Taking a Full Breath

I usually mention “being present” or “being in the moment” in my posts but until I read Elizabeth Mitchell’s inspirational post, I did not realize how often I am my own obstacle. When I read Elizabeth’s words of “get out of your own way,” it occurred to me that I am only in the moment when I am not standing in my own way.

Here is another way to consider it: I am my greatest obstacle when I am least aware that I am aware, the opposite of Michael Singer’s definition of consciousness, “being aware of being aware…the seat of Self.”

When we are in “the seat of Self,” we immerse ourselves in each moment for the experience of it, allowing all of it to pass through us completely, not holding onto a single breath. It is as basic as inhaling and exhaling, the essence of living.

Breathing/living completely requires constant awareness and attention; if we get sidetracked, we attach first to this, then to that and we find ourselves short of breath. Our physiology constricts; our head is over our heart. We need to get out of our own way.

Currently, I am participating in Kristen Lamb’s two-month, online blogging course, which I highly recommend for all bloggers; I am about to engage in writing the initial draft of a second novel; I have a nonfiction manuscript that requires revision; the response to my blog pleases me more and more every day. Every one of these is an opportunity if I breathe fully and do not attach.

Fortunately, I have the luxury of being older as well as being chronically ill, and I’m serious in my application of the word luxury to both advantages.

Aging provides me a considerable archive of experience—albeit one of attachment—yet I pause, mainly because I’ve been there, done that, which is not being present. I catch myself relying on the known, which does not fit as it once did. So, I am considering the class, my writing, and this blog–each for what it is–through perspectives unknown to me. It is taking some time but in understanding that the moment is all I ever have, time is yet another luxury for me.

As I have written numerous times, chronic illness keeps me more in the moment than any resource in my life and as such, I  discovered worlds I would never have known, and there are so many more! Every day, I meet people with the most extraordinary stories, constant sources of inspiration and information.

Always, I am grateful for  my readers and for the incredible insight that so many of you reveal in your comments as well as in your correspondence with me. Frankly, your response is humbling and energizing. It keeps me on the search for blog post topics. Truly, I thank you.

As I reorganize and reconstruct, I am taking a break from blogging, returning on October 28.  As usual, Mark Nepo succinctly describes the coming and going that is living:

“Being human, there are endless times we need to be still and as many times that we need to move. But much of our confusion as modern citizens comes from trying to have the one we are more comfortable with substitute for the other.”

Freedom in the Unknown

For a while I have been residing with two, well-worn nemeses, the past and the future.  I am deliberate in my use of the terms future and past rather than a specific moment, incident, or person for what keeps the past and future ever present is what Deepak Chopra calls “the conditioned response” or the known.

Each one of us has a myriad of conditioned responses for every situation that arises. Regardless of whether or not there is a replica of a particular situation, the mind enthusiastically emits a thought barrage of past experience and future possibility. Both future and past are attached to what happened or what might happen but not to the moment that is. Living in the moment is the unknown, free from past or future.

Essentially, every moment is free. We choose between the known and the unknown, between what we have always been and what we have never been. It is that basic. What is not free is the situation surrounding each and every moment.

Situations reside in the past or in the future–they have strings–and where there is attachment, there is ego, a constant chatter of what you already know. Only when we practice what Chopra calls “choice less awareness” (Moksha), are we in the unknown of the moment and truly free. It takes a lifetime of practice and ceaseless awareness.

For without awareness, we get comfortable and our practice becomes what we know and not what is. Increasingly, my enthusiasm was on the wane, whether for the revision of my novel or for my nonfiction manuscript on consciousness. While I love what I am doing, I could not deny a familiar tug of weariness. Briefly, even the malaise of lupus loomed as I turned more and more to the known of the past.

Mindless television is a tried-and-true response of mine to whenever “the world is too much with us” (William Wordsworth). Some would argue that I could not have picked a better time than the broadcasting of the two major political conventions in the United States. There may be something to that. For completely opposite reasons, both conventions made me weep but as I reached my saturation point for both weeping and politics, I discovered my enthusiasm for republic and democracy.  Both are messy, completely life-like, wherein lies the sliver that is hope.

No matter the moment of life, hope is always the light of the unknown and may be the heart of risk as well. In hope lies enthusiasm, the total immersion into life, “the ripple that follows the stone…[as] we are each faced with the endless and repeatable task of discovering or uncovering our enthusiasm, which means in essence being at one with the energy of God or the divine” (Mark Nepo). Not surprisingly, God and the divine are within the political whirlwind of the United States while the world watches.

Regardless of how we perceive our relationship to one another–Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” the Tao, the Universe, the Source or quantum physics–we are all connected to consciousness, which is so much more than a mere pinprick of light. Consciousness connects us to existence, transcending all we have ever known; it moves our heads under our hearts so we may hear one another. When we listen, we observe. We make a response within the moment.

In observing the political conventions I listened, dropping my decades-long conditioned response of ranting and raving. Rather, I was grateful for living in a republic brave enough to reveal the messiness of its democracy to the world, at considerable risk perhaps.  I immersed myself into the enthusiasm that is the noise of life, the unpredictable but eternal moment.

It is such a small step from the known to the unknown. In the unknown resides the “choice less” awareness that is the freedom inherent in risk, the heartbeat of hope. It is neither the past nor the future but only the moment, which is all we ever have yet is always more than enough as long as we are aware. “Despite our endless limitations, it seems that the qualities of attention, risk, and compassion allow us to be at one with the energy of the whole and the result is enthusiasm, that deep sensation of oneness” (Nepo).

(All Mark Nepo citations appear in The Book of Awakening)

The Quiet Teachers

As I have mentioned more than once, I’m spending this year with Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening, meaning that I begin my daily meditation by reading one of his 365 observations. More often than not, a series of readings—one day after another—will seem an awakening designed only for me. This past week, Nepo introduced me to the quiet teachers.

The quiet teachers are often ignored but are everywhere and are as solid as the ground upon which we walk. We know these quiet teachers by their “lessons [that] dissolve as accidents or coincidence…offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think” (Nepo).

For me, the lessons have been clear but somewhat noisy for I am in the process of completely restructuring a novel I wrote seventeen years ago. What that means is the destruction of a weakly structured novel in order to salvage a stubborn story that has waited a long time to be told. It has required me to immerse myself into an old world, awakening characters long silent and provoking images fraught with memories. There has been much shattering of ideals but the shards of those ideals proved to be quiet teachers, the first of others that I met this week.

Nepo also introduced me to an observation from Megan Scribner: “‘I’m only lost if I’m going someplace in particular.'” I could not have described my own first attempt at writing a novel more succinctly. For over 80,000 words and seventeen years, I stayed with a story I no longer believed rather than facing the story that was trying to emerge. Once I began stripping away the façade, I heard the heart of the story and found myself at journey’s beginning: “Practice letting go of your plan and discover the path of interest that waits beneath your plan” (Nepo).

Not being attached to outcome or plan reveals the story waiting to be written. It is only when I have the courage to face failure do I heed the lessons of the quiet teachers. Accident and coincidence dissolve into the direction of the story. I am struck by the synchronicity of my own life’s direction with that of my writing life. Not for the last time, I am in awe at the oneness that is all.

“‘Be serene in the oneness of things and erroneous views will disappear by themselves'” (Seng-Ts’an) became clearer and clearer to me as I separated the heart of the story from the remnants of what was once a novel. All of the tearing apart and leaving of words is less difficult than I imagine. There are thorny moments but eventually, they give way to the relief of no longer having to hold up the façade of novel.

While the shininess of a new structure of a novel is a gift, the fear of idolizing structure at the cost of story, wherever it may wend, is a battle that will wage until structure and story support one another as a whole. I am confident in the lessons of the quiet teachers but mostly, I am vigilant for like life, writing is fraught with accident and coincidence as is the beating of my heart.

“As you enter your day, try not to reach for life. Try not to leave or arrive. Try to let life into you” (Nepo).

Gifts at 60

On this first day of my being 60, I am not writing the blog post I had planned; living in the moment is like that or so I am learning. Certainly, I thought about this particular post much more than I usually do—I kept considering it my first blog post of my next decade–but by mid-week, that ego balloon went airless.

The last week of my fifth decade proved to be a week of surprises, mostly in the form of sugar, but not entirely in the obvious way. For the most part, my system no longer tolerates sugar in any form other than what it produces itself. Generally, this is not a statement I have to consider but in my last post, I mentioned that I had an appointment with a practitioner of Eastern medicine. Not so surprisingly, she and I had different interpretations regarding Eastern medicine–and sugar–but rather surprisingly, I agreed to try two different remedies at least one time, which proved to be more than enough.

Buoyed by the possibilities presented by the practitioner, I decided to have one (1) glass of red wine, my first in three years.  Although my glass of wine and my dose of “remedies” were days apart, literally, my week collapsed before Wednesday noon. I am more recovered than not and leaning toward awareness.

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I suspect I was caught up in birthday bliss for it has been a week of gifts beyond remembering the lesson of sugar.  Once again, I discovered that I really can, and should, trust my instincts and not my ego. It was not my instincts that chose the remedies or the wine but my ego filled with the idea of birthday, a balloon born to burst. I am reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe–“To see takes time”–a sentence for the rest of my life, yet another gift.

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I was pleasantly surprised by lovely flowers from  Dr. Mac and all of the sanctuary “critters” at  secondchancefarms.org. As you can see, EmmaRose wasted no time in her inspection, and yes, all are “kitty safe” petals.

Cooper and I began our morning on the Gulf of Mexico, near this palm tree at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge but here is where we will both end our day.

Almost always, Cooper takes command of the remote. Like me, he is a bit ambivalent about television but he has a preference for the remote.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for stopping by to read my posts and to chat, from time to time. It is such a gift you give, and I am most grateful, always.

“Once during the day, think of who you are as living energy and not as a goal to be achieved or obstacle to be overcome. Feel yourself without inventory” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

Final Days of 59

“… Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

This past February, I wrote a post about some unexpected milestones at age 59 ½. At the time, I was struck by the synchronicity. Still am. As this is my final week at age 59, I decided to revisit those milestones before I step into my sixth decade, one that promises even more transformation.

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I have continued to lose weight beyond the 59 ½ pounds of February; I am down 69 pounds with another fifteen-twenty to lose but no more than that. My eating habits have not changed in the past six months but my taste buds have adjusted to other options, and I enjoy eating again. I found millet-buckwheat bread made with chicory root and without refined starch, absolutely critical for me.  Almond butter sandwiches are now a staple. While my future remains gluten, yeast, sugar, dairy and soy free, my grocery list items are crisp and fresh.

In my last week as a fifty-nine-year-old, I am in better health than I was at 58, sans an arsenal of allopathic medicine. I remain convinced that Eastern medicine– Ayurveda and Chinese–has a better understanding of autoimmune disease. Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver is an excellent overview of traditional Chinese medicine, and I am searching for a similar Ayurveda text. Until I find it, I am enjoying Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an informative volume regarding Ayurveda traditions.  This Tuesday, I have my first meeting with a practitioner of Eastern medicine.

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But in these final days of my 59th year, it is my writing that is undergoing the greatest transformation. My numbers alone are major personal milestones.  I no longer publish blog posts twice a week as I did in February but on June 2, I began writing the initial draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Currently, I am producing over 9200 words per week on this manuscript alone. At my 59 ½ milestone, my word count was 9800 words for the entire month of February.

While I do not write for a specific word or page count, numbers gauge a manuscript’s size so I knew the end of the nonfiction manuscript was close: currently, it is 330 pages or just over 91,000 words. But even before I tallied the numbers, synchronicity had come to call; what Deepak Chopra calls “a quantum leap of creativity…a relinquishing of the known for the unknown.” And like milestones, coincidence comes wrapped in the ordinary.

In February, I included my participation in ROW 80 as part of my regular blog posts.  Frequently, I discussed the initial draft of a novel that I wrote seventeen years ago; in some blog posts I’d opt for rewriting the novel and in other posts I’d refer to the novel as a life once lived. Rather than letting go, I was very like the speaker in Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics,” unable to decide whether to save the old woman or the painting.

So, I signed up for an online workshop, Conflict and Idea with Bob Mayer, and learned about “kernel idea.” I have not been the same since so I consider it my toehold in the unknown, a piece of a milestone.

Bob says that the kernel idea is what initially inspires the writing of a novel–it is the Alpha and Omega of a book–it starts and completes the creative process but here is the key point: the story that you write may and probably does change but the kernel idea of a book does not, ever.

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During the course of the workshop, I came to understand that the “kernel idea” for my novel was not the story I had written. The kernel idea had not changed but the story I wrote moved away from the idea within the first 100 pages. Finally, I realized what I was hanging onto for seventeen years—my kernel idea and 100 pages—yet, it took me a while to understand just what that might mean but when I did, it felt like a “quantum leap of creativity.” Still does.

Thus, as I started writing a new nonfiction book—my current manuscript–I discovered the way to tell the story of my original kernel idea. Maybe the years sorted themselves, maybe I was letting go of what no longer serves but with transformation there is also revelation. In letting  go of a seventeen-year-old-story that no longer served, I discovered the kernel idea for a new nonfiction book.

“When faced with great change—in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling–we somehow must take in all that has enclosed, nurtured and incubated us so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us” (Nepo).

Patience is…

…second to simplicity, according to sage Lao-tzu, sixth century B.C. author of the Tao Te Ching (Tao). Some sources cite the Tao as the second most translated work in history, preceded only by the Bible. As always, second place may or may not impress but what is impressive is that each of the Tao’s 81 sections (or 5000 Chinese characters) provides us with the constant contradictions inherent in life and then, most generously, offers us strategies within the Tao’s three central teachings–simplicity, patience, and compassion—for every moment we live.

That simplicity precedes patience is not difficult to appreciate. Before we can be, we must separate the strands of our life, acknowledging each strand unto itself as well as its relationship to every other strand. Patience emerges from the untangling but “the place of waiting is always trying and very difficult to live out…fear wants us to act too soon…patience, hard as it is, helps us outlast our preconceptions” (Mark Nepo).

If we practice patience rather than relying on a conditioned response—that which we have always known or done—our perception of what is possible changes completely. Within patience, the moment is fresh and free as in Moksha, a Sanskrit word meaning freedom or release. Deepak Chopra has referred to Moksha as “choiceless awareness,” in which the moment is emotionally free from the situation surrounding it.

In the freedom of Moksha, every moment is free because it is now, completely and fully present. Just as the strands separate to reveal simplicity, in Moksha, the present moment is removed from any future or past situation. The moment is free of any complication, of any condition. The moment is.

Like the moment, how we respond is free and fresh, separate from any situation that has established itself in the past or in the future. As long as we are completely present, we are as emotionally free as the moment. Essentially, we are not attached to the situation’s outcome– a central tenet of Buddhism—as yet another ancient tradition reveals itself within the practice of patience.

Yes, I am weaving in and out of the Vedas of Hinduism and the Tao of Taoism along with the Zen of Buddhism, an intricate weave of no beginning and no end. Continuously, I am startled by similarities—as if I were following the strands of the weave for the first time rather than following a familiar pattern—there is such crispness, freshness to this wondrous weave’s undulating eternity. There is such life in these traditions and thus, freedom.

Yet, the moments from my previous meandering among these traditions show themselves from time to time. There is unraveling yet to be done but the strands sort themselves as only memory can. It takes time but I wait for I know every moment I have is free as long as I have patience. It is rarely easy but with practice, patience increases.

“… When feeling urgent to find your place on this Earth…wait…and things as you fear them will, more often than not, shrink into the hard irreplaceable beauty of things as they are…of which you have no choice but to be a part” (Nepo).

And buried therein are the seeds of compassion.

(All Mark Nepo quotations are from The Book of Awakening

Life at Sixty

I had been dreading the evening when I would no longer have May Sarton’s The Education of Harriet Hatfield to read. Yet, as is often true with the really fine writers, Sarton pushed me along, knowing it was time for another book, another story.

I want to tell you about Harriet Hatfield.

The novel opens at the death of Harriet’s partner. It is the late 1980s in an exclusive, upper-class neighborhood in Boston—Chestnut Hill–where Harriet and her partner had lived for thirty years. It is not a novel in which a great deal happens but, of course, a great deal does happen to a sixty-year-old lesbian who has an opportunity to begin life completely anew. With the money she inherits from her partner’s estate, Harriet moves from Chestnut Hill to a working-class neighborhood where she opens a feminist bookstore that also serves as  her residence.

Harriet soon learns that hatred and prejudice run roughshod over any sense of security she may have once had. The anonymous but ominous threats Harriet receives do not weaken her resolve but strengthen her determination to stay in a neighborhood that does not want a “lady” lesbian or her feminist–and therefore must be pornographic–bookstore, Hatfield House.

Harriet Hatfield’s feminism is a belief in equality for all in all things–jobs, housing, existence–and is a constant source of tension throughout the novel. Hatfield House, with its overstuffed chairs and afternoon teas, is “‘the equivalent these days of men’s clubs…places where women can talk to each other, find sustenance, and come to some idea of who they really are.'” Yet, Hatfield House is much more. It is, perhaps, a “bridge” to and for all in Harriet’s neighborhood–including hate and prejudice–but as Harriet says of metaphor, “‘if you run it into the ground… it suddenly doesn’t quite work.'”

I was introduced to The Education of Harriet Hatfield on Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog . While I am familiar with most of Sarton’s work, I was not aware of this novel but I was aware of a bit of a coincidence, being a sixty-year-old lesbian myself. Like Harriet, I, too, believe that at sixty I have been given a rare opportunity to live a life I have never lived. Unlike Harriet, I am anything but financially secure–her complete opposite financially–but I am rich in ways that continue to surprise me every day, which is so very like Harriet. One of the greatest perks of growing old is finally appreciating all that one is and how little, how very little is necessary to live a life fulfilled.

“‘I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.
These are your greatest treasures.
Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.'”
–Lao-Tzu (Translation provided in The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo)

Above all, Harriet Hatfield has patience. She does not believe that all of her neighbors will accept her or her bookstore even eventually–she knows she will not outlive prejudice–the temporary truce in the neighborhood is indirectly provided by her dog, Patapouf: “‘there is a residue of compassion… that suddenly comes into view where an animal is concerned, as though the only pure thing left in this corrupt, hate filled world is the love of animals.'” The neighborhood belief that animals are beyond prejudice provides a brief respite as well as some consideration for what another human being may or may not be, even a lesbian.

This is a novel in which not a lot happens and in which everything happens. It is not a novel about understanding one side or the other much less taking sides. It is a novel about living one’s life fully and completely every day–whatever is presented–even if it is a new life at sixty.

“…Given enough time, most of our enemies cease to be enemies, because waiting allows us to see ourselves in them. Patience devastates us with the truth that, in essence, when we fear another, we fear ourselves; when we distrust another, we distrust ourselves; when we kill another, we kill ourselves”
(The Book of Awakening).

(All quotations from May Sarton’s The Education of Harriet Hatfield are from the 1989 Norton edition.)

Looking Away

“‘In exchange for the promise of security, many people put a barrier between themselves and the adventures in consciousness that could put a whole new light on their personal lives.'” – – June Singer

Although I am not familiar with the work of Jungian analyst June Singer (1920-2004), I did discover a personal anecdote that reveals a woman who walked her talk. When asked her impression of the Internet, she responded: “`Well, I’ve just had my eightieth birthday, and I thought that if I don’t keep trying new things, I’m liable to get brain-dead. I thought, this will be a breeze! That’s what I thought.’”

Exactly!

A recent daily meditation with Mark Nepo introduced me to Singer, adding a Jungian dimension to my current consideration of archetypes within authentic ancient traditions. As one whose life has been characterized by rampant naïveté, I prefer “adventures in consciousness” over security any day. For me, curiosity is an integral component of consciousness and therein infinite.

As Heraclitus said, “No matter how long you probe and how far you look, you’ll never encounter the boundaries of the soul.” I find that immensely satisfying for “the pull into the truth of things is very strong” (Nepo) but it is not without its challenges, as the foray into the unknown has no consideration for what is safe or what is treasured. Consciousness just is, and it is ever expanding.

Consider how easy it is to look away—not to grow–to maintain the status quo in the hope that all we are and all we love stay the same. That’s the human being in us but our spirit, as the Isa Upanishad says, “’is swifter than the mind.'” Our spirit is always in motion whether we are or not; it provides a whole new light on our lives if only we will look.

According to the Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa, if we deny our spirit by deliberately looking away from someone or something that we recognize as truth, it is “… a grave act of denying what is already conscious…a crime against the essence of things that costs us dearly” (Nepo). We attach to what we know, and we don’t let go. Paradoxically, by clinging to the “promise of security,” we risk all that we are and all that we love, for we deny the spirit of life, the only constant that creates and re-creates.

Sometimes, it is hard to know whether we are clinging to or letting go. Attachment is sticky in every way, requiring us to know our hearts before we act with our heads. There is such a gap between the two, it seems, for there are times when we look away in true innocence rather than deliberately avoiding a direction. It takes practice to recognize this “…inner knowing that determines whether we live like a dog at the end of our leash or whether we run free” (Nepo).

As one who believes in becoming a lake, I am grateful for my life of rampant naïveté, and I do not see that changing—ever.  On some days, I narrow the gap between heart and head but then, there are those other days that are not so clear.

Here is a suggested meditation from Nepo on narrowing the gap:

         “As you breathe slowly, try on the in-breath to sense your spirit. Feel where it is living in you.

“On the out breath, try to feel your place in the world, where you go through the days.

“As you breathe, keep sensing your spirit and feeling your place.

“Simply notice any difference and throughout your day look there.

“Your simple and honest looking will lessen the gap.”

Spending My Days

Consider the essence of magic as the enchantment of the unknown, a paradox that in the words of the Tao is the “named and the nameless.” Magic appears throughout this blog so similarly to its appearance in my life or to borrow from Annie Dillard:  “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

What if we spend our days creating and re-creating our lives as works of art rather than scheduling our lives by the hour, defining ourselves by the number of tasks we accomplish. Only late in my life did I come to this magic, this nuance of routine. Now, I spend my days in the experience of each moment where every minute is a way of life and not a moment on a timepiece or a task on a list.

I am not without day-to-day demands—mine is chronic illness—nor am I without the gifts that life’s demands provide, and chronic illness has its gifts, too. Of course, it took me more than thirty years to notice there were any gifts from any demands. We just don’t look for these gifts. We focus our attention only on the demands, maybe even calling attention to ourselves. Mark Nepo says “the threshold to all that’s extraordinary in life is when we devote ourselves to giving attention, not getting it. [That’s when] things come alive for us…[we] find our place in the beauty of things by the attention we can give.”

Perhaps the best measure of giving attention is how we live the routine of our days. Of late, I’ve been experimenting with routine in the larger context of creating a resilient life, which is, among other attributes, a work of art according to Dr. Symeon Rodger in The Five Pillars of Life. The process is a simple one. I record the moments of my day as they occur and not as a schedule of what must occur. There are requirements for each day—some specific tasks must be done–but there is not a plan. Within a week, I discovered a natural flow to how I spend my days as I watched them unfold, regardless of the interruptions and the unexpected. Most important, I discovered resilience and flow reside in the creative unknown.

Here is how that translates in my everyday life. The day-to-day unpredictability of my dis-ease as well as Cooper’s does not change nor does it require any more attention than juggling finances, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, writing—all requirements of my days. In focusing on each moment, I not only accomplish what is required but I complete tasks and chores that have been waiting for months. Furthermore, there is energy in everything I do as I immerse myself into each task and only that task. There is no multi-tasking for each moment belongs to itself completely. Not one day is like another nor is any day exhausting. I schedule nothing and record everything.

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I am quick “to soar with the oversoul”—Louisa May Alcott’s phrase regarding her father and the transcendentalists—and like Thoreau, I have built my “castles in the air” but few times in my life have I put “foundations beneath them” that did not crumble. Yet, in living a routine as a work of art and embracing the enchantment of the everyday, I have a foundation for my current castle in the recording of how I spend my days.

The role of voice recognition software  in my routine is nothing short of finding a new energy source.  Once I began using Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I realized how much physical energy I was expending in typing, a necessity for a writer but  one I had overlooked. Ironically, I had spent considerable time, money, and thought in creating a comfortable work space. I work from an adjustable bed that supports my entire body, and my laptop rests on a spacious tray designed for use with adjustable beds. I believed I had a comfortable way to continue writing, and it was just a matter of settling into a writing schedule but those were days devoid of enchantment and full of design.

There never was a consistent writing schedule, and increasingly, neuropathy limited the length of time that I could use a  keyboard. Finally, I took a three-week hiatus from blogging and from scheduling my days. I knew I would no longer write as I had–I didn’t know whether I would write–yet, I knew I would continue to create and re-create, and that was enough as I explored the moments of my days. Then, I discovered Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and in the initial moments of using the software, I knew life was about to change even more, and so it has. Within two days, there was also a marked decrease in my physical discomfort.

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For me, dictating my thoughts is quite different from typing thoughts on a screen using keys on a keyboard. Dictating is sending thoughts through speech; typing is the tactile sensation of selecting keys to produce words. The awareness involved  in each process is completely different, and I am allowed another perspective on creating. I find the combination quite freeing. I focus on the writing before I bring it to the screen through my voice. Then, with my fingers on the keyboard, I edit and shape the words on the screen, creating and re-creating yet another perspective on the story of how I spend my days.

Witness to Life

In this past week, a stunningly beautiful baby emerged from her mother’s womb; forty-eight hours earlier, a canine named Sam finally found the light that had eluded him all his life. One woman was the guide for both journeys.  I am reminded of the seventh verse of the Tao:

”Heaven is eternal–the earth endures. Why do heaven and earth last forever?  They do not live for themselves only. This is the secret of their durability. 

“For this reason the Sage puts himself last and so ends up ahead. He stays a witness to life, so he endures. 

“Serve the needs of others, and all your own needs will be fulfilled. Through selfless action, fulfillment is attained.”*

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WANA Commons

The woman serving as the guide for the baby’s birth and the canine’s death reminds me of the Sage, for she has always kept herself last. So well she understands that a new life has yet to experience all that physical existence can offer while a life at its end stands on the brink of what is beyond experience.

“Often the thing feared, once crossed, turns out to be an unexpected bridge from which we can see who we were and who we are becoming” (The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo). Certainly, this is the sentiment shared by Sam’s veterinarian caretaker and guide to the bridge. Here, in her words, is a bit about Sam’s life as well as his death:

“Sam was truly a one person dog, and he had the potential to be dangerously aggressive toward other animals and people who made him uncomfortable. His aggression was most likely fear based, probably the result of prior experiences before he came to us [an animal sanctuary].

“When Sam did act out aggressively, it was intense, unpredictable and he truly could become very dangerous very quickly. But Sam wasn’t always aggressive.  In fact, he was actually quite affectionate, loving and trusting toward me. He always greeted me with a tail wag and never once did he act out aggressively. He and I had a relationship based on trust and respect, which ultimately made the decision to let him pass over the Rainbow Bridge that much harder for me.

“In addition to his potential for aggression, Sam was extremely storm phobic. Despite numerous attempts to help him–anti-anxiety medications, pheromone collars, and changes in housing–when the summer storms came through each year, Sam became uncontrollable from fear and anxiety. Even I wasn’t able to comfort him when he was at the height of his anxiety attacks.

“As Sam aged, his anxieties and fears became increasingly worse. He became more unpredictable and outwardly aggressive toward people simply walking by his kennel. He started to become destructive, had a wide-eyed and scared look about him, was excessively vocal at times, and occasionally seemed desperate to escape from his kennel.

“Sam continued to be affectionate and friendly toward me but it became apparent that Sam’s overall quality of life was deteriorating. He wasn’t happy. His fears and anxieties were getting the best of him. Our decision was incredibly difficult as Sam did not have anything ‘physically’ wrong with him. His body was still healthy but his mind was not. We made the very difficult decision to let Sam’s fears and worries finally be put to rest.

“After a scrumptious breakfast and spending some extra time with him, I reassured this handsome boy that everything would be okay and that he wouldn’t have to be scared ever again. I hugged him close and reassured him the whole time. He was clearly scared but he trusted me enough to know I was helping. Sam fell asleep quickly and quietly in my lap, and he finally appeared at peace.

“I have no doubt he knew I was helping him but letting him go was very difficult, more difficult than if there had been a physical, visible medical concern. The fact that Sam trusted me enough to hold him while he fell asleep meant a lot but also made it very difficult, yet for Sam, it was the best and only choice to be made.

“Three years ago, we made a commitment to keep Sam safe, happy, healthy and to protect him from fear and stress. By helping him to cross over the Rainbow Bridge, we feel that we held up our end of that deal. Rest in peace handsome boy. We hope that your troubled mind is finally able to be at peace and that you are once again able to enjoy just being a happy-go-lucky, care-free dog. You don’t have to be scared anymore.”

 

JM Randolph Image
WANA Commons

Both the death of the dog and the birth of the child are indirect experiences for me yet I am profoundly moved by each for they have in common a woman whom I admire and respect. I know I am fortunate in being able to call her friend. She is young enough to be my granddaughter but her wisdom is of the ages.

Some would say hers is an old soul—once, I ascribed to the notion of rating souls but for me, rankings disappeared with duality—this young veterinarian is acutely aware of her world, inner and outer. I doubt that she reads books on awareness or oneness nor do I remember her ever using those words. She just lives, keenly and completely. Her equanimity in listening to other perspectives, other points of view is rather remarkable. Yet, she is not always appreciated, initially.

Of course, Sam knew better. He trusted his friend to help him cross the bridge into an existence void of all he had known. Two days later, his friend gave birth to a baby, sweeping away the sadness of Sam’s absence but not his existence for the leaving and the arriving are always one for the witness to life.

*Tao translation from Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life