Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rainbows and Words

Relationships are hard and I am experiencing the ups and downs of relearning how to be in one.  However, every day now I am reminded about the delights of being truly connected to another human being.  Beyond the big stuff … travel, family, garden projects, movies, sex and so on … there are those grain-of-sand moments that amaze and delight me.

In a few weeks, I'll be off to Mexico for several weeks of language intensive, so my Spanish-fluent, language- and word-oriented partner often offers bits and pieces to help my progress.  This morning's conversation involved the definition of "bow" … arco … and then moved to "rainbow."  I know the word for "rain" … lluvia … so I guessed arco de lluvia.  

Wrong … thinking like an English speaker, logical, left-brained, rather than metaphorical, right-brained.  The Spanish word for "rainbow" is arco iris … an honoring of Iris, the messenger goddess who links the gods and humanity, rather than a simple description of a meteorological event.

Somehow the difference in words for one common event struck me and reminded me of the cycle of language and culture.  Which creates which? Do words arise out of our common culture, or does our culture arise out of our words?  Most likely both, however, it seems to me that looking at the bright spectrum of color that accompanies a rainy day and thinking "rainbow" creates a different perspective and feeling state than looking at the same wonder and thinking "arco iris"

I am looking forward to delving into a new language, not only for the ability to communicate in a new way but also for the different perspectives of the world that new words might bring.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Idylling About ...

Sometimes change comes in demitasse cups … sometimes it floods your world with Big Gulps.  The past several months have been of the Big Gulp variety as a new love entered my life, I sold my home in Arroyo Grande and began to live on the edge of a breeze, drifting here and there like a milkweed seed.  In between the lovely, weightless moments have been surges of terror, insecurity and a mad grasping for something … anything … that would make me feel some sense of control.

Gradually, I'm settling down, releasing the need to know what's coming next, letting go of expectations and thoughts of what life *should* be like.  At my age, there's no longer time to worry about what the world thinks, what the world expects, what the world deems "right."  The new love in my life handed me a platter of possibilities and said pick what you want … what you really want.  It's frustrating to realize that I'm not sure I know.  Even now … here in my seventh decade ... I still have to stop and think: do I really want this (whatever it is) or am I just operating on past conditioning?

My life no longer looks "normal." I don't have a "home" in the standard sense. I'm not married, employed, working to make the world a better place or even baking cookies for my grandchildren. I have almost nothing to hang my ego and identity on. If someone should ask me what I do, I'd stammer helplessly for an answer.  For the first time in my life I may be more of a "being" and less of a "doing."

In two weeks I will head off to Mexico to fulfill a dream I've had for most of my adult life … to learn Spanish.  It's a dream I've launched in fits and starts, taking Spanish 1 probably a dozen times or more, always convincing myself that I would never be really good at a second language so it was pointless to try.  Now, I've decided I don't care where I wind up, I just want to revel in a new language.  So, for seven weeks, I'll be in an intensive language course … four weeks in San Miguel de Allende (an art community in central Mexico), then three weeks in Playa del Carmen (on the beach in the Yucatan).  And, then, just for good measure a week in Merida, the capital of the Yucatan where wandering the streets will be my classroom.

As I've been thinking about this trip, I knew I wanted to blog about this adventure … therefore, I started looking for a new blog title and came up with Idylling About... with the idea of wandering about with little direction in a peaceful, joyful manner. A merger of "idle" and "idyll" building on the dictionary definition of idyll as a noun meaning an extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque episode or scene.

Turning that noun into action yielded "idylling" -  joyfully living with little structure and forethought while wandering through art, love, imagination, spirit, peace, transformation, poetry, metaphor, connection and conversation. 

You're invited to join me and add your comment about how you are idylling through life. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Strategies of Life and Death

The beauty after death of this big horn skull
haunts me.

One of my good friends was just diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  It started me thinking about strategies.

It seems that more people I know have a permit to carry a concealed weapon or are interested in the process of obtaining one. Many of my friends are stock piling water and/or food for emergencies and there's more and more talk about living off the grid.  We want to get away from the prying eyes of the NSA, the insidious creeping of GMOs into our food supply or the fracking of our water system. Regardless of the actual statistical probabilities, we have internalized the threat of crime, identity theft … assault.

Assault.  We all seem to be living within a bubble of fear of being assaulted by the external forces of nature or man and developing strategies to deal with those assaults. What we don't seem to prepare for as well is the inevitable … death.  

Every single one of us is going to die.  Forty-one percent of us will get cancer of some sort, and almost all of us face the possibility of dying from a dozen different sources:  disease, diabetes, heart attack or stroke, traffic accident, or misjudging the wisdom of running with the bulls in Pamplona.  Something will get us and, one way or another, at some point, we will be dead, our molecules released back into the Universe.

There are a lot of strategies for dealing with death, however most of them tend to deal with the legal and tangible stuff you leave behind, or they're developed for people who have been given a terminal diagnosis and know the trajectory of their life is coming to an endpoint.  The rest of us try pretty hard not to think about death, as if somehow that would stop it from being a fact of life.

It seems to me there's a gap here … every single one of us needs a life strategy that includes death rather than pretending it's something "out there" that may never happen.  Our strategies will vary, however, it seems that some things will be universal.

Build a support system -- don't miss an opportunity to help a friend or loved one and also learn to receive their support.  For most of us, receiving is harder than giving. Learn to rejoice in the expression of love and support that comes from others; let them love you and encourage them to let you care for them. 

My favorite aunt, the source of unconditional love during my entire life, was a giving spirit who took in every hungry or homeless child who came her way.  When she became ill and needed the care of others, it almost broke her spirit.  She needed to be the giving one and could not accept the fact that she was "needy." We tried to tell her it was her turn to be cared for and that she was giving us a gift  to let us help her, but she never could relax and just accept our loving service.

Speak your heart -- do not leave words of love and friendship unspoken, thinking you can always "do it later." Make a list of all the people you love and send them love letters/phone calls/emails/texts.  It doesn't matter what form your words take, just tell them how you feel and that they matter to you. 

At this advanced stage of life, my heart has been broken open by a new love and it is pouring out of me like water through a rusted bucket. I am appalled at how little I've spoken my love for my very dear friends and for those who have nurtured my journey. It breaks my heart to think that if something happened to me tomorrow, they might never know how important they were to me.

Set yourself free -- recycle your stuff and keep it moving … clear out your storage units and cubby holes … sell it on craigslist or ebay, give it away or trash it. You can't take it with you so why let it weigh you down now?

My dad lived in a tiny house with a garage that you could not enter because it was floor to ceiling stuffed. After he died, I hired a firm to help me clean up and they brought in a construction-site sized dumpster and filled it. Do your kids a favor and start getting rid of stuff.  Do yourself a favor and replace all that stuff with light and air and space. If you need something because it contains a memory for you, try taking a picture of it … sometimes that's all you need and memories don't collect dust or leave something behind to squabble over.

Thinking about death and developing a life strategy that includes death is not morbid or negative.  It is actually life affirming.  Knowing that, at some point … which could be later this afternoon … we might be dead, makes us think about what is truly important in our lives.  Life is a gift; however, it's not a gift that we own and treating it as anything other than a short-term loan doesn't make sense.  

We may not know what comes after death but we do know that death will come.  Until it comes, we have this thing called life and we have a certain, limited, time to enjoy it and fill it with all the love it will hold. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

This morning at meditation, a beautiful poem was read from one of the Wisdom Crone cards.  I was disappointed to see that it was attributed to "author unknown" since I knew I had seen it attributed at some point.

The author is Mary Elizabeth Frye and the story about the poem is almost as good as the poem itself.  It was written in 1932 by a Baltimore woman who had not written poetry before.  Wikipedia tells this story:  

... the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with Frye and her husband, inspired the poem. Margaret Schwarzkopf had been concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing anti-Semitic unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear”. Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death.[1]

Frye never published the poem but circulated it among friends and it drifted into popularity and was often read at funerals.  Abigail Van Buren finally established the authorship in 1998.   It looks like the copyright on the crone cards is 2004 so maybe they were developed before the authorship was widely known.

As my childhood hero, Paul Harvey, would say, "And, now you know the rest of the story."  Interesting to find out later in life just how conservative he was … but what a story teller … and voice!

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr.

A few days later than his actual birthday, but tomorrow we will celebrate his life and also the life of Rosa Parks since their lives wove together in a way that changed us all.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year I post this poem on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 
birthday in honor of all that he gave us and in hopes that
we live up to his words.

Twenty-six he was when destiny crooked its finger,
beckoning the still-green minister-scholar into the world.
Forty-two she was when she pounded on the door
Theoretically opened ninety-four years before.

It was the first of December, 1955, when history wove
Their fates together into a multi-colored tapestry of change.
“Tired,” she said, “Bone tired. Tired of giving up.
Tired of giving in,” she said and sat in the front of the bus.

Montgomery, Alabama, shivered as the temperature rose.
The old ways could be heard keening long into the night
As 42,000 people left the buses to stand by Rosa’s side.
381 days they walked: nannies, maids, carpenters, all.

Two hundred years of anger rose up to shatter the silence
And from this deafening roar came a molasses-rich voice
Spinning a song of hope with a melody of peace and love.
“I have a dream,” boomed and echoed across the land.

The young minister-leader painted a picture of a life
without color lines, a world without violence.
His voice lifted the dream: Richmond, Little Rock,
Dallas opened their buses, took down their signs.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
about things that matter," he said, never silent again.
He took our hands and led us step-by-step onto a new path,
Brothers and sisters connected by heart rather than skin.

“Always avoid violence,” he said.
“If you succumb to the temptation …
unborn generations will be the recipients
of a long and desolate night of bitterness,
and your chief legacy to the future will be an
endless reign of meaningless chaos."

Thirty nine he was when one man with a gun silenced the voice,
But not the words …those four words branded into our brains:
“I have a dream …,” saffron-rich messengers left behind to
Carry forward the dream of a color-blind world of hope and peace.

Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. born January 15, 1929;
Assassinated April 4, 1968.
And Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, born February 4, 1913
Died October 24, 2005

-- Joyce Wycoff, copyright, 2011

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Find Your Purpose: Bah Humbug!

"Your purpose in life is to find your purpose 
and give your whole heart and soul to it" 
-- Buddha

Energy Unleashed
I'm sorry Buddha, Oprah, Deepak, and all you other self-help gurus … you, too, Joseph Campbell, you blissful one … I love you all but I think you led me astray.

Google "find your purpose" and you'll find 715 MILLION responses.  Scratch a therapist or consultant and you'll find the word purpose … or bliss.  And, yet, sit down with any one of your friends over a cup of coffee or glass of wine and ask them if they know what their purpose is and then listen to the hemming and hawing that comes forth.

Very few of us can clearly state our purpose and I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. While the experts claim that knowing our purpose energizes and focuses us, they don't mention that it can also be limiting. The child who knows that her purpose is to be a doctor may feel the joy of saving lives but miss precious moments of her own child's life or the opportunity to discover she has a talent for growing succulents.

There is a common trail that leads to this "purpose" and "bliss" line of thought. A writer, thinker or researcher is intrigued by what makes some people "successful" while others with similar levels of talent, education and opportunities never break out of the pack.  What they find in most cases is that these leaders and accomplishers of great tasks are driven, have a sense of mission  … and, yes, purpose. What goes unquestioned, of course, is our definition of success which values the start-up of Facebook more than the raising of a child.

Nevertheless, after the research and interviews comes the book, the speaking tour, the articles and the TED talk, all explaining how, if we just find our own purpose, follow our own bliss, we, too, will be more successful, more wealthy and more celebrated for our achievements.

Grinding wheels. Screeching halt. Wait a minute.  

What if the purpose of life has nothing to do with success, money or grand accomplishments?  What if the purpose of life is to live life?  What if the purpose of life is kindness … kindness to those around us and to ourselves? What if the purpose of life isn't to follow some orgasmic bliss but to simply keep moving toward what attracts us, following those momentary fascinations that sometimes lead to grand passions or gritty determination to do a job that needs to be done, and sometimes flitter away like bright butterflies that lifted our hearts during their brief lives?

What if we don't have to buckle down, get serious, stay focused, keep up or make a difference? What if our only job is to allow our lives to unfold like a flower in the sunshine … or to follow the bread crumb path the Universe seems to sprinkle before us?

After experiencing life for almost seven decades now, I can look back and understand that I was never competent enough to state my "life purpose" and probably still am not. I keep discovering new pieces of myself that I never knew existed … new interests, new strengths, new weaknesses, new fascinations, new burning passions.  The world is always shifting around me and it seems like I am just some ball of ectoplasm that jiggles in a new way with each shift of my world. Why would I even try to nail a ball of ectoplasm to a plank of purpose?

Several years ago in reaction to taking one more workshop that was trying to help me find my life purpose, I wrote the poem below.  Obviously, I didn't heed my own advice because I kept looking and falling into the trap of "find your purpose and suddenly everything will be crystal clear and you will ride the shooting star to fame and fortune."

Today, on this fifth day of the first month of this new year, I quit.  No more purpose for me.  No more looking for that elusive bliss to follow. No more expecting myself to have a clear focus, a life mission, or a heroic path. I now give myself permission to follow whatever calls me, to be kind to myself and all around me, to relax and be completely grateful for each day, to accept myself as flower, weed or cactus.

In thinking about this post, I found an article from Kris Carr who thought she found her purpose when cancer struck and she thought she could help others.  After that illusion passed, she wrote an article in Huffington Post:
Your purpose has nothing to do with what you do. There, I said it. Your purpose is about discovering and nurturing who you truly are, to know and love yourself at the deepest level and to guide yourself back home when you lose your way. That's it. Everything else is your burning passion, your inspired mission, your job, your love-fueled hobby, etc. Those things are powerful and essential, but they're not your purpose. Your purpose is much bigger than that.
"To guide yourself back home when you lose your way."  I love that.  

So here's my new year's wish for you (and myself) … May your year be filled with purposeless joy, fascinations to follow, and gentleness with yourself and the people around you. May you recognize the perfection in Ram Dass's words when he said, "We're just walking each other home."

Life Purpose

The child walks 
toward passion
as naturally 
as she reaches toward 
a bright toy.
Wherever she looks, 
a world of joy beckons.
No thought of “should”
 or “ought” enters her head.
She just points herself 
in the direction of 
the bright beloved
and puts one foot 
in front of the other,
Moving, totally focused.

She doesn’t stop
to ask for it.
She doesn’t worry about
whether or not
it’s the right it.
She doesn’t stop to 
consider the possible responses.
She feels no fear;
she hears only
the siren call
of her one true joy.

Oh, that I felt
that clarity,
that ability
to feel passion
For every cloud 
and dust mote,
every shiny bauble
and every glittering face,
Rather than searching
high and low
for that one
right calling
That one
all-fulfilling wish,
that one bright island,
when life is a sea 
of perfect possibilities.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wonderous Meander

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, 
is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Journal Vision Board #2
Wonderous Meander ... those are the words on the cover of my journal and my intent is to spend 2014 meandering ... following my fascinations and the wonders that call to me.

Last year, it dawned on me that the bottom line of my attempts to sell my art in the normal gallery and shows fashion was a large negative number.  So I quit.  For several months I did not make art.  I spent a lot of time looking for more "productive" projects (read financially rewarding).  

I kept thinking, "I followed my bliss and the money didn't follow."  But, then, after chasing money projects for several months, I realized that they were making me a little crazy (and depressed) ... and weren't all that productive financially either.  

So, I had a long hard talk with my checkbook, who said, "You've got a year to make up your mind.  Either make more money or cut your living expenses." It's pretty simple really ... just arithmetic ... dollars in ... dollars out.

So, I have a year.  I'm going to meander along an unmarked path trying to see where it will call me.  I'm going to make a lot of art, write a lot of words, meet a lot of people and see where it leads.

Page 1 of my collage journal tells me, "The daring are never done."  This year I will be daring ... "audacious" (the word that's on the back of my journal) ... willing to say "yes" to the universe.

I invite you to join me ... for me, posting this is the first step into a year of unknown.  If you're a blogger on a similar journey, comment with your blog address and I'll add you to the "Companions on a Journey" list.