Solstice

Today’s the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the official beginning of summer. In the Southern Hemisphere, this Solstice marks the beginning of winter; i.e. the Winter Solstice. A Solstice, and there’s two of them each year, one in June and another in December, mark endings and beginnings.

The Summer Solstice, for example, marks the entry into the summer season of play and light clothes and friends and picnics. But at the same time, it marks the end of the Earth’s tip toward the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, our days begin to get shorter, even if incrementally, and we’re falling into winter – although I can hear my friends who each winter long for summer moaning at this reminder.

We don’t always remember to hold our endings when we begin – anything… a life, a project, celebrations. We’d rather hold the longing for a beginning rather than recognize the end coming with it.

I’m trying to hold all that now and think about it – hold a beginning and an ending at the same time. Here’s a concrete example to grasp: the oak tree that shades my writing space rustles in glory. It’s a mature tree, tall, and the sun won’t hit the front window here until about noon – at which time it will pass over the house so this room stays cool. But in the winter, that same tree has lost its leaves and allows the same blessing of sun, only its opposite, to enter this room and warm it.

But those are only examples. The reality of holding endings and beginnings at the same time – well, there is no concrete reality. Holding them both is a concept, rather, a knowing, an “is” which is hardly more help. That’s sort of like knowing God is an “is” in the great “I Am.” Okay. And what’s the reality of that???

I’ve been thinking about the reality of is-ness a lot lately.   

The world IS in a stew, to say the least; the weather IS pretty chaotic; drought IS in Western Kansas while flood IS in Eastern Kansas. Oh, and by the way, the Sun IS a little nuts right now and today hurled a solar flare earthward – which will reach earth’s magnetic field about the 23rd. Thank you for the early fireworks.

I’ve given up making sense of just about anything – except my life IS okay. Right now. And right now IS what we have.

Perhaps that IS the way to hold the beginnings and the endings – staying in that place of is-ness.

So there’s my meandering wandering for today. Any insights would be welcome.

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Watching Callas, Finding Peace

It’s Friday. In December. I’m still having trouble getting used to that one. When I write the date, it’s still coming out as an 11/. Only it isn’t. It is, indeed December. In this whirling, crazy world that’s been the norm this year with bits and pieces of down time, we’re whirling again. Although it may be time to redefine ‘normal time.’ If normal time is what we do most of the time, then whirling is our current norm. 

I’ve also been listening to Maria Callas. A lot. This current obsession began earlier in the year when I learned the Lyric Opera had “Norma” on its schedule. Norma is rarely done, it’s difficult, requiring a belle canto voice to pull it off – the voice of a Joan Sutherland or a Maria Callas. Along with attending the Lyric twice to hear the current production, I began listening to Callas recordings and scouring Netflix for Maria Callas movies.

Currently, I’m watching Callas Forever, a fictionalized account of her late years when she lived in Paris, in seclusion. Her voice was gone; she’d had an embarrassing failure during a Japanese singing tour. She died young, in her 50s. But she certainly whirled through life, a consuming fire of passion and work.

Whirling and passion and life and work. An unsettling combination. Friends on Facebook, students at school, strangers zipping past me in cars, all express an anxiety that seems to be the most common thread of existence right now. It was enough that we were all barely scraping along and somehow managing, now CHRISTMAS! has been added and the time frame to whirl gets tighter. 

In our family, we haven’t even bought our Christmas tree. We always buy our tree around Thanksgiving. And we haven’t bought it because we don’t have time to put it up. We haven’t even had time to begin carrying the boxes up from the basement and strewing the contents across the room in the disorderly joy of decorating because – well, because we are whirling along with everyone else.

And in the middle of whirling and dashing and Christmas music everywhere else, I’m listening to Maria Callas. At about the age she began living in seclusion in Paris, I left behind my dreams of glory and went to live in the Hawaiian jungles in seclusion. Paris/jungle. When weighed as the scales of justice might weigh one’s life and heart, Paris seems to win; but in my life, living in the jungle taught me peace of heart. A forever peace.

Maybe that’s not a skill that can be taught; maybe it can only be learned. And maybe it helps to have lived past the failures of those pre-jungle years and into a life that suits me. And maybe that is why I woke at 6:30 this morning, thinking about Callas and life and Christmas, and began writing.

Because feeling the anxiety and acting out the anxiety are two different actions; just as feeling the failure and acting out the failure are different.

Right now, this morning, no sirens split the air; the day is calm; early sunlight brushes the tree tips outside my window.

Peace on Earth. Peace to you. Peace as a gift offered to us all. Forever. We only have to pick it up.

Thinking of Accidents

This morning I’m reading from a book of poetry by Peter Everwine titled, from the meadow. The following lines are from the poem, “Accident.”

The trick is to risk collision,/then step back at the last moment:/that ringing in your ears/might be construed as the rush of stars.

I found Peter Everwine’s work by accident. I read one of his poems in an email I receive every week or so with American poetry and ordered the book. Recognizing his voice in that one poem I read in an email was like a “ringing” that said, this one. Get this one. By the miracle of Internet search, I found his address and will write him a thank you note. He’s retired from teaching at Fresno State.

I’ve been thinking of accidents lately. Two weeks ago, a lady in the Whole Foods parking lot backed into me as I was passing and caused some damage to the passenger side door. Not bad and no one was hurt, annoying but not drastic. This week I took the car into the collision center to be repaired and they gave me a rental 2010 Camry. Nice car and all, but not mine.

I’ve been concerned all week about accidents in an unfamiliar car that wasn’t mine. I took Cliff’s Honda to school because the rental doesn’t have school parking stickers, so again I was in an unfamiliar car – at night – thinking about accidents. I want MY Camry back. I want to feel safe in my car again. 

And yet, an accident isn’t necessarily bad – a collision might be – but accidents come in all shapes and sizes. Finding Peter Everwine’s work was an accident that’s brought joy and the sound of rushing stars.

If we get in the habit of closing ourselves off to any accident, we miss the small beauty right in front of us; pretty soon, the stars disappear. That’s when we get blind-sided by collisions.

Vertigo

A poem from Monique Pasternak, a traveler, a student,  a teacher, guided to go discover the eye of the hurricane as it lands on the path of blessings.

                   VERTIGO

When overbearing reason reigns unrivaled,

it fragments the fullness of moons

commits entire universes to neglect

and compromises the vitality of our fairest nights.

Ruthless it shoots on disclosed yearnings,

bangs hard into pregnant longings,

calls for legions of biting minds

to bulldoze under tender whispers,

crush emerging blooms of spirit,

tear serene webs of light,

slay depth of breath,

bury one more song.

When the Source of life lies forgotten

lands turn barren, hearts shrivel

souls wander off,  aimless.

Do not reach  inside the vanity case

of shallow reasons and futile controversies,

the time is getting late. 

Rather go a’tumbling in your  heart,

its mighty tides will thrust you naked

upon the shore where hope rides the light

that moves the earth and fuels the sun. 

A moment greets you only once,

renew each day :

if it is your last, make it your first,

your becoming breathes you.

In the likes of my song feel God’s kiss

in yours, become the kiss

walk on, walk on through

the wheels are turning faster now.

Be right or be wrong

yet be all the better for it; 

when we feel lost,  we can be found

vertigo spins the blessing,

move on,   fear not.

            m.pasternak  Jerusalem, January 2005

Work as a Spiritual Quest

This morning I’ve been thinking about work as a spiritual quest. Most of my writing has the quest for a spiritual life as a topic, but my work to market the work and the work to edit the work just feels like – well – work! How would infusing the spiritual into work, work – what would it look like? To pause before each step to give it the presence it needs?

Ah, being present. Being present all the time takes a lot of work. How to remember to be present? One way is breathing: consciousness of breath is an always task. But the words I’m using – work, task – don’t really lend themselves to turning the corner into acceptance.

What else would put spirit into work? A smile. And suddenly, I remember Bhante Kamalesiri, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk with whom I practiced meditation when I lived in Washington D.C.

He was a tiny man, dressed in voluminous, soft, saffron-colored robes, and he always smiled. He smiled as he taught before leading us into silent meditation. And if I sneaked a peek at him while he sat, he’d be smiling. How could he sit so calmly and patiently?

After about thirty minutes into sitting, I’d have lost patience: my legs would be aching, my back, my hips, and crossed knees. Learning to accept the suffering in life is an arduous practice and my entire consciousness would be fixed on my suffering body.

In the middle of my suffering, and probably for most of us sitting there, I’d hear his soft voice floating across the room, “Gently lift the corners of your mouth.” Just that. And that simple, kind reminder, when he knew we were all aching, would change the energy of the ache.

The corners of my mouth would lift, I’d smile, and everything lightened. His simple reminder always amused me, and with the smile, I’d feel my body take a deep breath.

Try it. Right now as you’re reading. Lift the corners of your mouth and smile. Close your eyes and feel how everything in your face lightens with that smile, how your shoulders relax and your body takes a filling breath. Take a moment, just a moment, to smile and breathe.

Too often we think of work as what we do to earn the money to do the other things we want to do. What if we could turn that idea of work into thinking of our work as the gift we offer: the gift of our talents, the gift of our ideas, the gift of doing a job well? How would our daily lives change if we were to say, “I’m going to gift,” instead of “I’m going to work”? For one thing, I suppose people would look at us a little strange, but who knows – it might catch on, we might have everyone around us thinking of their work as gift!

Today I will practice looking at my work as my gift. Whatever I do. After all, I still have legs and hands and heart and head. And the courage to lift the corners of my mouth and smile. I offer that smile to you.