Monday, September 26, 2016

Persephone

Persephone
Originally published on October 16, 2014

I love Autumn. 
Everything about it is enticing:  the brightly colored leaves, the crisp and cool air, the beautiful fall flowers that bloom in my garden.  I enjoy wearing a comfy sweater while hiking at the park and I'll often pull on a pair of handwarmers to hang around on the sun porch as the days I'll be able to enjoy it rapidly dwindle.  This is the time of year I bake cookies and apple dumplings and quick breads of all kinds.  My cats cuddle more and rekindle their friendships as they stroll around the house looking for a warm sunbeam.
Yes, there's much to revel in this time of year, but this time around, I find myself a bit melancholy.  Like many Midwesterners I know, I'm experiencing a bit of PTSD related to last winter's howling winds, sub-zero temperatures, and a record-breaking eighty-five inches of snow.  Yes, I love autumn, but this year...for the first time in my life...I'm not looking forward to what will follow.
This past spring, it took a long time before I put my snow boots and mittens and shovel away, before I knew for certain it was safe to really believe warmer weather was here to stay.  For weeks I worked in my garden, remembering daily the endless hours of shoveling, the kindness of neighbors who helped me dig the ice and drifts from my downspouts, and the horrifying nights I sat up worrying about my furnace when the temperatures dipped to -17 degrees. 
Finally, around Flag Day, I began to enjoy what has been a lovely, if not cooler-than-normal summer.  But I'll take that.  It's been a joy to create a darling fairy garden near my front porch.  To sit in the back yard and swing to my heart's content while I read books and research a new novel.  To ride my bike here, there, and everywhere around town.  But now, it doesn't seem like it was nearly long enough, and I long to stave off what's coming next, if only for another month or so.

When I was in eighth grade, my Language Arts teacher introduced me to the Iliad and the Odyssey, two books that opened my eyes to the cycles of life, death, war, peace, and everything in-between.  Mrs. Peterson graciously spent many a lunch hour in her classroom with me, eagerly answering my questions about the plot, the plethora of gods and goddesses and their roles and lessons in our modern life.
My favorite was the story of Persephone, the goddess often called "Kore" in her youth, who was stolen by Hades one afternoon as she frolicked in the flowers while her mother, Demeter, stood by helpless to save her.  Hades took Persephone as his intended wife to his land in the Underworld and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, left her responsibilities to the earth behind while she frantically searched for her daughter.  Preoccupied with her grief, Demeter left the land to desiccate and die.
In the meantime, although Persephone was horrified to be separated from her mother, she eventually grew accustomed to her marriage and to the Underworld, finding that she was a benevolent greeter of those who entered death and darkness at the end of their lives.  Eventually her father sent a messenger to Hades and demanded the release of Persephone, and Hades agreed, but with a price to be paid.  Before setting his wife free, he gave her some pomegranate seeds to eat which magically bound Persephone to the Underworld for a portion of the year.  So Persephone returned to her mother who in turn rejoiced and the earth awakened and flourished.  Then six months later, when Demeter had to relinquish her daughter to fate, the harvest withered and winter came once again.
Persephone's story represents the cycle of birth and death and the ability to embrace and celebrate them both.  Each year, I'm reminded of the mystery of the little deaths in my own garden -- the wilting leaves, the yellowing stalks, the energy of the plants returning to the earth, to the underworld where their roots remain steadfast and strong.
And I know that some of the deepest transformations, the most powerful growth comes from what lies beneath the surface...beyond what our eyes can see or our hands can measure. 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and neighbor gave me an exquisite clay flower pot in the shape of a Greek woman's head.  She's a delicate reminder of Persephone, who, in the summer will hang on my house near the side door I use the most, and in the winter will rest on a shelf in my basement near the treadmill where I will run to keep warm during the long, dark winter months.
Seeing her calmly waiting for spring will remind me that all things will change eventually.  The snow, the ice, the bitter winds.  My fear of death in any sense of the word.  The loneliness that can creep in when I struggle with cabin fever. 
In the end, all things must pass.
In the midst of winter, each day will be what it is meant to be, just as each day in the springtime and summer is destined for its own joy and beauty.  I can embrace both life and death, knowing that as the seasons change and bring new growth, so too does my own quiet life in the Heartland.





Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Waiting in the wings

I’ve not been writing much lately and that comes as a bit of a surprise.  My journal sits on my bedside, unopened in the weeks since my return from Arizona.  Ideas for blogs litter one side of my desk, yet every time I sit down in front of the computer (which isn’t much these days), I gently stack them into a neat pile and move on to something else.  
I suppose I could use the excuse that I’m incessantly interrupted by neighborhood noise…roaring chainsaws and barking dogs and cars gunning their way up and down my street at all hours of the day and night.  I could say that I’m still fatigued by a long, hot summer that never seems to end.  I could say that I’m too busy teaching yoga and socializing to sit in the mystery of trying to fill up a blank screen.
While all of these justifications are true, in reality, they’re not why I’ve been reticent to write.  If I’ve learned anything about my creative process in the past seventeen years, it’s this:  I can’t phone it in. 

Last Saturday I didn’t feel like doing much of anything.  My mind would tell me, Get up off the couch and stop watching Netflix, while my body would respond with a resounding, NO!    In the end, they both won.  Vacuuming the house earned me two episodes of Cheers.  Hitting the gym to swim earned me a two-hour nap when I got home.  Taking out the garbage translated into some quiet time on the sun porch, reading a good book.  Alas, none of it motivated me to write...and for good reason.  By that evening, I was running on empty and spent most of Sunday unconscious…until my consciousness got the better of me and demanded that I get up and do something, anything to shake off the lethargy.
Still, I’m no longer one to do something just to mindlessly do it.  If it doesn’t have a purpose (even if it’s just for pure entertainment or pleasure), I won’t bother.  Although it’s important to not get stuck in the quagmire of lost momentum, it’s also vital that there's a clear intention behind my actions (even if it’s simply to cross off something from my “to do” list).  And if I can’t do something with peace of mind, I wait until the proper time…or let it go altogether.
 Years ago I was knitting with a woman who was making doll clothes for a charity auction.  While I worked on a stocking cap, she sewed buttons on a sweater and bitterly complained about the myriad of obstacles on the way to hosting the event.
“Well, maybe you should quit after this auction,” I shrugged, looking up from my needles.  “It doesn’t seem like you enjoy knitting anymore.”
“I have too many of these sets to make,” she replied, sounding overwhelmed.
“I didn’t say quit now,” I told her, knowing she’d never resign without fulfilling her commitment.  “But if you think about it, all of your anger is being knitted into those little sweaters.  Whatever you’re feeling while you work on them is going right into the work.”
She thought about it for a moment. 
Going back to my cap, I went on.  “I’ve decided that, from now on, whenever I’m knitting something for someone, it will be because I want to…not because I have to.  Do you think you could make those darling sweaters just for the pleasure of knowing some child will love dressing up their dolls with something homemade?”
“That’s a good way of looking at it,” the woman smiled.  “I suppose I could do that.”
And she did, much to delight of little girls all over the Toledo area.
Over the years I’ve volunteered my time rocking newborn babies, nurturing litters of kittens until they were ready for adoption, weeding gardens, singing in choirs, stage managing plays, and doing a host of other enjoyable activities.  Yes, there were moments when I felt like phoning it in if my workweek was long and I didn’t think I had the energy.  But each and every time I held a preemie, every time I walked onto the stage, every time I knelt on the ground and pulled on my gardening gloves, a sense of purpose washed over me, allowing me to be fully present with whatever I was doing.
Now I translate that experience into most anything – washing dishes, doing laundry, meditating, swimming laps, and even lying down to rest.  Sometimes my mind wanders to things I think I should be doing.  But soon enough, I’m reminded of the freedom in knowing I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in any given moment. 

There are times when I’m afraid I won’t have anything left to write, that I’ve already done my best work.  Lately I’ve been rolling these thoughts around more often than I care to admit, wondering if I'll ever find the time and space to discover anything brand new.
Then something magical happened.
After a yoga class this afternoon, one of my students walked up to me, tears glistening in her eyes.  She smiled warmly, “I have to tell you about the incredible experience I just had in relaxation.”
I nodded silently.
“I could see my whole heart-space…,” she said, her face beaming.  “Places that were already filled with light and love…and then there was all this space.”  She opened her arms wide.  “All this space that hasn’t been used yet.”
“Isn’t that incredible?” I smiled.  “It’s never-ending…all the ways our hearts can open.  And it's amazing what can happen when we can relax enough to let that awareness rise up, isn’t it?” 
“Yes!  Who would have thought I could still have all this space left inside of me?” she laughed, wiping her tears.  “It was such a surprise, it made me cry.”
Me, too.
It’s a blessing to be reminded that, even after all of this time, after all of the books I’ve written, there is infinite creative space deep inside that remains undiscovered.  Inspiration is waiting in the wings while I allow myself the time to relax and renew so that I can be open to receiving it when the moment is right, for there's more than enough room in my heart to embrace it.



  




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Still here

Eight years ago I was contemplating my next move.  I had just turned forty-two and was living in Big Sur, California.  After a long, drawn-out process, Esalen Institute had offered me a position as the Garden Manager and I was eager to start a new chapter in my life.  Alas, there were too many strings attached in order to make it work.  I spent many sleepless nights lying on the deck outside of my hut, listening to the ocean dash against the cliffs, wondering if I should stay or if I should leave.  The consequences for each choice would mean an incredible leap into the unknown, but by then I was no stranger to risk-taking.
On a sunny afternoon, I walked back to my place on the farm to rest in the sun.  The garden shift had been exhausting and I was too tired to hike in the canyon.  Too tired to talk with my friends.  Too tired to think.  Instead, I spent an hour gazing at my surroundings, memorizing the aromatic scent of the pine trees, the majestic shape of the Santa Lucia mountains, the pounding cadence of the surf. 
Remember this, I told myself.  Remember this moment, so that no matter what happens, no matter what you decide to do, this place and time will be yours…always.
Three weeks later I left Esalen, but not before I had carefully placed a sand dollar in the lap of a peaceful Buddha statue where the garden crew gathered every morning before the harvest.  On the back I had written, I’m right here, knowing that a part of me would still remain in Big Sur long after I had returned to Toledo.  
It took three long years before I was able to finally cut the cord on my hopes of returning to Esalen.  Three years to finally understand that to leave pieces of myself scattered in the past across time and space was like splintering my soul.  It was time to call every part of me more fully into the present so that I could finally move forward and embrace a new way of being.

Last week, Danta and I celebrated landmark birthdays as we both entered new decades.  He turned ten on Thursday and I turned fifty on Friday.  To celebrate, I picked up Danta and Satish after school, then drove to meet their mom and older sister at Cold Stone for some ice cream. 
Along the way, I mentioned to Satish, “I’m really excited about what you told me a couple of days ago.”
“What?” he asked, looking up from his book.
“That you only have to grow one inch and gain six pounds before you can sit in the front seat,” I smiled.  “You’ll be up here with me before you know it.”
He gave me a shy smile.
“I know I often say how much I miss the fun things we did when you were younger,” I told them both.  “But I really like it that you’re getting older and we can talk about all kinds of things.”
“Like Harry Potter books!” Danta beamed.
“That’s right!” I nodded.  Then I smiled at Satish.  “And I’m so thankful you taught me how to use Power Point.  Can I show you my project when I’m done so you can help me tweak it?”
“Sure!” he replied. 
As we headed west toward Cold Stone, I remembered something I had said to Satish a few years previous: "You know what I love most about being with you on your eighth birthday?"
"What?" he asked.
 I hugged him close.  "Knowing that I'll still be here for your ninth birthday...and your tenth...and your eleventh...and your twentieth and thirtieth and fortieth..."
Satish joined in and we counted by tens up to one hundred.
"How old will you be when I'm a hundred?" he asked, tilting his head so he could see my face.
"One hundred and thirty-seven," I said, lifting my brows in amazement.
Without missing a beat, Satish shook his head.  "You'll be dead by then."
I chuckled, loving how clearly realistic my little friend can be.  "You never know...I could come back as one of your kids.  No...I'd like to be around and see your kids," I said, winking.  "Maybe I'll be one of your grandkids."
Satish shrugged.  "Or you could be a cow."
Now, chuckling to myself as we pulled into the parking lot, I thought about the sacredness of cows in the Hindu culture, as they are symbolic of the earth.  A cow gives and feeds, representing and supporting all life, so in many ways, they also represent all animals.  What a compliment from a child who I consider to be much wiser than myself. 
Later on, over bowls of mint-chocolate-chip and cookie-dough ice cream, I said to Danta, “From now on you and I will always have the same last number in our ages!  Welcome to double digits!”
“Oh, yeah!” he brightened.
What a joy and a blessing to know that as the years go by, I’ll still be here to watch Satish and Danta grow from soccer balls to car keys to high school diplomas to their freshman years in college.   To know that every step of the way, I’ll give what I can, supporting them with my presence, my enthusiasm, and my love. 
Even when I’m 137.

A few weeks ago I was talking about my trip to Sedona with a group of friends.  “Eventually I’d love to spend part of the year there, and part of it here,” I smiled.  “Who knew I could love the southwest so much?”
“When would you want to be in Ohio?” Brenda asked.
“I’d go to Arizona from February through August and come home for autumn and early winter.”
Brenda nodded.  “I’d never want to live anywhere that didn’t have a change of seasons.”
“Me, too,” I said.  “Living in California in the fall was strange.  The only way I knew it was autumn was when someone put pumpkins in the lodge.”
“Living where there’s a change of seasons reminds us of the passing of time,” Brenda replied.  “It gives you a perspective that other places can’t.”
“That’s so true,” I smiled.  “Surviving long Midwestern winters makes me so much more appreciative of springtime.  And after this long, hot summer, I’m truly going to enjoy every moment when the days get shorter and the nights are cooler.”
These days I sure am. 
Bar none, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…for me at least.  Like that afternoon on the deck at Esalen, I’ve been soaking in every single moment I can be outside before the season quickly changes and autumn breezes blow through my hometown.  Yesterday I took the time to quietly sit in the backyard, enjoying the bright colors of everything in full bloom, the cornflower blue sky, the crickets chirping all day long.  As twilight fell, the air changed and I went inside to grab a light jacket for the first time since last May.
Sitting on my swing, I thought about all the things that have happened in the past several years, things that have led to my desire to enter a new decade with an open heart.  I thought about the people and places I’ve let go of, the ones who’ve let go of me.  I thought about how the past fifty years have molded my life experiences and how I now want to break the mold in order to create a life that’s more open, spontaneous, and whole.  I thought about the sand dollar I had left in Big Sur all those years ago and know that the words I had once written have long since faded into white.  After all this time, I'm finally home.
Then again, I never really left.  I’m still here, walking peacefully on this earth.
Thankful.
Joyous.
Resurrected.




  








Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lady luck

I always have good fortune when I travel, so it’s a wonder I worry so much before taking a trip.  Still, being an uber-Virgo, I need to remind myself of all the times in the past when leaving home meant one miraculous moment after the next.  It didn’t matter if I was taking a road trip all by myself or flying from one end of the country to the other.  Providence continually met me along the way.
Last spring I was contemplating cancelling my trip to Sedona.  There was too much to do around the house and I worried that a week away from home would only compound the busyness of starting a new yoga series all the while trying to carve out time to write another novel.  But after my friend, Sandy, and I coordinated our flights to Phoenix, I was resolved to try and look forward to a much-needed vacation.  Surprisingly, once I had booked the non-stop ticket to Arizona, all of the details easily dovetailed and by August first, I was ready and raring to go. 
Never mind that I wasn’t scheduled to leave until the twelfth.
Arriving at the Detroit Airport well ahead of time, I meandered around the terminal for a while before finding my gate.  As I stood near the spacious window, watching the crew load luggage and refuel the jet, I looked down and found a shiny penny sitting in the sill.  Smiling, I picked it up and noticed that it was dated 1995, the year I first discovered that finding the joy in simple things attracts more of the same.  Pocketing the penny, I knew it was an omen of wonderful things to come.
The flight west was uneventful, save for the boarding process when an obnoxious preteen girl was throwing a fit in the aisle next to my seat.  She was supposed to be next to me, while her overly-permissive parents were on the opposite side of the plane.  After the girl made a particularly snide remark to her mother, she looked at me.  I suppose my Deadpan Teacher Face never fully retired when I left the classroom, as the girl’s eyes widened with surprise. 
Thankfully, a lovely young woman agreed to switch seats so the family could sit together.  “I appreciate your kindness,” I whispered to her as we buckled our seatbelts.  “You just made my morning.”
As the plane lifted off, the sun shone brightly through my window and as we rose above the clouds, I took a deep breath, then let it go.  Tears filled my eyes as they always do when I fly, grateful to transcend time and space for a while on my way to new adventures. 

Of course Sedona was magical.  The mesas were mesmerizing.  The weather, nearly perfect.  Sandy and I hiked our way through miles of Red Rock, laughed through hours of warm conversation, and meditated on the profound beauty of nature.  Throughout the week I often told her, “This is the best vacation I’ve ever had.” 
“Better than Big Sur?” she asked one night as we sat on the deck sipping pomegranate tea.
“Oh, yes,” I nodded.  “Big Sur is gorgeous, but there’s something about this place that opens me up in all directions.”
“Now that your forties are over, what’s your focus for your fifties?” Sandy asked.
“I’ve been giving that a lot of thought lately,” I smiled.  “I’d like to be as creative as I possibly can…in every area of my life.  Yoga classes…writing…gardening…teaching…creating a new home.  I want to live from a place of deep creativity.”
“You’ve already accomplished a lot,” Sandy nodded.  “You’re ready for it.”
“My forties were about practicing a lot of things,” I said.  “I learned how to be a better writer, how to edit, and publish myself.  Now I truly understand how lucky I am…not everyone gets to be fifty.”
Sandy smiled.  “That’s true.”
"I figured out that the most precious thing we have in life is time," I continued.  "What a wonderful way to spend the beginning of a new decade here in Sedona."

The next morning, we visited Bell Rock on the east side of the city.  By then I was used to hiking on shale that often crumbled into gravel.  I had become accustomed to the heat, to staying hydrated by carrying a supply of water in my backpack, and to the steep, often treacherous heights to which we had already climbed.
But Bell Rock was something else altogether. 
Neither Sandy nor I felt as comfortable there as we did in west Sedona.  The energy was very strong and seemed to push on us from all sides.  In fact, Sandy didn’t feel well the entire hike and decided to stay below while I ventured above to see if ascending closer to the summit might alleviate some of the pressure.   She watched as I carefully made my way up the flat, sloped surface, then walked to the shade to get some relief.  Reaching the top was not recommended in the guide book, so when I climbed as high as I could, I leaned against the shale, my feet propped on a rock to steady me. 
Facing the expansive horizon with the peak of Bell Rock behind me, I snapped a few pictures, then sat for a moment, content that while I was precariously balanced on the edge, I was also secure in knowing that I’d be just fine.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw the sun glinting over the crown of the small mountain.  It was breathtaking and I wanted to capture the moment, yet didn’t feel safe enough to turn around.  I tapped the selfie button on my iPhone and as I’m no fan of taking pictures of myself, leaned as far out of the way as possible. 
What a surprise to discover that by accident…or by luck…I had also captured the sun shining not only above the apex of Bell Rock, but also on my face and shoulders.  Later in the day, John Denver’s memorable song echoed in my mind as I shared the picture on my Facebook page, typing, Sedona sunshine on my shoulders makes me more than happy
In response, my friend, Cheri, wrote:  When you get back, you’ll have to show me how you did that.
It was total luck.  I wrote back.  The caption should have read:  Taking a picture of the sunrise, balanced on the edge of a mountain while trying not to fall off into the cactus!  I’m surprised I look so calm.

The night before I flew back to Ohio, I walked around the resort where we were staying and found a brand new, shiny penny on the asphalt.  I said a prayer for Sandy, for all of the people we had met during our week in Sedona, for the pilots who would fly the plane I would be taking the next morning.  Since I was overflowing with peace and grace and bountiful energy, I also prayed that if it were possible, to have the middle seat on the flight be empty so I could have a little more space on the way home. 
Lucky me…the entire row was empty, as well as the seats both in front and behind mine.  Having more than enough room to stretch out and enjoy, I invited the man across the aisle to share my simple abundance.
As the plane soared high above the mesas, I felt a deep sense of gratitude wash over me.  Then and now, I know how blessed I am to have a dear friend invite me on the trip of a lifetime to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in my life.  I’m more than ready for new adventures as the years unfold.  More than lucky to be here now, just as I am, able to participate in life so fully. 
Another trip to Sedona is in the works for 2017, and I'm eagerly anticipating a hike up Bear Mountain.  In the meantime, I’m open to whatever grace Lady Luck wants to bring my way, all the while knowing that in the end, good fortune is really preparation meeting destiny. 


Sedona sunshine over Bell Rock