“Flexibility”

I begin each day picking a word for guidance out of the cobalt blue glass container.   Just a little something to set my intention for the day before the mental chatter of the “TO DO list” dictates my time and ultimately my mood.  Today, the message is flexibility.  “Good choice, I think to myself already knowing that the weeds are growing as well as the tomatoes and basil…that my border collie is waiting for her morning Frisbee…the phone doesn’t stop ringing, e-mails are mounting, the grass needs to be cut, and I’m trying to get in a daily walk.  Oh yeah, did I say I have responsibilities of a job to pay the bills too?  I’m guessing you can relate to this and your list is probably even longer.

Someone suggested placing no more than 5 items a day on my To Do list.  That’s never seemed possible yet yesterday’s unfinished tasks glare at me rather than offer a cheery “Good Morning.”  Intellectually, I know this sets me up for feeling unaccomplished and sometimes overwhelmed.   (Being an HSP, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.)

My MO is tackling a project and staying with it til the end (while feeling guilty that other tasks wait for attention) but as Dr. Phil says, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”  Sometimes yes.  Sometimes no.  Probably no, more often than not.  Living with a workaholic does not support my efforts for balance and flexibility yet underscores the importance of it.   (I learned that the hard way years ago but that’s another story for another time.) For now, I need to take small bits at a time.  Weed one section of the garden, mow one acre, respond to e-mail only at designated times of the day.  Reprioritize as necessary.  Go with the flow.  Be flexible.

Even the word flexible seems to have a nice bend to it and immediately conjures up an image from a quote I read long ago:

Baum_Sardinien Bending Tree

“…A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind…”  – Lao Tzu

To not be flexible is a death of sorts.  If I first make time for stillness (meditation),  the day will gently unfold, rather than feeling like I’m tackling each task like a football pro.  Again, I am reminded of Lao Tzu’s wisdom:

“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.          Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

He wrote this in the 6th century B.C.!  Just think about that.  It was long before technology, computers, planes, cars, etc., but the population was fraught with worry and running around frantically even in those times.  Perhaps these are simply life lessons for being human. 

Lao Tzu’s sentiment has appeared before me a few times this week. No surprise.  Thank you, Universe.  Yes, everything will happen as it’s meant to be, on its own schedule.  Gardening has taught me that.  Sometimes I need a reminder.  I’m human.  Now, I’m going to take a deep breath and do some Qigong in the garden with my border collie then let the day unfold as it will…

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Transformation of Endings

Source: I Don’t Get It

In visiting another blog this afternoon, I was moved by the writer’s sadness and confusion of impending death and realized each of us is so different in how we think about and interpret life.

I came into this world contemplating death and vividly recall such thoughts as early as age 5. Death (separation) use to frighten me. I could not imagine being separated from the ones I love. (Note, despite my “attachment” to loved ones, I grew into an independent female.)  Oddly, the “death” of these individuals gave me a deeper understanding of “life.”  Someone told me that my suffering was because I was selfish in not wanting to let the dying go. That was hard to swallow but stepping back, I gradually understood what they meant and focused more on the moments I shared with that person or pet, rather than on the “loss.”

In my youth, I was introduced to a mix of Protestant Christianity (Presbyterian and Methodist doctrines) then investigated Buddhism, Catholicism, and Judaism. Several decades later I find myself believing in bits and pieces from all of them (aka take what you like and leave the rest). I do believe in God and that each of us may call it something different including “the Universe.”

But, it was working in the garden and being led to Taoism that transformed my fear of death to acceptance and understanding. Seeing a flower that buds, blooms, withers and dies, then returns each year gave me a concrete understanding of the cycle of life and hence, tremendous comfort.

If we are all interconnected, then why wouldn’t my life continue as it does for the flower that I cannot see during the winter but greets me each spring?

As in the photo I’ve included here…if I am not conscious enough to look beyond the winter grey, I would not notice the dwarf irises coming back to life in spring.

Reading about past life regression and end of life experiences also helped me arrive at my current view.  In 9 months, I lost 3 very important people to me — my mother, best friend of 20 some years, and spiritual guide.  In answer to my questions, a Unity minister responded that, “We cannot know another’s journey.” My resolution was that their work this time around was complete.

In the midst of processing these losses, I’ve also had a few scares with cancer.  Now, I am learning about the critical importance of our thoughts. And words. As Florence Scovel Shinn advised so many years ago, “Your word is your wand.” I try to be more conscious now in my thoughts and words…having faith answer the door when fear comes calling.  Sometimes I do better than others.  Afterall, this is reprogramming, “transforming” several decades of thinking.

More and more I have shifted my viewpoint to believe that endings are also beginnings. I heard a radio preacher one day say that death is the gateway to our transformation. Truly, I view death as not the end per se, but a transformation. I just have to have faith of where it will lead.

The Flow

I am better off, my days are better off when I begin in the flow of Qigong.  Years ago I practiced Svaroopa Yoga.  Its deep relaxation served me well.  But, then I tried Qigong and my life really started to change.  I love the cyclical flow of energy — be it in my environment or person.  This morning practice is my wake-up — of energy and to life.  Naturally progressing to readings from the Tao, my life transformed into a new philosophy of living, thinking and breathing.  Being a gardener, the Tao deepens my connection to nature which has deepened my understanding of life.

“Tao is the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony” so Merriam-Webster says.

If you are unfamiliar with Qigong I encourage you to sign up for the free monthly Qi Talks from the National Qigong Association.  Their site is full of useful information like detailing what Qigong is, determining your energy composition, finding a practitioner who can teach you the movements, etc.  And if there is no one in your locale, you can always try a DVD or visit YouTube.  My favorite DVDs are Daisy Lee-Garripoli ‘s Radiant Lotus Qigong   She also has videos on YouTube.

Like Yin and Yang, I find these practices produce a more gentle yet exuberant way of living life.  Do you practice Qigong or the Tao?  I’d love to hear your experience and how it’s influenced your life.

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The Authentic Life of Nature

Driving home on this rainy Saturday evening, the windshield wipers are paragraphs separating my thoughts.  I’ve been hand-drumming for 3 hours in a drum circle at the local health food store.  Some of the participants I’ve known for decades, others I met today.

The face of my friend flashes through my mind.  We lunched earlier at a neighborhood deli  whose house-made bread is better than anything in Manhattan for sure.   I met Meg through hand drumming a decade ago.  We smile, laugh, talk serious.  We are not looking down at our phones because we intentionally have unsophisticated, un-smart phones.  Just practical little devices for emergency.  That makes sense to us.  Neither of us wants to be tethered to technology.   We talk dogs, travel, gardening.  The wonder of a kindergartener seeing a real robin or eating a nasturtium.

“What does it taste like?” I am curious to know.

“A little peppery,” she says, and especially to a five-year old.

“Like arugula?”

“Exactly.”

“I’ve always wanted to grow asparagus,” I tell her.  “I put it in with rhubarb last year.”  She nods, confirming my assumption that they are good companions.  My friend teaches biology.  I hope she can teach me about growing asparagus.  “I didn’t know what to do with it at the end of last season…now I’ve got a 12” stalk like you see in the grocery store but next to it is a 4-5’ high, tree-like stalk but much thinner…” I show her with my hands.  “It’s actually got several thin branches that also look like asparagus…”

May 2017 015 Asparagus branches
asparagus branches…

“My friend Margaret grew asparagus.  I can ask her,” she offers.

“Great!  I’ll send you a photo to show her.”

“She doesn’t do e-mail so she would have to come to my house and look at my phone.”

If anyone can easily explain how to properly grow asparagus please contact me!

Hmmm.  This is interesting I think.  There are more people than the handful in my Social Media workshop and me who are intentionally not wired, or loosely.

My friend and I agree how much we love getting together for lunch or dinner, being in nature, the warmth of human communication.  Her eyes twinkle when I share a bit of synchronicity with her.  “Good thing you were aware, and paying attention to notice all those things,” she says.  Good thing you weren’t looking down at your phone and I could see your smile I think.

“I notice and appreciate nature more and more each year.  I’ve never considered myself very religious, but a spiritual person,” I tell her.  “I’ve been reading more of the Tao and it speaks truth to me.  Everywhere.”  Her smile confirms we are on the same page.  I like making eye contact and our welcome and parting hugs.

Swish-swish.  Swish-swish.  The parting conversation with another friend at the drum circle pops into my head.  “I’m addicted to my phone,” he confesses then shows me a photo another drumming friend posted 17 minutes ago.  I confide that I’ve signed-up for a Social Media workshop, that I’m hoping to find a balance so I can still function in a technological society but not become an addict.

“Did you see the 60 Minutes segment on technology intending to make you addicted to your phone?”  I ask, feeling fear and audacity rising within me.

“Well, I don’t think they want you to be addicted,” he says.  “Just use it a lot.”

I can’t imagine having to ask others to like me I think.  It just sounds so, so unnatural.  Either you like me or you don’t, but do you have to announce it to the world?  Is privacy passé?  Social media is the antithesis of my values.  I’ve never wanted 1,000 friends.  That sounds too exhausting.  I like the quality ones I have and they know it.  Solid, true friends sharing quality time together… Does the world need to know that?   Swish-swish.  Swish-swish.  The wipers clear away the thoughts that have kept me true to my values but from going with the crowd and against my own grain.

Faces of people I’ve hand-drummed with over the years are a slide show in my mind.  The deep connection we’ve developed through hand drumming is like the comfort of a best friend yet I may not know the person, their last name, career, education, socio-economic status, ethnicity, where they live, or any other defining label, and it doesn’t matter.   We speak a universal language that has no words but is expressed from hands to hearts, through conga drums, djembes, doumbeks, bongos, or any other piece of percussion (we are not prejudice).  Hand drumming is yin-yang conversing —  talking and listening at the same time.

I’ve often described hand drumming as cooking a large vat of soup where everyone adds a little something different be it a vegetable, herb, color or spice, and soon the flavor deepens, the aroma permeates the air and it’s evolved into something so darn good that I  wonder why people do recreational drugs when they can hand drum.

Dogwood's Grace

Swish-swish.  Slowing rain reveals the lush green mountainside.  Rounding the corner, I’m home now, welcomed by dogwoods brilliant as the full moon, and bursting pinks.   I’m breathless from the splendor of spring.  Can social media really do that for me?

Friends of Different Feathers

These guys (or gals) don’t look alike but they respectfully share from the same feeder, while happily chirping away.  People could learn a lot from them.

Friends
Cardinal and Chickadee

I learned a lot from Jamaicans when visiting their homeland.  Most Americans warned me ahead of time to “not go off the resort premises,” but strolling down the beach while mesmerized by the turquoise sea drew my curiosity beyond the boundary line. Haphazard tin-roofed shacks from whatever washed ashore leaned every which way — a yin-yang contrast to the well-manicured all-inclusive that was my home for 7 days.

The Jamaican Patois (pronounced Patwa) beckoned me into the makeshift beach mall.  My ear took some getting used to their creole language but I appreciated the creative twist on english.   In and out, I scanned the line of booths sand to ceiling but most of the wares were tchotchkes made in China that I could purchase in my hometown dollar store.  Still, each proprietor smiled widely while proclaiming, “Tank yuh.  Tank you fi looking. Tank you fi di respect.”

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Shop #12:  The more you smile, the less you pay

Most Jamaicans live in poverty.  Tourism, music or selling drugs sadly seem to be the major opportunities to increase their standard of living.  I’ve had panhandlers in other countries follow me into the water ruining an afternoon swim, or camp out just beyond the garden patio, calling for me to buy their goods.  (One couple from Manhattan quit their Grenada vacation early, stating, “The panhandling isn’t this bad at home.  We came here to relax…”) But, Jamaica was different.   The people spoke to my heart and I quickly understood a universal desire for respect.

“I love your food.  The Jamaican Jerk is delicious…nothing like back home,” I shared with the merchants.  “I’ve been listening to a lot of your music on MTV in my room.  I never knew there are so many types of Reggae.  Do you have Tanya Stephens or Beris Hammond? I’d love to take some CDs home,” I explained to the last few shopkeepers.  (Yes, I’m of the generation that still listens to an armoire full of CDs.  Just another segment of my staving off technology.)

Walking back to the resort, a young Jamaican boy ran down the hill toward me, waving his arms.  “Yuh di lady looking fi music?” he asked, showing me a handful of CDs.

“Well, yes I am.  What do you have there?”  The jewel cases sported homemade labels depicting the very artists I inquired about.  We exchanged smiles as I paid him then crossed the boundary line to the resort.

That night, I watched a Jamaican grandmother teach her granddaughter the art of basket weaving while a Rastafari man let me listen through his headphones to other Jamaican musicians I might like.  The next day, the little boy made me nearly a dozen more CDs which I carefully wrapped in the intricately hand-woven two-toned basket for my travels home.

For me, the best souvenir is a meaningful piece of culture.  The best vacation is connecting with natives of the homeland.  I travel to experience diversity.  Maybe that’s what the cardinals and chickadees do too.

It’s all a matter of respect.

Caribbean_general_map Some less respectful tidbits  about Jamaica…

Don’t refer to a Rastafari as a “rastafarian” as they connect “ians” and “isms” to oppression.  Likewise, referring to their philosophy as a “religion” or “ism” is against their beliefs.

Dudus (Christopher Michael) Coke led the violent Shower Posse drug gang that exported marijuana and cocaine to the United States.  In 1992 he took over his deceased father’s position as leader of the Tivoli Gardens community in West Kingston.  Providing programs to help the poor community garnered him so much local support that Jamaican police could not enter this neighborhood without community consent.

Stranger Things Happen

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I didn’t make a connection with a stranger on “social media,” but I did through a review on TripAdvisor.com.  In reading reviews about a place I long wanted to visit — the Caribbean island of Nevis — I sent an inquiry to a woman who posted that she and a friend had an enjoyable lunch at the Oualie Resort — a pricey place beyond my budget.

As it turned out, Mary and I connected instantly — she was also from my home state of Pennsylvania but started a new life in Nevis with her own business.  Knowing the manager at Oualie, Mary got me a significant room discount.

When I visited Nevis a few months later, Mary and the resort manager welcomed me with dinner and cocktails.  We had dinner a few more times during my 10-day stay, and she was kind enough to give me a complete tour of the island as well as invite me to her home in the rain forest.  For years I had been drawn to this island without knowing why. The friendly strangers I met all around Nevis made this an unforgettable journey of Synchronicity.

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Some lesser known tidbits about Nevis…

  •  Nevis first got electricity in 1954.
  • The first Secretary of the US Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was born out of wedlock in Charlestown, Nevis.
  • At 98%, Nevis has one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere.  English is the official language.

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