Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Elegance of Simplicity, The Beauty in Space

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a nomad. It started when I was five and ran away from home to spend the night under an avocado tree several blocks away. Thrilled to be there, I was also deathly afraid of what might be waiting in the darkness just beyond my leafy sanctuary.
In the years that followed, I was compelled to travel further and further, until there were thousands of miles between me and the town I’d grown up in. I crossed oceans and continents, spending intervals in Europe, South and Central America. I slept in a hammock, on boats, in a Roman wine cellar and in an 11the century castle
When I first started off I carried a few suitcases. They became trunks that disappeared in the holds of cargo ships and the backs of trucks alongside small mountains of boxes. There were the utensils I couldn’t live without; pots and pans, clothes, linens and paintings. Photos and small bits and pieces were the footprints of my past. Always always there was a collection of books that kept growing.
Eventually, I’ve divested myself of two husbands, a long-term live in lover, and my daughter followed nature’s course and moved to Manhattan. Another few years passed, and suddenly I began to relinquish my possessions, despite the occasional tug or ache that appeared when I handed over something that had served me well. The orange Le Creuset pot that cooked a perfect stewed chicken, and weighed 6 pounds! Having more than one blanket, the heavy royal blue wool was given to a woman I met. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re freezing, and as a single mother of three she needs to nourish her dreams. Although I haven’t given them all up and never will, a great many of my beloved books have slowly been repurposed, finding their way to libraries and into the hands of people who I felt would enjoy them.
And as things continued to disappear, I began to recognize the elegance of simplicity. The beauty of space. In the forest, it’s the clearing. In the desert, the sky. On the beach, it’s the horizon. In Chinese calligraphy, empty space is named ‘designing the white’ and it enhances the blackness of the letters. In Japanese gardens, the empty space provides balance. It defines the elements that surround it, just as the elements that surround it define the space.
Like the yoga master who teaches that the empty space following the breaths inward and outward is where great movement occurs, modern physics tells us that there is no empty space. What appears to be emptiness is filled with particles, atoms and invisible energy.
Bringing emptiness into various aspects of my life, gave me the freedom and serenity that I’d unknowingly longed for. No more need to carve out chunks of time to polish the furniture and the silver!
My friend R, a devout Buddhist and a healer of children from war zones, once said, I don’t think I’ll reach enlightenment this lifetime, nor am I completely sure I even want to. We both laughed. Be that as it may, I’ve come to believe that the last stage of a woman’s life journey is when she focuses on cultivating her soul, something that’s done moment by moment. Enjoying the peaks and lighting fires in the darkness, life becomes an act of devotion, a joyous commitment to all living beings. Embracing divine madness, moments of insight and the intoxification of Divine Love, the older woman finds grace by surrendering to simplicity.
The journey becomes easier.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day: Bring the Real One Back!

"War is unhealthy for children and other living things."
Larriane Schneider

Shortly after the Civil War, activist, Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother’s Proclamation. It began with these words:

We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

Her intentions for a Mothers for Peace Day changed over the years, until finally in the early 20th century, the date was co-opted by the floral industry. From there it ballooned into a billion dollar industry.

One thing is still certain, no matter where you go, what color or nationality you are, mothers everywhere want the same thing for their children: food to eat, safe shelter and love. Now, it’s time for mothers to take back the day! Imagine what would happen if all the mothers in America asked their children to join them in declaring a Mothers for Peace Day.
This mother’s day, you can start in your own neighborhoods and homes by holding a Mothers for Peace Day.

These are some of the things you can do:
1. Organize a family or neighborhood potluck to talk about peace. Ask the children what peace means to them? Talk about the roles of compassion, kindness, forgiveness and beauty in creating peace. Ask them what it means to do no harm.

2. Tell them Sadako’s story, a Japanese girl who developed "bomb sickness" shortly after Hiroshima. Informed by a friend ‘if you fold a 1000 paper cranes you will be granted a wish,' and wishing to be well, Sadako began making cranes. She died before she could finish. Her classmates made the rest and they helped raise money for a peace memorial built in her honor.
Make your own origami cranes for peace. (watch this easy YouTube video for making a crane with recycled paper ) String them in neighborhood windows or in your family’s home.

3. Jill McManigal, co-founder of Kids for Peace ( was inspired by her daughter, Hana, to start this group which grew to 17 chapters across the U.S. They have a Facebook page (Kids for Peace) with all kinds of interesting links for ways to get involved. There are other programs on their website.

4. Write out the Kids for Peace Pledge. Have them share it at school.

I pledge to use my words to speak in a kind way.
• I pledge to help others as I go throughout my day.
• I pledge to care for our earth with my healing heart and hands.
• I pledge to respect people in each and every land
• I pledge to join together as we unite the big and small.
• I pledge to do my part to create peace for one and all.

5. Some children connect peace to having a healthy environment. You can start by bringing home a ‘peace’ tree and planting it in your backyard.
Find a local eco group you and your kids can be involved with.

And when your Mothers for Peace Day is coming to a close, sit down quietly with the children and tell them this. Mothers everywhere dream of peace for their children and the world needs children who dream of peace. Tell them how unique they are, how clever they are and that there’s never been another one like them. That you believe that day by day they have an important part in creating peace. Then thank them because by sharing a Mother Day for Peace, you’ve already begun to make those dreams come true.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Normal is Cow. My Dance Partner's Name is Indulgence

At 14, after looking closely at a cow in a pasture I made a momentous decision. Despite its lovely lashes, I realized that behind the lazy cud chewing and outrageous eyelashes was a shoo-in for Normal. Don’t get me wrong; cows are okay. Unless you find a bale of hay exciting, they never really go anywhere you’d find particularly interesting.
Following my cow epiphany, I went on the run from Normal. Occasionally, I would hear others ask for Normal, praise, and give thanks when Normal was the star of their lives. Often, I wondered about these people and why were they seeking Normal. Normal isn’t challenging. It doesn't ask me to do my best. It certainly didn’t find its way to an illiterate blind healer who built a small village for a group of blind lepers and taught them to sing Bach a Capella. Normal didn’t sit at the table of poor fishermen who emptied their cupboards for a hungry stranger.
Normal often feels entitled to keep things on an even keel and isn't fond of passion. It shuns the difficult questions. Normal wouldn’t have heard firsthand the story of the man who put together a flotilla of taxis, old cars and school buses to save hundreds from being killed by a murderous group of soldiers.
Normal didn’t live in an all black low-income neighborhood in Los Angeles with crazy Corene two doors away. With her scarred face, false teeth, and pissy attitude hiding her generous heart, Corene loved to tease the neighborhood kids who thought she was a witch. She lent me cotton gloves to go dumpster diving for cans she recycled for a nickel per. I became her chauffeur and gave her avocado rights to the tree against my house. She brought me cheese from the Food Bank, a wicked sense of humor and a new awareness about what it’s like to never go through the front door of a white person’s house. Normal would have run away before any of these things could have happened.
As an older woman, I sometimes wish for Normal, but only for a few seconds when I’m very tired. Now that I have a few decent years in my sails, my non-normal Self has a new dance partner. His first name is indulgence, his name eccentric. He’s also a big fan of Non Normal. We do very well together. If I can’t go to sleep he escorts me outside to sit under the moon. He reminds me when I’m being too critical of my Self. We laugh when I wear my slippers to the market and take an afternoon nap on my bed. There are times we practice selective hearing, something that gets easier as you get older and something we have in common with teenagers. He applauds when I turn out a story. Sometimes, we’re loud, others quiet. We watch each other’s back.
I’ve traveled a long way from Normal and wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to go back. Why would I want to? How about you?