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Can What You Love Add Years to Your Life?

18aging2 6001 150x150 Can What You Love Add Years to Your Life? I think about questions like this now that I’m in home hospice care. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer ten years ago, it seemed prudent to finally stop the chemo treatments that had kept me going, but were now, in many obvious ways, actually killing me.

The emergency room term, triage, takes on new meaning. What’s important now? Which things should take priority? How do I now spend my time, knowing there might be precious little of it left. images 1 Can What You Love Add Years to Your Life?

I’ve now exceeded the six month “common” expectation of how long one lives after stopping treatment. Some states have changed that hospice Medicare guideline, but it remains as a benchmark in many places. A person in hospice care (and you can opt out at any time) can “re-enlist” for more time after those six months, which is what I will be doing.  It’s important for me and for my family to have this safety net around us now…this caring, loving, quality team approach to living into one’s dying.

So, I find time now to read a lot. When the latest issue of Time magazine hit our mailbox, I was intrigued by their “The Art of Living” article. Creative types apparently live longer lives. We all know about Grandma Moses, but  I guggenheim 300x225 Can What You Love Add Years to Your Life?hadn’t realized that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim when he was 76. Or that Ben Franklin signed the Constitution when he was 81. the dream 216x300 Can What You Love Add Years to Your Life? Picasso died with paint under his fingernails when he was 91.

You’ll have to read the article to understand how the prefrontal cortex of our brains, the part that assimilates knowledge, affects the production of myelination and…well, that’s too technical for me. But I do understand that you have to work your brain (like any muscle) for any brain Brain 300x300 300x300 Can What You Love Add Years to Your Life?“repairs” to be made and actually enhance your creativity.  That means I have to actually sit down at my computer and write. Or, as is my current challenge, set up my easel and finish the painting I started months—maybe years—ago. I was inspired by Wayne Thiebaud, 92, who still paints every day. Sorry, I can’t hang around. A painting I’m calling my “Vermont Cloister” calls. Move over, Picasso.  I may even get some paint under my fingernails.

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Pursuit or Attainment?

fish 252x300 Pursuit or Attainment? Is life about the pursuit…or the attainment? Is it the journey or the goal? Cervantes was pretty clear about what he thought. He said, “The road is always better than the inn.”

But is it? As much fun as the trip was, when we’re really tired, isn’t a clean bed at the end of a long travel day pretty wonderful? And the prospect of having a hot shower and a nourishing meal?

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I was thinking about these “larger questions” including what keeps people doing what they love to do, even when it’s difficult, as I visited Katie Runde’s website. (She’s a friend who deserves your visit as well.)  Her attachment to cows will be pretty obvious. But it’s also apparent on a closer look that she’s in love with life itself. And with beauty regardless of how ephemeral.  IMG 20130810 112124 609 576x1024 168x300 Pursuit or Attainment? That’s probably why she enjoys creating three dimensional chalk art. And how, as she states, each piece she creates, regardless of her medium, is a leap of faith.  As she says, it’s a deep trust on the part of the artist to know that “out of nothing but patient action, life will emerge.”

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“My art is about process. Every piece begins with blankness and a moment of trepidation—a crisis point where that which loves to be in control meets that which cannot be controlled.”

At this stage of my own life when I’m approaching the end of the “road,” Don Quixote, forgive me, I’m looking forward to the “inn.”

I also realize that I still yearn to be in control of what as Katie and I both know, cannot be controlled. But her art teaches me that living is just about making the next brush stroke, the next pencil line, the next chalk mark.

The author, Peter Balin, once said, “Art is the attention we pay to the wholeness of the world.” The attention we pay to the whole world!  The journey and the goal. And every little baby step in between including all the trepidations, crises, and challenges. It’s worth it, because, as Katie reminds us, “Life will emerge!”

IMG 8968 e13616468791111 300x215 Pursuit or Attainment?

(All of the art shown here is Katie Runde’s and can be found with her other works on her website:www.katierunde.com)

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Through Prismed Eyes

images 2 Through Prismed EyesI just learned that bees have five eyes—not just two. And that’s not all. A worker bee has 7,000 lenses. What are they seeing right now?  I believe they’re seeing the possibility of dying.

Every year bees pollinate $201 billion worth of U.S. crops. Almonds are solely dependent on bees. Most other foods depend on bees for survival about 90% of the time. But every year U.S. beekeepers report losing about one-third of their colonies. Why?  The most likely culprit is a class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids (or neonics), made by giant chemical companies like Bayer and Syngenta.  Europe has banned bee-killing pesticides, but the U.S. has delayed action until 2018. This is unconscionable.

I find it very hard to imagine a world without apples, asparagus, broccoli, onions, cherries, cucumbers, celery, plums, watermelon, tangerines, lemons…and the list goes on.

And I find it impossible to imagine a bee-less world. images 1 Through Prismed Eyes

While in my favorite little bookstore-café the other day a copy of The Shamanic Way of the Bee fell into my hands. It’s by Simon Buxton and tells of the ancient wisdom and healing practices of the Bee Masters and Bee Mistresses. That’s right. There is a worldwide network of shamanic bee keepers who have kept the old Druidic lore and practices alive by passing their information along to their apprentices.  In it, I learned that it’s very nearly impossible to find a beekeeper with cancer.  Astounding!  And the venom from bee stings can actually help to stop the spread of HIV. Honey helps arthritis and many other maladies. Rudolf Steiner said adults need honey in the same way babies need milk.

Considering that each Apis Melifera worker bee only produces one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey over the span of its entire month-long lifespan, honey is a gold commodity we should all be investing in.

An old English saying goes like this: Ask the wild bee what the Druids knew.

Let’s ask them what they know. I suspect they’d tell us they know how to build community, how to value sacred geometry, and how to honor the feminine divine in their beloved queen. Apparently bees carry a lot of ancient wisdom. And we know they know how to work! images 4 Through Prismed Eyes

We can’t afford on so many levels to let them disappear. Through pollen magic, flowers and bees become one. What a planet we’d inherit if we lost the bees and then all the flowers. And then our food. And then…

 

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Heal Yourself With Writing

Our lives may be determined less by past events than by the way we remember them. If we learn how to re-frame the pieces of our past and rewrite our life story so that our pain becomes meaningful, we can radically boost our chances of healing, empowerment, growth and transformation through sharing and a shift in perspective. Focused journaling is an extremely powerful way to achieve that aim.

Expressing and listening to one’s story is an ancient mode of healing. There is an overwhelming need today for people to be heard, to tell their stories, to learn and grow from their experience both individually and collectively. It is crucial that we offer constructive and transformative methodology for this process. It may mean the difference between deep, transformative healing and some form of retaliation or self-destruction – both personally and collectively. In this way, global healing takes place one individual, one tribe at a time.  Heal Yourself With Writing

There is a Native American parable about a grandfather talking to his grandson, saying “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful and angry; the other is loving and compassionate.” When his grandson asks him which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.”

How do we learn to “feed” the stories that heal? How do we put together the pieces of our past? How can we revision our life story so that pain becomes meaningful and actually promotes growth and transformation? One answer lies in focused journaling.

Telling stories about our past through this approach can help change our perspectives, enabling both healing and empowerment. In this way, we are able to make meaning out of memory and put the past where it belongs – behind us.

  Heal Yourself With WritingHeal Your Self with Writing offers a step by step journey of discovery and re-visioning through focused journaling: short writing exercises designed to facilitate self-healing along with a deeper inquiry with the Self.  www.wayofstory.com

catherine ann jones1 1 Heal Yourself With Writing

 

 

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The Long Now

I’m married to a man who gets nervous if a clock in our house or car is even ten seconds off Greenwich Mean time. I, on the other hand, haven’t worn a watch since I was five and my Mickey Mouse watch died. Mickey The Long Now

When I was in management I’d sometimes lead time management workshops and we’d figure out how we “spent” the 168 hours each of us had every week. It was usually eye-popping to learn that we always seem to have about ten hours a week that, try as we might, we couldn’t account for. So, we do have more time than we thought.

images1 The Long NowSince entering hospice home care after deciding to stop chemo- treatment for a disease that medical science and I have been dealing with for ten years, I’ve notice that I’m living more in kairos time than chronos time now. Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s morning or afternoon.  Kairos is the Greek word to describe the time that you can’t measure by clocks or calendars. It stretches. It’s the time I’m in when I lose myself in writing and I look up at the corner of my screen and low and behold, three hours have gone by. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because I’m growing more used to eternity with each passing hour.

Einstein taught us that time doesn’t flow in one direction. It spirals. The future and the past exist simultaneously. One of the things people in my condition think about is what am I really afraid of when I face—rather up close and personal— my own death? Pain? That can be controlled. Abandonment? Perhaps. But the larger fear may be that we’re most afraid of being free of time. Outside time. When you’re outside of time, you’re no longer in control. S-C-A-R-Y!

The Hopi people don’t live “in time” as most of us do. Instead of time or space, past or future, they say something is manifest, manifesting or unmanifested. images 3 The Long Now

I think a lot about what’s still to be manifested in our country, in my own community and in myself. When is the right moment, for example, to give up war? Even considering how many people here in America and all around the world protested against our going to war in Iraq, we did it anyway.  How much time does it take for us to learn? How much time does it take for us to manifest what we set our intent upon? And perhaps the larger question is: will we remember that we can do it?

In her book, Unknown Reality, Jane Roberts wrote: “Time expands in all directions, and away from any given point. The past is never done and finished, and the future is never concretely formed. You choose to experience certain versions of events. You then organize these, nibbling at them, so to speak, a bit ‘at a time.’”

Stewart Brand, author of the Clock of the Long Now says that bad things–like war, earthquakes, floods, burning libraries–happen fast.  Good things happen slow.

timeline2 The Long Now

We went to a nearby literary festival recently called Bookstock at the Vermont town of Woodstock, and my son bought me a new book in which poets talk about their faith. It’s called A God in the House and this morning one of the contributors, Grace Paley, writer, poet, activist, and I were having a conversation. It doesn’t matter that she died in 2007 in a small town very close to where I live.  She’s still very alive on the page. Her part of the conversation was quieter since I was silently reading her words. My end of the conversation, however, was noisy and clamoring inside my head.  Grace reminded me that we came from several million years of development. It took us a million years just to learn to speak. But we did it. It took us another million years to learn how to work with each other. But we did it. She mentions hearing a man who was talking about finding rocks that were four billion years old! That’s a long time. But whatever we want to manifest, we can still do it!

 

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High Summer-High Color

“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.”  Marc Chagall

photo4 118x300 High Summer High ColorOur July Vermont gardens don’t know I’m not a professional painter or a color theorist. They don’t even know I wrote a book about color being the language of light—about to publish.  But I’m hoping down there around their roots somewhere they know I love them and appreciate them.  I’m guessing all they know is breeze and water, sunlight and moon glow. And, of course, they understand exactly how to bathe our yard in the most glorious hues. photo6 217x300 High Summer High Color

I had a dream about capturing color before I had the first chapter of Color: The Language of Light written.

“Its iridescent wings beat rapidly as if it knew I planned to catch it and keep it in my carefully washed Bonne Maman strawberry jam jar. I balanced the red and white gingham-patterned lid with one hand, planning to quickly screw it on, thus trapping my ‘beauty.’ I had never seen such a rainbow-hued wingspan before. Its silver-tipped wings shed tiny metallic diamond-shaped flakes along with sprays of color every time it beat its wings, more frequently as it sensed my intent. It wasn’t a dragonfly. Nor was it a butterfly. Instead, it was a magical cross between the two. It fought for its life, this creature from nowhere I’d ever been, from no textbook I’d ever read. Then suddenly I was struck by a horrifying thought. If I lock it up, I will likely destroy it.

Just then, it escaped. Flying away, it looked back at me with large, black, compassionate eyes as if to say, ‘Did you think you could capture color in a jar?’ And I awoke.”

My subconscious must have been warning me that it would be very difficult to capture all the facets of color in one book. Perhaps I shouldn’t even try. But then, I thought about the flowers and how they dare to risk. So I began. I wrote:

“Colors tap down deep into the very roots of our archetypes — of who we are — and offer truths that need no persuasion to be real. Colors pull the heart along a rainbow path familiar to anyone who has ever stood in dripping sunshine and looked up…

“Artists and clothing manufacturers, color theorists, interior decorators and landscape architects already know a great deal about color — but do they address our inner selves? Chromo- therapy tackles color and healing. But how do I experience color? How do colors feed and shape my soul?”  photo21 High Summer High Color

That’s the question that continued to haunt me as the words became pages and the pages became chapters. And now the book will be released before all the flowers fade. The cover shows a crocus emerging through the snow. Its precious yellow aglow with promise. Handle with care! Color cover smaller1 200x300 High Summer High Color

The Buddhist Dogen said, “Handle even a single leaf of green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha.” Every leaf! Every color!

Together we can learn to read the language of light.

 

 

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You Are…Illumed Being

PT001000NF 204x300 You Are...Illumed Being“You are illumed being,” a wise friend recently told me. Not an illuminated person. Not a light-filled entity. But a part of something larger. You ARE (already) illumed.  What in the world does he mean by that?

I was seriously contemplating this phrase when the FedEX truck drove up to deliver a magnificent gift from a high school friend with whom I’ve recently become “reacquainted” thanks to a reunion and our subsequent internet connections. Loreen Juneau sent me a copy of “Gospels and Acts,” a part of The Saint John’s Bible. It’s an illuminated work filled with gold leaf and contemporary symbolism including illustrated strands of DNA in Jesus’ genealogy, to images of the Twin Towers and earth satellite photos. It’s all thanks to the artistic vision of calligrapher Donald Jackson. Since the 1990s he has gathered illuminators and artists around him to create a seven-volume 1,150 page book filled with art reminiscent of  medieval manuscripts. After all, “manuscript” means written by hand (before moveable type) and this one was written by many dedicated hands from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota to Monmouthshire, Wales.

Using eggs, feathers, calfskins and hand-ground inks of gold, silver and platinum, just as their earlier mentors did, Donald Jackson and his colleagues envisioned creating a version of the Bible that would ignite our spiritual imaginations for years to come. PT000006XF1 You Are...Illumed Being

The seven-paneled illustration above—for seven timeless days—is called “Creation.” It’s filled with fractals and shows the tension between order and disorder, chaos and structure by using a lot of gold leaf. Whenever gold appears in an illumination, it means God is present at that moment in the story.

Gold: external Divine Light. It’s rustproof and durable. The Chinese thought gold was the essence of heaven. Jason went off hunting a fleece made of it. Moses spent a lot of his energy trying to convince his people they didn’t have to worship a calf made from it. Midas got entangled in it. And the Black Hills Sioux called gold “the yellow metal that makes white man crazy.”  Crazy, indeed.

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The Crucifixion

If a medieval gold-beater had even one ounce of gold, he could hammer about 750 sheets of gold leaf, each three and a half inches square. Alchemists later tried to turn base metal into gold and called it their “Great Work.” The Egyptians, who called their sun god Ra, the “mountain of gold,” created recipes for gilding and silvering. (All this about gold as well as other colors is further discussed in my upcoming Color: The Language of Light book if you’re interested.)

People visit Dublin’s Trinity College and queue up for hours to get a fleeting glimpse of one selected page of the Book of Kells. We’re drawn to gold. And to divine inspiration. Or maybe it’s that we’re seeking some kind of “golden reality.” Each of the pages of The St. John’s Bible took its Benedictine calligraphers ten to twelve hours to write. You can sense the energy coming off the page. Gold reflects its light right into the reader.  Text and the images indicate something vast, something divine. Something mysterious.

Maybe each of us is illumed being. It sometimes takes inspired illuminators to remind us.

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Into a Sacred Space–For a Little While

220px Croix de Taiz%C3%A9 Into a Sacred Space  For a Little While

The Taizé Cross

Tucked away in Burgundy, near Lyon, is a little French monastery called Taizé.  For seventy-three years it’s been a community offering hospitality first  to refugees and then to spiritual seekers. And it’s all thanks to a twenty-five year old Swiss monk named Brother Roger who decided that he should offer assistance to people suffering during WW2, just as his grandmother did for people during WW1. He died in 2005 at 90. God is love, he believed. “Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the center of everything.”

taizemeeting 1 s640x427 300x200 Into a Sacred Space  For a Little WhileFrom very humble beginnings, the Taizé community has grown to over a hundred brothers and offers community to people from all Catholic and Protestant backgrounds through ecumenical worship of praying, singing, and reading together. Taizé worship experiences have now spread to thirty countries.

About 100,000 young adults do a Taizé pilgrimage annually. Most stay for a week, from Sunday to Sunday. Simple chant-like  Taizé songs are now sung around the world, including my small Episcopalian church in Bethel, Vermont.

One early evening, we decided to hold a Taizé worship service along with a labyrinth walk and the deeply meditative experience was transformative for some people. Through song and prayer, including the act of bodily walking prayer, people traveled to their centers, metaphorically, as they walked to the center of the seven-circuit Cretan-style labyrinth. Labyrinth1 300x225 Into a Sacred Space  For a Little While

A poem by Marilyn McEntyre was read before people began walking the labyrinth. In part, it reads: “Every turning moves us toward the center…We learn how little we can measure, how great can be the gift of a moment, a pause along the path…We circle inward, consenting, outward, trusting and are taught again the folly of laying up treasures…But all we have comes down to this: yes to what is here, now. Thanks be to God, for what is here now, again, and again.”

I asked five people to offer comments based on their experience of that evening. They graciously complied.  Here is what they said:

“Holding our tender questions, we moved through the labyrinth, and in return, were moved by the presence of God. “Ubi caritas…where true charity and love abide, God is there.” Our combined labyrinth/Taize service was so deeply meditative that we didn’t want it to end.  It drew us more closely into the desire and the ability to pray without ceasing.”

“The repetition of the chords on the piano, along with the quiet singing and walking enveloped the space with amazing sense of peace and calm.”

“My experience was very healing. It grounded me, and renewed my sense of letting go and trusting that whatever is meant to be, will be. I needed that more than I knew.”

“I think the symbolism of walking the labyrinth within the safe walls of a loving church is a physical reminder that the way to keep growing in life and spiritual development is to keep moving forward, just keep moving, growing, learning, traveling, adventuring. Like our small planet home moving around our sun, although we have a radical level of personal and societal freedom to change and evolve (both positively and negatively), at the same time we are also invisibly guided along the path by the very source of our own existence, with which we are fundamentally connected. We can, and must, forge our own unique paths, but can never really get lost as divine gravity holds us in its invisible and unconditionally loving ellipse, not so strong as to bring us crashing in to the divine singularity that would end our beautiful separateness, but not so weak as to allow us to float entirely away either. If the deep symbolism of the labyrinth is correct, as I perceive it, we are both gently guided yet supremely free. Life might seem like a maze in which we can get totally lost but it is really a labyrinth, in which we cannot. Or one can hope!”

“The Taizé service was a welcome step out of the rushing world and into a sacred space for a little while.”

 

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