There is nothing like being with children to make you feel young at heart. Here I am with my grandson this Christmas, preparing for my first ride down the sledding hill near my son's house in Utah. Last year I declined the opportunity due to a neck problem but if the truth were to be told, I was also a little afraid. Ridiculous I know, but that kind of reticence has been with me all my life. Turning 70 and looking for my more playful self, I decided that this year, I wanted to give it a try.
When my grandson asked if I was going to go down the hill this year, I told him I was going to have to get my nerve up, in order to do it. As kids do, he pondered that old expression. What are your nerves, he wanted to know and how do you get them up. I explained the best I could. The conversation went on, "Maybe your nerves will just rain down from the sky, go into you, and fill you up," he proposed. I told him that for me, it was an inside job. I had to gather the energy inside of me and concentrate the power to give it a try.
Getting to the sledding hill was a challenge in itself, in the knee deep snow. It was hard to keep my balance and crawling under bushes laden with snow along the buried pathway wasn't easy either. Though I almost turned back, I did finally make it to the sledding hill. The kids were immediately zooming down the hill and pulling their sled back up as fast as they could, so they could zoom down once again. Characteristically, I watched for awhile, trying to assess whether I was really up for this thrill. The sledding track was leaving everyone in the bushes or perilously close to the icy river at the bottom. I felt a little sheepish as I watched even three year old Alex have no hesitation at all. I found myself thinking maybe Andrew was right, getting my nerve up might be affected by the world outside of me.
At one point, Andrew announced to all that if I was going to give it a try, my nerves were going to have to "rise up." As he said this he raised his hands from his belly up the sky. My son made an easier track that headed in a safer looking direction and they all advised me to go now before it got slicker, so I climbed into the big inner tube. This was enormously entertaining to all of my family. My first thought was that someone was going to have to go down the hill and help me get out! Andrew tried to give me a push but it didn't send me flying. More came to push and down I went, spinning around so I was flying backwards which brought more hysterical laughter from all including me, such hysterical laughter on my part that I was literally laughing and crying at the same time. My glasses fogged so that I couldn't see a thing. I was glad to come to a stop at the bottom. I did manage to get myself out of the tube though I had to have an arm to help me get to the trail that went up the hill again.
I watched the others for awhile and then announced that I wanted to try it again. In I climbed and they gave me a push but somehow this time the tube veered onto the faster track. This was a much longer and faster ride. I couldn't see a thing as the world sped by me, but I heard the frightened cries of, "Oh no!" from above, as well as much laughter, I must say. Rather than try to slow myself down, my instincts were to duck, trying to cover my face and head. I hit the bushes and came to an abrupt stop. My son must have gotten a head start when he saw my ride going bad as he was by my side instantly. I couldn't speak I was laughing so hard. "Its good you are laughing," he said as I tried to regain my composure. I stayed at the bottom of the hill as energy was waning and soon we would be heading home for warmth and a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
The exuberance of spending Christmas with a three year old and a six year old knows no end. From leaving cookies and milk out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer to present opening and playing with all their new toys, it was a time of abundance and joy. Magic as seen through the eyes of a child is absolutely life giving.
The days seemed to zoom by and soon we were saying our tearful good byes. I left the snowy magic of Utah the day after Christmas. The airport was crowded. Without time for lunch I grabbed a bag of nuts and something to drink as I hurried to my plane. Travel during the holidays can be trying! Glad to be on board, I got myself settled. I was happy to have a book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier, by Thad Carhart, for the ride back to California. Wanting to forget the sad goodbyes, I opened it and lost myself in that story for duration of the flight.
My mind was filled with pianos and piano music as I stepped off the plane and found my way to the baggage claim area. I decided to get some exercise while I was waiting for my suitcase as I still had the long drive to Mendocino ahead of me. I was walking in circles around the baggage area when the most beautiful piano music came out of nowhere. My head was so full of thoughts of pianos from my recent immersion in my book that I was amazed to be hearing piano music, and wondered for a moment if it was real. Searching for where this sound was coming from, I saw a young boy sitting behind his Yamaha keyboard at the corner of the baggage area. He was playing complicated classical music fluidly and expressively. I stopped in my tracks and listened. A Beethoven Sonata was filling the space and I watched as it changed the whole feeling of that big cavernous room. Looking around, I saw others seeking out the source of this beautiful music. Smiles appeared on faces that had seemed tired and impassive. A baby who had been frantically crying since he got off the plane stopped instantly. Bored children turned their heads. One young girl, unable to stop herself, twirled away from her parents side and began pirouetting into an open area. I wanted to join her but the adult in me nixed the plan. The room became animated with a joyous energy that all the young ones seemed anxious to surrender to.
I was amazed to see that there were some adults who didn't seem to hear the music at all. I wondered how that was even possible. Then behind me I heard a little boy ask his mother, "Is that boy really playing the piano." Dragging him behind her, I saw the mother glance over to the keyboard and its player. "No, he is faking it." she declared as she pulled her son along, rushing him to their destination. I guess she just couldn't believe one so young could possibly be doing that. Clearly everyone was not captured by this magical moment.
But I felt like the magic of Utah had followed me home! This joyous energy of the young was floating like a gossamer cloud around me, now floating around all here who stopped long enough to notice. He played piece after piece as I waited for my bag. I walked over and put a little money in his bucket. Children were begging their parents to let them do the same. People were smiling at one another in recognition and appreciation. As I left the terminal rolling my suitcase behind me, I felt completely uplifted and ready for my long drive home. I felt like I had been given a huge gift that put an exclamation point to my holiday travels.
On my long drive home, I thought of Andrew and Alex, the young musician at the airport, and the little girl merrily twirling around in the empty spaces of the crowded baggage area. Their joy was palpable. I'm afraid we adults hide ours inside our habits, and our sophistication. Our burdens and responsibilities don't help either, I suppose. Life can become so serious! A friend recently shared a dream with me. In this dream he visits an old friend named Joy, and weeps at the beauty of her memory. Joy is a beautiful thing to behold. It lives differently inside me than it did when I was a child. I recognize it most easily now in those spontaneous moments when my heart bursts forth with gratitude, and I find myself giving thanks for this beautiful life.
Joy can burst onto a child's face on a moments notice and their bodies explode with matching energy. They are a wonderful reminder of joy in its essence. Perhaps we can't all stay that young and fresh in our responses but we can remain open to that spontaneous spark and let ourselves celebrate life. I leave you with this song which has been with me forever. As I age it gives me something to aim for and tremendous reassurance that it is possible.
AN EXPRESSIVE ARTS EXPERIENCE FOR YOU
When the name for my business, For The Joy Of It! first came to me it was about my piano teaching. My heart felt desire for myself and my students was to rediscover the joy of expressing ourselves through music. I felt that talent and natural ability, though wonderful if you had it, was not the most important thing at the core of the musical experience. What was important was rediscovering the joy we had as children when we "played" in the arts. Later as I became an expressive arts therapist, I came to believe that the same is true of all the arts. Expressing ourselves that way is at the core of being human and playing in the arts can take us back to that magical child who can imagine anything as possible. For years, I have carried around the words of the potter, M.C. Richards. As I age, I find myself living ever more deeply into those words, "All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life."
Playing in all the arts has been an important part of my attempt to stay "young at heart." If you are not used to doing art, a good way to start is to make a scribble drawing. Colored pens are fun to use. For paper you can even use newspaper if you like, whatever is handy. You are not responsible for how this looks, it doesn't matter. Just enjoy the movement of your hand and arm as you scribble away. Watch the color go on the paper. Make several if you like. Scribble until you are done with scribbling! Then put a pen in your non-dominant hand and write whatever wants to come out.
Later, write in your journal about the experience. Enjoy yourself!
I sit at The Haven, a popular breakfast place in Port Angeles, Washington, at the same exact table where I sat so many years ago now. Then I was trying to find the courage to set out on my grand solo backpacking adventure in the Elwah river valley. I didn't know what was in store for me. I didn't know that within hours of being on the trail alone, I would encounter both a bear and a very strange man, but I did know that I was stepping past my comfort zone. I was lingering over my breakfast, planning other errands I wanted to accomplish before I hit the trail; all excuses, nervous energy directed at shopping. I was really just dragging my feet because I was terrified of what was to come.
Today I am the only diner in the restaurant. I sit quietly with my thoughts. My challenge these twenty years later is driving on the highways, not hiking on the trails. I've needed to know if I can still manage a trip like this and so far, the new is good. Tomorrow I head home, facing my final and perhaps biggest challenge, navigating several highways, some in early morning darkness and later during rush hour, to finally deliver my car back to the rental company and catch my plane.
I can't leave without visiting the Elwah River. I had wanted to see the changes where the damn was removed and was disappointed to find that the entire road was closed for roadwork. I'm hoping I can find a little spot before the construction barricades where I can at least, sit by the river, listen to the water rush by and soak in its energy once again.
I'm pleased to see that the road is open for a couple of miles and I am thrilled to find a quiet spot with a good view of the river. As soon as I pull up, I'm surprised to see a large salmon making its way upstream. Then another! The water is crystal clear. A brown duck with hints of orange underneath its belly, makes big splashes as it skids along the water, taking flight. Returning my eyes to the river I notice a dead salmon just at the waters edge on the far shore. It is large, maybe two feet long. It looks as if it has been out of the water for some time. Being easy food for forest creatures, some small animal has already feasted on it.
The river holds this scene that includes the salmon's demise with absolute peace. The sound of the river rushing to the sea is as soothing as I remembered and holds a deep promise of return. Its powerful flow is a picture of inevitability. Lines from David Whyte's poem Where Many Rivers Meet, come to mind.
All the water below me came from above.
All the clouds living in the mountains
gave it to the rivers
who gave it to the sea, which was their dying.
My eyes shift back and forth between the dead salmon and the live ones still moving upstream. A large one appears in shallow water. It moves slowly and then in quick bursts of energy as it makes its way against the current.
I, now nearing seventy, can barely make a dent in this wild terrain. My foot, my knee, my ankle, my energy, keep me off of all but the easiest trails and then I need to watch my footing. On this trip, I sit by the edges. I write. I reflect. I miss that younger woman who was so full of heart, so needing to prove what she could do. She saw this landscape as a challenge, a way to find her strength.
For some time now, I have wondered what of her remains inside me. I came here so that I might remember her. As I sit here watching the salmon I sense that a transformation has taken place. This wild place that I once pitted myself against, measured myself by, has moved more deeply inside me. It is not so much out there but rather, in here. Then, I was the conqueror, now I feel more like the conquered. Back then, I was seeking strength, physical strength that I hoped might translate into the emotional strength I needed in my life at the time. Sitting here today, I think I’ve found what my younger self was seeking though in the end, it didn’t turn out to be what she thought she was looking for.
I’ve carried these landscapes and the experiences I had here inside me for all these years. They have become part of who I am. As I sit here today I sense that the domestication of my earlier life has receded. I’m more in touch with the wildness inside me, much more accepting that life means constant change. It is easier for me to accept new life when it presents itself, but more importantly I’m more comfortable with life passing away. Perhaps, it’s not that I have been conquered by this wildness, but rather that I have found a way to surrender to it. Accepting my place in the great cycle of life leaves me feeling my belonging in a way that I couldn’t possibly understand when I was younger.
These twenty years have brought changes to my mind and my body. Yet, I am still swimming like these salmon, trying to find home. James Baldwin wrote, “Perhaps home in not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. ” I tend to think that both of these things are true. The salmon find their way to the place where they were born. For me now, home is the deepest part of myself, the place from which my creativity springs. For the salmon, once home, they will deposit their eggs in the nest they prepare in the gravel of the riverbed. I’m still hoping that the part of me that remains fertile can deposit my metaphorical eggs in the rich soil of my creative essence. At almost seventy, I still have a great hope that new life will spring from my efforts. And when life inside me is spent, I hope I’ll be able to surrender myself to the shore.
I see another large fish appear on the far bank. It is white on top, worn down by its life in the sea, its flesh already starting to decay. It is moving very slowly in the shallow water, struggling every inch of the way. I think of my nearly one hundred year old mother, inching herself through her days, doing just what must be done. She is as determined as this fish. Tears come as I watch its struggle.
A white flash catches my eye as another fish in partial decay appears in the deeper water. Fighting against the current, it sidles off into the shallower water as it comes to a riffle. There it begins to move upstream again, following the struggling salmon I was watching earlier. I can’t help but see my own life there in the river, my mother ahead of me nearing one hundred years old and me coming along behind at seventy, the generations moving upstream. I can’t help but think, I’m like these salmon. I’m here now in shallow water. Swimming where I can in this beautiful world. I’m here. I’m swimming. I know I’m headed home.
You might think it an odd choice but this year in search of the deeper meaning of the 4th of July, I chose to forego all the events in my town and celebrate the day with my 98 year old mother at her assisted living facility a couple of hours from my home. I've found spending time with the really old, those who have lived more of the history of our country than I have, a healing place to celebrate the true meaning of the day.
For reasons which aren't absolutely clear, Independence Day is always a bit complex for me. I know its supposed to be a time to celebrate the birth of our nation. There are parades, barbecues, picnics and fireworks, lots of fun to be had. Its definitely a holiday for extroverts and we introverts give it a whirl. We are all out there in our red, white and blue. But underneath all the hullabaloo I can't help but hear a deeper story and its that story I have been mulling over since the holiday passed us by.
It is the second time I have had the opportunity to celebrate the 4th with the oldest among us. The first time was a few years ago when my mom had broken her femur and had to spend three months in a nursing home for rehab. The 4th of July occurred about midway through her stay. A woman and her two adult daughters came to the nursing home that day with guitars, a banjo and lovely voices to serenade the residents with a special holiday program. The staff had gathered everyone into the dining room. Most sat in wheel chairs, many not in their right minds. Some were so far gone, I had never seen their heads raised or heard them speak. Many had to be fed at meal times. It was a difficult to stay present in that environment as all my worst fears about aging and the end of life sat there looking at me. And this wasn't even the dementia ward!
When I walked into that room that day, I had no idea what was in store for me. The performers were exuberant. Faced with the energy level of their audience, I don't know where they found that much enthusiasm, but they did. They sang their hearts out. Very soon after the music started, heads lifted, and feet began to tap. In the most patriotic songs residents who I had not seen speak were singing. I couldn't keep my tears at bay as we all sang My Country Tis of Thee and America the beautiful.
Then the women asked who had served in the armed forces. They carefully honored each one with the song that matched their branch of service. I was amazed that I still knew some of the words as we sang The Caissons Go Rolling Along and Anchors Aweigh. The spirit was contagious; me, the peace activist, enjoying even these songs. The room came alive. There were smiles and laughter. An old man who was very far gone kept reaching out toward my mother whose mind was in tact. Each time he did, she would graciously take his hand for a moment and he would smile. I was so touched by the whole experience.
It definitely stands out as the most memorable 4th of July celebration in my adult life. I left the room that day with a deep sense of belonging. In all the singing, we had become a community. I felt I belonged to these old people and they belonged to me and we all belonged to the USA. As those folks came to life with the music, something inside me, my patriotism, which had been long slumbering, came alive as well. They mirrored a love a country that seemed much less complicated than my own and that made it easier for me to set down that complication and just let my love of country be.
The years when my chest swelled with pride for love of the good old USA are far behind me. The Sixties brought that feeling crashing down and except for fleeting moments, like this one at the nursing home, I have not recovered. Yet, I yearn for that feeling that we are good or at least well intentioned, that something other than greed and power, really does motivate us. Where I live, patriotism isn't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about country. It feels wrong to be patriotic because there is still so much that is wrong with how the USA is conducting itself. Politics are far to the left compared to many parts of the United States. There are a lot of dedicated activists here with lots of ideas about how we could live more fully into the vision our forefathers had for our country. There is anger and rage when, as so often happens, we miss our highest calling as a country. There is plenty of energy to go with that rage, plenty of energy to confront, identify shortfalls and call for change. Though it is clear to me that love of country underlies all that energy. We don't so much focus on the love or talk much about it either.
It is admirable and deeply American to protest injustice but as has happened so many times in our history, those who see the injustice first are called traitors or at the very least, accused of being un-American. As the energy of protest opens minds and raises awareness, we eventually reach a tipping point where the majority of us can see issues we were blind to just a short time before. And so we inch our way forwards. That is how change happens. I don't see a time when all will "come round right" but rather see it as an ongoing process in which our democracy creates itself each day, each month, each year.
Some years ago I was facilitating a group on spiritual activism. I wanted to provide an experience where we could, in a flash, experience the feelings we have about our country. I wanted to offer an opportunity to progressives, to have a conversation that we are trying so hard to avoid. There were about forty people in the room all sitting in one large circle. I asked people to close their eyes. I went around the room and placed a small American flag in the palm of the hands of these mostly left leaning participants. When they opened their eyes, there was big response. Once the room settled down, I asked them to break into small groups and talk to each other about their responses. It made a big impact. Many reported the same longing I experience, to be able to find love of country in spite of it all. I still hear comments from people about that exercise.
Three times in my life I have had friends go through the naturalization process and become citizens. The idea that someone would make the choice to become a citizen of this country seems to draw a spurt of patriotism out of me. With each one, I celebrated by baking them and apple pie and presented it with a US flag. Perhaps I have a soft spot in my heart for the naturalization process because in the 1920's in Sparks, Nevada, my grandmother taught English to people who had emigrated here so that they could obtain their citizenship papers. I've heard many stories over the years of the struggles these families faced at that time. My grandmother was supporting six children of her own, on her own, having lost two husbands, one in the 1917 flu epidemic. My mother remembers my grandmother taking milk from her their pantry, when she could little afford it, to give to these families who had even less.
Citizenship is something I take for granted as it came with my birth. The struggles that many have gone through in order to obtain it makes me feel like I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Whenever I participated in antiwar protests my parents would always ask, "Would you rather live somewhere else?"
And the truth is I wouldn't, though there are a few places I would consider. Still the thought of renouncing citizenship (which I considered during the Viet Nam war) or watching someone opt for citizenship strikes deeply in the psyche. Country does mean something!
One of these friends decided to have a party to celebrate her citizenship. She invited about thirty of us for a potluck dinner and celebration. We all gathered in a circle to welcome her as a new citizen. She asked us to tell her what being a citizen meant to us and to make a wish for her. So many feelings poured out as we went around the room. There was a palpable sense of relief that we were having an opportunity to talk about our connection to our country. Many commented that it was a different kind of conversation than we are used to. That night, I wished we were sitting in a room with those from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Confessions of the deep love of country and all it stands for were expressed by so many. It might have gone a long way towards being able to talk with one another about some of the things about which we disagree.
When Barack Obama became president of the United States my flag waving little girl came out of the closet and cheered. I discovered her buried deep inside of me in an authentic movement process. Authentic movement is an expressive arts practice where there is a mover and a witness. The mover closes her eyes and focuses inside, then lets whatever she finds there express itself with movement and sound. The witness is an important part of the process and reflects back what she saw. As the mover, I was surprised to find myself singing My Country Tis of Thee, with a strong clear voice. I haven't heard that much clarity in my voice since I was a child. After the movement session I drew this picture of the little girl, coming out of the darkness with her flag and her red, white and blue. The words "I have been waiting" poured out onto the page.
So this year I spent the 4th in the garden of the assisted living facility where my mom now lives. The facility had gone to lots of trouble to make it festive. Picnic tables were set up, families were invited. There was a barbecue, chicken, ribs, corn on the cob and lots of ice cream for dessert. My sister and her husband joined us and we spent a quiet afternoon with my dear old 98 year old mom. It was a day of quiet celebration. As I left that day I heard "This Is My Country," playing over the sound system and paused for a moment to let the song in. I struggled with some of the lyrics but did let in its concluding line, "This is my country to have and to hold!" The question is, can I hold it in all its fullness, its wonderful glory and its very dark side?
I got into my car and started my long drive home. My radio was tuned to a progressive radio station somewhere in the Bay Area. The basic theme of the day was a sarcastic, "What is there to celebrate?" If I'm only looking at the dark shadows of our country, I can see their point, but maybe it would be good if we progressives could just take this one day each year and dedicate it to finding our love of country, I thought as I changed the station. I know it would be a good exercise for me and maybe even healing for all. Otherwise, we are just like a warring couple who finds nothing good about each other but stays in the marriage for a lifetime anyway. What? Did I just echo my parents question to me so many years ago? Did I just say, in a little different way, "Would you rather live somewhere else?" Its not really what I mean. I just want to urge us to look underneath all the shadows and find our love because I know it is there.
I ended the day, tucking this flag into the heart backpack of a little doll I made. She looks a little confused, maybe even has some tears. There is a very big shadow behind her. She knows it is there. Thankfully, she has a very big heart. She is a reminder to me that I can trust my heart to open, to wrestle with these complicated feelings and to continue to uncover the love I know resides inside of me.
An Expressive Arts Exercise For You
For me its the old songs I learned as a child that put me in touch with those softer feelings toward my country. America the beautiful speaks to my love of the land we inhabit (and yes, I do know we took this land unfairly) and Marion Anderson standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial always brings tears and pride in who we are. Certainly if Marion Anderson can find it in herself to sing this song with such passion and power, we can meet her there. I offer this video for you. Listen and then spend a few moments reflecting in your journal about what brings you in touch with your love of country.
I know that taking my daily walk when I first wake up in the morning is the very best thing for me. Its tempting to start my day more slowly, making a cup of tea, reading for a bit, listening to the morning news, all things I enjoy, but when I don't just get up, put on my shoes and walk out the door, I can spend the rest of my day just trying to fit it in.
Once out there, I wonder what all the resistance was about. This week, I have been walking on the headlands that surrounds the town of Mendocino. It is breathtakingly beautiful and at that early morning hour, I pretty much have it all to myself. Just a few steps down the path and I'm breathing in the day more deeply than I would have if I was sitting at home, sipping my tea.
I'm walking for exercise so I try to keep up a good pace. I have to keep my eye on the path as I'm nursing one bad knee but I'm surrounded by the sounds of the ocean, the waves crashing on the shore, and the roar on the rocky beach as the water rushes back to join the ocean once more. Thoughts pass in and out of my mind. Most often I let them go and return to the sounds that surround me. The steady rhythm created by the waves begins to sound like the breath of the ocean itself. Its great deep inhale followed by an equally powerful exhale soon has me feeling held by something so much larger than myself. Without effort, it puts my concerns in new perspective. Listen for a moment.
Some of my morning thoughts aren't so easily excused. They return again and again, asking me to spend more time with them. Those thoughts, I hold on to for awhile, rolling them around in my mind, like the waves rolling the pebbles on the shore. Some good usually comes from this tumbling. Some new insight or some deeper understanding is always welcomed.
This morning I found myself in a more thoughtful, and contemplative mood. This week the tides have been very low, exposing places underneath the sea that aren't usually visible. This morning the birds were making a ruckus, delighted I'm sure, to find a whole new selection of food newly exposed on the rocky shore. I couldn't help seeing my own life in that newly exposed territory. I'm moving through a radical transition as I end eleven and a half years of being the main caregiver for my elderly parents. They lived with me for seven years and then moved into the local assisted living facility fifteen minutes from my house. My father died four years ago so just my mom remains. Her facility just closed its doors, evicting all the old ones. It was the only assisted living facility on the coast so my mother, at age ninety-eight, moved nearer to my brother and my sister. It is a big change for both of us.
For me, it brings new freedom but it is all a bit disorienting. Like the birds exploring the newly exposed shoreline, I find a vast expanse of new possibility in my life. There is a whole new influx of time available to me. Time that would have been spent driving to medical appointments, running errands, making phone calls, visiting mom at The Lodge, or taking her out to lunch or for a drive, is now mine to do whatever I'd like with. Care giving kept my life moving at a dizzying speed. Now that scurrying about has all come to a screeching halt. In this lull, I am taking a moment to find my footing before I start moving forward again.
While I wait for what is yet to come, I'm taking time to gather the inner strength that will help me find my new direction. I'm eating well, walking, reading, writing, doing art, playing the piano and paying particular attention to my dreams. Years ago, just before my parents moved in with me, I was on vacation with a friend. She commented that with my new situation, she thought my life was going to be lived more externally for awhile. I didn't believe her, feeling as grounded as I do in my inner life, but it did turn out that there was more than a grain of truth in what she had said. It makes me happy now, as my time opens up again, that those aspects of my inner life that have been pushed off to the side for awhile, are rushing back in. And they are rushing in, with the urgency of an incoming tide, happy to land themselves on my shore once again.
Friends who have witnessed my life over these last years, as the care giving became more challenging, are relieved for me that it is over. They are more than ready for me to leave it behind me and return to "my own life." But I question if it is possible to make any kind of return to who I was before. These years have changed me. I never did feel that I had stepped away from "my own life" in order to care for my parents. Of course, I took a different path than I might have otherwise taken, but it was my life I was choosing. Those years of care giving were definitely ripe with life lessons, lessons that struck to the core of my being. I walk away with gifts that will serve me and there were shadow experiences that I hope I learn from. I am curious how my changes will look as I go forward, but right now there is a lot to reflect on, a lot to integrate. It is an enormous opportunity to see more deeply into who I really am.
I was nearing the end of my walk when I looked up and out to sea. I saw water spray up from what I thought was a rock but it looked a bit strange. I kept my eye out there and soon realized that what I thought was a rock was the back of a whale! It was just off the rocks and moving slowly, staying very much near the surface. Then I saw that there were more. They were traveling close together. I couldn't be sure but as I watched, it seemed it was a small pod with maybe two adults and two or three babies. They were so close, I could hear the sound of their spray when they let loose and once I even heard a vocalization. I was stunned and stood watching until they moved further north and further away.
I turned to walk on cloaked in gratitude and filled with wonder. That sighting felt like a blessing. I've lived in Mendocino for nearly forty years and have never seen whales that close to the shore. With the tide being so low, the ocean was nearly silent or I would never have been able to hear their spray or that vocalization. What luck that I was there at just that moment on this particular morning, open and receptive.
A sighting like this always shocks me out of my little human existence. Getting a glimpse, close up, of wild creatures puts me instantly in touch with my own wild nature. Life looks different from that perspective. So many things become possible. I don't know what I would do without the natural world surrounding me as it does here in Mendocino. I don't know how I would gain perspective, comfort myself or come to any understanding of how it is that I belong to it all.
When I invited my parents to come live with me in Mendocino, I thought they would live out their lives here. I wanted to involve myself closely in their final years. But aside from what I wanted to offer, I knew Mendocino itself would offer its incredible natural beauty to enhance whatever time remained for them. My parents and I came to live very different lives but the one unifying force in my family has been the love of nature. It was a gift my parents gave me as a very young girl. I wanted to return that gift to them at the end of their lives.
So we made a home here together in the redwood forest and we spent a lot of time down by the ocean in the eleven years they lived here. My father died at the age of 94. I'm grateful to have so many memories of our time together. The memories are grounded in the natural world around me. In fact, this morning just before I saw the whales, I had walked by the big log where my father rested on his daily walks on the headlands.
My mother now lives in the suburbs. When I call her in the evenings she is watching the sunset over the shopping mall across the street from her new assisted living facility. She tells me how much she enjoys sitting in her room in the evening and watching the breeze move through the trees in the parking lot outside of her window. She has nature inside of her and that is what she sees.
Standing on the cliff watching the whales, I realized that there were four or five whales in that pod. There were four of us in my family when I was growing up, my mother, my father, my brother and I. Later, the year my brother went off to college, my sister was born, a late in life child to my parents. So we were four and then we were five. I watched those five whales head north as if I was watching my own family, heading to new shores.
As I took in the incredible beauty of that moment, I found myself thinking how Mendocino goes on offering its beauty only this morning, I am the only one here to see it. My father has moved on, my mother has moved away. At 98 she will certainly move on before too long herself. Living with my elderly parents I come away with much less denial about my own aging and the inevitability of the end of my own life. It is foremost in my awareness that someday I too will be gone. But today I am here, still breathing, still able to walk, still able to see, hear, speak, still able to be present for the incredible gifts the world offers to me in each and every moment. I am immensely grateful.
Expressive Arts Experience For You
It is wonderful to live or be on vacation in a beautiful place but the beauty of nature is everywhere. Find a spot that calls to you. Put your life on hold for a little while and just stay there receiving the gift that nature always gives. Pay attention to your thoughts. Which ones just need to be left behind as you return to the present moment. Are there any that are calling to you for further contemplation? Learn to distinguish between the two. We all need quiet moments to sort some things out. Give yourself those moments. When you return home write in your journal, put some color on paper, make or listen to music that relates to your experience. Nature inspires art! Let it tell the story of how you are feeling right now.
Painting board at For The Joy Of It!
One day an old friend came to see my studio at For The Joy Of It! He walked up to my painting board and said, "Oh, so this is what you are doing with your art now!" That gave me a good chuckle. Actually, this is the board where so many, over the years, have placed a blank sheet of paper, stood quietly, and asked for whatever might want to come. Their paintings unfolded each in their own way. The paint spilling out on all sides, made this community work of art. So each day as I place my blank sheet on the board, I am supported by all those who have come before. In that sense, this board is like a pilgrimage site. I experience it as a sacred space.
After some time away from it, I've returned to my practice of painting most mornings. It feels like a coming home. Each day, I am amazed at what emerges. It is always a surprise. My paintings are like waking dreams. They come from the same place that dreams come from and like dreams, the images serve as a bridge between my inner landscape and my outer world. I would be lost without this connection.
For me, painting each morning is a treasured ritual, a practice, like life itself, of facing the great emptiness and making something out of it each day. Whether we realize it or not, we do create our own lives. Certainly, structures set up from the past impinge on our freedom, and outside forces move us here and there, but knowing that we have lots of choice along the way is important. It is what makes change possible. Otherwise we are just passive victims in the world, controlled by our past. tossed about in the present and unable to take aim at our future.
Placing a blank, white piece of paper in front of me each day, reminds me that there is more openness in my life than I ordinarily acknowledge. Maybe we all shy away from that much blank space because in our society, emptiness scares us. We are constantly filling up, our gas tanks, our calendars, our houses, our minds, our bodies. What would it be like to acknowledge the emptiness that sits just beneath the surface of our too busy days? It can be scary, but I like the reminder. So each day before I make my first mark, I take a moment to contemplate the empty page. It is a pregnant moment, that can trigger many responses. Indeed, some of them are uncomfortable. But if I can stay in the present moment, my mind soon flips and I become aware of the endless possibility that lives in the blankness. With this realization, I touch my creative center and that excites me.
It is the "endless possibility" that pulls me forward when I look at all my little buckets of color and dip my brush into the wet paint. There is a feeling of excitement about what might happen next. But I have to stay centered in the pleasure of that moment, letting what attracts me pull me forward, or my judge pops up and stops the magic from happening.
Nothing shuts down that world of possibility like my judge. He is full of instructions about how things should be and what I should do. When he appears I thank him for sharing, invite him to go outside while I go on painting.
I need allies to keep me free of the judge. I have always loved this poem by Shel Silverstein.
Listen to Mustn'ts, child, listen to the Don'ts.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
I think we adults need that poem more than children. It is an excellent mantra for my morning painting sessions. With it, my painting becomes a daily practice of being in the moment, and letting "the still small voice" inside me direct my actions.
Making my first mark is a most powerful moment. It sets a ball rolling in a direction, and my energy begins to roll with it. This morning I started with the red lines in this painting. It grew stroke by stroke, color by color, shape by shape as I stayed centered in the pleasure of the moment and listened for quiet direction from within. I just had to stand back and let it happen.
I would never have thought up this creature in advance. I couldn't have imagined it ahead of time. Have you ever seen or heard of such a creature? When it was finished, I called it "My Antlered Bear." I am touched that she wears a star on her forehead and that the spiral in her center is attached to stars in the heavens. I'm happy that a bright, wild, leopard speckled sun, shines down on her, and that the multicolored stars are out in bright daylight. None of this was planned, but rather revealed itself as I went along.
The painting speaks to me now, of day and night as one. This creature is of the earth, but attached to the heavens as well. The words, as above, so below come to mind. I recognize a truth here that is deeper than the words I find to describe it. One thing I know for sure, my antlered bear is me. This is a self portrait even though I wasn't intending to paint one. The painting brings this moment of recognition.
My judge would never have allowed this painting to happen. Had he stayed around, I would have been robbed of a moment of truth from my inner landscape. Recognizing that moment of truth is why I paint. It is a body experience, beyond words. It feels like an arrow shot from my bow has landed right smack dab in the middle of the target. Bulls Eye! Eureka! I have found it! A place called "home" inside of me.
It is completely satisfying to feel the accuracy of our truth emerging from deep within. Words and meaning can follow, are interesting and useful, (I am always interested in exploring that) but I have a sense that the root experience is far more important than any words we put on it. Letting our deeper truths emerge is an open door to experiencing the love at the center of our existence and offers an immediate experience of belonging to something much larger than ourselves.
Imagine what our lives would be like if we filled our days in a similar way. Imagine acknowledging the emptiness, letting endless possibility draw us forward, staying centered and listening to the "still small voice within," tuning into what is attracting or calling us, not getting fearful or distracted, taking a first step towards what is enticing us, following with the next right action, staying with that thread until we reach completion and then standing back and witnessing what we have manifested. That would be a creative life, an inner directed life, a life where inner and outer meet and are in balance. There would be much to trust in a life built that way. It would be infused with meaning and a deep sense of belonging.
So this is what I practice each day in my painting. This is the life I would like to live, the life I am aiming for. Of course, I fall short. That is the nature of being human. So I continue to practice. Over time, I find the blank page less and less intimidating and more and more inviting. My painting time becomes like breathing, a filling up and a letting go, inspiration and expiration, one following the other, again and again. From blank page to finished painting, from emptiness to manifestation, the breath of creativity moves through me each day.
Evening at For The Joy Of It!
When I first opened For The Joy Of It! to overnight guests, I had no idea what was in store for me. Isn't that how life is when we set out on some new adventure? We have an idea and take our first tentative steps aiming in the direction we want to go, then life takes us for a ride. I'm three years into this adventure, and I am completely delighted with how it has turned out so far.
The vast majority of my guests have found me on airbnb.com. I will be forever grateful to them for initiating the idea of sharing spaces with perfect strangers and the radical trust it is based upon. Mendocino is a tourist destination so by now I have had hundreds of guests. Many have returned, a few have returned again and again, making this their home away from home. Anniversaries have been celebrated, and wedding proposals have been made here. I've met babies who were not yet born when their parents first visited. So many celebrations have taken place. I'm so appreciative of each and every one who has come to stay. It has been a great gift to me. It has opened my world in such a delightful way. I thought you might like to hear a bit about what goes on here.
These three years have been a time of experiment and change. For The Joy Of It! is dedicated to "the healing power of nature and the arts" and I feel like guests are experiencing just that. My proof lies in what I call "the before and after." The faces I see when people arrive and the faces I see when they leave are testimony to the rest, relaxation, and restoration they have experienced while here. Vacations are wonderful but for me, the true test of a good vacation is that it sends me home with a fresh outlook, some awareness that can brighten my more ordinary days at home. So I always wonder how the refreshed energy guests experience here will manifest when they return home.Nature at your doorstep.
Sometimes I get to hear about the changes made. One family from London stayed for a week. They had two adorable little daughters who were calling me Nana by the end of their stay. When they returned home they moved to a new area a bit away from the center of London where their girls could have a yard and more time outdoors. I was delighted to hear that their time here is what tipped the scales toward making their move a reality.
It thrills me when guests also dip into the creative offerings on my property and increasingly that is just what is happening. Artists, writers and musicians come with an idea of what they might find and often choose to add the yurt/art studio to their stay. But it isn't just folks who know they are creative that are enjoying the creative opportunities offered here.
Businesses have discovered my place for work related retreats. Recently a young woman, whose art was discovered on etsy.com by a stationery company, came to stay in one of my upstairs rooms. She and her product manager met in the yurt for planning sessions about further projects. The yurt had everything they needed to bring the creative flair their planning required. It is a real pleasure to host these kinds of events.
I love when writers come to stay. One guest, a writing teacher, had a habit of traveling and writing. He found that moving around to different environments kept his creative juices flowing. He stayed here for several nights before moving on to his next stop. I was surprised recently, to find a piece of his writing published in The Sun magazine.Music at For The Joy Of It!
Another writer came for a five-day writing retreat. We got a good writing space set up for her and she stuck to her plan, only going out for meals now and then. Her focused energy crept down the stairs and into my living space, quieting me. I wrote a lot that week myself. Her creative energy was contagious, filling the whole house.
I have two pianos, a grand piano in the house and an upright piano in the yurt. While some guests spy the grand in my photographs and ask ahead if they can play the piano while they are here, others are more reticent. When I ask guests if they play the piano, I often get a far away look as they tell me they played as children, but haven’t touched a piano for years. If they do sit down to the piano, they are often surprised to find they remember more than they thought they would. It is a deep pleasure to watch that creative spark be rekindled as I left my own music behind in my early twenties and didn't find it again until I had small children some years later. I know something about the joy in that reunion.
Guests who have come for facilitated creative retreats find the experience deeply nurturing and profoundly supportive. They stay in the house and have the yurt available for their own personal creative exploration. Throughout their stay, they meet with me for creativity sessions aimed at enhancing their exploration and discovery. Couples have opted for creative retreats too, loving the discovery of a different way of being together.Painting at For The Joy Of It!
Not everyone comes knowing they are looking for creative pursuits but they stumble into their curiosity when they are here. I find it a special joy when guest like these step into the yurt and can’t stop them selves from trying a few things. My yurt is set up to encourage easy exploration with areas dedicated for different activities. The goal is to have fun and if you can keep that as your goal, you really can't go wrong.
Creativity is for us all. It is something we share, because we are human. We knew this as kids. I just painted with a three year old. There was no critic inside him yet, just the fun of seeing the color go on the paper. He was totally absorbed. We can find our way back, to the little one we left behind, and that child is just waiting for us to come out and play. The yurt is a great place to make that re-connection.
I love supporting creativity in a world that sometimes forgets how important it is. It is so easy to get lost in our busy schedules and never give a thought to the fact that we are, each day, creating our own lives. When we open our eyes each morning, we may think we know what is in store for us, but do we really? The fact is, anything can happen at any moment and we are called upon to respond. When life runs off the track we need our creative spark so we can improvise what happens next. My father used to say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Not possible, I say! In fact our bones, in particular are recreating themselves from moment to moment, as is the rest of our body. There is no way to step outside of creation. It is inside of us, and outside of us. We are creativity.
Nothing makes me happier than hearing that guests have gone home and gotten out their old music, have gone to the art supply store and stocked up on paint or other art supplies, or have started collaging again. Some have returned home and signed up for the piano lessons or that special art class they have wanted to enroll in. I have received poems inspired by guest’s time here and heard songs, newly created here. I have been treated to many concerts in my living room. One guest left me a book and a CD of music he had composed.
The creative spark is contagious. Once it lights up, it goes with you everywhere you go, work, play, family, even when you are alone. It is the quickest way I know to bring sparkle to a life that has become too much the same. When guests take that spark home, I know I’m living up to my business name, For The Joy Of It!, because I know joy will be the outcome.
These three years have gone by in a flash. If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing today, I would never have guessed that my life would have headed in this direction. Isn't that how life goes if we listen to that still small voice within. It will send us this way and that. One step leads to another and suddenly we find ourselves on a whole new path in a whole new world. I trust this creative journey that is life and enjoy letting it take me where it will. I can't wait to see what happens next.
As I was driving in the car the other day, I stumbled upon a radio interview with Carole King. At first I didn't realize who was being interviewed but when they started talking about her album Tapestry, I was instantly flooded with memories.
I found myself back in San Francisco in my friend Cheryl's flat. The sun was streaming through the windows, filling the room with light. We were both young mothers or about to be. The kids were either sleeping or not yet there. We were both completely engrossed in the first issue of Ms. Magazine. That day, we discussed every single article and when we weren't talking about Ms., we were listening to Tapestry. Cheryl had introduced me to the album and I couldn't wait to get home and get that music for myself. That afternoon, we were living the motto proclaimed so loudly in Ms., "Sisterhood is Powerful." It was an iconic moment. Who we were, and the zeitgeist of the times fell into a perfect alignment. Sadly, eleven years ago, I spoke about that day at Cheryl's memorial. She died of breast cancer in her late 50's.
As I pulled into the parking lot of my mother's assisted living facility, a clip of "So Far Away" was playing over the air waves. Tears arose as I heard the words, "So far away. Doesn't any body stay in one place anymore. It would be so fine to see your face at my door." I turned off the radio and got out of my car with such fond thoughts about my friend, realizing she was the first of my dear friends to die, thinking how my mother at 97 has lost every single one of hers.
Imagine my surprise when two days later, I had a facebook message from Cheryl's daughter Jennifer, saying she was coming to town and would like to get together. I've managed a thin thread of connection to Cheryl's family but lives are busy and full. I don't even get a Christmas card off every year. The last time I saw Jennifer was at Cheryl's mother's memorial a couple of years ago. I was thrilled to have the chance to spend some time with her.
We met for lunch down in the harbor on an unusually sunny day in Fort Bragg. Sitting at an outside table, I had a chance to get acquainted with Jennifer's husband, Tim and her daughter Ayla. We caught up on news about our families. It was a perfect afternoon for me and brought such joy to my heart. Jennifer looks like her mom, and carries many of the family mannerisms. I saw so much that was familiar and sat with such fond memories of Cheryl and I as young mothers. I found the words, "Life goes on," repeating over and over in my mind, and "How beautiful it is to see life going on."
At one point, the wind surprised us and lofted the umbrella that covered our table, into the air. It was so fast there wasn't time to respond. It blew up and over us and eventually landed on the ground, upside down, behind us. No one was hurt but it could have so easily been otherwise. We collapsed the umbrella and set it aside, enjoying the rest of our meal in full sun. I didn't think of it at the time, but as I write, I realize that it was a moment of such surprise, like losing my friend so soon when I least expected my friends to be dying. Death does leave its mark but today I was witnessing life going on, and felt blessed to see it unfolding in such a beautiful way.
Our lunch was long and relaxing. Before we left, we went out near the water and Tim took a photo of Jennifer, Ayla and me with the harbor and Noyo bridge behind us. Then we rearranged ourselves as 3 year old Ayla wanted a turn being the photographer. We said our good-byes, and wished each other's families well. I got into my car feeling full of friendship and connection, and pulled out onto North Harbor Drive. Within seconds my cell phone rang, I managed to pull over to answer. "Hello," I said. I heard a familiar voice on the other end. "Hi, this is Charles," was the reply. My mind exploded into a world of possibility, I do not usually hold. Charles was Cheryl's husband and is Jennifer's father. "Charles, do you know that I am just driving away from lunch with Jennifer and her family?" No, he didn't know. He didn't even know that Jennifer was in Fort Bragg. He was calling to see about coming up for a visit. Charles moved out of the area last year. I haven't seen or heard from him in a long time.
I can't help but want to ask how these things happen. Why after so long did I find myself on the same wave length with the Graham family in this week, on this day? I used to call events like this weird. Now I see them as just plain magic. They leave me feeling as if a fairy flew by and sprinkled my life with fairy dust. Everything sparkles! The ordinary drops away and I am lifted into possibilities that are unimaginable. I playfully wonder if Cheryl is somewhere pulling strings. It's possible but I'm not sure I really believe that. Jung called this synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence, where the larger energy patterns that lay beneath our conscious awareness break through into ordinary reality. I'll let others describe it and define it. Me? I don't want to pin it down. I just want to live it and let it open my world. Events like these fill me with awe and wonder. It is thrilling and I am more than willing to just let the mystery be.
Expressive Arts Exercise: Synchronicity
Synchronicity appears when we least expect it. We all have experienced it at one time or another. Sometimes, like in my story, they can't be missed but other times they come more shyly, and are harder to recognize. It is wonderful to honor these magical moments by making note of them in a special way. Decorate a box or a large envelope and keep it as a container for the synchronicites that tumble into your life. Jot them down on pieces of colored paper (decorate them too, if you like) and put them in your box. Keep it in a special place. Honoring them in this way, may help us to recognize them when they do appear. And on days when the spirit lags, take them out and remember these special moments. Invite this magic into your life!
I’m six feet tall and have been since high school. It hasn’t been easy on many levels. Try buying clothes and shoes in a culture that doesn’t think women grow this tall. Once in an elevator, a little girl about 4 years old put it into actual words. She looked up at me and then looked back to her mother and said, “Mommy, I didn’t know they made girls that tall.” I guaranteed her that they do, while her mother cast an embarrassed and apologetic eye in my direction. Of course, it was miserable towering over the boys in high school and in fact I still tower over most men, though it bothers me less today. It all bothers me less now, but I still sometimes struggle.
It might have been easier if I’d come into the world with an extroverted personality but, instead, I was a shy and very quiet child. I’ve spent my life learning to honor my introversion, and even learned to showcase that gift. But making myself really visible in the world in a way that matches my physical size has always been a challenge.
In a world where, if we listen, something guides us where we need to go, it is perfect that my heart lead me into the world of expressive art therapy. It is a profession that focuses on using the arts to express what is inside, putting it out there in painting, drawing, writing, movement and music. In other words, a profession aimed at making ourselves visible, first to our selves, and then finding ways to express who we are, in our larger world. As a practice it is definitely an exercise in becoming visible, not in a way that stokes the ego, but in a way that allows our deeper selves to surface into the light of day. That energy can become action in the world.
I recently had a dream that spoke directly to this issue of visibility and let me see that perhaps I’ve made some progress.
In my dream, I am visiting another town with a group of people from the coast. This town is more inland, like maybe Nevada City. We are staying at the house of the woman who is in charge. The sheriff has been called because I have made sounds in my sleep in the night that must have bothered the neighbors. I am mortified, but at this point, there is nothing to do but laugh. We have explained it all and the trouble is taken care of.
Now in the aftermath, I’m sitting in a room with a friend who is an artist, telling her about what happened. We are laughing together. The room has a solid wall of glass in front of us. There is a beautiful peach tree out there. It is a very large tree, more like the size of an oak and it has tons of peaches on it. They are not ripe yet but rather look like little green orbs with very fuzzy skin. I point this out to my friend and we both marvel, as we need more heat to grow such a tree on the coast.
It is time to go into town with the group and I can’t find my shoes. I find a bunch of different shoes, none fit, all are black, and all a mismatch. Frustrating. I feel like a really old person who doesn’t have it together and is putting others out. The group goes to town without me.
Now, I am magically in town in a shoe store, still trying on different shoes. Somehow I end up with a pair of cowboy boots. They have fringe and all, are brownish and have a three-inch heel. I think, “Oh no! I can’t walk around in these.” But they look and feel great. I love the style. It makes a completely different statement about who I am. Wow! Impressive and very extroverted! It is temporary as these boots belong to the woman in charge. It is true that the colors aren’t quite right. One is kind of whitish, like all the dye has not gone in.
The owner of the store is going to give us a pair of shoes and write it off. The shoes will be for the women in charge, and they will be free. This will solve our problem some how in the dream though I am the one who needs the shoes.
Maybe I will wear these boots after all. It is puzzling as I think they belong to the woman in charge and she is so much shorter and smaller than I. It is amazing that they fit me. But I look spectacular with them on. They make a real statement showing my power and uniqueness. I look really, really tall and I don’t even care that I’ll tower over everyone! No problem. Absolutely no problem!
I loved this dream from beginning to end. I am now 67 years old. As I lean more towards my seventies a burning question is arising in me and it won’t let go. “What is left not lived that still wants to be manifested?” This dream encourages me to speak out, let myself be larger than life, like a peach tree, so big, it is the size of an oak tree. I look at all the fruit on that tree that just needs some heat and those luscious peaches will be ready to be harvested and sent out into the world as sweet nourishment. Those boots, made for the woman in charge? Maybe I am the woman in charge. I fit in her shoes. She must be bigger than I ever imagined.
After guaranteeing my friends I would never find real boots like that in my size, I was surprised to find the boots pictured above, on the internet. In the description, I found this, “Caution when wearing this boot because everyone will stop you and say, ”Where on earth did you find those boots?” Stay tuned to see if I order them!”
Expressive Art Experience
What are your dreams and visions about a self that is bigger than you think you are? Take a moment to reflect. Let your wildest imagination dream up the unthinkable, something you might like to do if only.......Don't be afraid to dream. Make a painting or a collage that gives you an external picture, a self portrait of this person (your future self?). Take one tiny baby step in that direction. I guarantee it will be life giving.
What a surprise when Chris Peters arrived to stay in my yurt, and announced that he was a theramin player. I had never heard of the theramin so when I expressed my curiosity he promised a demonstration. After dinner he brought all of his equipment into my livingroom and began to set it up. Once he had everything arranged, he explained that the instrument was played using our own energy field. Then he planted his feet and began to wave his arms around two stainless steel poles. He didn't touch a thing but out came an eerie sound familiar to me from old science fiction movies. My first thought was that it was joke, that he had something behind him or in his pocket that was making that sound. Was this some kind of magic trick? When he proceeded to play some common melodies, I was amazed! It looked like he was pulling the sound out of the thin air.
Then he offered for me to step up and give it a try. He explained that one pole regulated the pitch and the other the volume. Changes were made by moving your hands closer or further away from the poles. I believed his rational explanations but what I had observed looked more like he was channeling sound out of the universe. I planted my feet as I had watched him do, thinking maybe I might receive some kind of a jolt I guess. He showed me how to move my hands closer and further from the rods and sure enough I could do it too.
Admittedly, I'd have to practice to learn to play songs but this instrument seemed tailor made for wild improvisation, really wild improvisation, in which everything sounded interesting. I found myself in an experience of pure exploration. There could be no mistakes, what freedom! But there was more. Musicians always want to get inside of their music, to somehow bridge the gap between their instrument and themselves, to get inside the sound they are making. Here, I was having the experience that there was nothing to get "inside of." Indeed, we are already there! The sound, me, the energy field, all were one.
The experience left me giddy. I found it hysterically funny. So much so that it was hard to keep playing. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. Every movement was a surprise, echoed in sound. It was a powerful feeling of connection and it was pure fun!
It wasn't until the next day that I got the biggest surprise of all. I woke up and started to go about my day as usual but very soon noticed that something was really different. I was suddenly very aware of my hands. It was as if I had new ones! They felt strong, powerful and very, very competent. They moved through space as if the air was thick.There was a feeling that maybe I could move that space around and create whatever I wanted to create. It was completely empowering. All things seemed possible.
We all know that "practice makes perfect," that there is virtue in having the discipline that moves us towards mastery but sometimes we need to learn just the opposite. We need to learn that things can be effortless, that we don't have to work so hard, all the time, that sometimes things fall into place by themselves. We have all had the experience of finding our way to mastery through practicing something but to dedicate ourselves to the radical surrender that "lets thing happen" is much harder to come by. If we can do it, we enter that magic place from which true creation springs.
That night with Chris and the theramin, I found that place. I reflect on it now but that night, it wasn't a thought but rather, a body experience and the the body doesn't forget as easily as the mind. Now, even weeks later, when I remember that night, my "magic hands" live again. When I sit down to the piano, I call on them. Passages that were difficult have taken new wings. I feel new freedom and relaxation. It is thrilling to hear the music take flight.
It is even more thrilling to feel the reverberations of that night in the bigger picture of my life. In the spirit of M.C. Richards who wrote, "All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life," I always bring my explorations in the arts back into the context of my life. This experience of my energy field as not separate from what is all around me, that I can with intention bring things into manifestation because of that connection is a deep lesson. The realization that I could relax more and let things unfold from that space is truly something I want to know from the inside out. I know how to practice. I know how to work hard to make things happen. Those skills are important. But I'm curious to see what happens when I let myself step into this other kind of magic. What will be possible for me then? How about you?
Expressive Arts Experience
Let your imagination wander. Make a drawing of that mysterious place from where, you imagine, creation springs. Put yourself in the picture. Put your picture somewhere where you will see it each day. Write about the times, you feel you entered there. What did you manifest from that space? In your art? In your music? In your writing? In your life?
It was just one year ago that I opened my property as a retreat center. The idea came in a burst of new energy after caring for my elderly parents for seven years. In the beginning, I was quite concerned about putting myself on the internet and inviting strangers onto my property. In my fear, I planned to put a door in my entryway so that I could lock the downstairs of my house while guests stayed upstairs. But the door I wanted to install was an odd size and not easily found, so I abandoned that plan and just dove, head first, into my new venture. As this one year anniversary comes round I find myself remembering back to that very first night.
Five days after placing my ad on the internet, I had guests registered for upstairs and in my yurt. The guests had been in touch with me as their day evolved, but darkness fell that evening before either of them arrived. I began to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. "So you put yourself on the internet and invite strangers onto your property. You have only dealt with the men in these couples and now they are arriving after dark! Maybe not such a good plan." I said to myself. A friend called, "If anything seems weird or uncomfortable in any way, come sleep at my house," she offered.
It was nearly ten o'clock when the first guest arrived. He was a very kind man. I invited him in and we introduced ourselves. Then he noticed the stair lift that I had installed on the stairway for my mother, and he commented on it. I explained that I had cared for my elderly parents in my home for seven years. There was a moment of silence and then he offered that he was here in Mendocino because he was caring for his elderly father, who was in his 90's and had dementia. In that single moment, all my concern vanished. Over the last seven years I had sought refuge from the demands of care giving many times and here now, my very first guest was in a situation I knew from the inside out. This moment seemed to me, one of those little miracles that life scatters along the way for us to discover. Recognizing it made me feel like I was indeed on the right path, and heading in the right direction.
About fifteen minutes later my yurt guests arrived. Peering through the darkness, it was clear to me, from the very first moment, that these were fine folks. Upon learning that they had quite a bit of luggage, I offered my golf cart to carry us all out to the yurt. We piled the suitcases on the back. I hopped into the drivers seat, the wife jumped in next to me and the husband got on the back with the suitcases. My lighted path to the yurt is narrow so we headed off on a wider path, used during construction of the yurt, but I had forgotten that it hadn't been trimmed in a long time. The little light on the golf cart tried to penetrate the darkness as we made our way through the woods. The low hanging branches of the trees whipped against the golf cart as we bumped along. "Are you all right back there?" I yelled to the man on the back. I heard a somewhat hesitant "yes" from behind me and we all laughed our way to the yurt. What a wild beginning! For both of us, I am sure!
The next morning I had a very heart felt conversation with the man upstairs about caring for our elderly parents and the folks in the yurt changed their two day stay into five, when in a spontaneous flurry they decided to explore Northern California instead of going south and they even stopped for yet another nights stay on their way back home.
So that door I wanted to lock became symbolic and the wild ride through the darkness, the unexpected brushing up against us as we made our way, symbolic as well. I can see now how they were portents of what was to come. After a year, I can say that I love the "open door" that opening my house has provided. I have enjoyed meeting all the folks who have passed through. Each new guest is an "unexpected surprise" and in getting acquainted, my heart opens with new delight. Like waves lapping onto the shore, the guests flow into my life and then disappear back to where they came from. I'm touched by each one. I hope my guests return home, touched by something they experienced here, in this forest, in the beauty of where I live.
Expressive Arts Experience
There is a certain freedom in stepping towards the unknown. As terrifying as it may be, it is the place from which all creation springs. It is the "friend" we live with each day though we spend much of our life determined not to acknowledge it. We prefer to think we direct our lives and we do but....the unknown is always there beside us and can wreck havoc with our "best laid plans" on a moments notice. Seems like a relationship worth exploring. Take a moment to contemplate your relationship with the unknown. Make a drawing that expresses something about that. Afterwards, have a conversation in your journal between you and "the unknown."
This blog is dedicated to the healing power of nature and the arts. It encourages a different way of looking at the purpose of the arts in our lives. While we can all appreciate well known artists, musicians and writers, it is good to remember that expressing ourselves through the arts belongs to all of us. It is part of being human. The arts and time in nature take us out of our small selves into something so much bigger. We need this larger perspective to guide our daily lives. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology, am a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist and am owner and founder of For The Joy Of It! Creative Retreat in Mendocino CA.