Loneliness and Creativity

Observation on a Buddha Rock

I know loneliness
a rock separated from a streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Like this displaced rock
am I commonplace
or too old

This rock
a misshapen Buddha
solitary Bodhisattva
witnessing the cleaving
remembering the whole

What dissension shattered humankind
into separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred rock
perhaps once praised for its cool detachment.
Who cares to take the time
to decipher the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises
in the darkening sky
experiencing
alternate realities

God is in us–
is all right with the world
Has the solitary rock learned compassion
Is that the panacea for loneliness

by Christine O’Brien

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In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, Adriana Diaz guides the artist/reader/ creative explorer, into many exercises that enable creativity. The subtitle of her book is: “Drawing on the Power of Art to Tap The Magic And Wisdom Within.” One of these exercises invites the reader to find a rock. And then, to sit with the rock, examining its many surfaces. To see the rock as a living being and to become in some way intimate to its experience. To draw it from its various angles and perhaps to write about it as I’ve done in the poem above.

We seldom do this, stop and be present with an inanimate object. Who has the time? I certainly didn’t when I had a bustling household with children, husband and pets, a part or full-time job, extended family. I wonder though, if I had taken the time, even once-a-week, if I wouldn’t have been more present, more grounded and more available to myself and others if I had paused to deepen a connection to myself and to something in nature.

I titled this blog Loneliness and Creativity because when I feel lonely and venture into the creative space, loneliness disappears. In the naming and writing of this poem, the feeling of loneliness dissolved into “art.” Have you experienced that? It’s almost magical, in fact it is magic. It’s an alchemical experience. The base ingredients of one’s loneliness, feelings of isolation or separation blend with the pen, the paper, the paint, the brush, the clay, the camera–whatever the medium that you are using–and are changed into something higher and lighter.

I’ve experienced this more than once. And I know that I’m not the only one. When Covid hit the headlines in 2020 and we were told to isolate, I began to post photos on my Facebook page of the beauty that surrounds me living here in the mountains. Those of us who live here see it daily. However, I have family and friends who don’t live here and since I believe that beauty lifts the spirits, I made a commitment to do this. In this way, I connected with others indirectly. And, I also allowed myself to be the witness with the camera who recorded this beauty. And this beauty was a salve for me too.

All of this to say, we each have creative resources. Regardless of what any former teacher or person of influence in your life might have once told you, we are all artists and our unique way of expression has value for oneself and others.

What we live inside of…

We each have our daily experiences. In the short story, the author documents a slice of life, or a moment in time. Both the ordinary and extraordinary are explored –whatever the writer finds interesting and/or mundane can be told. I share the following experience because within each day, I find that there is an opportunity to learn, to discover, to understand something else, someone else…or myself.

When I leave my bubble (Mount Shasta) and travel even a short distance away, I get to see outside of the familiar. I carry my beliefs with me…but if I stay open, if I look and listen, I hear (and sense) all sorts of things.

Another small mountain town one hour to the east of where I live, is surrounded by the abundant beauty of natural wonders. There lies a beautiful mountain lake, an astonishing waterfall and vistas that take the breath away. And yet, according to the liberal woman behind the desk at the Chamber of Commerce, the local citizens’ views of the world are ingrown and staunch.

I inquired “What is special and worth seeing (aside from the astonishing waterfall and beautiful mountain lake).
She said “Not very much.”

She moved here from Hawaii about ten months ago. She lived in Hawaii for forty years. She farmed the land, grew organic vegetables, and sold them to the local restaurants. The high cost of living had finally pushed her out. She has a sister here, so it seemed the obvious choice of where to go. She misses her organic garden, a broader perspective and environmental awareness.

“Is there somewhere you would recommend to eat?” I asked.

“Nowhere,” she said. Then added, “At least you have a health food store in Mount Shasta!”

And, yes we do.

As I headed for the door, she tossed me a final possibility “There is the Stand By Me bridge…the one made famous by the film Stand By Me.

But she had no idea where it actually was.

I left there to go to a neighboring town about ten miles away where I remembered having a good sandwich several years ago. A sign on the door read “if the lights are on, we’re open”…but no one was there even with all of the lights on. I was directed to the local hotel that “serves a good lunch” said a woman in the parking lot who also tried the door of the café to find it wasn’t open.

The hotel is an old building from perhaps Gold Rush days. I walked into what I thought was the entrance and it turned out to be the bar. Three men’s heads turned as I walked in. Obviously not from here, was written all over their faces. The bartender directed me to the café. The waitress was dressed up in a skirt and heels and her hair wrapped in a do from another time. She was pleasant and noticing you’re not from here, are you.

I ordered, what else, cheese burger with fries. It was obvious sandwiches and burgers were their specialties. The locals came in as I sat eating my lunch, not so inconspicuously, and she was suddenly overwhelmed with too many customers. Slightly eavesdropping, the conversations were the daily ones that people have with family and friends that you see all the time. And, of course, there were the sideways looks at me.

After I paid my tab, I headed to the restroom “First door to the left,” the waitress directed.

“Nope, not that one,” someone from a table shouted at me.

I proceed to the second door to the left.

“Not that one,” someone from another table shouted at me.

Third door to the left…ah the prize. Isn’t it always the third whatever that is the magic door, key, word.

I slipped out the back of the hotel and headed to their astonishing waterfalls. There’s no question about the popularity of this place which boasts a campground and State Park. Love of nature brings people from all over here. We have that in common. Perhaps that’s a good start, finding out what we have in common with those who we don’t agree with politically or otherwise.

What do you think?

Getting to “the bones”

I read Women Who Run with the Wolves many years ago. It was one of those books that, when I spied it standing solo on a little pedestal at the East West Bookshop in Palo Alto, California, I felt compelled to pick it up and open it. It was a new release at that time (1992) and only in hardback and expensive for my budget.
I opened to any page and read a paragraph and was surprised to see the relevance to a current situation in my life. Yet, that wasn’t reason enough to spend $28.00 on it! I walked around this very engaging shop and all sorts of book covers caught my attention. However, I gravitated back to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book. Again, I opened the book to any page. The words jumped out at me and I was riveted.

Recently, I had met a stranger at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I was weaving in and out of the water as the ruffled waves washed gently on the shore. A man’s voice behind me inquired “Isn’t it cold?” I replied that “Yes, it is and I love it.” He asked if he could walk with me. I agreed and we walked and talked on a very deep level for the next several hours. It wasn’t like we were strangers. It was as if we had met lifetimes ago and then designed to meet each other at this time and place and share our life-findings so far.

As we talked, we became vulnerable to each other. The sharing was personal, sometimes intimate and philosophical. As the sun dipped behind the clouds, I began to shiver. He casually placed his red hooded sweatshirt over my shoulders. He was a handsome man, slender, blonde hair cut in a stylish clip for the times. He gave me a large rose quartz stone to hold in my hand as we walked beside the sea. “To calm you,” he said. The entire experience felt comforting, as if I was walking with my Guardian Angel.

We had walked a length of beach and then, finally, turned around to return the way we had come. When we got back to our cars, he gave me his phone number and softly, like a butterfly, brushed a kiss across my cheek. I thanked him and went home feeling loved, guided, protected. I was married and although there was tension in my marriage, I had no intention of leaving my husband at that time. I wasn’t planning on calling the phone number. There was nowhere this relationship could go. Although, I did call it once and got his message machine. I never called it again.

When I opened the book in the bookstore that day, this was the quote that I read:

The Passing Stranger

“…The person who might take us out of the ice, who might even psychically free us from our lack of feeling is not necessarily going to be the one to whom we belong. It may be…another of those magical but fleeing events that again came along when we least expected it, an act of kindness from a passing stranger….Then a something that is sustaining appears out of nowhere to assist you, and then disappears into the night, leaving you wondering, Was that a person or a spirit?”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes from Women Who Run with the Wolves

I bought the book.

Things Change, People Die

We know this…Most of us can name things and people that we’ve lost over the course of our lives. I certainly can. However, it really came home to me (again) yesterday when I was continuing with sorting and discarding “stuff.” There is a normal accumulation of things that we do as humans. In fact Stephanie Vogt in her book, A Year to Clear, says that clearing our stuff is a lifelong process. We can count on accumulating and releasing things ad infinitum. However, I believe that I would feel better if I had that sense of spaciousness that she offers in her book. I’d like to look out over the landscape of my little cottage and feel more order, beauty and space now or at least a year from now.

Yesterday, I pulled a couple of boxes of old check registers from the closet shelf. I googled how long do I need to keep check registers. One answer was one year followed by other answers that said at least ten years or perhaps five years. So I decided on seven years. I would hold onto these for seven years. One bit of logic from the google exploration was that they take up so little space so it would be fine to hold onto them forever. My thinking is that it would be one less thing for my family to have to deal with when my time comes.

I started with registers from 2009. The Bank of America branch that I was with in 2009, had dissolved, closed and left us without a B of A locally. So I transferred my account to another local bank. The registers were bound by circular wires. I removed them from the wires and shredded the papers. As I did so, I read who the checks were paid to…I decided to list the people and the shops, cafes or businesses that no longer existed. I came up with at least forty (40) businesses and/or people who were no longer here. The businesses had closed and the people had either died or moved away. It sort of shocked me to realize this. I frequented many of the businesses more than once in 2009. And these people who passed or moved, there were varying degrees of connection to them.

So you adjust, adapt to these losses or changes or find a way to get the need that was once met by them in another way. And sometimes, you just miss them. A sort of nostalgia surrounds them. Like New Sammy’s restaurant in Talent, Oregon near Ashland. Before I had ever been there, I had heard that it was truly a gourmet restaurant with the highest standards. And that the chef was a woman with a Ph.D. who turned to a career in cooking par excellence. That her husband was a wine connoisseur,  a sommelier, who matched the perfect wine with any dessert and entrée. And to have the fullest experience, it was wise to allow his recommended pairings.

I put off going there because I didn’t have anyone to go with, the waiting list was three months out, it was expensive. Then, one day, I was in Ashland and happened to run into this handsome young man that I had met casually in Mount Shasta where we both lived. In the course of our casual conversation, he told me that he was going to New Sammy’s for lunch! I said “I’ve always wanted to go there.” He invited me to meet him there in half-an-hour. I was a believer in serendipities and spontaneity so I met him there. I had what I would say was the best dining experience of my entire life! I agreed to the full meal experience with a most delicious risotto that sat in a broth that I spooned into my mouth until the plate was almost dry. I don’t remember the wine that her husband paired with this dish, but I do remember the satisfaction, the complementary quality of the wine to the risotto.

Then came the dessert, a heavenly chocolate soufflé also paired with a dessert wine. The complete pleasure that I felt at the end of this meal, comfortable and happy cannot be described in words. Gastronomical delights is the phrase that suddenly popped into my mind.

Gabriel, the young man that I was with…the conversation flowed and there was an ease about the whole experience. He was a regular customer there, so he knew the routine and I felt guided by his expertise. Gabriel had stomach ulcers…and he delighted in fine dining which, at times could exacerbate his condition. Being a gourmand, an appreciator of fine dining, this was a bind for him. Yet he allowed himself this pleasure on occasion. I noticed, in my 2009 check register, a couple of checks made out to him. I could only imagine that it was connected to me repaying him for our shared meal. Did we go together a second time? I can’t quite remember. I know that I went by myself one more time. And I vowed I would go again.

However, since then, the sommelier husband has died and recently, the chef closed their restaurant. I knew that cooking was a love of her life as was her husband.
All of this by looking through check registers. Gabriel has died also. A few years ago, I stopped by a friend’s house to say a brief “Hello” and make a delivery…I often shared cake or pies that I baked with friends. Gabriel was sitting on the front porch talking with this friend. I didn’t want to interrupt, made a brief apologetic hello in his direction and left. Gabriel died a few days later–he crashed his car into a tree late one night.

All of this and more stashed in my memory as I shredded some old check registers. There are so many stories that we carry within us. It’s surprising what is invoked by the act of clearing some clutter. It’s no wonder that we put it off. Stephanie Vogt says that is one reason why clearing clutter is so hard…there are the attachments we have ascribed to things. They conjure up so much. I’m taking it slow.

What are you clearing, releasing, saying farewell to? How’s it going for you?

Aha’s: Part Three–Separate Unity

I first heard of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in my late thirties. She migrated between several ashrams, one in India, one in New York and one in Oakland, California. An acquaintance told me about the ashram in Oakland, bordering Berkeley. In search of a spirituality that my Catholic upbringing didn’t offer, one spring day I visited the ashram.

When I think back on this time, I remember myself as a questing young woman. I was married and with children. I was in search of deeper meaning, spiritual solace and a community. There were things that stood out about the ashram. There was the indoor garden, like an arboretum, with fragrant Jasmine climbing trellises. The Chanting Cave was a sequestered room that was pitch dark. Being in a totally dark space, sensory stimulation was lessened. The constant was the recitation of the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” as chanted by Gurumayi. This mantra played repeatedly over 24-hours. Anyone could go there at any time and find comfort and serenity. It felt like a womb to me, protected and cushioned.

Seva, meaning selfless service, was a participation in making meals and cleaning up afterwards. It could mean cleaning the bathrooms or whatever else is on the list to keep an ashram running efficiently. The meals were vegetarian and they were nutritious and delicious.

Although it was communal, it felt like a private experience to me–quiet, respectful, and non-intrusive–as we walked through the halls or prayed or chanted together.

I did spend one overnight there. I had a little room to myself until a woman walked in late in the evening to share the space. She emphasized that her given name was Barbara but she had taken a spiritual name which I can’t remember. She methodically took her stones–they traveled everywhere with her–from a pouch and placed them on the little shelf behind her bed. They were her companions and support. She told me that she snored. All I needed to do if it got loud was to call her by her given name and she would stop snoring.

That evening, settling down for a night’s rest, the sounds rose up from the street below. There was a bus stop and voices congregated and they seemed to be aggressive. Finally, they moved on. Barbara also settled in for the night. Within minutes, she was snoring. Not a soft, easy snore…but a loud and grating one that couldn’t be ignored! After several minutes, I called her name softly. And then again, softly. “Barbara, you’re snoring.” She woke and thanked me, turned on her side and continued to snore loudly throughout the night. In the morning, she thanked me for being “so gentle” in waking her. She got up refreshed and went downstairs for the morning service. I declined and stayed behind in the little twin bed for a few hours more.

The thing about the ashram was that it felt like a safe place to be. Your personal needs were met–food and shelter, if I wanted it…but the spiritual talks, the music, the atmosphere was permeated with a deep feeling of peace.

One very auspicious day, Gurumayi was coming to visit this ashram. When a holy person comes to visit, it is called darshan. I parked the car blocks away and walked to the ashram. The line to get into the hall wrapped around the building and down several blocks. I couldn’t even count the number of people in line and wondered if we would all fit inside the hall. Food was being served. I remember standing in another line to get a tray of delicious food. I walked into the hall. On the floor, there were little mats to kneel or sit upon. I sat with my tray of food. I looked around the room at this sea of humanity. A sudden insight of our separate unity washed over me. We were all unique individuals and here we were, bound together by a common purpose, need, desire or just a shared meal. Whatever it was, it felt profound–that we could sit there together, peacefully, respectfully and connected in a deep way as we anticipated the blessing of Gurumayi.

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What did this separate unity mean to me? We live in isolation in so many ways. There are those of us who live alone and perhaps far from family. We think that no one else feels or thinks as we do. We protect our isolation because we don’t want to be too vulnerable. Yet, that day, sitting among strangers, I felt that deep thread of connection to all of humanity, to all of life. Each one of us is unique and we bring our gifts to the life we are living. And yet, it is so supportive to realize that I am united with others as I walk this pilgrim’s path.

“…The Courage to Start All Over Again”

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For the past two weeks, I’ve been tackling a lifetime of family photos. There are picture puddles all over my living room floor and stacks on and around my dining room table. There are albums that I’ve started and others that are yet to be decided upon. This is truly an intense immersion and not for the faint of heart. It invokes time travel and then grounding back into present time.

These photos commemorate a thirty-year marriage that finally ended in a divorce. They take me through all the stages of my two daughters’ growth–the birthdays, holidays, graduations, sports, scouts, family gatherings, siblings, the feasts I prepared…and then, the remembrance of the dearly beloved departures. These moments in time preserved in photos. And when I see them, I remember the stories that surrounded them. The mother-in-law who held tightly onto her son, my husband and her jealousy that seeped into our relationship. The father-in-law who always had to assert his macho superiority. The ex-husband who danced between his anger and sentimentality. The adorable daughters discovering themselves and the world. My dear siblings, there were nine of us, and our highly dysfunctional parents. And photos of me, young, pretty, naïve , trying to find my way through the chaos of the past and the then present.

There are times that I’m judgmental of myself–were there things that I could have done differently? Were there choices I could have made that would have improved the quality of my life and those closest to me? Yes, there are some regrets. But didn’t I do the best that I could with what I knew? I see how I can fall headfirst into that Pandora’s box of photos and spiral down with that undertow of regret. And then, don’t forget the generational trauma that has been added to the mix. Truly, there’s always that which is bigger than the small picture frame through which I’m viewing my life. There’s always a vaster landscape. I’m not alone on this wild journey. We all have our boxes and albums of family photos, and today there are the digital ones.

It seems like human frailty, vulnerability, happenstance and more are part of the whole. They are right beside courage, victory, endurance, determination, love. In life we co-exist with everything both inside of us and outside of us. There’s so much we don’t know about the soul’s journey. So much.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a young woman who had lots of struggles in her early life. She had been full of self-blame and there was early trauma involved. It touched me when I heard her say that she had cultivated a way of sending a beam of love to those hurting places within herself. Beaming love to those memories, losses and old trauma. I think that’s a good practice.

With all of that said and all that goes unsaid, I turn to the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” And I want to add, bring reverence to your whole experience, make it sacred.

Wherein Lies the Value?

Are there questions that you would like to have asked your parents while they were alive? For me, there are many. However, the questions of the moment would be directed to my mother. I would ask her about the double-strand of pearls that I wore on my wedding day. These pearls were “the something borrowed” from my mother.

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I wore white on my wedding day from toe-to-head. White patent-leather shoes, a white satin prom dress with a lace overlay purchased from Lerner’s on Market Street in San Francisco.  My mom ordered a short white veil with an imitation drop pearl crown from the Montgomery Ward’s catalog.  The crown dipped low onto my forehead.  The white fingerless gloves came to my elbows and, for the finishing touch, I borrowed my mother’s double strand of real pearls.  It was to be a low-budget wedding for two recent high school graduates. 

The wedding day itself went well.  Arriving at the reception, the only thing that was missing was the bride and groom for the top of the cake.  I remember a young man riding up on his motorcycle to the Presidio NCO Club beside the ocean where our reception was being held.  He pulled the plasticized couple from his backpack and unceremoniously placed it on the three-tiered wedding cake.

Perfection, like the double strand of pearls, like the creamy-skinned bride, like the perfect midsummer day by the ocean.  The sort of day that poet’s write about evaporated rather quickly into a too-young bride and groom who didn’t know themselves well-enough to forge a lasting relationship with one another.  Yearning for that perfect partnership didn’t make it a reality. 

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Recently, sifting through old photos, I came across a picture of that long-ago wedding day.  I noted the pearls, the same ones which my mother had given to me a few months before.

“Go into the bathroom,” she said.  “In the second drawer of the vanity there is a beige box.  Get it for me,” she directed from her wheelchair.

I returned with the rectangular beige box.  My mother opened it and handed me the double strand of pearls.  “I want you to have these,” she said.

I teared up as I tried on the necklace. 

I confided to my mother “When I was married, I asked Tom for pearls on more than one occasion.  He seemed not to hear my request.  He bought me a strand of pink and white ceramic beads from a craft show.  The tag read Parrot Pearls.  I guess he thought he was being clever.”

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My mother died in 2011. I wore the pearls for three weeks to honor her memory.

Last year, on a whim, I stopped into a local jewelry shop. My mother had collected a lot of costume jewelry. I was curious if any of it had monetary value. At the same time, I inquired about the value of the pearls.

“They are” the jeweler said, “impostors, a good imitation…not real pearls.”

I must have registered shocked surprise as the jeweler remarked “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Inside of the beige box was the label, Richelieu. It turns out that Richelieu Inc., was a “faux (fake) pearl manufacturer based in New York City, formed in 1933. Richelieu pearls were popular as an affordable alternative for consumers who were looking for inexpensive yet attractive faux pearls.” (Wikipedia)

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So much about my family history had been based in lies and betrayals. Was this just one more lie?

The questions I would ask my mother if I had the opportunity to would be:
Did dad buy the pearls as a gift for you? If so, were you with him when he purchased the pearls? What was the occasion? Did he tell you that they were real? or Did you buy them for yourself?  Did you think the pearls were real? These are some of the things that my inquiring mind wants to know. And I realize that I won’t ever have answers to my questions. Being a writer, I could conjecture a bigger story around these pearls. But I won’t.

Finally, though, a question to myself…Does it matter? Although the pearls aren’t real, the sentiment was–a mother wanting to give something of value to her daughter.


Asking the “Right” Questions

Sometimes, when we inquire into ourselves we ask better questions than at other times. Sometimes, we look to someone outside of ourselves to ask the questions of us. Looking back at a journal writing from 2001 (so long ago already), there were six questions asked of me. I don’t remember the circumstances of the inquiry, but I find them to be interesting enough to share here on my blog. I invite you to use them in your own inquiry if that interests you. I apologize for not being able to give credit to the source.
I wrote my answers to these questions in 2001. I wonder how my answers might be different today.

1. What concept, metaphor or principle is at the center of your life and how does it motivate you?

I do believe, even in times of confusion and uncertainty, that there is a reason(s) beyond what I can see for this earthly existence. Beyond my illusions. Someday, perhaps, we’ll know that this wasn’t for nothing. And, that there are higher ways of being while having our human experience.

2. What do you desire from life. What are you seeking to accomplish, create, assist and support?

I desire inner peace and harmony–a wholeness of the being I am. I seek to bring the wholeness of being into creative projects which foster my own development and the evolution of others–supporting and assisting them, through creativity, to integration and self-empowerment. I seek to actively express my personal glory thereby giving others the same permission to be radiant.

3. What circumstances would provide you with optimum conditions for satisfying your needs and fulfilling your expectations?

An organized base would be a good start. A directed focus. A mentor or guide. An intuitive connection with a higher self. Remembering who I really am. Loving, fearlessly and fully. What circumstances? Sort of an inner state of self-acceptance and trust that I’m being guided and that things are going exactly as they should. Risk-taking while trusting I’m cared for. Small dares to myself. Ultimate feeling of safety at deep levels.

4. What values and virtues do you admire and strive to engender in yourself and others?

Honesty with self and others. Connection to higher motives and my own wholeness. Respect given and received. Compassion given and received. Self-trust. Health of body, spirit and mind. Respect for the earth. Honoring my own presence and life experience.

5. What are the fundamental activities and behaviors that express your deepest intentions?

Conscious self-care: eating healthy, exercise daily, time in nature, studying, self-development, patience with myself, striving to grow, understand and fully accept myself.

6. What do you feel is the particular talent and perspective that you give to any relationship or endeavor?

A strong desire to learn, healthy curiosity and inclusiveness.

2001 Journal Writing

Today, I had a Zoom conversation with three other women. These women are seniors, spanning twenty years in age. It was interesting to me to realize that they continue to ask similar questions of themselves as they strive to make sense of life and their particular reason for being or raison d’être as is sometimes heard in French. The most senior woman, in her nineties, said that she believes that our singular life matters to the universal wholeness while two others seemed to be questioning that since everything is temporary or transient, what is their value over the span of time as we know it?

I offered why can’t it be both? While we are here for this length of days, our energy is affecting the whole. We might be remembered for a few generations if we have children and grandchildren…but then, we are like the stardust distributed across the vast universe. We concluded that we do matter. That felt like a good way to leave the conversation.

People don’t often have opportunities to have these deeper conversations, do they? We are caught up with getting through a day and handling our to do list and whatever presents. However, to realize that we matter and that one gesture of kindness at the grocery store today has made a big difference to the person who you offered to let go ahead of you in line. The homeless man at the post office who held the door open for me and thought that he had to explain that now he has to receive his mail through general delivery. The friend who invited me for a walk and this gesture that makes both of us feel less lonely in the world. I do matter. You do matter. We do matter.

Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

What are your life Aha’s? Part One

I’ve had several that I recognized as such. The first one was when I was very young. It’s only in retrospect that I named it as an “aha moment.” I was five-years old, in kindergarten. For some reason, the kindergarten classroom wasn’t placed very strategically. We had to walk across a bustling, chaotic and dangerous schoolyard to get to our classroom. There were boisterous boys bouncing balls, squealing girls scrambling and tagging, nuns towering and trying to maintain a semblance of order. To get to that classroom in the far corner of the schoolyard, a little person as I was, I had to brace myself in preparation for running the gauntlet. I took a deep breath and began my journey. Halfway through, I had a sudden awareness that there was a ways to go yet and I froze between the classroom and the place that I had started.

I didn’t panic, but I stood there for a good long moment to catch my breath and observe the length of yard I had left to traverse. After a few breaths, I suddenly felt that I was strongly in my body. It was as if I had roots, strong roots that went up my sturdy legs. I felt this deepened sense of connection to the earth below the asphalt of the schoolyard. I was one with something greater. My young mind couldn’t explain what I was feeling, only that the feeling was strong and deep. I was connected to something deeper and greater and that felt powerful! Feeling low to the ground, I continued across the schoolyard without instance.

Throughout my life, recalling this one moment in time, I have held on to the belief that I am part of a whole. That wholeness claims me daily. When I feel like I’m out there, a leaf in the wind, I can call back the sense of what it felt like to be so grounded. When I face challenges that send me reeling. I can remember that felt sense in my body that gave me stability, strength and courage to lean into the challenge.

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What about you? Can you recall an instance in your life where you felt a connection to something greater? How does this serve you today?