January is empty for reservoirs. They hold the void. There is no water, wake, or waves. Hardly anyone is there. You’d see them if they were; there’s nowhere to hide.
I tromped around wondering about the emptiness. Which reminded me of the importance of being empty.
My friend recommends going into a room empty. Especially when offering support. Hold the space, but don’t fill it.
Here in this expanse void of water, I fill up on empty. I also feel it. It’s sort of nice to jump into. It radiates something, even if it looks barren and not promising at first glance.
January is not the same as July. No fishing, paddling, skiing, or swimming is happening. It’s a forced stop of action, or yang. The reservoir is taking a break, restoring its yin. And by being here now, I follow. I move in step with January. This is what’s happening.
What is there to do? Visit it. See it in its current state. Without. This leads to about one thing- walking around and observing what is contained in the emptiness.
Things seen were old shoes, wood, grasses, rocks, tires, beer bottles, plastic bags. Mud.
What to do when something doesn’t float our boat? Out of water? It does not fill any expectations.
When the water is low, or mostly gone, we can see the bottom. It’s a good reference point. What I like about this connection is it feels closer to the Dao. The ancient advice went something like, “be low, like water. Be close to the lowest points.” Walking a more humble and quiet route was encouraged, nothing much about running up mountains, pumping your fists. Instead flow like water, adapt to whatever shape you encounter. Just my loose interpretation.
The bits of wood gathered around the edges are connected to the earth this time of year. They lie there exposed. They are not covered by the muffle of water. There is no light and liquid creating beautiful illusions to mesh with. Most will float up again in a few months and ride the water and watch the sky.
What I like about the seasons is it’s not about me. It’s about everything. The status and state of everything, of which I am just passing through. I can appreciate it or I can complain about it. It’s a choice.
I went out and got two cats the other day. I looked online at the local shelter and though the goal was one, I chose two. They did not know each other.
One radiated sweet, the other appeared cute and playful. After we got home, one was naughty, one was nice. The cute and playful one became moody and distant.
I saw her walking away a lot. At home, she was an emotional mystery prone to getting upset quickly. As in, don’t touch me, don’t pick me up. DON’T!
Neither cat actually behaved badly. I just had to get to know them.
I AM cute, yes, and thank you for noticing!
The sweet cat is the orange boy cat.
After a couple days of being scared of a new place, he set his loving gaze upon me.
He approves of me. It’s a done deal.
How do you suddenly have two grown cats? Who don’t know each other? You follow the directions. The shelter offers tips and instructions on how to gradually introduce. The cats did great and I was committed. It took my attention. It’s not a “let ’em work it out” thing I remember hearing people say years ago. As the tribe leader, the human in the house needs to keep things respectfully organized and safe so the kitties can feel cared for in their new surroundings.
I learned to meet the cats where they were. I’m still doing that, about a month later. All this is a lot like getting to know anyone, even people. Time, space, place, boundaries, bonding, habits, preferences- these have meaning for all creatures.
Meditation turned out to be the best bonding activity, even equal to play. Spice Girl, named for personality and her hues of cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili, and ginger, likes meditation. She isn’t moody, she just needs stillness. She would rather sit in peace with you than bite and scratch, given the option. Really.
She wanted to connect but didn’t know how.
So, we learned.
The other arrived with peace and love, this was his truest nature.
If their nature is not peace and love, that is o.k. This invites close attention! Observation.
Lesson #1, don’t do what they don’t like. When cat says no; not that; not here; not there; not this; oh hell no!….. listen. Because next they will tell you what they do like.
Yes, I like that toy! Yes! Yes! I like that touch! There, under my chin! By my ears! Yes! I like sweet talk directed at ME! Yes, I love the food you offer! Yes, I love the meditation when I sit with you and you don’t pet me but we are touching! Yes! Thank you! Yes, that purr is for YOU! O.k., I have to go now!
Cats have a great ability to relax if they think everything is basically o.k. It’s a good enough reason to keep a habit of creating a basically o.k. environment.
Big thanks to my loyal dog, Lily. She is an unlikely zen master with cats. Seriously, she diffused all feelings of worry and angst when introduced. It’s not that she particularly likes cats. It’s just a non-issue for her. She adapts to adoption. She was once adopted herself.
We are at one month now, and everyone is getting along well. There is still an occasional hiss, but it’s more of a warning than an aggressive act. More often I hear chripy recognition hello meows with a purr follow-up. Our daily meditation brings a contented silence, which naturally spills into regular non-meditation time. It’s great to share peace with all creatures!
We went from headaches to mental health fairly quickly. I asked him what he did for his own mental health? His answer: “I don’t know what it is.” Fair enough. An honest answer! A few beats passed and he asked, what do YOU do for your mental health? Touché!
I told him that for my mental health, I exercise, hang out with uplifting people, do arty stuff, meditate.
He perked up about the meditation. He said he tried it but it didn’t work. He had done it twice, each time for 2 hours. I told him that was very ambitious! How about shorter, like 10-15 minutes a day?
He asked how does it feel, when you are in the zone of meditation? This is a good question and I wasn’t sure how to answer. English was not his first language so when I used words like peaceful, it didn’t fly. So, I motioned like I was unscrewing the top of my head, and said, “it’s like if you took the top of your head off and poured fresh water through it; rinsed it out with water and light.
His eyes lit up and he said, “oh!”
He left with a new approach to meditation.
What is good mental health?
Here is a list of eight things I was told in school (Oregon college of Oriental Medicine, Portland, Oregon).
Signs of good mental health could be the ability to:
Develop emotionally, creatively, and spiritually.
Initiate, develop, and sustain healthy relationships.
Face problems, resolve them, learn from them.
Be confident and assertive.
Have awareness of others, ability to empathize with them.
Use and enjoy solitude.
Play and have fun.
Laugh at yourself and at the world (takes tremendous amount of self esteem and inner strength to laugh at oneself).
*We need enough life force to initiate and develop ourselves. Always look for and find ways to cultivate your life force.
The above list came from an academic course, which was directed toward working with addiction and mental health.
These are guidelines, points of reference. I think we need to identify in writing some concepts of good mental health. It’s time to be concrete rather than vague.
Why don’t more people have answers for good mental health? Why does it seem slippery? Lately, I see a need for solid footing in this subject. Let’s start somewhere. And go beyond, “see a counselor.” Some won’t get there, so what are common sense concepts in the meantime? As in, let’s get some movement on the ground floor, within our reach and not make supporting general mental health too confusing.
My point is, we all need to bring this care into our own lives, even if we are not in the middle of a mental health crisis. If we wait for that, it’s a harder place to set up aid and self care.
The next list is from a Quaker group I attended, so it has a spiritual leaning. The topic was Universal Spiritual Elements.
Universal Spiritual Elements
Awareness of the “other.” What is valued or sacred? What do you value over yourself?
2. Sense of responsibility. How am I responsible for the world around me? How do treat my space, surroundings, people, pets?
3. Sense of vocation. What is my reason for being? What gives meaning or purpose?
4. Sense of community. Is there a sense of caring and being cared for? Who are my people? Who do I trust?
5. Sense of repentance. What is my capacity for reconciliation with self and others. Mistakes are entry points for healing forgiveness.
6. Ability to be present. Is my focus past, present, or future oriented. Soul lives in present. Past: ego. Future: ego.
7. Faith. What is the relationship between my small story fitting into the bigger story. To connect to a sense of the transcendent, what do you relate to?
Having trouble figuring out how to integrate all this into your life? That’s o.k., pick one thing and start there. Remember to have fun. Practice, practice, practice.
In my view, we should be having conversations and taking action everyday toward cultivating good head and heart space.
Leave a comment to say which or what called to you.
Back to meditation, if you want a great kickstart, go to https://chopracentermeditation.com/experience.
It’s a great 21-day simple guided meditation. It fits into any schedule! It starts Monday the 30th. The theme is Making Every Moment Matter.
Wood is the element of spring. What are the conditions of spring and how do we notice, align, and incorporate with this season? This blog churns up a few notions about Chinese medicine from an elemental/seasonal perspective.
We are all of this earth, so we have earthy elements. Studying the elements is a way to integrate with nature. It’s a way to channel the current element, thus align and sync with the season.
Each season gives us a chance to notice where we are, how we are moving, where we are going, and generally what is going on. What is our place?
A long time ago, in China, they talked of wood and fierce growth. It quickly got a little more detailed.
To see the elements of spring through the lens of this theory, look at the list below.
The featured organ of spring is the liver.
tissues: ligaments and tissues
wild animal: tiger
instrument: compass (direction)
pathology of this time of year:
pain in chest or sides of chest
redness, swelling of eyes
Personality of wood:
We have the wood element in us all year long, some more than others. Strong wood personalities are often leaders, people who get things done.
Like all the elements, it helps when wood is in balance. If out of balance, it can lead to extremes on either end. Too much wood: argumentative, short tempered, overbearing, inflexible. Too little wood: lack of drive, direction, vision, and hope.
People who lack woodiness are looking for a plan, structure and vision for them to feel the strength and flexibility inwardly, to then manifest outwardly. They need to harness direction and movement forward.
Those with too much woodiness, can be overly controlling and pushy; therefore, could use softening, flexibility, and a willingness to not demand so much control.
Imagine we are all trees. Different trees, tall, short, bushy, bare, smooth, rough. Our human bodies and tree bodies are blended in this season, and one message is: be strong, yet flexible. Allow your branches to bend. Bending is favored over breaking. Try not to snap.
Trees and humans are both seen as connecting heaven and earth, dirt to sky. Branches and limbs are like tendons and sinews. We want to have a good supply and flow of sap, like healthy trees. This goes for emotions too. We can see and touch rigid sore muscles, but what about rigid attitudes? Short tempers? This makes for a dry and brittle personality that turns to fiery anger quickly (extreme anger is called “liver fire”).
In school, we were taught that it is best to be moveable, changeable, bendable. How do you balance growth, or try new things, while also maintaining a way of creative adaptability- to thrive more readily with what is. For us trees and people, we need unobstructed fluid/sap circulation, bendy limbs, flexible attitudes, and branches that let the air and light flow through.
Try to encourage supple muscles/ supple mind.
This is an active season. Growth! It is not a passive or reflective time of year.
Questions and tips of this season
what makes me feel alive?
what can I do to be a more fully alive person?
Am I moving my body enough? It’s time to move and disperse stagnation.
If you feel you are off-track somehow, it’s time to get back on. Don’t worry too much about mistakes, just try things and move on.
Stretch your tendons and sinews. Move stagnation, yet remain stable.
Organize and restructure routes or habits that are inefficient, or no longer effective.
Grow toward the light. Follow light like plants do. Be aware of your direction.
* List from Thea Elijah, LAc., from her wood integration series.
Spring is the season of birth and growth…. it also has its share of death and decay. Yet, in spring, grief and fear are overtaken by the sheer force of optimism and vitality.
It’s a great time to make massage oil with spring elements to soothe tendons and sinews. Soften the limbs, relax the attitude.
Mood boost massage oil:
Base: sunflower oil
Add: bergamot, lemon, and orange essential oils. Amount added depends on amount of oil. If it’s 8 0z., I’d recommend 10-20 drops of each. Experiment. Start small if you don’t like a strong smell.
I chose sunflower oil as the base, but you can choose something else. I love sunflowers, their booming vitality, color, and sunniness. They provide beauty, pollination for bees, and fuel for birds. Sunflower oil is also rich in vitamins A, D, and E.
In conclusion, I’m told that horses do these three things the most in the spring: buck, fart, and roll, sometimes as a sequence. Go for it!
It’s pussy willow season, did you know that? I’ve been out the last two evenings collecting gorgeous bundles along a nearby creek. I like harvesting them because you have to notice them, time it, pay attention. It feels old and sweet and real. While slogging around in my rubber boots tonight, I noticed two hawks, several ducks, very crisp air, and two guys smoking pot, also next to the creek.
I’ve been thinking about the importance of tending one’s life. The last post was about living with inspiration, living with passion.
Where does it come from?
I think it comes from tending. Tending what? What you love or like; what calls to you.
I tend a garden. I didn’t start out a gardener. The head gardener was my mom. It took years before I actually felt compelled to create my own garden. Now it is my grounding, my tether to the earth and seasons. It is my balm when pleased or not pleased with events around me. It is not necessarily a passion, but more of an inspiration, a reason to be present. For me, gardening helps me simplify my intent, and clear the path for other thoughts or feelings to come up.
Poet Mary Oliver says: attention is the beginning of devotion.
I once dug in the dirt every day for weeks and it was neither passionate or inspiring, but it settled me down, put me in a more pliable mood. It caused me to be more open to input, and more willing to dispose of unnecessary burden.
Tending just takes interest, focus, and care. You have to notice what you are tending. Does it need water? Food? Protection? Care? Love? This is beyond plants, now we are talking mammals. I think we learn to care, and even to love by tending.
Tending flat-out leads to more tenderness.
To get to passion and inspiration you have to start somewhere, with something or someone. Maybe it’s a lover or a loved one. Or it could be painting, singing, swimming, cooking, animals, hiking, reading, writing, paddling ….. O.k., those are my things. Find your own things. And then, here’s the big thing: MAKE TIME FOR IT. Whether a hobby or a person, make the time. Ultimately you’re investing in yourself, your own heart.
Tending to what calls to you makes you more alive and more aware. Rumi put it best, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”
Tend, as a verb, means to stretch, extend. It became a word around 1300-50. It means to attend by action and care. Another example used it in a different way, as in, “the particles tend to unite.” I’ve got it: I wish to unite my particles to attend to my life and those in it with action and care. It is one way to find purpose and direction to recognize and awaken the passion within.
Recently, at a Quaker garden work party, we shape shifted dirt into new raised beds. We wanted them to be level and true. Have you stood in wood chips and mud and known for a fact if your surroundings were plumb and level? What is true? Brian brought out two glasses of water, which were set on opposite sides of the frames. This was illuminating! We were all wrong as to what actually lined up with the laws of nature.
The water levels in the glasses led us to what was true. I think tending helps us to find our own truth, our own nature. Finding threads to personal truth is exciting. It makes a heart beat with more aliveness.
I was feeling a little bummed out. I needed some different scenery. I had some things on my mind and they weren’t all happy things. What to do with a melancholic half day off? Leave town. First stop, the bird refuge. My spirit needed a rinse of water, sky, birds, rain.
This is a story with pictures about moods, inspiration, letting things be, and beer. There might be some Buddhist stuff squeezed in here and there.
This is how it feels to me when things don’t work out. I saw it from the highway and knew it was the perfect shot to illustrate melancholia. Here is a structure that was a home, a base, but now it’s abandoned and not functional. When I am dealing with my own perceived tragedies, I am forced to go through loss and pain. Oddly enough this is a good exercise.
Through reading The Way of the Bodhisattva, I kept hearing the same message: self-absorption is the main source of suffering. How to get out of self absorption? Expand expand expand. I was constricted in my thinking. I was thinking small. The ancient book recommends that we connect with our expansiveness in order to gain access to tenderness and compassion. This can move us beyond a self-centered point of view.
I pull from all directions for guidance. Yesterday I listened to a vlog about lots of cosmic things, but the best part of it, for me, was: Live with passion! Live inspired! I immediately felt my recently repressed passion awaken. I can do this. How could I forget this?
He also emphasized letting go of the superficial. We are bombarded with the superficial ALL THE TIME. Chuck it.
How to expand? Go outside. I laced up my kick-ass boots and hit the road.
In a short time, I was at the bird refuge. Grass, mud, and water was in every direction. Clouds and sky and the sound of singing frogs and red-wing blackbirds filled the moist air. That was more than enough, but then I got to see a bald eagle, a kestrel, and a swarm of killdeer. I know they’re not technically called a swarm, but I like it.
Next stop, a small town. It is small but there is room for poetry. If at all sorrowful, one must hit up poetry. It just works!
Love the imagery of the erosion of rigidity. I can see the salt and water softening the rock and soil, from millions of waves.
I’ve heard recently of a concept that we have to empty ourselves. This could mean many things, but I think the idea is that we clear out internal space. It’s a little like spring cleaning or Feng Shui for the head and heart spaces.
I’m reading Ilene Cumming’s book, The Truth is at My Front Door. She talks about her experience as a hospice volunteer. Among the tools needed–compassion, presence, emotional stamina–what stands out to me is “the courage to simply enter the room empty.”
I was a hospice volunteer. I was on the roster to supply acupressure touch and acupuncture. I remember arriving at the door, just before knocking, and having a holy shit moment. What can I possibly do to help this person? Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh–what have I done?! Too late, I have to go in.
I think I’m going to practice being empty more in regular life. Just show up. And that takes expansion. It takes remembering the sky is really large. I don’t need to contract because of my own, or others’ expectations.
I wrapped up the field trip with beer. There are no pictures of the beer. I was at Sky High brew pub in Corvallis with a window seat looking at clouds and light.
I’m just passing through
Should I expand or contract
I choose my next breath
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I pick up sticks. I collect them. I see them everywhere. Usually they are on the ground. I don’t go around poaching live branches off trees. Some of the best places to find them are on the borders and edges of reservoirs. Roots, limbs, branches, and even lumber pile up and roll around on each other from the waves and wind. They end up soft and smooth and weathered like driftwood. They are no longer alive. At this point, they have become art.
In the beginning, I just placed the sticks around my yard or deck. They enhanced any space. Then I found more purpose, like making trellis for plants to climb. This gave way to more ideas, like making twig sculpture towers. Things really took off when the towers started to host humming bird feeders and suet.
One thing led to another.
I made suet the other day, for the first time. This was in response to a friend saying to me, well, can’t you make that? I’d never thought of doing such a thing. The Farmer’s Almanac had a recipe that looked simple and honest and wholesome, so I made it. That exciting story might be another blog!
I put the fresh suet on my older wobbly curly willow twig bird and squirrel tower. Birds didn’t seem interested. I joked that at least the raccoons would like it. That night, the raccoons held a rave, and knocked the structure down leaving it badly beaten. Most of the suet was eaten.
I needed to build a new twig structure habitat! All the birds, mainly hummingbirds, counted on this thing. They have their hummer poetry slams here every Saturday at noon!
I looked at my backlog of sticks. Not enough good ones.
We had just had an ice storm that left a lot of tree limb casualties. About a mile away, along a running trail, I spotted a yellowish colored, smooth barked, very long, snapped-off elegant branch hanging by a tiny thread of fiber.
I hopped on my bike with my ratchet loppers in the saddle bags. This branch was destined for purpose. I hoped it was still there and that I could discreetly harvest it. That turned out to be the easy part. Snip, it was down. It was around 11 ft. I couldn’t ride my bike with it and risk impaling a jogger, or skewering a bicyclist.
I had to walk, looking balanced and normal with this very long branch. I only fell over once; managed to just dropped the bike and stick. Most people didn’t seem to notice. I passed a dog park, and there behind the fence staring at my great find was a very excited dog. His face lit up! His eyes said, “I love it!” In those few moments, we connected over this perfect and elegant wild-crafted branch.
The walk toward home was tiring but I didn’t show weakness. About a third of the way there, a man asked, “so, what are you going to do with that stick?” A fair question, and I told him the truth. Just then, another man called out my name and offered to deliver it to my house. It was my neighbor. He had a truck!
I told him that would be really great, and that I was feeling like I was looking weird. He picked up the stick, hoisting it across his shoulders and strode off, exclaiming, “now I look weird!”
The point is, it’s fun to be a little weird or ridiculous toward a creative goal. It makes for a more interesting day for you and others.
Making signs has become a passion of mine. It involves words, discarded wood, and sticks. I can do it outside and inside. It’s expressive and involves color choices. I like it. The following is my latest group of signs and their stories.
The devotion sign had to be made because I kept saying devotion in my head for about 1-2 weeks. Not constantly but consistently. It wasn’t pushy but insistent to come into being. I like this word because it feels good to think it, and it feels good for the mouth to say it. The V sound is a fun one to form and make your lips buzz. Oh, and it also feels good to feel devotion, to be devoted.
When I feel immersed completely in something creative, I feel a sense of holiness, a current of timeless blending of the separate self joining the universal flow. It feels like I’ve caught the wave I didn’t know I was seeking.
Anne Lamott wrote a book with this title, Help Thanks Wow, the three essential prayers. It’s one of the first signs I made (not the one pictured). I put it up in my back art/eating/outside/inside space. It’s known as the temple. A rustic kind of barn-like simple temple. Temple light.
The background light layer happened because I ran out of paint. Now it’s my favorite background look.
Groove is in the heart makes me happy. It also makes me sing the song, so makes the day more fun and heart groovy.
Deee-Light was the band who sang, groove is in the heart, so that inspired this sign. Thanks, Corbin. I love friends who help remind me of what I love. My favorite relationships bring mutual delight. Ultimately they bring light and a floaty levity to the human experience.
Once at a Quaker meeting, a very old wise one said that we tend to be stingy with love. We reduce it. We don’t think there is enough. In fact, he said we are downright miserly with it. I silently agreed. Months later I watched someone talk feverishly about a subject he knew well. At the end, after a stretched-out pause, he said “SO MUCH LOVE!” with great emphasis (although it had no direct link to his subject). The impact of his words and statement rang in my head, weeks later. SO MUCH LOVE hung there as if all around, filling every space. This sign was born to be a reminder.
I made this one about two days before Thanksgiving. I meant to make it say gratitude, but I had a friend over and we were talking so I wasn’t paying attention. I realized gratitude would not fit, so changed it mid-way to grateful.
Zen Zone came from Katie at work. She visits our back area where it’s all acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, plants, and quiet. It’s now known as the zen zone. It hit me that others might want a designated zen zone. You gotta claim that space!
A second scripty version of devotion. I wasn’t happy with how it turned out originally but didn’t get around to throwing it away. Later I added black outline to the smudgy gold and liked it better. I like how the firecracker plant is photobombing this shot.
Grit is a favorite word of mine. I love reaching down for grit and finding it! At Rena workouts, Jon uses this word a lot when we are grinding out burpees. This word reminds me of my friend, Beth. She got grit.
GIDDYUP is another word that is fun for the mouth and throat to say. Besides meaning go for a horse, the urban dictionary says it means, “let’s go! or “Yes, let’s do it!”As in, “do you want to grab a pint of kombucha? Giddyup!” I like my giddyup people. Sally is a giddyup gal.
About a month ago, I dreamed I was riding a horse through uneven urban concrete junctures. Cutting through different grades and hills and drops and buildings did not faze my ride. All I had to do was sit down in the saddle and stay balanced, trust her technique. Trust the anima of the animal upon which I was seated.
This weekend, during awake time, there was another anima at work, in the form of making signs. If you look up anima in the dictionary, you’ll find a few different definitions. It starts with “soul; life.” My favorite: an individual’s true inner self reflecting archetypal ideals of conduct. I don’t know if anima fits here, in regards to sign making, but it feels right, so I’m sticking with it.