Five Minutes of Calm

Relax… All is calm. Take a break and spend five minutes with an ocean view at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine Beach, Florida.

Ocean sounds and imagery from Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine Beach, Florida.

Five Minutes of Calm 3

A video featuring Florida wildlife with soundtrack to promote relaxation. Enjoy!

Five Minutes Of Calm 2

Five minutes of nature scenery accompanied by a slow-paced soundtrack by Relax and enjoy 😊🙏🏻

Five Minutes of Calm 1

Relax and enjoy the view

A silent, meditative nature video to promote relaxation. 😊🙏🏻

Married to Amazement

Birth, death, breath. We need not look far for sources of amazement...

Celebrating the birth of baby Emerald.

Monday: Joy!

When my partner’s mother called me to say she had just become a great-grandmother, I felt ecstatic! I hung up the phone and tried to resume my previous activities, but I simply could not contain the joy in my heart. I called her back a few minutes later: “I can’t sit with this news by myself! I need to give you a hug!” She replied, “Come on over!” For a good hour we sat in her living room and gushed over photos of the red-faced, blanket-wrapped, tiny-hat-wearing newborn. We even made a sign with printer paper and markers welcoming the baby into the family, then took selfies with the sign and sent the photos to the baby’s parents, who live out of state. It was so fun! A new person entered the world. How wonderful! How exciting! How miraculous! It was such an amazing day.

Thursday: Sadness.

Later in the week, I learned that one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died at the age of 83. When I heard this news, I felt sad, but the grief was tempered with understanding and acceptance; she had lived a long, inspired life and she left us an incredible legacy: Her esteemed body of work. She received the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize; she was no literary slouch. I’d only discovered her work a few years ago, but she quickly became one of my muses and her praise poems, sources of comfort. In an interview she gave last year to the “On Being” podcast, she said, “I acknowledge my feelings and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made living things.” Her way of communing with nature and translating her nuanced observations into accessible language connected strongly with me and my community. People in my social circles shared poems like “Wild Geese” and “The Summer Day” so frequently that I began to think of Mary Oliver like a member of my extended family. Indeed, like many others, I ask myself the poignant question that ends her poem, “The Summer Day”: What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?

A page from one of my journals. The poem is the last stanza of “Ghosts” by Mary Oliver.

Saturday: Joy!

When I offered a creative-arts workshop this week, I left the experience feeling joyful and grateful for what I hope will become a future of community-building through the arts. Over two hours, I witnessed the participants as they connected mindfully to their creativity and then shared with each other about their image-making experience in a such a beautiful, authentic way. While they were creating, I took about ten minutes to make a quick artwork: A mandala that elaborates on my new year’s intention about living with integrity (as I wrote about in my previous blog post), noting that it is “Sacred Ground.” The participants left our time together with their own colorful artworks, personal intentions for the new year, and some plans to activate those intentions. I expressed appreciation to the participants for joining me, and they reciprocated that sentiment.

Sunday: Sadness.

So much contentment; then the very next day I learned that my friend, Judy, died, having lost a battle with an illness. She was a strong supporter of my creative arts workshops, so what I experienced first was the realization that I would not be able to tell her about how well “Create Your Vision 2019” went. Then I realized I would not see her at services again; in fact, I would never see her anywhere again except in my memory. An unfortunate reality. In a room full of people who had just heard the sad news of her passing, I wept. Later, I found a photo of us that was taken two years ago, after she had attended one of my workshops. I remember how it warmed my heart to hear her tell me how much she enjoyed the workshop, how excited she was to have found a piece of birch tree bark in the supply kit (it held strong meaning for her), and how glad she felt that I was offering these arts experiences to enrich our community. She told me I was doing a great job, and I felt very grateful for her kind words.

My friend, Judy, and me sharing a happy moment in 2017.

In the months since she received her diagnosis, I had not seen Judy in person. I knew she was receiving challenging medical treatments. I had, however, sent cards to wish her well which included messages of hope and appreciation for her past support. I considered reaching out to her in a more direct way, to offer to bring some art supplies to her home, to spend some time creating with her. But for one reason or another I didn’t make that call. One reason was that I thought she and her family might want privacy, as I had wanted when my own late parents had experienced serious illnesses in recent years. Another reason probably has to do with my lingering discomfort around chronic illness, having been a full-time caregiver for my father in the three years before he died. Long goodbyes are hard for me, but I now regret not reaching out to discover if Judy might have wanted my company. I hope that attending her upcoming memorial service will bring me into contact with others who knew and loved her and provide some sense of closure; it’s difficult to sit with these feelings of loss.

As I take the entirety of the week’s events into account, I cannot ignore the facts: One of my friends died and my community lost a beloved sister, but just a few days earlier a baby was born. And I’m sure many more babies have been born since then. I wonder, do births temper the loss we feel from deaths? For every death there is a birth of some kind, whether it is, in this case, the birth of a human being, or the birth of an idea, or a new connection between people, or a new artwork, or simply a new breath. As I consider that, I take one breath, then another. Through some miracle the creation of breath happens inside my body without me doing anything special. Breath joins us at our beginning and leaves us at our ending. Breath joins us as one people no matter where we live or what religion we are or whom we love. I’m reminded of the phrase Mary Oliver used in her poem, “When Death Comes,” that I have borrowed, in homage, as the title for this essay: “When it’s over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.” Birth, death, breath. We need not look far for sources of amazement.

Meditating on the kind of circle-of-life stuff I have shared here reminds me how important it is to tell people I know and love how much I appreciate them and the myriad ways they contribute to my life. I won’t have these folks in my life forever; and who knows, I may depart before they do. This I know: I’m glad I raced over to my partner’s mother’s house to share joy with her. I’m glad I spent time reading over some of my favorite Mary Oliver poems after I learned of her passing. I’m glad I expressed appreciation to my workshop participants for their support. And I’m glad I took the opportunity to send my friend thoughtful cards and hopeful messages before she died. I’m really glad I did that; it inspires me to take more opportunities to express appreciation to my friends and family.

Each person who touches my life is a source of amazement. I will tell them how much I care about them and how much the little things, the tiny moments, the things I take for granted, really do matter. We never know how much a kind word or action shared with a loved one or even a stranger can impact that person’s day, week, or month. Words matter. I hope we can all connect with feelings of appreciation and give birth to our own “praise poems” in the form of more kindness toward others and ourselves. How amazing that would be!

Cherish Your Interruptions

Meditation Table

Yesterday I felt a strong need for a break around midday. I had experienced a hectic morning on top of a busier-than-usual past few weeks. I felt tired and anxious, and I longed for a return to equilibrium, a slowing of my heartbeat and breath rate. I knew I could continue working alongside my feelings of mild distress and fatigue, but I also knew that a silent, meditative sit would help me press my “reset” button and I would most likely arrive back at my afternoon tasks feeling more refreshed and clear-headed. Perhaps attending to my need for rest would help me accomplish more in less time.

To begin my meditation practice, I sat in a folding chair at my meditation table on the screened-in porch attached to my apartment. I set the meditation app timer for 60 minutes and took my mala beads in my hands. I had a feeling it would be challenging to focus on my breath cycle alone, so I decided to use a mantra (repeated word) to help me gain focus quickly. I heard the first ring of the timer gong. On every in-breath, I silently said, “still” and on every out-breath I silently said, “ness.” And with every “still-ness” cycle, my fingers grapsed the next bead on the mala string. Still-ness. Still-ness. I would invite my active mind to come to a state of stillness.

About ten minutes passed and I noticed a gradual slowing of my breath. My shoulders fell away from my ears. Still-ness. Still-ness. Yes. I felt grateful for the calmer state I was sure would emerge over the hour. This is exactly what I needed. But just as I noticed some serenity happening, just as I started to relax, I heard a loud, abrasive, whirring “RRRRRR!!!!!” coming from somewhere nearby, followed immediately by deep sounds of motors and high-pitched clanking metal. WRRRRRR!!! WHIRRRRRRR!!! REEETTT!!! REEETTT!!! I was jolted out of my bliss. “The landscapers are here?” I said aloud, incredulous. “Today?” They usually come on a different day. WRRRRRR!!!! REEETTT!!! REEETTT!!! The machines seemed to reply, “Yes! We are here! We are here! Don’t we sound loud and powerful? We have asserted ourselves into your blissful meditation!” I sighed. I felt my shoulders stiffen and my chest tighten.

As I listened to the sounds of machinery coming closer to my apartment, I gazed at the pine trees outside my window. A cardinal hopped around on the ground, a fire-red bit of loveliness, pecking here and there. I placed my mala beads down on the table dejectedly and picked up my phone. The seconds of my precious meditation time ticked away one by one. I wondered what to do. Should I go inside where it’s quieter? Should I forget the whole thing and get back to work? Then I noticed a subtle shift in my consciousness. I remembered something that had happened last week could help me in this moment. I smiled broadly; my shoulders dropped. Oh, yes. This is the practice!

A few days prior, I had attended my weekly meditation group. We were about 15 minutes into a 30-minute silent sit when someone’s ringing phone broke the silence with its cheerful and catchy tone: Boop-boop-boop! Boop-boop! Boop-boop-boop-boop! That time was just like now. Yes. I was just getting into my flow, being totally present, when that sound catapulted me out of it. On that day, I noticed the ring tone invading my headspace and felt my chest tighten slightly in annoyance as I listened to it play. I said to myself, “Someone forgot to turn off their ringer.” The tone rang for several cycles; however, I could not help but soften my heart and “boop” right along with it in my mind: “Boop-boop-boop!” As it rang I thought, “The phone is still ringing,” and when it stopped, I thought, “It stopped. Good. Hm. Okay, back to the breath.”

During the group discussion at the end of the meditation, I experienced a change in perception about the ringing phone. First, I felt compassion for the person who forgot to turn off their ringer. I’ve done that before, as I’m sure we all have, and if that had been me I would have felt a bit embarrassed. Second, it occurred to me that perhaps the ringing was not a distraction from my practice, after all, but rather was the practice, or at least a part of it, maybe even an important part. The phone ringing during a silent meditation is like life, in a way: We’re moving along on our path, we think we know what to expect around the next bend, and then, “Boop-boop-boop!” something happens that we don’t expect. There’s some kind of an interruption to our life flow. A distraction. A plot twist. We’re catapulted into a different energy space and we may or may not like it. If we like it, great! But if we don’t, then what? How do we handle it?

I wondered, what can I learn from this? What happens if I resist the interruption? What happens if I lean into it instead? Could I learn to accept it, or perhaps even cherish it? Noticing. Feeling. Holding the feeling with compassion. Accepting. Gratitude. This is the practice. My practice. This is where learning happens. With a shift in perspective, “interruptions” might just be opportunities. But we’ll never know if we resist them.

Back on my porch surrounded by machine sounds, I took my phone in one hand. The timer was still ticking. I climbed down from my chair and lay belly-side down on the cool concrete floor. I stacked my hands into a flat pillow, turned my head to one side, and rested my cheek upon them. My body shook slightly, in a rather pleasant way, from the vibrations entering and rising from the floor. Thank you, property managers, for hiring landscapers to take care of the grounds. Thank you, landscapers, for doing the hard labor I cannot do to beautify my surroundings. Thank you, self, for adjusting your perception and letting go of resistance. I closed my eyes.

About forty minutes later, I woke up to the timer’s gong. In the distance I heard the machinery still whirring and clanking away. I felt surprised that the steady noise and gentle vibrations had somehow lulled me to sleep. I must have needed the nap! I stood up and got back to work.

Happy New Year 2019!

“The road ahead is not some predetermined path that I am forced to trod, but it is a rich byway that I can help create.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough 

La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Gainesville, FL

As I gaze at this recent photo I took of a Live Oak tree on La Chua Trail, I wonder what she has to teach me. Some words come immediately to mind: Persist, nourish, grow, expand, transform. I’ve been visiting this tree regularly for over 15 years. During that time I’ve seen her thick, sturdy body and rugged bark endure all vagaries of Florida’s weather, from summer’s suffocating heat, torrential rainstorms, and mercurial hurricanes to winter’s cooler temperatures and drier, calmer days. In all seasons, her elegant branches grow skyward into a crown, then extend out in multiple directions. They support soft, heavy clumps of Spanish Moss, and create cozy homes for twittering song birds, secret hiding places for insects, and abundant shade for wading birds, alligators, and admirers like me. Her magical leaves even turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. She accomplishes all these tasks while growing ever taller, ever wider, ever stronger. Just by standing there, she gets to do so much…

Persist, nourish, grow, expand, transform. Do I have to do these things, or do I get to do them? With 365 new days ahead, I’m shifting my thinking away from “I have to…” and toward “I get to…” Today I get to write my first blog post on my new website. And you get to read it (thanks for doing that!). At this moment, I get to stop typing and pause… I get to close my eyes, take a deep breath in, then exhale slowly. I get to feel grateful for the rise and fall of my chest, the gift of my breath, my beating heart, my thinking brain. I get to feel grateful for my inner weather and the guidance of my inner wisdom. I get to open my spirit and anticipate the many wonders that will greet me: The new opportunities for learning I can cultivate, the self-connection I can nourish through the creative process, the new friends I can make in my community, the kindness and compassion we can share. Just by sitting here, I get to do so much…

The light in me greets the light in you, friends. I am so happy you are taking this adventure with me. Just imagine all that we will get to do in the days and months to come! What, I wonder, are you looking forward to?

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