath, while telling myself I had just made the hill while stopped at the top and checking the monitor as an excuse to catch my breath.  Just concentrated effort.  And breathing.

Before today, some of these inclines have inspired not much more than an “oh shit, here we go” with an immediate heart rate spike, well past the safety zone.

Today, there was simply the joy of pushing through, maxing out my heart rate while pushing through and filling my lungs with fresh air.

That’s another joy.  The air here.  Having my lungs fill with this clean, pristine air.

I considered everything I have pushed through in the past few years, some of which I mentioned before, some of which comprises the entry that will follow this one, and I’ve often had the feeling like all the strength had been sapped from me.  But today’s easy 5 miles — soon to be 10 — reminded me how incredibly strong I am, how resilient and fortunate I am to be given everything I have been given.  Here’s a truth: just when we think we can’t make it, if we push through just a little more, practice patience with ourselves and with life, there we stand, edging closer to the person that we want to be.

This invigorating 5 miles, by the way, happened after a mild back injury last week, which I quickly recovered from thanks the miracles of the modern heating pad.

Injury is usually temporary.  Giving up is always fatal.

Today, by just showing up, there was inscrutable joy — the sound of the birds, the trees, my heart beating, the sound of my feet on the open roads, my lungs filling and feeling like they never have.  Thanks to the mountain air, deep breathing takes on a whole new meaning.  I was completely present and in the moment, and it was beautiful.  Everything sang in unison, and I was part of the choir — contralto, no doubt.

So I eased on home strong — cutting a full 15 minutes off of the times I previously clocked on this one route.

My heart rate’s been dropping fast during a cool down, indicating that I am building great cardio strength again.

Better.  Stronger.  Faster.

Never give up.  Humans are capable of so much more than we allow ourselves to believe.

“Better.  Stronger.  Faster.”  Although I’d qualify that its the human spirit is the actual bionic powerhouse, for we simply follow our spirit’s lead:

 

Pictures of the Backyard

I’m currently painstakingly piecing together 3 essays for posting, have ideas for about a dozen more in the works, am jotting down story ideas, art journaling, making mandalas, getting the book proposal together, eeking out a marginal income, and I’ve started training, again.  Finally.  It took me almost a year to see that I was living in near perfect circumstances for training, but that’s another essay.

I took a few photos yesterday morning, because it’s really easy to quiet any arguments with one’s doubting, lazy self when the skies are perfectly blue, the hills sing, and the trees dance in quiet unison, and I thought to share that beauty, here.  No one around, rarely even a car.  Quite extraordinary.  Also, I wanted to provide proof that I really do live “in the middle of nowhere,” most of these views less than a half-a-mile from my doorstep.

I set out yesterday morning about seven-thirty or so in the morning.  The temperature was about 2 degrees, but it felt colder.  My eyes watered, the tears freezing by the time they hit my lower cheeks, the mucous in my nose started running like a river down my throat, and when I tried to spit it out, it congealed in the cold, hit my sweater and hair, and froze.  By the time I got home, the cotton handkerchief in my pocket subsequently used for spitting was a mangled, frozen, rock hard trophy of besting myself.

I felt like I had what it takes to be a hard core runner.  Moments like that, in solitude with frozen snotty spit on an old sweater, steamy breath, tight thighs that are resisting any stride, hills that challenge then release then challenge again, the early morning sun, and an open road, make believing easy and natural.

This is my backyard, a gift I’ve been given for I don’t know how long.  I hope you enjoy the views.

The river that's about 250 feet from my doorstep.  Photo taken from the bridge.
The river that’s about 250 feet from my doorstep.

 

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I’ve learned firsthand about the magic of talking trees.

 

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Snow and stillness.

 

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Music in silence.

 

Now here.
Now here.

 

“They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf

Think Outside The Mandala

Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.   —   Carl Jung

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Carl Jung’s first mandala, 1917

 

I’ve worked with mandalas off and on for a long time, and I’ve been something of a Jungian for as long, though I’ve never consciously linked the two.  Until recently.

As I wrote in “Creative Confluences,” I’ve returned to making mandalas and working with art journals, creating a dialogue between hands-on works, self, life, and writing.  Mixing, coloring, painting, they inspire.  I lose myself, and, in the process, I see connections that my writing self fails to make.  According to Jung, mandalas are especially powerful, an unconscious and universal symbol of wholeness, a snapshot of the psyche artistically captured.  So evocative is mandala practice, that in Buddhist ritual, monks create an intricate, large scale sand mandala, have a community ceremony when its completed, and then ritually destroy it, in a striking meditation on life’s impermanence.

My mandalas are private expressions and suffer no such fate.  I quickly finish them, a few hours or so for each.  Regardless of the quality, I sign, date, apply a clear acrylic protectant, and place the piece in the growing pile of finished works.  They are self revelations and respectfully handled, even if they lack artistry.  Modest creatures, they are at home in seclusion —  and the better for it.  My simple works are offerings made to myself, by myself.  Playing both child and parent, I am proud giver and doting recipient.

Freedom.  It’s there, in these circular meditations.

Or, as Jung describes them, “psychological expression[s] of the totality of self.”

These expressions have become a primary spiritual practice, as I wrestle my self from myself in the middle of nowhere, while I write a book without a whit about book writing.

Everything’s connected.  The book.  The mandalas.  The spiritual journey that I set my mind to when moving here.  The dreams that appear, disappear, reappear.  The imaginative roads whose distances shimmer while I put words on the page.  Everything’s connected,  but if I try to delineate the contours, what I’m doing vanishes in its own mystery.  I don’t know what any of it means, or what I’m doing while I’m doing it.

During a conversation last week, I told a friend that I’ve stopped building the social media platform, it’s “a diversion at this juncture.  It makes me crazy.  There’s so much information, that we’re all getting stupider.  Noise, it’s noise.  Writing’s the thing, now.”

My ever patient business savvy friend said to me, “I know what you’re doing, and . . .”.

I nearly jumped through the phone in a breathless, ecstatic excitement.  Someone who knows what I am doing.  I thought my friend literally had an insight that I could wrap around my existence.  Apparently, it was merely a convenient turn of phrase.  But all I could think of during the comments that I have replaced with ellipses, because I quit listening after, “I know what you’re doing,” was, “Really?  You know what I am doing?  It’s obvious to you?  Tell me, what am I doing, because I haven’t a clue.”

I am writing.  I am making mandalas.  But I don’t know “what I am doing.”  And I’m not certain that I want to, which is frightening and beautiful.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a mandala.  Nothing was coming together, the design was strange, the color choices were off, and I was fumbling around, vainly trying to make it better.  I put it aside for several days, if not a week.  I returned to it.  It was as strained and uninspired as I remembered.  “Toss it,” I thought, “not salvageable.”  Then I begrudgingly remembered the contract that I’ve made with myself, to respect my work, no matter my feelings.  Especially the mandalas, given their now privileged status.

“Don’t throw it away,” I told myself, “think outside the mandala.”

I did.  I literally thought outside the mandala, started laying down layers around the edges, filled the space beyond its borders, created a deep teal background, and resisted the constraints imposed by the paper’s edges, filling the entire page.  I then worked on bands within the circle.  Normally, I begin from the center and work out, it avoids smearing, and allows the work to naturally unfold, as is common in mandala meditation practice.  I was working from beyond the edges and moving in towards the center.  The periphery informed the development: instead of unfolding the work from the core, I folded layers in while reaching for the center.  I incorporated the smooth and vibrant ink of gel pens, which I’d never used on a mandala, a few metallic gelatos for sheen, watercolor pencils for rich color washes, and then highlighted areas with oil pastels for added texture.

I ended up with one of the most detailed and multilayered works that I’ve yet made.

Is it one of my favorites?  No.  Aesthetically, it’s an odd thing.  Cohesive, vibrant, multilayered, yet odd.  But emotionally and creatively, it’s one of the most satisfying pieces in recent memory.  Although I’ve worked outside the mandala in the page’s empty space before, not with this degree of invention.  I’ve usually seen the empty space as part of the mandala, coming to the page with an idea of the whole, superimposing my will on the sphere and its surrounding space: I envision what I will do, and if I decide to work beyond the edges, the work is still essentially defined by the mandala’s sphere and it’s center.  I’ve rarely if ever truly thought outside the mandala, I simply enlarged its borders, while flattering myself for my cleverness.

In this work, the space outside the sphere existed on its own terms, for itself.  I was struggling with the circle’s interior, hadn’t given a thought to exploiting its periphery.  The emptiness surrounding a sphere in the middle of a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of paper was a complete unknown that I falteringly entered in order to make sense of the predetermined space that wasn’t coming together.  I had to think outside the mandala, because I hadn’t a clue as to what I was doing, and I had committed to completing a ragtag work, no matter what.

“God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.”

Nowhere.  Emptiness.  The unknown.  Outside the imposed limitations that we bring to experience, the “I live in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t know what I am doing,” that’s where life begins, because we put ourselves beyond our cherished and limited ways of looking at the world.  This mandala’s most important narrative doesn’t exist on the page that I have signed, dated, sealed, and saved, but in the story born by stepping into a page’s nowhere, its now here, beyond the confines of an inked circumference, and my understanding of that boundary.

Mystery existed in a space that I hadn’t any presumptions about, an experience of not knowing, but that I was willing to enter.  When I saved a little faltering mandala and thought differently about its space, I mirrored a deeper reality, one rippling through my psyche and life.  I didn’t just enter an unknown space on a piece of paper, this is the life path I’ve chosen.  I’ve freed my self to live in the middle of nowhere, to write a book whose destiny is uncertain, to live at peace in this creative uncertainty, and to embrace its mystery.  In this acceptance, I’ve touched something that historically we’ve labeled as God, an unfortunately small if not unkind word.

After a lifetime of pursuing knowledge, thinking that “knowing” had something to do with enlightenment, I think I’ve come to understand that it’s not “knowing” that gets us where we desire to be.

Rather, it’s “not knowing” that deeply, radically, and beautifully transforms us, rends the veil between the ego’s illusions and our freest, most creative, loving selves.

To enter the kingdom of God, one must approach as a child, Jesus famously taught.  Perhaps he meant that one must not know.

If Buddhist monks destroy a mandala, possibly it’s not just a meditation on impermanence, but a profound archetypal leap into the great unknown, beyond understanding’s circumference, and into life’s mystery.

A leap that’s the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves, when we’re ready.

 

(YouTube video:  Tibetan Sand Mandala, Creation And Destruction)