Climate Changes, Community, Culture, Letting Go, Love, Mindfulness

Totally awesome redefined

I’m a girl who grew up in the totally awesome eighties, so it’s taken time for me to integrate the word awesome into my system with an emphasis on awe. But as I am awakening more to the magic in my life and in the world around me, I’m finding it necessary to rethink, “awesome.”

I processed this realization as I watched a trailer of an upcoming film in which astronauts describe what many of them say was the life-changing experience of viewing Earth from space.  Shuttle/ISS Astronaut Nicole Stott (who looks more or less my generation) says, “Awe is one of those words that you have a better understanding of once you see [what the planet looks like.]  I felt like using the word awesome was totally appropriate.”

(OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.)

Listening to the interviews with the astronauts, combined with commentary from philosophers, made me think that a trip to space would be a suitable prerequisite for all youth entering adulthood. What if, instead of going to college or the military, human beings first shot up to space, gazed out at our collectiveness on this planet, and wrote a poem or a song? What if they curated a photo exhibit or painted a picture or choreographed a dance or just simply wept with understanding and wrote an essay called, “What I did on my summer vacation in space?”

Astronaut Edgar Mitchell may have been the most impacted by his experience viewing our civilization from above. Back on Earth, he later formed a non-profit institute that researches meditation, consciousness, and human potential. Mitchell says in the film trailer:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon].   But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

I highly recommend watching this powerful trailer and then letting me know what was awe-inspiring for you today. For me, it was a dream I had last night that came true a little today; it was a work opportunity that appeared at the perfect time; it was a song I hadn’t heard in 18 years but appropriately so since it only suited me today.

Some say there was a shift in consciousness that took place in 1968 once humans got a glimpse of the planet from space. And that this shift is ongoing today.

“This view of the Earth from space — the whole earth perspective — is the true symbol of this age and i believe what will happen is there is going to be a greater interest in communicating this idea because, after all, it’s key to our survival. We have to start acting as one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t.”  — Frank White, author, The Overview Effect

 

 

Letting Go, Love, Memory, Mindfulness, Poetry, Uncategorized

Subway metaphor

It’s likely I will never
understand
the passage of time.
By the time
I understand
I will have passed time.
Quickly
like the express train.
People
some I know
become blurred colors
along a tiled wall.
Their names
once tiled too in a mosaic of sorts
crumble
and all that is left is a private joke
as private as can be
because it’s with me now.
I see myself at the turnstile
at the 18th Street station.
What do I do?
I can’t get on the local now.
It’s too late.
Much
I have to let her go.
She’ll be fine, I whisper.
That’s what her colors tell me.

Books, Childhood, Memory, Mindfulness, Music, Parenting, Poetry, Relationships, Writing

My memory waited 14 years for this photo to catch up

annabel guitar may 2014

“We took our coffee into the living room. He stood at the stereo and asked if I had any requests. ‘Something Blue-ish,’ I said.

While he flipped through his records, he told me about the time he’d asked his daughter for requests; she was about three at the time and cranky after a nap, going down the stairs one at a time on her butt. He imitated her saying, ‘No music, Daddy.’

‘I told her we had to listen to something,’ he said. ‘And she languorously put her hair on top of her head and like a world-weary nightclub singer said, ‘Coltrane then.'”

The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Banks

 

Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships, Writing

The wail

As the two-minute siren commemorating Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen) began its descent, a poem began to rise.

Please take a few minutes to travel over to the Times of Israel, where it’s posted.

the half mast flag on hannaton

Childhood, Dreams, Family, Mindfulness, Parenting

In the dark

I was one of those kids who was afraid of the dark.

Now, when I say “one of those kids” I do pause for a moment and wonder what kid isn’t afraid of the dark.

What adult isn’t still?

I think most of us are afraid of the dark. Even grownups.  We just pretend we’re not or drug ourselves or sex ourselves up to believe otherwise. We do something to smother the very innate fear we have of unknown monsters creeping like fog through the slats of our windows or more corporeal, through a locked door with the help of a plastic credit card.

There’s a reason why dark thoughts float to the surface of our mind at night.

I am still afraid of the dark. My bedtime routine? I read a book in bed with the light on until my eyes are practically closed and then I reach for the light and quickly fall to sleep. On the nights when I can’t fall asleep quickly, I’m troubled.

The dark is simply not a place I enjoy being.

It’s possible that not everyone is afraid of the dark.

If you’re one of these people, I’d be curious to hear from you. I wonder if it’s just us: Those of us with overactive imaginations; those of us with stress-related ulcers or migraines; those of us who jump at the sound of a ceramic plate falling to the ground; those of us who are afraid of the shadow we see at the corner of our eye when we’re drying our hair in the mirror. Is there a human being who welcomes the dark? Are you one?

My discomfort with the dark presents a quandary for me at bedtime with my kids. They all want me — still — to lie with them til they fall asleep. If they had their druthers, they’d sleep up against me all night long like spoons. One against the other in a row like a cartoon Tom & Jerry sandwich.

I can’t really blame them for that.

As much as I need space from them, space from people, space to be alone, I hardly ever want it at my own bedtime. This is not to say I enjoy tiny feet in my face at 3 am, but this is to say that I might, in some alternate Blade Runner reality, pay for someone to tickle my back and comb their fingers through my hair til I fell asleep. I might like that. It might be something I’d consider voting for in an election.

I want to know someone is near in the dark. But more important, I want to know someone is there to protect me.

I just want to know I am safe. Even if it’s a false knowing. Because, come on, do our kids really believe deep down we could protect them from ghouls, intruders, burglars?

No. I don’t think so.

They just want someone to whisper softly in their ears as they drift down into a subconscious that will take over for a time. They want the whispers to be true enough:

“You are safe. The world is safe. You are free to drift away. You are safe.”

I’ve been whispering these words to my middle son these past few nights. He had been having trouble sleeping the few nights before and our bedtime routine had become quite anguished, for both him and me.  I could continue to fight him; try for the 50th time to “sleep train” him successfully; or I could just acknowledge that my son is like me, afraid of the dark, not just the absence of light in his room but of the dark thoughts I know bubble up for him, too, at bedtime. Thoughts about people he loves. Thoughts about the fragility of life.

Who should have to be alone with such thoughts?

So at the end of an evening meditation I take him through, I speak the words I wish someone would speak to me as dreams carry me away.

“You are safe. The world is safe.”

Perhaps the more I speak them, the more the words will be true.

The less the dark will overpower me…and him…and you.

 

 

 

 

Love, Mindfulness, Parenting, Writing

I Can’t Be Trusted

Don’t believe a word of it.
Not a letter.
Not even a space or a hard return.
None of it is to be trusted nor considered true.
At best, one or two or ten of my words will last longer than the quart of 1% cow’s milk shoved into a crusty corner of my ornery fridge.
I repeat; my song is sung in tune for the length of a long exhale.
After that, it’s expired.

I am hungry and so I hate food.
I am full and so the peach tree growing in my front yard is a gift.
I am tired and so I wish my children away from me.
I am rested and so my children are the suns and moons and stars and fairy dust of my existence.
I am needy and so my husband is my rock.
I am complete and so I want to run away.
I am pretty and so I strut the city streets.
I am old and so I hide in a darkened room behind the pages of a paperback.
I am smart and so I shout all my wisdom and thrust forward my chest.
I am a fool and so I cry the tears of someone who wasted her life away.
I am loved and so I write a poem.
I am lost and so I write a poem.

Mindfulness, Relationships, Spirituality

While we’re at it, let’s blame menopause and extramarital affairs on Gwyneth

“Ever since Gwyneth Paltrow became famous in her early 20s, she has made women feel bad about themselves…” begins Jessica Grose’s article in Slate this week.

Ouch.

This makes me want to write something along the lines of how ever since Jessica Grose starting writing articles in Slate she’s made celebrities feel bad about themselves.

Except I don’t know Jessica Grose.

I don’t know anything about her.

In fact, while I may have read her articles on Slate before, I don’t remember any in particular.

It’s not a jab. It’s just to illustrate how little I know her.

Which is why I can’t imagine laying blame on her for feeling bad about myself.

What has Jessica Grose done to make me feel like an unattentive mother, unaffectionate wife, less-than-compelling blogger?

(Oops. Did I just overshare?)

It’s not that I don’t get the point — how the media, let’s say, perpetuates an unattainable image of women or mothers. But blaming the media is very different from pinpointing one particular celebrity, especially one who actually has made it a point to do GOOD in the world.

It’s mind boggling to me. I feel compelled to defend Gwyneth, except I don’t know her.

But what I do know is that Grose’s article didn’t inspire in me a feeling of comraderie.

It made me feel sad for Grose. And for women who truly ascribe their feelings of inadequacy to female celebrities.

The accusations against Gwyneth, in particular, continue throughout Grose’s entire piece, which was sparked by the recent announcement of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s split. Grose shames Gwyneth (not Martin, by the way, but Gwyneth) for how she chose to announce her separation. The language she chose to use. The means by which she communicated it.

As if getting a divorce and having to actually ANNOUNCE it wasn’t bad enough.

“Underneath that psychobabble,” Grose writes, taking issue with the phrasing “Conscious Uncoupling,” “is the message that goes along with all Goop productions: Even Gwyneth’s separation is better than yours…”

Is that what’s underneath the “psychobabble?” Really?

I didn’t get that at all. Perhaps if I was in the middle of a messy divorce, I’d be envious of couples who seem outwardly to be approaching separation maturely.

My response? I actually considered for a minute or two that Paltrus mag cheatingow and Martin might be trailblazers.  Better coverage of “conscious” uncoupling than the ugly divorces we normally expect from Hollywood.

Unless, of course, we want celebrities to feel heartbreak and pain because it makes us feel a little better about our own.

The truth is finally spoken out loud at the end of the article when Grose writes of Gwyneth and another celebrity mother, “Their stories are meant to make mere mortals feel inadequate.”

Huh?

I may be susceptible to the “new-agey psychobabble” Grose mocks (I used to be on Goop’s mailing list), but I am under the impression that Gwyneth Paltrow is as mortal as the rest of us are. Maybe even moreso, since she is living her life on a worldwide stage.

Could be that I was won over by the restaurant scene in Notting Hill

but I operate on the assumption that even famous actresses feel shame, anxiety, humiliation, fear. I don’t see any reason to perpetuate the stereotype that they don’t.

My takeaway from Grose’s article is not an urge to join a rallying cry for honesty in media. It’s not a desire to band together as “normal moms” with limited budgets to spread rage about the injustice of personal trainers or nannies or vegan chefs.

I just feel sad.

For women who feel so disconnected from themselves that they have to look to others as perpetrators of their unhappiness.

Women who feel compelled to publicly shame other women, through blogs or through gossip.

And for this reason, I almost didn’t write this blog. I worried that by writing this post I was doing the exact same thing Grose was with her piece on Paltrow.

And then I remembered intention.

And how intention, God willing, often shines through, even when the language we are using may be misconstrued as branding, marketing, or public relations spin.

Gwyneth’s intention — even though I don’t know her personally — came through loud and clear to me in the quotes attributed to her yesterday.

She’s not looking to hurt or attack anyone. She’s not looking to rebrand marriage or divorce or motherhood.

She just thinks before she speaks.

Before she acts.

That’s what came through to me.

She thinks before she speaks.

And this is a brand I’m happy to be an early adopter of.

 

 

Dreams, Letting Go, Mindfulness, Writing

Art of attraction

Art begets art, don’t you think?

Of course, we may disagree on the definition of art. But I find the more I notice, the more I notice.

The more I write, the more I photograph, the more I dream.

The more I read, the more I feel, the more I write.

When you open up — even just a little — to noticing and noting, you are actually working your art muscle.

What I say is not new. It’s not an original thought. Many more experienced at attracting art have said it before I just did.

But I notice it happening to me.

I see poetry in my photographs, and color in my poems. The art of one lends itself to the other, and suddenly I feel as if I am getting somewhere.

swoosh

It’s not that I am a constant rushing stream of good art. Some of it is just purge.

Pages filled with strike outs.

I look like this sometimes.

selfie beat poet

But then I laugh at myself. At my #selfie.

And I share it with you.

And my nervous heart strengthens a bit when you laugh along with me… in the knowing fully that you understand I’m half joking.

* * *

There’s something that gets in my way, though.

Thinking. Too much thinking. About getting somewhere with my art.

This, too, I notice.

It’s like that moment when I realize I am lucid dreaming and I know if I think too hard about it, I will wake up. So I try not to think — just breathe, I say — but this in itself is thinking.

POP!

Out of the dream.

Or, more simply, it’s like losing your cross-eyed stare once you finally become aware of the 3D image in a Magic Eye design. I see it! You cry. Then,

POP!

Back to staring at blurry peacock feathers.

What’s the real magic trick?

Minding your thinking, I suppose.

Noticing it, yes, but allowing thoughts to float away as easily as the 3D Magic Eye design.

Blur it away on purpose.

Master this, and become a Master.

Kibbutz, Making Friends, Memory, Mindfulness, Relationships, Writing

Return to sender

I let go of Shira yesterday.

I called her up on the phone, walked over to her house, met her on the path there, and let her go.

She laughed.

So did I.

It was swell.

I had in my hand 18 year old Shira.

With love, I gave her back. To 40 year old Shira.

Some would call this surreal. Others would call it silly. I call it an extraordinary gift.

How did it happen?

In my cardboard boxes, I found letters. Shoeboxes filled with letters. Composition notebooks bookmarked for years with unsealed envelopes torn open by younger hands. Manilla folders stuffed with old exams, but peppered here and there by notes unsigned; the author’s identity only revealed by her handwriting.

I found a few from Shira. (Even if she didn’t live across the street from me here on this kibbutz in Israel, I would have recognized her 18 year old handwriting. It’s distinct. And handwriting, like phone numbers from childhood, is something I tend to hold on to strongly in my memory.)

The letters were from 1991 and 1992. The summers she and I respectively traveled to Israel for the first time.  In 1993, we’d arrive here together one winter break during college as participants on a 2-week volunteer program. We’d be stationed on an army base that’s now less than an hour drive away from where we live.

shira and jen 1993

The letters, when I read them yesterday for the first time in more than 20 years, emphasized a certain awareness I’ve already arrived at on my own.

Shira, I’m so grateful to say, has known two different Jens, maybe three, maybe even four or five, depending on where you slice me.

It’s a gift, indeed. A friend who knew you as a girl. Who knew you when you were thinner, blonder, filled with greater energy than you are now.

But an even greater gift is a friend who notices how much you’ve grown since then. Who knew you when you were less worldly, to say the least, less clever, less kind …and has forgiven you your youth.

In reading the letters, I remembered a younger Jen and a younger Shira, and a much younger friendship. I remembered the moments that punctuated that time. In her short letters — one scribbled in cursive on airmail stationery, another stuffed inside letterhead from her father’s business — our world in ’91 and ’92 came  alive for a moment and made me smile. In a different voice than the one I know today, 18 year old Shira reminded me of who we were then.  I was touched by the Shira I had forgotten; touched by the Shira I had never known then. I also fell in love for a moment with the Jen I must have been then. A Jen I never knew I was; not at the time.

It’s complicated — the gift of old letters, of old friends — but it’s also so very simple.

I could have thrown them away, the letters. Like I’ve tossed other papers found inside the cardboard boxes.

Instead, I decided to return them to sender.

It seemed symbolically appropriate. I can’t explain it, though I’ll try.

I returned them not because I was certain Shira would want them or need them (though it was a kick to laugh over them for a minute or two), but because handing over Shira to Shira seemed like the right thing to do.

Giving Shira’s letters back to her — instead of holding on to them — allows Shira to be whoever she wants to be in the world. Now.

And forces me, in a way, to accept her as such.

Not the Shira I used to know. Not the Shira who was what she was then. Not the Shira I thought she was yesterday.

Just Shira. Now.

Giving Shira back her letters gave me the opportunity to explore a concept I have great difficulty with (and the chance to practice on someone I knew would make it easy on me!)

The concept? Giving up my past so I can be present.

I can’t say I know what the outcome of this experiment will be. But something about it just seemed right.

Just like, I suppose, something felt right about saving letters in a shoebox.

* * *

This is one in a series of essays inspired by my cardboard boxes. If you like this post, and want to know how it began, read A Case for Hoarding. One post in the series, Note to Self,” was recently featured on Freshly PressedAdditional posts are tagged “the boxed set series“.

 

Childhood, Family, Letting Go, Memory, Mindfulness

Since I put your picture in a frame

There’s a photo in one of the albums in one of my cardboard boxes that nobody posing would want me to scan and post anywhere. It’s a #TBT that will never happen, and yet I almost wish I was bold enough to post it anyway because there’s a glorious photobomb inside an awkwardly posed reminder of a difficult time.

In the photo, I’m looking particularly young and particularly blonde —  caught in a rare moment of photogenicity. (Yes, spellcheck, that’s a word!)  I’m standing in front of a DoubleTree Suites in Washington, D.C. with my left arm around my 12 year old brother (his cheeky adolescent face accentuated by a blonde bowl cut) and my right arm around my then-boyfriend.

What you can’t see in the picture, however, not unless you know, is that I’m also in the middle of the end of my parents’ marriage.

That weekend — the weekend my other brother graduated from college — lives in my memories like a rotten piece of fruit.  Because even though my parents wouldn’t actually split up for another six months or so, it was during that weekend I knew their marriage was ending.

In the years since, I’ve told both my parents as such. And both were surprised. I’m not sure if they were surprised because they didn’t yet know their marriage was ending or because they were surprised I could tell.

I was surprised, too. Not at the certainty of it, but by the sorrow it caused me.

I never really thought I’d be terribly sad if my parents’ marriage ended. And yet, I was. Deeply. When my boyfriend and I returned to our apartment in NYC after that weekend, I remember crying and crying and crying. Sad not just for my parents, but for love, in general.

I understood then that love, while well-intentioned at the start, was ultimately doomed.

In the picture, in the three of our faces, you can tell something is wrong. An uneducated acquaintance might browse through that album and think we were just annoyed at having to pose.   But knowing what I know, I can see a certain heartache in our eyes.

***

The gift of cardboard boxes is that you can hide away pain until it no longer hurts as bad. Until you can bear to be with it. And look at it from a different perspective.

Discovering that photo from 15 years ago while digging through my cardboard boxes, I automatically zoomed in on the sadness. It’s where I’m programmed to look when I think of that time. It’s how I frame my picture of May 1999.

But the distance allows me to zoom out.

And there in the corner of the picture, under the awning at the DoubleTree Suites, is a photobomb of my Bubbi.

There she is with her hair done, in her special occasion outfit — a blue knit two-piece, she’d probably call it — beaming.

Her smile is real and touching. It’s the most real thing in the entire photograph.

She’s watching us and she is consumed by joy, for though happiness was no easy feat for my Bubbi, she adored her grandchildren. Through us, I dare say, she rediscovered love.

Just beyond our gloom, my Bubbi radiates happiness. Smiling, for she must have seen the larger picture.

Or decided to enjoy the moment in spite of it.

***

 

This is one in a series of essays inspired by my cardboard boxes. If you like this post, and want to know how it began, read A Case for Hoarding. One post in the series, Note to Self,” was recently featured on Freshly PressedAdditional posts are tagged “the boxed set series“.

The title of this post was inspired by the Tom Waits song, Picture in a Frame. It’s perfect background music for when you decide to dig through your cardboard boxes.

Mindfulness, Modern Life, Philosophy, Relationships, Spirituality

The Unlikely Path to Inner Peace

I just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a story of a man who sets out on a journey, both metaphorical and literal, in search of inner peace and acceptance. A friend, after hearing about “the boxed set series” project I’m working on, recommended the novel as a complementary “research tool.”

It was a good suggestion.

Harold is in his mid-sixties when he receives a letter from a former colleague – a terminally ill woman with whom we understand from the beginning he has unfinished business. On his way to the post office, to drop off a return letter to the woman, he instead decides to deliver the message himself, by journeying on foot across England.

In addition to the truisms delivered throughout the book – wisdom worthy of highlighters and stars in the margins – I walked away with a sense of hope … and of more time. After all, if I am facing and acknowledging my past now at 39, I’m a few steps ahead of Harold, aren’t I? Doesn’t this mean I might actually find my inner peace SOON?

I smile even as I write the words. I know how silly this mindset is – how contrary it is to the intention of finding inner peace.

“Finding it” requires work.  “Soon” implies a deadline. Neither of which allows for the relief that I associate with inner peace. Did I learn nothing from Harold Fry? My imaginary book club asks me right now.

What I did learn from Harold is that we always think we are wiser than we are; that “now” we finally get “it.” And this is where we trip up.

At least, this is where I trip up.

So often, I cringe at or even attack my younger self, as if I am oh-so-much-wiser now than I was then. (I’m not.)

As if I am not making the exact same mistakes now that I did then — just with different supporting characters, and saggier boobs. (I am.)

What if the way to inner peace actually is acknowledging we will never truly be wise? Just more aware. Just more willing to learn from our past and from our present. Just more compassionate of ourselves and others when we trip up (again and again and again).

And what if the work to do was actually not such hard work? What if the assignment was to simply be more open to not knowing.

Not knowing the way to inner peace; and saying, “cool.”

Allowing for the possibility of finding it in unexpected places, faces, and moments.

***

I imagine a fat, happy Buddha smiling at me and nodding.

“Yes, my young padawan, that is Buddhism 101.”

What can I say? I’m a slow learner.

Very, very unwise, indeed.

Community, Love, Mindfulness, Philosophy, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality

Synchronistically delicious

I am often troubled when I hear people use the word “serendipity” when I think they mean “synchronicity.” But I never really investigated the difference between the two words.

In my unresearched opinion, I always imagined synchronicity as attached to “meaningful” or extraordinary. Whereas serendipity is more playful, like a cup of frozen hot chocolate.

serendipity

Lucky. Fortuitous. Unexpected. Right place at the right time sorta thing.  Whereas synchronicity … when it happens … almost feels as if its arrival was fated. Expected, even if not by the participants. Anticipated, in some way, even if unseen to all but the gods until the very moment the synchronicity occurs.

Synchronicity, to me, carries in its meaning a certain divinity, a certain magic.

So much so that I remember distinctly when and where I was when I first heard the word and its layperson’s explanation.  I was at the lake house of a friend in celebration of her engagement. While dipping my feet in the lake, I chatted with a friend of the bride-to-be whom I’d never met before. She shared with me the details of a paper she was working on (perhaps her Master’s thesis or her dissertation), all on the topic of this experience called “synchronicity.”

I admitted to her that I’d never heard the word before.

“Oh,” she smiled. “But you’ve certainly had this experience.” She went on to describe what I had always thought of (at least since reading The Celestine Prophecy in 9th grade) as “meaningful coincidence.”

However, “meaningful coincidence” always sounded lame. Such a deeply moving or spiritual encounter needed a better descriptor.

“Synchronicity,” a word steeped in the concept of time (my favorite philosophical topic of conversation both then and now), was perfect for me. I was so thankful for having met this woman at the lake. Our meeting was, in fact, meaningful. Synchronicitous (synchronistic?), we joked at the time.

Perhaps this is why I loved so much Ginz’s response to my “haiku challenge” yesterday.

Walking alone is
often the first step towards
synchronicity.

This, indeed, is what I was going for when I was trying to describe the outcome of a walk alone I took yesterday. Too me, synchronicity, isn’t just a word, but a timely, yet timeless explanation for magic, for meaning, for connection.

When “alone” unexpectedly transforms into “no longer alone.” And loneliness is replaced by oneness.