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?

Wasteful War

Wasteful War
© by Christine O’Brien

Allow the earth to drown you in her beauty.
Then there’ll be less desire for wasteful war.
Without restraint, succumb to her bounty
Such a complete surrender, do not abhor.

Why do we march to the battlefield still
Inventing disagreements to stoke the fire
What inside of us do we try to quell
If we win, are we right and they the liar?

What, pray tell, is the point of any war?
What victory so sweet that sheds blood?
Are we being true to some ancient lore?
Can we decide midstream to change this plot?

Please drown me earth in your beautiful flood
This cause of death I’d deem worthy, I would.

*********
Yesterday, I took a walk in nature. I walk daily, weather permitting. I walked beside a lake, Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta, CA. Along this trail, they have placed one picnic table with benches. I stopped to sit and gaze at the sparkling water, a few ducks, the trees. I had a little book with me, Sanditon by Jane Austen. Apparently, this is her last work and incomplete. I’d been watching the series on PBS and wanted to see how close they stayed to her book, at least the beginning of it.

Sitting there, having this momentary leisure of time and the beauty of place, I felt fortunate. I could feel what it is to have an experience of peace in beauty. I desired this, something like this, for everyone. I guess I was imagining then a world without war. A world where we are satisfied with caring for what we have and we don’t have the need for conquest and acquiring more.

Today, I walked by the lake again, a different trail. I met a man walking his dog…a stranger. We had a casual conversation and before long, I could see he appreciated nature and longed for peace. I said something to him like “We need leaders who love the earth and value all of life,” and I added, “like you.” He laughed and said that could be his campaign slogan. And then he said that someone who favored burning coal would say “We’re not voting for you because you’re going to undermine our industry.” And I said that his response could be “Let me offer you an alternative.” Isn’t life strange?

My brother, Bob, is a musician and poet and has worked for the Oceanographic Society. For most of his adult life, Bob has protested against war, fought for nuclear disarmament and has been an animal rights advocate. All of these combine to show a man who lives his values. He was out there this past weekend joining with others to protest war.

It’s sad to witness how there are a few men at the top who hold the world hostage.


88 Degrees in the Shade

It’s nearly 2:00 p.m. It’s hot–almost 88 degrees in the shade! I turned the hose upward to rain down upon me a few times. Now, I’m eating a piece of my famous chocolate cake as I write this. I planted two tomato plants and an Anaheim Chile Pepper. I watered everything. I won’t plant the herbs until my friend, Philip, is finished building the three-tiered redwood herb bed for my garden.

Today, it seems, I’m aware of choices–choosing for myself. I chose not to go to improv at Rochelle’s. I chose to go to Mary’s with Polly and friends to write poetry tonight. I chose to walk a wooded path up and down Stellar Way for over an hour. I then came home, grabbed a bite to eat, made phone calls and yes, gardening. Maybe I’ll paint the fence for half-an-hour and then take a bath. I have chosen to dismiss Timothy as my lover. I think that it’s right; however, there’s a big blank space where he once was. I have longings to create home and family. How would that look at this time of my life, I wonder. The garden is my teacher (and life is my teacher).

A deer thundered through the brush when I got too close on my hike. A big, tawny, beautiful, strong, watchful deer. Gentle is the word attributed to deer. I would say they are a powerful form of gentle.

What is the garden teaching me? The soil is volcanic, red, softened slightly with watering and soil enhancers. Weeds grow easiest when the soil has been watered over several days. Is the soil clay or is it only very dry? Why do humans crave family and solitude simultaneously? Who do we live our lives for in solitude? Is it enough to keep a garden and live for oneself? And yes, we need to know how to be alone, yet… I received an invitation to Jana’s, my niece’s, graduation. These special times. These special, dissolving times. Is my life over before I realize why I’m here? What is the secret to this every-dayness? How do we carry on despite the wars that are being waged around the world?

The garden is so lovely in this season, in Spring, lavishing its beauty on me, on Sara the cat and any friendly birds and insects. The garden is welcoming. I’ll continue to plant here until I move somewhere else. It’s not only Timothy I miss, it’s the loneliness of not having a daily someone with whom to interact. Why not Timothy? He’s not partner material. I wanted him to be as I don’t enjoy the search for a mate. However, he’s not the one.

The garden is patient and it trusts that it’ll flower and fruit at the right time. It doesn’t have a mental process. It takes in nurturance and preens in the sun and waits for what’s next.

A Day of Flow

A day of flow
© by Christine O’Brien

Her face
finely chiseled ivory
a porcelain rose stashed
above her right ear
hair woven into braids and curls
piled high
tattoos traced her arms
and any bare skin
her clothes were a draped rainbow
soft and flowing
her expression
lost in another time and place
her fingers pressed the keys of the accordion
while she pumped the bellows
gracefully
the soft
insistent melancholic music
forcing its way into the heart’s land
I placed a dollar in the accordion case
and she barely nodded
as I said
“Beautiful” and
“Thank you” 

I walked into the park
the loud tones of a man’s voice
rose over all other sounds
as he swore
and beat on another man
curled fetally on the ground
his arms and hands
sheltering his head
as a circle of young men
gathered
and held back all at once
I hurried two curious young girls
along the path
catching them up
to their mother
who finally said
“They didn’t need to see that”

I found the park bench
in the shade by the duck pond
on this over-heated day
I marked the rentals
out of habit and hope
and then watched
the mother duck
herding her nine ducklings
“Here, no here, no there,
keep up!”
the fluffy-headed
wide-eyed ducklings
“Yes, mother, oh yes mother, oh!”
they do respond to every barked order
survival is a serious business
and this duck pond
for better or for worse
is their home

The old woman–
I heard someone say
“She’s part Cherokee”
she weaves baskets out of pine needles
her old fingers
such fine work
and she’s proud
her daughter says
“She only learned two years ago
She outdid her teacher
it’s in her cells
this knowing how to weave baskets
“Teach a class?”  I ask
she nods “$50.00 a person”
I want to learn
it’s obvious she knows how to live
a fulfilled life
teach me that
please
she touches my arm
like a touch
can impart such knowledge
her eyes show neither humble senility
nor prideful superiority
a quiet wisdom emanates
“Yes, teach me soon.”
while her daughter, Leona
files her own fingernails
as we wait
in the hair salon

The pianist
in the ice cream parlor
trying to sell me
his latest cd
and I tell him
“I really just came in
for an ice cream.”
I buy a cd
finally
for two thirds of the price,”
he emphasizes
a good salesman

This day
which held all a day could hold
all that life could hold
beauty
violence
connection
creativity–
beauty prevailed

Dreams

Do you dream? Do you remember your dreams? There seem to be periods of my life when I dream in technicolor and I remember these vivid dreams or parts of them. I write them down and then I ask for meaning. I don’t leaf through books of dream symbols because I think that dreams are more personal than a book with specific definitions of symbols. I peer into what it might mean to me specifically. I try to define the metaphors within the dream for myself. I sit with it and revisit the dream over the course of a day or two. Something seems to open as I inquire and what I need to know surfaces for me.

Do I take it seriously? Do I really think that it’s my subconscious giving me a message? Is there meaning in my dreams for me to investigate? I think that there are different types of dreams. Sometimes, I have a dream that seems like a Fellini film. It appears to be all-inclusive and going in many different directions. It’s impossible to find meaning in such a dream. I look at this type of dream as being integrative–perhaps my life has been too busy, too full of stimuli and I’m on overwhelm. This type of dream is like a tumbler, shaking the loose parts out and letting them fall wherever they may land. No need for analysis.

In other dreams, there is something more specific that seems to be needing attention. So the dream brings it to my awareness when I remember the dream. Even when I don’t remember the dream in its entirety, I think that it serves an integrative purpose.

Here’s a dream that I recorded.

I dreamt that I was trying to read a poem aloud in class, but couldn’t find the one I wanted to read. When I did find it, the words changed to images–like colorful pictures of flowers, suns, fish, moons, more flowers. I read them to myself wondering if I read them aloud with feeling, would the class get the meaning? I found a children’s book of verse and thought about reading one of those. Although it was for children, it seemed that the meaning was advanced. Meanwhile, the class put on a play and danced while I searched for a poem to read.

My interpretation:
I interpret this dream to mean that the written word is less important for me at this time. Images–flowers, moon and stars speak louder–the call of wild nature or the cosmos. I think that I’m supposed to look and see beauty without having to evaluate it all with my mind. There might be a message for me in children’s verse–that there is depth within what appears to be less complex! Also, in my search for the words–rhyme or reason–the poem, I am missing the play of life, the dance, ever-unfolding life! At that time, I was thinking of returning to school but it seemed that traditional ways of learning weren’t right for me.

****
So, do you dream? Do you remember your dreams? Do you record them? Do you come up with a meaning? I’d really be curious to know.

Nature, the Harmonizer

When I’m in harmony with the natural world, the ducks are drawn to me.

Mountain lakes are amazing year around. If the winter is cold enough, Castle Lake freezes over. You can walk and/or ice skate on it. I have walked across it–yes, walking on water! It takes a bit of daring. We’ve seen those movies where someone falls through the ice. I don’t walk on it unless there’s been a long and hard freeze.

Now, it is spring and the ice is floating on the water as it melts into this new cycle. The wild ducks are flying in and skittering to a halt upon the lake.

This particular day, I arrived, walked towards the shoreline to take a seat on a boulder. Coming from my busy day with the energy of busy-ness, the few ducks by the shore swam hurriedly away. I sat for awhile, being there in the quiet and dearth of bustle. The beauty takes my breath away. Such awesome beauty brings tears to my eyes and seems to settle into my being. There is the rising awareness, a renewed consciousness, that there is so much more than I perceive.

When there is no hurry, nowhere else to be, nothing that I need to do–when I’m fully present–a calming effect occurs. The quiet of the outer natural world envelops and penetrates until I’m one with it. When that happens, I am no longer perceived as separate.

In fly two wild ducks, landing in their ungracious-seeming awkwardness. It actually looks like fun, as their webbed feet make a splash landing. One of the ducks swims off in her exploratory way, grubbing for food. The other one swims closer, very close. I watch her for a few moments. I expect her to fly off when I rummage in my back pack for my camera. She doesn’t flutter a feather. When an animal stays within range, I figure they want to be photographed. They remind me, and through my photography, I remind others that we share this planet with such an array of amazing creatures. There is always the daily miraculous when we pause to be aware of it. And, that we remember we are part of it, not separate, is imperative in these times.

****
Sitting in nature, taking quiet time, revives and resettles your whole body, mind, spirit system. From this space, this place you are able to harmonize with your natural surroundings. Then, there is the opportunity to carry that energy out into your daily encounters. The world sorely needs harmony with something higher than what the media offers.

What Money Can’t Buy

This morning, an exceptionally beautiful morning, while watering the plants in the front yard and on the back deck, it occurred to me that there isn’t anything that I could buy that could add to my appreciation of this moment.

The air is clear, the water is pristine, the sky is a brilliant blue, the plants are appreciating my attention. I am simmering oatmeal with the apples I dried last autumn. I add toasted almonds and a touch of honey with a dribble of half-and-half for the occasion. Perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon.

“Happy. Thank You. More Please.”

This is actually the name of a movie from 2011. The premise being that noticing when you’re happy, give gratitude and let the universe hear that yes, you’d like more of that which makes you happy. Hmmm.

This morning, rather than battling the negatives…I notice the wonders and what makes me happy. Yes, it’s all fleeting…but we’re so quick to say what we don’t want and build defenses against that, whatever it is. When, in fact, we can say I want more of that which makes me happy. Please and thank you.

Realizing that buying and owning something else isn’t going to bring me any closer to happiness than I am right this second, I settle into this moment.

Part Two:–same day.

Didn’t I say that it is all fleeting?

Being in the flow, when things are going in your favor, that’s great. Isn’t it! I notice how I can get into trouble when I multi-task–which I have a tendency to do. I could attribute it to being a Leo with double Gemini in my astrological birth chart. During the childrearing years, I learned to multi-task quite well. I always envied the way my ex-husband could devote himself fully to one project at a time. He didn’t have to change diapers, supervise the children’s work and play, clean house, do the laundry, cook dinner, plan the next grocery shopping expedition…he could focus on painting a wall in the living room for eight hours straight without interruption–when he finally got around to it.

Today’s flow was interrupted when I began the multi-tasking. Watering the front and back gardens mixed with painting a portrait mixed with cleaning up the kitchen mixed with cooking and proceeding to burn the broccoli for the quiche I plan to make. So with the house smelling of burnt broccoli, having turned off the sprinkler in the backyard and laid aside the painting, I remember that flow is best when the focus is on one thing at a time. I remember, when I am present with that one thing at a time, I give attention to whatever the task at hand is. I feel more in balance.

What about you? This morning? Do you take note of the gift in the fleeting moment? The one that money can’t buy? The one when something beautiful strikes you and you pause to be with such beauty. Taking time to treasure that which makes you happy…I recommend it.

The Unbeautiful

The question I asked in an early journal (2012) “Can I bring beauty to the perceived as unbeautiful.”

For some reason, this question seems as timely as it did when I asked it in 2012. In the last blog, I mentioned being present and pondered why it seems unsustainable.

I live in a beautiful place. I look out the windows and there is INSTANT BEAUTY surrounding my cottage. Within five minutes, I can be walking beside a pristine lake. We are saying farewell to a winter that sparkled with white snow, tree branches etched with snow, unique snowflakes whirling then landing. We are turning towards the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips–the heralds of spring.

I am always stopped by a spring flower. I pause to acknowledge it. Yet, how quickly I leave that beauty behind and retreat into my head. Into the same old annoying thought patterns. That nowhere land around which my mind circles. I am resisting the beauty that surrounds me. Why? Why do I choose these thoughts over this present beauty? Why this incessant need to solve what is insoluble.

As far as bringing beauty to what I perceive as unbeautiful, I think that’s not really the question. The real question seems to be why am I once again missing the beauty that is. If the unbeautiful represents the shadow in humanity, in you, in me, then as I understand it, it needs acknowledgment from me. “Yes, you’re there too. I welcome and accept you.” And then there comes a time when the fascination with the shadow desires to lessen. Isn’t there?

Our media, in case you haven’t noticed, gives weighty attention to the mess that humans continue to make of things. The media is often a fear monger. I have heard that it takes seven uplifting thoughts or things of beauty to counter one negative message. Yet, we are bombarded by a media that perhaps knows exactly what it’s doing–keeping people in fear and immobilized. An amnesia for what is beautiful takes over.

Some of my friends don’t read or listen to the news. They seem generally happier for it. Is it sticking one’s head in the sand not to read the news? Is it irresponsible not to stay up on world affairs? Some would say so. How much better off am I for reading the news, the conflicting news, the reporting that creates dissension and division? There are things in the realms of politics that have been set in motion that I don’t seem to have control over. There are certainly decisions that I don’t align with…and yet, how is my dread of them going to change anything?

What if I could go out today and really be with the beauty that is around me? What if I could wander in the wonder of what it is to be alive today? What if I could hold the mystery of our being-ness closer and worry less about the uncertainty?

Can I make the unbeautiful beautiful? No, but I can meet the unbeautiful with it’s counterpart of beauty. For everything has a counterpart.

While working on a painting, I remember what one teacher said “work with what’s working.” That’s a good reminder for life. There is a lot that is working and that I can easily take for granted.

Rejoining the Beauty
by Christine O’Brien

The chief beauty of the world
pattern of patterns
To tap into that beauty
to let it be the motivator
of this day
Jane’s tree, Crissy’s flowers,
the amethyst ring,
a smile, the cuddly cat
These things know
what I only surmise
A creator who
set this world in motion
where I join with this source
in my own creation
a masterpiece in the making
Within the stumbling,
the waywardness–
beauty
In the lost or
unlit places–
beauty
There is no waiting for me
to reach that highly evolved state
in the present incompleteness–
beauty
In what’s for dinner and
who I met for breakfast yesterday–
beauty
In the unknown tomorrow
the tentative step forward, the risk–
beauty
In the potential for love,
the yearning for peace–
beauty
The stone in my shoe set free,
rejoining the beauty

****

Music is certainly a way to engage beauty. Remember to listen to music.

Life to Art

Iris

In Spring, the bulbs that have been seemingly asleep underground, poke their heads up through the crusty earth.  Where I live, it’s usually the crocus first.  Then the daffodils.  Next, the tulips.  Finally, the irises.  Several years ago, I planted tulips and irises along the path in the front yard.  Probably not the best decision as there’s a lot of hopping over them by me and any guests who come to visit.  That said, they are there and make their appearance when conditions are right.

This painting was actually based on a photo of a little iris growing beside this path.  The tightness with which it held its bud form was noted.  The very next day, I was shocked (in a good way) to see that it had burst open overnight.

iris

 

 

Like a trumpet sound, it was impossible to ignore.  A beautiful declaration to be noticed and appreciated!

****
A bulb holds promise, doesn’t it?  Years ago, I moved into a house in the San Francisco Bay Area with my family.  When we had first seen the house, before we purchased it, I had noticed the abundance of flowers in the backyard…it must have been springtime.  Months later, the flowers had come and gone.  Digging in the backyard, I found all of these gnarly brown flaky things in the soil.  I had no idea that I was tossing bulbs away, the flowers that I had witnessed in the spring.  When I think back on this, I feel sad…I didn’t know.

These days I plant bulbs and look forward to the glorious gift packaged within each tight little knot as it prepares to share its glory!

The garden, nature, is a source of inspiration to artists across time.  It’s no surprise.  Witnessing beauty, our hearts are uplifted.  The artist finds a way to render this beauty…there are so many ways.  I wonder what it is that leads one from observation of beauty to the desire to paint or portray it.  Maybe it’s a desire to preserve it and the feeling that it gave when you first witnessed it.  Or maybe it’s a desire to share it with others.  Perhaps it’s instinctual to want to capture it in an artistic way–to claim it more deeply.  I wonder.

****
Sheltering in place, many more people are buying plants from the garden center.  There’s nowhere to go, nothing usual to do — creating a garden…often a food garden with flowers to beautify seems like a good idea.  Seeking the good in the present circumstances through a return to the soil.

 

The Ballerinas

In these uncertain times, we strive for balance, meaning, purpose.  We hope for the safety and health of ourselves and those we love…and we extend that prayer for our entire family, neighbors, community, state, country, neighboring countries, the earth.  We are in this together.  We always have been.

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I honestly don’t know why I started to paint ballerinas.  Perhaps it is their perfection of form–the way their bodies stand tall and poised, their mastery of graceful movement.  Perhaps it was the memory of a fleeting girlhood fantasy of being a ballerina.  Perhaps it is their delicate beauty.

I began painting ballerinas, several of them, one after the other.  This first painting was a total surprise to me.  It’s one that started out as something else, a compassionate feminine Buddha portrait, and then, it turned into the ballerinas.  At first, the central ballerina was a flower, the bleeding heart.  However, all around her, other ballerina figures were developing.  Suddenly, the bleeding heart no longer fit.  The flower became the central ballerina and she too changed over time.

Ballerinas.1

Sometimes, the way in which the paint or acrylic ink  “dripped” prompted a new figure.  I limited the color palette.

****
Today is a good day to notice beauty.