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.
****
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.

List-making

I am an inveterate list-maker. There are times that I have scraps and notes floating around the house. This can be disorienting and annoying. A daily list consolidates the people I need to call, the business I need to tend, the gift I need to pack and mail, the cards I have to purchase, the storage locker I need to visit, the art I am currently working on, the classes I’m enrolled in and the groceries I need to buy. There’s always more. A daily list helps me to navigate through the day. A compelling guide that, if I follow it, I’m assured that by the end of the day, I’ll feel accomplished!
Ta dum!

Last week, I took an hour to create a list, a consolidation of other lists and notes that had been piling up on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t only for groceries, but other reminders, desires and necessities–like setting a date with the mechanic to add Freon to the car before the weather gets too hot. The list was designed with noted priorities and was quite detailed–a mini work-of-art in and of itself. My first stop that day was Grocery Outlet in a neighboring town. I drove the ten miles. It was a blustery, wet and cold spring day reminding me that winter wasn’t finished with us yet. I parked the car, wrapped my wool jacket tightly around me as I stepped from the car. My trusty list was in my left hand. As I shut the car door, a very strong and mischievous wind kicked up and snatched the list from me! I watched with my mouth slightly open as the wind carried that brilliant list across the wide street, through another very large parking lot, up and down, over and around. Like a kite in the wind, it flailed, never landing as my neck craned to follow it. The rain and the wind combined would make that list a soggy piece of paper with smeared ink before very long. I thought of getting in the car, driving across the wide street into the neighboring parking lot which is also a truck stop. However, I lost track of where the list was off to–parts unknown.

I felt helpless and like I’d been played with by a conspiring universe. Ha, you thought you had a day mapped out. You thought you had a strategy…a way to approach your shopping and what it was you were going to do next. And now, in a gust of wind, it’s lost. The perfect plan. The perfect unfolding. The accomplishment. The pat on the back at the end of the day for following your list like a religion, unerring. There I was, in the wet and cold and staring into the hinterlands–my list gone, as if it were a recently lost lover. I went into the grocery store and tried to remember what was on the list as best as I could. I mourned the loss of my perfect list as I went up and down the aisles.

Somehow, I got through the day and I remembered, how the best laid plans can go awry. I was also reminded that I do have my own inner north star and what needs to get done asserts itself regardless of a written list. I continue to make a list, but I don’t need be so rigid about following it to the letter.

Within any list, there are prayers woven in for myself, my family, my friends, neighbors and community. And for the world which has a very roundabout way of showing that PEACE is a priority. Is there a list that can take us there? I wonder.

What’s Trying To Get Your Attention?

Today, there’s so much vying for my attention, your attention, for attention! I live in California where there are summer fires…a clear and present danger. We live in the midst of a pandemic. Our scientists around the world have scrambled around creating vaccines whose efficacy and for how long is being questioned. Then, what is the new virus that is surpassing the present one? Water is our most precious resource and across the world, there is scarcity. Air quality, in some places, is poor. Climate change is making the news, at last. The earth is being misused and yet humans with the apparent power continue in the direction that they have been going.

The earth is giving us feedback. Yet, we stick our heads in the sand and think “That’s not about me!” or as an acquaintance said with a shrug of his shoulders, “That won’t happen in my lifetime.”

The ancient ones shared their predictions, not to alarm but to make us aware. If we don’t acknowledge what’s happening, we play the same hand over and over again and get nowhere. The technological lures distract us condoning detachment from what is real and what sustains us? The very basics of survival. The Indigenous tribes share their wisdom today and what is Indigenous within us knows the truth of our interconnectedness to our planet and all of life. Although we seem small and insufficient in the face of orchestrating change, this is exactly what we’re called to do. To be a participant in what’s next. What are we waiting for? Where, when and how do we take action?

A poem by Annie Dillard reminds us There Is No One But Us!

There is no one but us.

There is no one to send,

nor a clean hand nor a pure heart

on the face of the earth,

but only us,

a generation comforting ourselves

with the notion that we have come at an awkward time,

that our innocent fathers are all dead

– as if innocence had ever been –

and our children busy and troubled,

and we  ourselves unfit, not yet ready,

having each of us chosen wrongly,

made a false start, failed,

yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures,

and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved.

But there is no one but us.

There never has been.

Why are so many people dissatisfied, disillusioned, frustrated or angry? What is the source of this distress? Is it that we don’t recognize the unity that we are called to–earth, air, fire, water, animals, insects, sea creatures–humans–not superior to but responsible to and we are included in this vast nature.

There are languages–deeper ways to communicate than we realize. There are those messages that we ignore or misinterpret, the inner whispers that we shush. Then, there is the yearning–yearning which propels us forward into the unknown, the seeming unknown yet it is knowable if, if, if we listen.

Is there something trying to get your attention?

Is the Whole Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts?

I wonder. The whole is made up of the incorporated parts…if some parts are less than, broken or in some way incapacitated, doesn’t the whole suffer?

This quote has been attributed to Aristotle. However, I read recently that the author is unknown. I don’t know in which language this quote was first spoken. Perhaps Ancient Greek. Was it correctly or incorrectly translated? Where did the original author place emphasis…what did he actually intend by what he said? We perceive things with our own knowledge lens.

If I’m baking something and I have an inferior product or an ingredient that has gone sour, it’s going to affect the outcome…the cake, the bread, whatever. I depend upon wholesome ingredients. That’s the metaphor for us humans–each one of us gets to do our individual work. In that way, we combine to making the whole a better one.

When looking for change in the world, we must first look within. Recently, I said something to my sister-in-law like “We have got to step up and be active about climate change.” She turned it around and said “They need to do things differently.” She took herself out of the equation. She wasn’t seeing how her voice could make a difference or how her choices were also complicit if she didn’t do something differently. As long as we take ourselves out of the equation as a component or a change-maker, then there won’t be anything new. The parts either weaken or strengthen the whole.

There are many ways to interpret this quote to fit one’s particular needs. Another perspective is that the whole is better than could be expected from the individual parts. That a communal solution to a problem is going to be better than one person’s problem-solving ability. A community, the more heads are better than one, is superior to the individual. That, combining the educated solutions, a distillation of wisdom can be produced by the whole.

Yet, I return to this…the whole is the sum of its parts. If a part is inferior, the whole is affected. My ex-husband was a fire-fighter. He entered the fire department in San Francisco at a time when women were fighting for their right to be firefighters as well as other jobs that had been in the exclusive domain of men. I interviewed a woman firefighter for a class that I was taking at the local community college. She was nearly six feet tall and buff. She worked out regularly. A question that many of the wives of firefighters asked was “Could you pull my 200-pound husband out of a burning building?” This strong young woman was capable. Yet, this field of work requires teamwork. If there was a 5’4″ female (or male) who couldn’t do their part, the whole team is weakened.

These are some of my early morning musings. I’ve heard this quote for a good part of my life. Sometimes, we hear something often enough, we think that it must be true. Ah, not necessarily so. There is always room to question what we assume is so.

What are your early morning musings?

Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism is viewed as a philosophical and political movement. It is the wedding of environmentalism and feminism. It is considered a branch of feminism that recognizes the intimate relationship between women and the earth as foundational to its analysis and practice. “Ecofeminist thinkers draw on the concept of gender to analyze the relationships between humans and the natural world.” Wikipedia

I am infatuated. I have been for most of my life but I didn’t realize it had a name. I have been intrigued by the relationship between women and nature. I have lived into it. I have written poetry and essays about it. I have desired and designed it. And, sadly, I have seen how this relationship, its components and unity, continues to be disregarded and maligned.

My mind cannot comprehend the separation of the human race from their environment. Friends explain it to me as “greed.” Ah, that’s what it is. And the lack of foresight in regards to if we continue to do, as we are doing, there is an end in sight. We are creating an uninhabitable planet for many species, including humans, of this place in the universe that we call our home.

We witness the extinction of companion species. “More recently, scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.”

What? Really? Wow! That seems ridiculous. I guess that someone is out there cataloguing this. And it’s upsetting…why do humans think that they are untouchable. That they are an exception, or somehow exempt? Are we too protected and coddled by our society, living our lives vicariously through media entertainment? I don’t want me, my family or friends (or anyone really) to live in anxiety…but…don’t we need to face into the truth and make some changes, yesterday?

Ecofeminism, reweaving the human race into the world, on this planet, with all of the other life forms has become an imperative. As John Muir said “Nature includes us.” There is wisdom in realizing this.

She was made to give
© by Christine O’Brien

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they took and returned to her
in intimate ways
and each was happy.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they plowed and sowed her
to feed the many
who had set up villages
and put down roots
and they took and returned to her
in amenable ways
and each was content.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they came with their heavy equipment
and modern ways
scavenged in her very bowels
polluted her waters
bound her up in asphalt and concrete
rumbled heavy machinery over her bare breast
constructed factories and buildings
increased their numbers
to populate these structures.

They said “We will make her subject to us.”
They worked the many to support the few
–a masked feudal system.
And they took
and they took
and they took from her
and it was never enough.
It was her nature to give
and though she felt dishonored
she complied.

The earth she says
I was made to give.
take from my…
however her larder was less abundant
and she felt a certain exhaustion.
To continue giving
to those who showed no appreciation
nor reciprocity
seemed a betrayal.

How much longer could she sustain them,
sustain herself?
Where she had once given
from her abundance,
now she was giving
from her personal storehouse.

“Ah, I am tired,” she said.
“I’ll shake these ungratefuls
from my empty breast.
I’ve nothing left to give.”

****
I hope and pray that this is not the story of humankind.
What are you and I going to do? What does your activism look like?

A Woman’s Voice–

This is one of her super powers! That is, when she knows how and dares to use it. Most of my life, I haven’t used my voice effectively.

We are known by our words and actions.
When we don’t speak our truth in the moment,
it can be assumed that we agree or acquiesce.
We are witnesses to our own responses in any given situation.
We betray ourselves (often unknowingly) by not speaking up on our own behalf.
It can be scary to state an opinion or belief that is contrary to someone else.
Especially if we’ve imbued that someone else with some type of authority.

christine o’brien

Yet, you are the best authority of yourself.

I have experienced the vibrato of my voice through poetry.
The hollow of my words
when I would push the feelings aside
minimized or unacknowledged.

I have felt, in my chest,
the familiar caving in
when I was called upon
to stand in and up
for myself
and didn’t.

I have known the retreats
too well
and the inner subversion
because to speak felt dangerous,
was dangerous.

I have felt the outrage–
at odd times,
seemingly out of context–
when something old
surfaced
from a time
when I did not
or could not
act (or speak) on my own behalf.
****
Poetry has been an avenue for the voice that was mute.
****

Yesterday, sitting on the back deck sharing Earl Grey Iced Tea and Pineapple Meringue Pie, a woman friend and I discussed, among other things, how we notice that too often, men don’t listen to us when we are conducting our business transactions in the world. Now, we are women of a certain age where men no longer perceive us as objects of desire. We won’t be easily teased or flirted with.

We both gave recent examples of how we’ve noted this. She is doing some remodeling in her house. She is the sole owner, the one spending the money and has designed the remodel plans. There are things she doesn’t have expertise in so she bows to the experience of the contractor or tile man or floor man. One carpenter, too old to do the labor himself hired a man off-the-street who was obviously slacking and making a mess of things. She brought this to the head carpenter’s attention (he wasn’t on the job to supervise) and he minimized it. Yet, she was paying for the work to be done in an expert way and without damage to what was already in place.

Where we live, there is a dearth of good and reliable workers. That is, people who know what they are doing and actually show up to do the job for which they’ve been hired. Three years ago, I remodeled an enclosed back porch. I ordered a six-foot wide sliding glass door for the little space. I placed the order and left a hefty deposit. I was told three weeks for this custom-made door. In three weeks, I had the floor man come to replace the old flooring and simultaneously, a sheetrock guy to frame in the door, etc. I find out that the order for the door was never placed! The shop owner then says that the order has to come from my contractor, a man! I was my own contractor on this small job. So I got a contractor, a man, to order the door. I specified a six-foot wide sliding glass door to both the shop owner and the contractor. Three weeks later, all of the necessary people lined up again to complete the project, and I received a five-foot wide, not six-foot, sliding glass door! At that point (this dance had been going on for three months), I accepted the five-foot wide door just to be complete with the project.

In my daily experience, there are other men with whom I feel unseen and unheard. The market of single women over fifty has grown here. It would be lucrative for men who offer building, landscaping, car maintenance and other services to learn how to listen and talk to women. Doctors too!

As a woman, I practice using my voice, my super power more and more.

What about you?


Follow Your Mind

Practicing presence isn’t as easy as you think. I was given a challenge to focus on one thing for an hour.

This day in early November, I had a no particular plan but many possible options to choose from. I chose to work on a knitting basket of incomplete projects for one hour. I moved a little table to the back porch. I made myself comfortable on the sunny back porch with a cup of yerba mate tea. It felt rather decadent to devote this time to a single task. Settling in, I realized I didn’t have the directions in the basket to make the knitted rosette. Ah, they were nearby and easy to retrieve. Settling in again on the back porch, I thought it would be good to set a timer so that I wouldn’t miss a 3:00 p.m. appointment. I got up to do that. Returning to my spot, I noticed a plant that needed attention…pruned a few leaves and gave it some water.

Now where was I? Beginning to knit my rosette, right. I noticed a car driving through the back alley as I refocused on the knitting in front of me. My thoughts shifted to my oldest daughter, age 42, and with a learning disability. A sudden concern followed by a feeling of anger. What’s my role here? Remembering that she’s an adult in charge of her own life with her own helpers, guides and angels. Back to what’s my part here? To be myself with her and allow her to be herself with me! There’s nothing wrong and no one to fix. Urgh.

Back to knitting, warm sun on my face and arm. Cast on 66 sts. I wonder how long it takes to complete a rosette. The wind outside shakes leaves off the fruit trees. Should I get a cookie from the freezer to go with my tea? Did I leave Cee’s box of cookies in the car? I haven’t had the satisfaction of uninterrupted knitting in a very long time. I’ve got to send a card to Nan! Then, I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.

What would it be like to continually find respite in each and every moment? Like sinking into life without resistance? Repetitive motions, warm afternoon sun, sleepy reverie. Purl one row, knit one row, purl one row, yawn. Stand. Stretch. The mailman hasn’t come. What if I could notice all thoughts as neutrally as that one thought? Aha, the mailman just came, leaving two packages which I save to open later. A wave of sadness, a desire to take a time out of my life and do what? I notice a pain in my left knee; the neighbor’s barking dog. I want to defrost a cookie. I take two cookies from the freezer. Thirty minutes left. Time is getting short. A bird’s tweet. Mind wanders to a caption on a painting I happened to see earlier–“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” I notice how I like some thoughts and others, I don’t like. Is the goal not to get snagged by any of them? I should take a B vitamin. Return to presence with activity at hand. It takes a while to settle down and settle in. Being present with someone or something is to give the best of myself. It helps to do things that make me feel settled inside, like knitting this rosette. Giving quiet presence feels important. I have awareness of this but seldom do it or allow it. I’m used to fragmentation and doing things piecemeal. A little time for this or that, scattered energy. Annoyance. Dissatisfaction. Thoughts veer to the next thing on the to-do-list and the next.

Puffy white clouds, blue sky, sun. I miss having my good old friend to talk with although the other part–the unruly angst between us wasn’t worth it or was it? Could we have grown through it? The porch turns cold as clouds cover the sun. What would it be like to be minding my own affairs and allowing others to mind theirs?

There’s the timer! One hour to knit a rosette! Anger when I get into someone else’s business. Back off. I finish off the rosette. Sometimes, I like being a stranger somewhere. Sometimes, I like anonymity. I like anonymity or just being new to a place, new to people–just passing through.

****
Is there a moral to this one-hour of focused attention. I notice how I sit somewhere and go anywhere and what thoughts trigger me. Am I open to what I’m seeing following this exploration? I see that attention moves quickly. To bring attention to what is present is a real practice. Am I gone or present to every thing that comes into my life? When am I most present? What holds my attention?
****
Have you ever followed your mind? What did you experience?

PAUSE

Good Morning! Another beautiful morning when I pause to notice. The pause to notice can be the difference between a good day or a crunched, not-so-good day.

I’ve wasted a lot of time over the course of my life with worry, strife and pressure to conform. While all the time, my ever-patient soul stands on the sidelines waiting for me to pause, acknowledge it and move in the direction that I need to go next. It’s no longer about waiting for a better time or set of circumstances. The soul stands there, hands on hips, frown on its face, tapping its foot impatiently (not literally), reminding me that time is short and I need to get on with it.

“With what exactly?” I inquire. “The life you are here to live!” of course.

There have been times that I wanted to divorce myself. Because…I’m too sensitive, It’s too difficult, I’m afraid, I don’t have what it takes, I’m not talented enough, I haven’t had formal training, I’m not focused. This sweet and familiar litany of excuses.

Life is short and I want to cram everything in which becomes another distraction from what I’m here to do at this time in my life. I can’t remake the less-than-perfect-past. I’d like to set a strong boundary with that! Try as I might, it’s not re-makeable. “Have I learned from it?” is the only question worth asking. Can I move forward now?

Morning Pages

Turning towards this singular day is where the power lies. The morning pages is an exercise that author Julia Cameron named. I’ve mentioned this process in earlier blogs. It’s a sort of “blurting” on the blank page. This helps to clear the stage of yesterday’s stuff and make room for what’s here and now. I don’t always pause in the morning to write the morning pages. I find that when I do, it’s helpful…like removing a clog from a stopped up drain, things flow better.

Apart from pausing to write the morning pages, I do recommend pauses throughout the day. We get on our personal treadmill, driven by our to-to-list. It can be merciless! That’s when I realize I’m enjoying life less. I choose pausing as a practice, a conscious choice to stop and notice how I’m feeling, where I’m at, who I’m with, what I’m doing in this moment. Yes, even and especially our mundane tasks invite us to pause. As I write this, I notice the pen moving across the page–yes, I write with a pen on paper versus tapping at my computer keyboard (that comes later). I watch these words flow across this lined page. I look up and out the sliding glass door and beyond the deck to the Eddies capped with snow. A pause to notice reminds me what is right with the world.

Taking a Risk

“Risk nothing and you risk everything.”

Erica Jong

I came upon this piece of writing from a Creative Writing class that I took a few years ago. It posed the question, “What are you risking?”
“What would life be like if you risked doing those things you have put off doing, but deeply desire to experience?”

With the advent of Covid 19, so much has changed. These days, we risk by going into a market to buy our groceries. This was written in 2009 when my parents were in a care home together.

The word “risk” has been at the forefront of my mind of late. I watch my parents at their present stage of life–ages 89 and 92. What’s done is done for them with little chance of autonomous change. The next risk they will take is their leap into the hereafter. I’m here now and I’ve felt overly cautious, limited and stuck for awhile. I feel a dissatisfaction which ranges from vague to imperative. I’m not sure what the risk is that I need to take. I do know that it’s time for a shift. Is it a stronger commitment to writing and getting published? Perhaps–why not devote one year to that effort and see where it goes?

I think that if I began taking risks, I might feel more self-fulfilled. Happier, less frustrated. Risk involves a certain daring. I’m a Leo, a fire sign, and this has been somewhat dormant in me. It’d be nice to allow the part of me that loves center stage, fun, playfulness to express herself. I’d travel some and try myself out in new situations. I’d speak my mind more. Be ridiculous at times. Ask the questions that I’m curious about of my diminishing parents. Not hold back affection.

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As life goes, I didn’t publish a book or devote a year to writing. My parents continued to decline over the next two years and they required a lot of attention from the family. They died six months apart. Their departure was followed by a period of grief. I documented their final years. I rarely ever stop writing. Most of the time, writing is within my comfort zone. Except that I did initiate writing this blog about three years ago and that has felt risky at times. I took a big risk when I interviewed a man, over a period of three months, about the male perspective in relation to women. Formerly, he had been an abusive male. I also signed up for a theater group and wrote several scripts which they performed. That was definitely outside of my comfort zone. In 2014, I started drawing and painting. This was something I never believed I could do! So I guess I could call that a risk. Since then, I’ve had two art exhibits and yes, I risked and leapt on both occasions. With the first one, I was so nervous that I got laryngitis and couldn’t speak to the visitors to the exhibit (yet, I showed up!).

Today, I have redefined what risk means to me personally and how it applies to what I desire. If my desire is to be a whole person and live from that wholeness, then what is the risk involved to live this way? I think it involves confronting fears and stuck places as they arise. I also think it’s about recognizing that I have taken many risks over the course of my life and I only recognize them as such in retrospect. Should I chart them on a piece of paper to remind myself, to honor that I don’t always hide under a rock? Covid time hasn’t supported some of the things I’d like to explore.

Recently, I was listening to an interview on Sounds True with author, James Hollis. He was ninety years old at the time of this interview and he passed away shortly thereafter. The thing he said that struck me was that each stage of life has its task. That’s up to you and me to figure out–what is the task for me at this stage and within the circumstances of my life? And once you have named it, take the risk and pursue it. I think that’s good advice.

In Covid time and at the stage of life you are in, what does taking a risk look like to you?