A Fork in the Road

For Mamie, beginnings were just another fork in the road. It was a continuation of the journey she had always been on. It was a turn down the path to the left just because the left had more sun, and so, might be more delicious.

As she walked into the sunlight, she took a deep breath of relaxation, her shoulders dropped, and she felt a security that this choice was right. The soft touch of warmth told her so.  She left behind the constant questioning of her choices and chose the uncertainty of the unknown.
As she stood at the fork, she was not focused on the tree-shaped dark and light shadows that lay on the ground in front of her, or the forget-me-nots in masses of blues on the sides of the path.
Her thoughts were enveloped by an imagined large divide in the earth’s surface. The side where she stood was known, and the other side was unknown, what was yet to be.

 

The image of crossing the divide blossomed before her. She saw herself upright in her desk chair, with her laptop, in lap, typing her way as she wafted over the divide onto the other side. She could feel her hair fly in the breeze as she was concentrated on finding the right words. There was a sense, or really a hope, that her molecules were getting reorganized as she drifted into the story that would be her future, leaving her past behind and keeping it only as a resource, an encyclopedia of information when needed.

The future held excitement and fear, just like life as she now knew it. She wondered who she wanted with her on this journey,  and who might show up.  She was trying to prepare for something she knew nothing about and held the image of Dorothy dancing down the yellow brick road with the tin man, the cowardly lion and the straw man, all looking for healing.

Some days before Mamie was approaching this fork in the road, she became deeply anxious with worry about making the right choice.  Out of deep anxiety came her wisdom and she finally realized that the truth was, that she did not know the right path, she could not know. All she knew was that she wanted to talk to Dr. Henry Moon, a cultural anthropologist, her life consultant and her mentor.

For Mamie, Henry was like the character at a carnival, in a booth spewing out fortunes, but he did not spew and did not give out fortunes.  She just liked to think of him this way, exotic with a great beard, donning a turban and having a thick middle eastern accent.  His magic was in offering the simplicity of understanding what was true, not analyzing or weaving stories for the sake of drama. The truth was magic for Mamie.

futurevegas-fortune-teller

 

She texted her Dr. Moon and heard back immediately.  “Yes, let’s meet.”  Though it was by text, she could feel the energy of his excitement, and she could tell Henry had something to tell her.

They met at their favorite French Blue Cafe, ordered expressos, and Henry proceeded to share his excitement over the image he had had just before she texted him.  It was of a penny on a railroad track, laid there by young boys, wanting to flatten it.  Instead, the small penny derailed the whole train, putting lives at risk.  Mamie felt her face scrunch into quizzicalness.  She knew this image was for her but she couldn’t wrap her brain around its meaning.

Was that her train that was getting derailed? Who would put a penny on her track?  The answer was obvious. And, she also knew how easily derailment could happen to her.  She was reminded once again of her mother telling her she needed a thicker skin.  Again, though her mother was trying to help, Mamie was reminded that the words of “needing a thicker skin” sounded like gobbledegook.

She returned to her present, which just before looked like her future, as now she had landed on the other side of the crevasse. Red-cheeked, with hair a bit tangled, she looked down the sunny side of the fork in the road and saw more of her future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing…or Not

we’re in a gauntlet of clarifying, breakthroughs and gear shifts ~ Kathy Biehl, Astrologer

The year 2017 had passed with adventure, challenge and, much risk-taking,   Mamie held some conglomeration of hope, fear, and anticipation in her head about 2018.  She knew this year would be different, just because it must, just because nothing stays the same.  The same feelings would come around; exhaustion, anxiety, hope, anticipation, joy, depression and if she wasn’t careful the same stories would come around as well.  She really wanted this year to be full of new stories and she could feel her way into knowing this would be the case.

Mamie sat at her desk waiting for the words to come tumbling out onto her Blog. Books, papers, her trusty laptop, a few crumb filled paper napkins from lunch and a water bottle begging to be filled, all spread out on her desk.  She was trying to hear her voice and it kept getting interrupted by other people’s opinions arriving in her head as if she had left a door wide open with a sign that said, ” > Right this way.” She wanted to say they were uninvited, but in truth, they were vaguely and cautiously invited, for she was the one who left the door open.

She had been stopped in her tracks before when hearing another’s opinion.  She would be drawing, embroidering or writing and show her work to someone who’s opinion meant too much to her. Upon hearing what they had to say, she would just stop working on whatever it was.  Stop, dead, and not return to the work for years.  So she both wanted to hear what they had to say and her thin skin was sometimes just too raw to take what she liked and leave the rest.  She would absorb their opinion, feel a wound or cut and that was the end of that.  Her mother had always told her she was too thin-skinned, and she had no idea what to do about that. It was as if her mother had spoken to her in a foreign language.

In looking for a greater understanding about making choices, her eyes darted around her room, hoping to find a place to rest her focus and they landed on her dog laying on her bed. Henry always gave her a sense of security, a place to mentally land and remind her that she knew where she belonged…to him.

Henry 2012 Ronada Piedmont, CA

Looking for the words that would speak her truth about making choices, she stared at the sun’s reflection on the Buddhist red walls that surrounded her. It was as if someone had thrown a splash of Caravaggio’s sunlit paint on the spot. Then, within a barely noticeable second, she was back typing a vignette, trying to capture an idea about where she had been this past year and where she was now.  She looked up to find the sunlight on the wall was gone.

With the distraction of her hungry dog and her own desire to eat, she traipsed into the kitchen, poured Henry his food then turned, open the frig door and just stood and stared into it.  She hoped that maybe, this time, her stare would conjure the refrigerator to talk and offer some amazing recipe with the food she had. She looked over what she did have, figuring out if she could put a few things together for a warm soup on this cold winter day.  She sauteed and stewed the cabbage, tomatoes, and onions she found, thinking it to be a bit skimpy but eatable. Took her soup back to her desk while Henry went back to his residence on the bed.

As she ate, she listened to her thoughts and wondered what had taken her so long to hear them. She had made some significant decisions in her life; like marriages, divorces, wrong partners, and lived with them just to avoid knowing what she knew, or what she didn’t know.  Really, just to avoid the fear of being on her own.

She considered how she would claim herself and trust her choices, now that “not taking risks” had fallen off the linen covered table of options.  Risks were what was being called for and that made choosing all the more dangerous.

Just as she felt a pressure to know where her writing was going, she felt the same pressure to already know who she was.  She had adult children for god’s sake and they needed her to know who she was. But the exploration was just beginning.  The discovering of who Mamie was, was just now unfolding.

 

 

 

 

 

Living with All We Don’t Know

Maime thought of herself as a Knower, yet she knew nothing about what was ahead. People would try to pin her down, ask about her 5-year plan or just what was next and she just didn’t know. She felt the pressure to have a plan and she was never a 1 year, 5 year or 10 year planner.  She worked from experience, how it felt and that informed her choice to stay, change or wait for more information about wherever she found herself. So a plan that took her further into her future was very distressing and seemed impossible.

For some part of her, it was a relief to not Know and when she felt that, she had the realization she was in a place in her life where she was well enough set, trusted enough that she didn’t have to know.  This was a place she never thought she would be.  It made her think that many things happen with or without her wishes, controls or desires. With or without praying, asking the Universe for help or any other metaphysical method of attempting to have control over her life. Her life had unfolded in ways she never could have anticipated, at least it did when she took risks, the big ones, the ones that say, do this even if it terrifies you, and even if you can’t see how it will all land, or where you will land.  Someone had told her, that if she risked, the Universe would meet her without fail and that did seem to be true for her.

She wondered if the part of her that liked not knowing might find a way to get along with the part of her that got afraid and lived with a strong belief in lack and not being able to have what she really wanted? Trust seemed to be the calling she needed to constantly attend to.

The Mountain Climbing Goat Woman who lived inside her skin was determined to leave the fear and sense of lack at the bottom of the mountain.  Those experiences had become too burdensome and heavy to allow the trek she was on.  She thought about her teacher/mentor, Dr Henri Moon, and what he said about how to leave behind the hindrances of doubt, worry or anxiety. So she looked at her fear, right in the eyes, and her belief that there was lack.  In doing so, she could know it to be feelings, a very real feeling, but just a feeling, and she just sat with it.

She wondered about defining herself by what she wasn’t. She thought the smarter thing to do would be to consider defining herself by what she Knew, even if what she knew was that she didn’t Know.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can‘t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 

 

Light on the Aging Adventurer Archetype: For now Her Name Was Nellie

“You are a guiding light for us all, a symbol that (at this entrenched age where we get more and more attached to our routines) change is liberating and courage abounds. Thanks for holding that adventurer archetype!” ~From A friend on my journey
The friend’s comment made Nellie pause and scrunch up her forehead. She did not own being a guiding light for anyone.  And what does getting older mean?  She was puzzled by the idea that we become “entrenched”.  It was hard for her to wrap her thinking around becoming entrenched or held by routines that go unexamined.
Entrenched brought to mind her fight with the idea of “hunkering down”. She bristled at the concept, a concept that people, she knew, only wanted to hunker down.  It just made her feel squirmy, depressed, stuck, enclosed. It made her feel as if she was curled up with a blanket pulled taught over her head and she was pretty sure she would never, ever emerge again. In fact, she was certain that was true.  It brought to mind a life sentence of submergence, possible severe depression and in this case, the opposite of freedom and therefore the opposite of Nellie’s life

She knew life was that hard, from too much experience, and she was always trying to find ways to make life easier.  She was a seeker, a healer, an adventurer, who wanted to understand the dark, death, life and The Mystery, the deep knowing in a wisdom way.

Hunkering down made Nellie feel as if she would be surrendering to the difficulty of living and she, the Mountain Climbing Goat Woman, was not interested in succumbing or surrendering.

She had so many questions about aging. Do people just get tired of how much work life is, so a routine is something they don’t have to think about? Do people decide that sticking to all that is familiar is the best bet, no more adventures into life, because who knows what could happen?  Or is it just about our beliefs and the stories we tell to make sure our beliefs are real. Perhaps it is simply the character we come into the world with. Or perhaps something about karma?
Nellie could feel her brain darting around to comprehend this aging business. She grew up with parents, at one time young socialist, always interested in the new, the different, the interesting, conforming enough to live very comfortably and generously, which suited Nellie well.  Among the things that made up family life were jokes made about aging bodies but always there was due respect for elders, their wisdom, gifts, and talents.  There was something of a tongue and cheek acceptance about aging and criticism for those complaining too much.  So watching people age in her world, was not about slowing, hunkering or being entrenched.  Nellie learned that aging was yet another adventure; the wrinkles spoke wisdom and sometimes there were difficult, challenging and upsetting times, sometimes heartwarming, sweet and loving experiences.
Nellie was indeed an adventurer, mostly solo, and sometimes a person might come along for a bit.  Her dog, Henry, AKA The Mr., Buddy, Honre, Henrique… was always with her.  Her life journey was never about safe and this current stretch was a lot about the opposite of safe.  Nellie knew she had a propensity for wanting to do things differently.  Her character served her well this way.  She wanted adventures, she loved statements like Life is Art because it suggested embedding creativity into every breath of every moment.  With this, she was reminded to keep things sacred, stand outside, watch with new eyes, breathe, move to get a new angle or perspective and let the moment change her, even if for one second.  And that brief moment could be an adventure.
The forethought, which many people were naturally inclined to have, often eluded Nellie, which made her life both rich with adventure, including some necessary and some not so necessary drama.  When she was younger, she thought she should do something just because it scared her.  Now, she does things a bit less recklessly, but still trying things that aren’t about staying or doing the same as what she has known.
Part of the Story
Nellie was a young girl, about 3 years old, when things began to turn.  She was to learn many years later that that was when things changed in her.  Her Aunt, who adored her, told her that something happened then and she stopped being a free spirit, and became very serious, started biting her nails and being quiet and sullen.
Of the times she could remember, one was the 2-3 hour drive to Lowden State Park, Illinois where her father snapped photos of her, her mother, brother, and cousin at the Black Hawk Statue. She thinks that might have been the beginning of The Change and remembers being with her family, enjoying her father’s sense of adventure, the cigar smoke blown into the back seat which made her  both vaguely nauseous and connected to her father, the cool jackets her mom had made for her and her cousin, offering the cozy comfort Nellie took in wearing what her mother had made.  And there was the angst Nellie remembers over wanting to play with her brother but thinking he just didn’t like her all that much.
                                      floellen056-lowden-state-park-ill.jpgRobert, Ellen Michael Lowden State Park, Il 1956?.JPG
On this trip to Lowden State Park, she clung close to her mother all the while feeling her every emotion. She could feel her mother’s upset, her turmoil and while she looked at nature all around, she was continually drawn back to her mother.  She was very young but very aware that things should be different. It was unclear how she knew this, she just did, she felt it, she watched expressions, she hoped to change it so they could all be happy.  She had the experience of a pervasive anger the encompassed that day and everyday she could remember.
Life, then, was hard for Nellie. And, why was that? What happened? What didn’t happen?  Was this story necessary to tell again? Really?

Family, Friends, Donald Evans and Things Part 1: What was Her Name Now?

“Just because you didn’t put a name to something did not mean it wasn’t there.”
Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

 

Travels within the phases of life. I have no idea when Part 2 or 3 or anymore will arrive but it just seems like this is a Part 1. I find myself in a mix of darting thoughts about family, friends, possessions, my current role with my kids and others, my personality and everyone else’s.

6/18/17

The ritual of graduation was the subject of a short debate, to walk or not to walk. Nellie Evans didn’t make a lot of request of her kids to do things they weren’t keen on, but this ritual felt very important as there were so few in their lives. She felt it important for her youngest to claim her spot as a scholar as she had worked hard at being a student and it was important to Nellie for her youngest to be honored just as her eldest had been. The ceremony of honoring all the work done and an acknowledgment of a path that will curve and change, wind back and go forward was of consequence and not likely to be forgotten. Nellie felt it important to hold the significance of this ritual even when her daughter wasn’t so sure it was that “big of a deal” and even with the complaining about the dreaded and mandatory suffering of a 3.5 hour long ceremony.

The graduating daughter decided to walk, pleasing her father, Nellie and maybe herself. With this graduation came a celebratory backyard BBQ with cousins, and friends.  They were people known to Nellie and unknown.  Some socialized in ways that she wouldn’t and others she felt quite comfortable with.  All the while, having a propensity for seriousness, her mind kept being drawn to the nagging question of what really mattered?

Nellie’s perspective had shifted and changed about how she held people, places, and things. People who she held very close, she now felt the relief of distance from, others remained very close and she found great fulfillment in the connection. Things that had felt so very very important to her really didn’t matter now and that was strange. But not so strange that she would want to do anything about it other than watch it.

What really mattered? The move from the West Coast to the Midwest gave her pause to think about all the things that had transpired since April when she started the road trip East.  She thought about the relationships that were transforming without knowing how they would look, the artwork which she sorted through that was inherited and valuable, some she stored, some she sold.  There was the furniture which passed from one generation to the next and now outfitted her two daughter’s homes as well as a few friends’.  The jewelry was held safely in a family jewelry box waiting to be chosen by the daughters. And placed around the jewelry box for padding and protection were the wonderful sofa pillows that were made by Nellie’s mother.

Life as she had known it was now memories and the trip to the Midwest seemed something of a karmic sorting.  At least that was how she could make sense of it.  It brought to mind Harry Potter’s sorting hat and she wished she could just don it and know what group she belonged with whenever she doubted or feared.

The letting go of so much of this became Nellie’s job along with trying to figure out what matters? Who matters?  Which memories would get lost in the letting go, which would remain, how close would those memories be held by the upcoming generation and how close to the truth would they come and did that matter? What relationships would hold and what would drift away?

Of the many things that had changed, was Nellie’s need for an aesthetically pleasing environment. She had been a person who couldn’t be too long in surroundings that didn’t suit her aesthetic or around people very different from herself.  She liked things and relationships to be copacetic, and beautiful to be around. She had been known to talk about things in her surroundings that didn’t look right and how those things made her mind work too hard or hurt her eyes.  Her home had been of great pride, making it warm, inviting, and easy on the eyes.  She grew up with that and felt it the quality of being a good enough mother to help her kids carry it forward into their homes wishing them a comfortable life.

She currently resided in a wonderfully roomy room in a house and though the aesthetic was not what she might have picked, it had grown on Nellie.  It gave her comfort in that she did not have to start accumulating things to decorate her living space by purchasing again all the things she had just let go of. The dark maroon of the 4 walls at first looked just dark, but now she saw it as Buddhist maroon and took comfort in that. The color fed her spiritual need for a partial monastic life.  She found she was opening to things and people she would have judged and not come very close to in her past, though those who knew her would say she was always a very open person.  This move had shown her how much more open she could be.

“Give up your homeland— this is the practice of Bodhisattvas.” This is because the moment you leave the circumstances you’ve grown accustomed to, you are in foreign territory, and it’s easier to realize how much narrow-mindedness you are carrying around, including all your opinions, judgments, habits, and so on. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. By Dawa Tarchin Phillips, the resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center and the Director of Education for the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at UCSB.

All in all, she continued to ask if any of the aesthetics or “right” people to be around really mattered?  If it did, what part mattered? And, why? Sometimes she could see her life and what matters fitting so nicely in a room like the one she had stayed in at Spirit Rock Silent retreats.  The rooms were simple, some might say barren.  The 125 square foot room contained a sink, a few towels, a large window, a small place for clothes, a single bed, a small table with a lamp and a clock on it,  That was it and it seemed to Nellie that it was complete. Upon arriving for a retreat, she would position the small table by her bed, and make the bed so she could look out the window and see the greenery.  She went to the retreats for the silence and so she only got to know people and be in relationship to them in a very particular and peculiar way.  At the end of a 7 or 9 night retreat, and silence was broken, she was always wondering who of the 90 or so people she would want to know more about.  She paid careful attention to the instruction given at the end about how to break silence, who to speak to while being mindful, questions she could expect from friends outside the retreat, and how to drive home safely. Sometimes, the awkwardness of starting to talk just gave her more permission to be quiet.

Towards the end of a Fall retreat, the final silent meal, she broke into hysterics with a dining companion over a silly hat a participant had chosen to wear.  The hat had eyes that peered at her and a top knot of sorts, that ordinarily might have only made her smile. But these circumstances put the three of them in fits of gaiety which they attempted to make into silent laughter with little success. Finally, they left the dining hall to arrive outside and let blow the laughter barely contained inside each of them.  All the while she thought about the laughing Buddha, just to give herself permission to fully feel the hysterics bursting in her.

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Finding herself in a new phase of life, Nellie’s questions about importance got bigger and bigger.  All the things that had meant so much to her seemed to not be all that important. All the judgments of others was still somewhat there, but less so. She found herself quieter in her thoughts, quieter in her interactions, and she thought more accepting of what is, at least some of the time.

In a tongue in cheek way, she actually wondered if she was dying.  She would exclaim, shouting in her head, “Well of course I am! We all are dying, just some of us seem a bit closer by way of age than others.”  She wondered if she was psychic and in fact, her life was coming to an end.  Or maybe she was just in a new phase of letting go by way of looking at what really, truly matters?

She grew up with people who held onto everything and all of it seemed to matter a lot. Even as they approached the end of their lives and left lots for the upcoming generation, it all mattered. She felt a bit different from that. In fact, she was different from that but carried the collector DNA which she constantly fought.

She was very curious about how all of this would land, what her life would look like in 5 years.  What country would she find herself in? What language would she speak?  When would she arrive there? And who would she be in relationship with? She found herself thinking of Donald Evans, an incredibly creative artist who made up countries and postage stamps for the countries. She always wanted to travel to his countries, she always wanted to know him and hear how he thought.

 

 

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