Thursday, September 26, 2013

Return 2013

Dear friends:  This space has sat virtually uninhabited for a long time and I am sorry for that.  I have a busy life at present--too busy-- and oddly so, given my lack of presence here, since much of that busyness involves writing, starting a writing group and thinking about...writing
It is my clear intention to continue posting here and I have, in fact, written several essays that I will post very soon.  The still need some 'tender, loving care' in the form of gentle editing but I hope they will offer something to you that is useful, thought-provoking and enabling of greater peace and centeredness, as that is always my aim.
In the meantime, and as a way of shifting gears, let's try a redux of a post that I am often asked to share once again in other venues and as a way of supporting the ideas I hope to continue to flesh out as I go along here.  Again, I am delighted that some of you still come here regularly to check on me--I'm fine and more than fine--and I will be writing here again very soon so, here once again, "A Free Range Famly"
http://closetotheroot.blogspot.com/2010/11/free-range-family-to-pay-attention-this.html

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"May I walk you home?"

"We're all just walking each other home." "
~ Ram Dass

Our relationships with one another are part of the quotidian landscape of our lives; we live, and thrive, only in the shelter of each other.  To cultivate a community, a tribe, of compassionate healers committed to each other, of people who accept and live into the responsibility of relationship is an enormous challenge--none of us can go it alone, we need each other, but this no light burden we take up when we enter into all the risks of relationship.  No matter what the nature of the relationship, whether that of mate or life partner, parent and child, intimate friendship--the responsibilities are the same.  We share not only in the daily joys and pleasures, work and play, but we stand, then, prepared for that last, long walk home whenever and however it may come.  We agree to be witnesses and companions to death, whether death comes, as it does to us all, at the end of our earthside sojourn, or the relationship itself dies--when we enter in to relationship with another person, we agree to walk each other home and that is a skill set, an endeavor of the heart and soul that we are not prepared for in a culture that fails not only to value and teach the skills we all need to sustain the relationships we create over a lifetime, but which fails even more profoundly to show us how to lay each other, and our relationships, to rest.  
A proper "good bye" is not only appropriate, but healing to everyone concerned. Whether at the bedside of a beloved companion when they are dying, or over a final cup of coffee with someone with whom we've realized we no longer feel able to remain in relationship; everyone deserves the dignity of an honest and heartfelt farewell.  We need to respect the magnitude of what it has meant, to both people, to have walked part of the journey together, realizing and standing in appropriate awe and wonder at the unique and unrepeatable beauty of that particular pairing for that stretch of precious time.  No matter what differences and contentions have arisen between two people, something essential, true and loving once passed between them, and it deserves to be held in proper esteem and gratitude; we can walk each other home without rancor, without pain, only when we've fully embraced what it means to give part of ourselves to another.   We live in a peopled place and our companions on the way shape us for everything else that is to come.  
Love is the end for which we are created and how we offer and invest ourselves in others, and they in us,  the truest measure of our worth. 
When we connect deeply with another human soul, recognizing in them yet another of our healing partners, our kindred spirits on our life journey, let us remember, then, that held in the heart of  each "hello" is always the question, "May I walk you home?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing A Path From The Center by "Living the Questions"

"...have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answers. "
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, in "Letters to a Young Poet"

We are all familiar with this quote from the poet, Rilke, from a collection of letters he wrote to a young friend of his, an aspiring poet, who had gotten it into his head that he had to know what he was about in life, know what he was doing and who he was, before anything of value could be accomplished with his writing. Rilke was a loner, a social misfit and a wanderer; he found it difficult to stay in one place, to hold a job, to maintain a home, or a relationship. He lacked the ability to read social cues and had minimal tolerance for interpersonal machinations, yet his observations and insight on the human condition are precise, clear and evoke a sense of intense focus and devotion--he could read people and society, and his intellectual prowess made it imperative that he set his soul-readings to poetry. He offered, through his writing, a path from the Center of his being towards that of the reader and within the context of his art, crafted a profound "word medicine" that could heal people, give them guidance and shine light on the next step of their journey. It is a mistake to conclude that Rilke, who today probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, or placed somewhere on the ubiquitous "Autism Spectrum" lacked the capacity for intimacy when his poetry goes straight to the interior of the heart in ways that can only be accessed by intimacy. Rilke's long familiarity with solitude and silence conferred upon him a deep wisdom about the nature and needs of the human person; his self-awareness, consciousness and intimacy with his own interior world enabled him to write poetry stunning in its ability to speak to our various conditions and to offer healing and peace, but not by providing answers to our questions; he encourages us, instead, to "love the questions themselves" and to wait patiently for our lives to speak. We have to write a path from the Center of our lives if we are to find our answers.

The internet and social networking culture seduces us with the idea that information and answers are synonymous. It further persuades us that asking questions, seeking answers, can be accomplished in whole, or at least in very large part, this afternoon...at the latest.
So many people spend hours and hours of precious, unrepeatable time scouring forums and polling their online friends for answers to the difficulties of life and those who spend the most time doing this seem to be the most unhappy and desperate in their desire for someone else to tell them what to do...how to be...where to go for more...answers. Our culture enables and encourages this kind of anxiety-provoking and superficial social discourse because planting seeds of doubt, fear and anxiety creates a market. People who are afraid that their lives won't hold up under the scrutiny of others, are easy prey to be marketed to in all kinds of ways. Those who live, not from their own Center, but through the eyes of others, become victims of their own projection that somewhere, someone "out there" has the answers to questions that can only be found "in here". Happy, satisfied people who are willing to live out the questions of their lives by seeing, in the quotidian mysteries, our daily life and work, that the answers unfold organically, in their own way, fail the "market test" every time.
When I first began writing here, I was in the midst of transition--I had lost two of my children in the previous 7 years and had another born with a serious disability. I was leaving my childbearing years, being then in my late 40's, had three teenage and young adult children going through their own growing pains, and I was leaving a way of working and being in the world that had defined and informed my life for many years. I was responding to a deep calling, a leading towards a very different life that was, at the same time, beckoning to me like a homecoming; I was being called inward and towards more depth and focus. I was intensely craving solitude, silence and contemplative action in the world, through my writing and new work involving sacred listening to others, giving them the space to tell their own stories and find their own path within the 'true self' that was intended for every person. And yes, dear Rilke, some answers have come through living out those questions but they can, of course, only be partial answers...I am still living, and loving, the questions. As another favorite writer, Isak Dineson, once said, "God made the world round so that we could not see too far down the road" in this, she echoes and reinforces Rilke--we can only live the questions, embrace them, love them, and with humility accept and live with the partial answers as they present themselves.
And now I am 51. My life has sorted itself out and I am living, imperfectly of course, the quiet, simple and creative life I had been trying to give an affirmative answer to for several years. I have lovingly let go of many people in my life over this time, knowing that I was simply not able, or no longer willing, to give them the time and energy they needed from me. I embraced fully a simple truth given me long ago by a very wise woman friend and mentor--"Compassion is mandatory, personal involvement isn't"-- I finally accepted the truth that being loving isn't measured by how willing I am to allow others personal dramas to invade my life and disturb my peace. I cannot give to others with the kind of spacious love I need to offer when I am being drained by relationships with people whose lives are chaotic and who are living out what Psychologist Carl Jung called "Shadow" in unconscious ways. These patterns are not always easy to see when they are taking up space in your life, but one of the many gifts of embracing solitude, quiet and simplicity is that those people and situations that are noisy and disruptive to our peace become very apparent indeed. I've cultivated some new friendships, blending them with deepened and rejuvenated long-term relationships into a community of loving, "learning partners" who are supportive, authentic, genuine and life-giving. I, like Rilke, am a solitary social misfit who prefers quiet and the "Peace of Wild Things" as in the poem by Farmer and Writer, Wendell Berry. I have more of myself to offer to the world; more love to give, more work to do, and a great and driving energy to do my part to leave a legacy of healing and wholeness behind when I take my leave of this world.
So, my writing going forward will not offer you any answers...but I will accompany you on the road of living the questions. My intention now is to "write a path from the Center" of my own life as I respond to the challenges and questions presented by a complex world mired in painful dilemmas and difficulties. I have also come to know other thinkers and writers who are my kin; those I've come to recognize as members of my extended "Tribe" and and as my soulmates and fellow sojourners and I will be introducing you to many of them.

Love and live the questions themselves. Pay attention to the "quotidian mysteries" of your own life. Trust and have faith that the answers will come and know that there will always be enough light shown to illuminate the next step. "God made the world round, so that we could not see too far down the road."

~ Peace and Courage.
Michelle

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Free Range Family ~ "...To Pay Attention, this is our endless and proper work." Mary Oliver

Yes!No!
by Mary Oliver

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth.
I think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small, dark, lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes!No!

The swan, for all his pomp, his robes of glass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

Long before I ever got serious about having children, I made the decision not to send them to school.  I had never heard of 'Homeschooling' nor did I know anyone who had done it.   I was truly surprised, delightedly so, when I discovered, in the mid-1980's, that there were other people around who were also keeping their kids out of institutions, having a decided preference to hand-rear their own young and I recall being rather amused that doing so had become a rarity.  Between early day-care and school, most parents seemed destined to hardly ever see their kids, ending up relegated to the role of material provider while the dominant cultural paradigm (whatever it happened to be of a given year, or week)  took over and considering all I knew, as a midwife and woman, about what went into pregnancy and childbirth, it seemed like an awful lot of investment just to turn it all over to someone else but I admit, at this late date, that my point of view quite selfishly failed to take issues of social justice into consideration--were I to consider the question again, I would reach the same decision, I am sure, but I would also work far harder to ensure that every family could make the same choices--I'd be far less willing to unthinkingly embrace a lifestyle option that was far too easy for me to make within the context of being a white, middle class, relatively affluent woman.  And therein ends my disclaimer.

To be a "Free Range Family"was most certainly motivated by a set of what turned out to be false beliefs about the nature of parenting, and of children. I wanted to be with my kids and I didn't want to have to allot any of the responsibility for "how they turned out" to anyone else.  I had a construct about parenting that I now understand to have been woefully inadequate but it remains almost universal in its continued belief and application:   I (and most parents)  believed that I would have an influence on my children and,  if done right, my perfect parenting would ensure that they would turn out to be remarkable and brilliant individuals.   They would escape any of the family dysfunction I had inherited. There would be no risk of serious problems as long as I birthed at home, breastfed them for several years, kept a family bed and homeschooled/unschooled them.  I believed this because I bought into most of the lies of the parenting literature available at the time--the same stuff is available now with different titles, but the storyline is as misleading as it ever was.  The pernicious untruth at the core of it is that our children are "products"--Of our parenting; of their environment; of the school system; of the peer group. They are a product of everything that goes into them and all that happens around them and like any product, you get what you pay for!  No one will tell you the deeper truth which is that there are hidden variables inherent to the individual soul of every child, every person, that might have more to do with manifesting a destiny than we can ever know and we interfere with those potentialities at their, and our, peril.  We cling, as parents, to the illusion of control and that illusion, as any parent of teenagers will tell you, shrinks to a very thin veneer as time goes on.  Eventually, if you, and your children, are very, very fortunate, it disappears altogether.   In any case, I went into my parenting believing all of this tommyrot and I was prepared, from conception to birth and on into their childhoods, to pay the price. Any price. Because the parallel track that runs alongside the idea that we can control how are kids turn out is that how they turn out means something about us, as parents; as people.   All of that is just peachy so long as the kids "turn out well".   Everyone knows, everyone believes, that there is nothing worse or more shameful than having kids that don't "turn out"--kids aren't like pie crust; you can't just crimp a little around the edges where the cracks are and fill in the gaps with a little extra dough and no one will be the wiser.  The expectation that people be, and have,   "Facebook Perfect" individuals, marriages and families is corrosive and lends itself to an interior sense of disconnect and confusion about just what really does matter and why.  Those who seek balance, sanity and a life centered on a more coherent, human-scale life of meaning and purpose will inevitably run up against these issues, as I did. As I began to question I found, to my delighted relief, the truth of what I hoped to express and live out with my children--the  answers living quietly, unheard, directly alongside the questions, as they always are. 

  I have always lived a "free range" life and at nearly 50 years old, I don't expect that to change ( I hope no one was holding their breath ) and I have no complaints about having done so.  I rarely, if ever, settle for anyone's status quo, even my own.  I never follow the pack, even within the communities with whom I am closely aligned, much to their understandable irritation.  Why? Because I am a rebel and a radical, believing in, drawing from, the essence of things  distilling everything into what is "Close To The Root"...
 More central to the question, though, is the fact that I am trusting of other people, including children.  It takes an awful lot for me to lose trust, or faith, in someone; I can count on one hand the number of times it has happened. I trust people. I believe in them. I believe that other people, including kids, mine and everyone else's, are perfectly capable of knowing themselves and of learning and growing and changing and struggling and falling down and getting up again.  I trust them to do all those things and so, when I had kids, I just decided to ignore all the books and advice, even all the stuff I learned from "alternative" and "crunchy" sources and live my life with my kids the way I wanted to. I wasn't going to send them to school. I believed then, and I believe now, in the "Curriculum of Family and Community Life" as former public school educator John Taylor Gatto calls it  (named New York State Teacher of the Year after 30 years of teaching, he is now a homeschooling/unschooling advocate and author) and I came to believe in a related idea offered up here by writer, farmer and teacher, Wendell Berry from his book 'The Art of the Commonplace':

"I know that I am in dangerous territory, and so I had better be plain: what I have to say about marriage and household I mean to apply to men as much as to women. I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one's marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman. I do not believe that "employment outside the home" is as valuable or satisfying as employment at home, for either men or women. It is clear to me from my experience as a teacher, for example, that children need an ordinary daily association with both parents. They need to see their parents at work; they need, at first, to play at the work they see their parents doing, and then they need to work with their parents. It does not matter so much this working together should be what is called "quality time," but it matters a great deal that the work done should have the dignity of economic value."

So, I came to believe that what children needed most was to be at home and out in the world supported by parents who were doing real work that mattered to them and that contributed to the needs and values of the household and larger community. I wanted my children alongside me while I worked with the "quotidian mysteries" at hand and I wanted them to learn the discipline and rewards of work for its own sake. I wanted them to absorb the values of both parents not by being actively taught but by a kind of loving osmosis. We did not teach our children anything; we allowed them to learn through daily interaction with us, and with other loving and interested adults and children wherever we happened upon them; they learned by living real lives in community with others. We have been an active family, involved in many areas including a very liberal, urban spiritual community committed to social justice work and we have been, and continue to be, active volunteers for causes we believe in.  Our whole family has volunteered yearly at a homeless shelter, and at the Gleaners food bank. For many years, my oldest two children were weekly volunteers at a local Nature Center. We have lived in the same diverse "inner ring" neighborhood for more than 20 years; our kids have grown up in the same old house they were born into and we have avoided making changes in "place" because we value stability and wanted our kids to have real roots in a community and a commitment to a sense of home.


We don't "start" homeschool every Fall. We don't "end" it in the late Spring or early Summer. We are always learning and growing. We are always reading, writing, working with numbers, planting something, watching changes in the seasons, traveling, spending time with our large extended "Tribe". We make art and music and we watch films and cable news. We all read the New York Times every day and we talk about what's going on in the world. Our kids have never been kept out of  so-called adult conversations and they've had the freedom to explore the neighborhood and our small downtown where they know, and are known by, every shopkeeper, coffeehouse college kid, baker and candlestick maker around. We've gone to the Farmer's Market every Saturday morning for over a decade, rarely missing the opportunity to chat with Peter, our favorite farmer, and with Jan, the antique lady, and all the other vendors, friends and neighbors we almost always run into while we're there.

If there is one thing I hoped to pass on to them it is the discipline of paying attention. I wanted to model, and encourage, the idea that paying close attention to what is happening at any given moment facilitates learning and growth. If I wanted my kids to learn how to behave appropriately in all situations, I had to first get their attention; I had to show them, by doing it myself, how to pay attention when someone else is talking and how to respond respectfully. I had to listen to them, and to other people, to model for  them how important it is to be attentive to others.   I had to help them stick with the projects they chose to do, even when bored, even when the project wasn't going well, so that they would know that it's important to pay attention to detail and to ignore impulsive actions based on the emotion of the moment while also teaching them that not everything is worth doing for a variety of reasons--and how to make that determination for themselves.  I couldn't "teach" them these things, I had to show them in my own life and behavior. And showing them how to pay attention, and ensuring that they understood that this was key to everything else, and this, then,  is the "endless and proper work" of parenting, and of living.

I trust myself and I trust my kids. When we are trusting and trusted, learning is unimpeded. We are able to stay out of our kids way and let them travel their own path to the "true self" or, even better, never lose it to begin with.  Living a 'Free Range' life requires self-discipline and a commitment to building relationships of integrity and wholeness.  I'm going to return to this topic of a "Free Range" life with children a couple more times and I hope my exploration of all the implications of making a choice for freedom will come into better focus for everyone, including me, for even as we live something out, being able to detach, from time to time, and reflect on what we're doing and why keeps everything balanced beneath our own "north star". Until next time then.

Peace and Courage ~
Michelle





Friday, November 26, 2010

Living Wild Peace

"...I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them..." Annie Dillard

I spent most of my life on a search for peace--peace of mind, of heart, of purpose, of beauty, of love. Peace of everything. I created my idea of peace in my own image. I thought peace would be...peaceful. Quiet. Serene. Sweet. A shimmering little whisper of a thing that would barely intrude on my consciousness yet, would embrace everything that I am, or ever hoped to be, and I understood it to be something that one acquired by living peacefully and by doing peaceful things like meditating, yoga, prayer, good deeds. Well... I was wrong.
It turns out that peace is a wild thing...just like me. A nixie ( a mythical feminine spirit of sacred waters ). A wood sprite. A bandit. A little criminal. Peace is Wild.

Peace comes when the struggle for living authentically is fully engaged and passionately lived out. It comes when loving people becomes an expression of genuine intimacy and engagement and when the risk of loving is not measured against how safe and protected I need to be in relationship. Peace comes when we embrace the idea of justice and fully understand that there is no interior peace that can exclude the same for anyone else. Peace comes on little cat feet at the precise moment when we are convinced it has abandoned us altogether. Peace comes when we are living from, as Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly puts it, "that balanced, recreating Center which is our true home." It turns out that Peace lived wild is what makes us fully and completely human...at long last.

I started this blog three years ago and it truly seems like a lifetime gone by. I was struggling in a place of harsh resistence; not wanting to make a necessary trust fall into a life that was changing whether I wanted it to or not. It was through making the decision to step off the edge and take my humpty-dumpty fall that cracked open my fear-hardened heart and allowed me to see a way to live the rest of my life integrated and whole with the wild girl, the little criminal, fully loved, embraced and redeemed. I decided to live wild and to accept the peace, and the responsibility, that comes with it. I decided to opt for reality and the gifts of the present moment--graying hair, diminished eyesight, slower running, fewer but dearer relationships, focused work and a completely restored sense of creativity and energy that has, as a boundary, the understanding that I can't do everything but I can do what I am able to do with my whole heart.

"...I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along..." Being "frayed and nibbled" has a beauty to it that I could never have imagined, or desired, and with all of it has come not only that long coveted peace--all wild and spinny--but real joy. I'm having a grand time!

~ Til next time then,
Michelle





Monday, October 12, 2009

Escaping from the Ghetto of Like-Minded People!~ Trust Yourself

Dear Readers: I know that some of you were expecting a different post here; I have written a piece on what I call "Commonsense Parenting" and it probably has some good stuff in it but I'm also really struggling with offering up anything that seems to feed the beast of what writer and publisher Eric Utne calls "the ghetto of like-minded people" and that has led me to this post, first and foremost and then we'll see about the other one; maybe we don't need it.

On the last page of the current issue of the "Utne Reader", there is a listing of things that Utne hopes will manifest over the next 25 years. Among them I read this:

"Americans will put the brakes on the growing tendency to "amuse ourselves to death" with constant electronic entertainment (laptops, TV, video games, iPhones, etc.) Instead, we'll grow increasingly interested in the Other--people who are truly different from ourselves, not just those on the opposite side of the globe but the people living next door and across the street as well. We'll use social networking not to find people who are like us ( creating what I call ghettos of like-minded people), but to find people who are unlike us. And we'll invest the time getting to know them until we realize how similar and connected we are after all."

Reading this quote really brought me up short because, of course, I share these sentiments and I also feel increasingly skeptical and, frankly, bored with the prevalence of 'groupthink' in society and organizations. It can't be lost on too many people that we are a very polarized nation, so much so, that I recently heard CNN commentator David Gergen remark that he had become seriously concerned that "this country has become ungovernable." Now, if any of you know who David Gergen is, you know that this is not a guy prone to throwing out the dramatic one-liner--he's a very serious chap with impecable credentials and a quiet affect one could almost call flat. I was quite stunned by his comment and it has led to several weeks of thinking about the way we, as a country, have divided ourselves up into ever smaller, narrower cohort groups that increasingly seem to demand not just conformity but unanimity; it becomes very, very hard to disagree without being censured by the group, or dismissed altogether. Even within Churches, there is a line drawn between those parishes or congregations that are deemed "liberal" and those thought to be "conservative" and I don't recall ever hearing that kind of demarcation in a religious setting as a child or young adult; it's a very recent phenomenon.

I think that Eric Utne rightly terms these groupings of like-minded people "ghettos" because they become places where there is little creativity or energy beyond promoting the ethos of the group, or protecting it from "outside" attack. A large part of my work in the area of "Commonsense Birth and Parenting" is committed to encouraging women and parents to avoid online "communities" and forums devoted to very narrow issues that seem to attract devotees' who require strict adherence to a particular parenting idea or ideal, to the point where any deviation from the path to "perfect parenting" is ridiculed or criticized, often very cruelly, and people are NOT encouraged to think for themselves although there is always this interesting little codicil called "making your own choices" but it assumes a quite strict and limited hierarchy of possible choices with those falling outside the groups' norms viewed as "not choices" or, if chosen, made in abject ignorance ie. those who don't believe or do things a certain way "just don't get it" and the group is "better off not absorbing their negativity". Never mind that there are often good ideas to be found outside our limited internal palette of operating instructions and many, if not most of those, will come to us as a natural part of becoming real flesh and blood friends with someone. It comes of asking the neighbor for her thoughts, or a woman at Church, or in the grocery store or at work. It comes of being open to real people and to the continuity and trust that arises out of having to take them in fully, as whole persons, not as faceless, nameless "ideas" coming through a computer screen that can be taken in as emotional, intellectual or spiritual fast food, leaving the undigestible portions to be dumped into the "trash" with the touch of the keyboard.

Online forums and communities are often intolerant, biased, over-focused on a single aspect of concern or interest and offers up a lot of very, very questionable "data" and information as incontrovertible truth. They are the antithesis of independent thought while claiming to be places of "freedom" and "choice". They aren't. They're ghettos. They are places that shut down real dialogue and lead many, many young women and parents into a kind of frozen despair not to mention addiction to electronic communication which is becoming a very real and pernicious danger for a lot of people. Spending hours on a computer, roaming around the ether looking for a 'fix' of "advice" or "wisdom" or the "answer" when someone has a house with children in it and those children are being left to their own devices except to be screamed at when they interrupt mom or dad while they indulge their "addiction" is unhealthy to the core. It doesn't have to be porn addiction to be dangerous and degrading. Being addicted to approval, being addicted to the attention that comes from having an "online" personality that becomes popular or even controversial, can take a person down the path of addiction and with the same end result as every other addiction! There are people who become depressed or anxious when they aren't getting 'fed' by the computer, when someone isn't responding to their posts or comments. If you feel a little "empty" without a computer-generated "fix" take notice and put the whole thing on 'pause' until you figure out what the emptiness is really about, and what you really need to fill it; I can promise you that it isn't going to be filled here on the computer.

I don't want to be anyone's "answer" to life's problems. I don't want anyone to think of me as having their answer, at any rate. Your answers about how to live out your pregnancy, birth and raise your kids or anything else that's important to you is found only within your own heart and mind. You can read all the books and scan the computer looking for something that resonates with you but at the end of the day, you have to get back to the real work of living, loving and being with real people; your own family. Your mate. Your kids. The computer provides an easy escape from the stress while allowing us to believe we're doing something productive ie. we're "looking things up" or "researching our choices" or "getting information". What we're doing, most of the time, is just sitting there, staring at a flat screen and typing because we are afraid to live our real lives because something in them isn't working. Maybe the marriage isn't really working, or perhaps the choices you are making about raising your children aren't really true and good for you. Home schooling can often become a trap for parents', especially for mothers, if they are doing it out of some idea that "really good, really cool parents" home school. Or you use a particular home school curriculum because your friends do. Maybe you need to put your kids in school. Or, if they're in school, maybe you need to take them out. The point is, you won't find those answers online. You'll more than likely only find more confusion, or you'll find a group to do your thinking for you and then wonder why you are so depressed and feel as though you've 'sold out' to someone else's ideas.

I'll end here with what I will call a little "admonition": I'll continue to post things here for as long as anyone wants to read them but I won't write "advice" articles. You don't need my advice. You don't need my "wisdom". You have your own. I'll write about what I've done and how I've lived it out but that isn't meant to be prescriptive, and shouldn't be taken as anything but my writing about my life. If you do anything at all with my writing, my ideas, let it be in the area of leading you inward. I hope that every post will contain some word of encouragement to "go deeper" into your own inner knowing, your own lived reality. As Educator Parker Palmer says, "Let Your Life Speak" and don't live inside the "ghetto" of the like-minded. Ask the questions that move beyond labels and ideologies to where people really live. Get out there into the world and let go of needing to find people who "think like you do". It's the people who don't think like you do who stretch your boundaries and inspire your growth. A little bit of agreement with others gives us a temporary security; offers a cup of warm comfort on a hard day, but too much shuts us down and limits us into living very unchallenged lives. Remember the old Socratic dictum ~ "The unexamined life is not worth living". That means challenging your beliefs and asking questions from all sides, not just that which feeds your ego and do realize that ego is what is involved if you find yourself making decisions not on the best interests of your children and family,but on what allows you to "feel" a certain way about yourself as a parent and even more so if part of that 'feeling' involves feeling that you are, or will be, "better" than other parents. Be careful! You're heading down a slippery slope.

If you love and enjoy your children, you are a good parent. If you love and enjoy your own life and ideas, then relax and get on with it. Don't let this machine keep you from the hard work of sorting out life's mysteries and predicaments. A computer is a tool to be used wisely, but it's a very seductive tool that can start using you.
Now, shut me off, turn off the computer, stand and stretch, and go outside!

Michelle.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Wild Goose Always Speaks ~ Two Poems for my Funeral and Thoughts on "What We're Here For"



Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

This poem, and one that follows, are both part of my Funeral Service, whenever that happens to occur. I chose them both some time back, and this one, by a woman who perhaps best captures my sense of the world and our place in it, Mary Oliver, is my "benediction"; the final words given to those I have loved and whose lives I hoped I touched in some way that was meaningful for them; it is what I want them to believe, and to seek after, and to know is real and possible for them. During my Retreat a couple of weeks ago, Fr. Leo and I spent a fair amount of time discussing death, my death, in particular. If we accrue no other wisdom by the time we reach 50, one thing we now know for sure is that we are going to die. Death seems like an unhappy accident that happens to others up until we are about 35 when the gnawing chill of reality begins to tighten it's grip on us, when the first round of dissatisfied mid-life grumbling begins to escape our lips and wrap around our lives. By 50, we've moved through the worst of the midlife crisis, if we were going to have one at all, and we begin to accept...everything. We begin to accept the reality of our ultimate death, and we also begin to accept that we are who we are and that many, if not most, of the stated facts of our lives are not going to change much. That sounds like a rather grim and dark prognostication on the hoped for second-wind or post-menopausal zest that we are promised through advertisers who market these ideas to us hoping that we'll realize that such an exciting new realm of possibilities virtually screams for a makeover and new clothes plus a nip and tuck here and there~ maybe everywhere, now that we're really looking. If we have gained any other interior wisdom, we forgo the spruce up, or limit it to a kind of benevolent and selective maintenance, rather like getting more frequent oil changes past 100,000k on the car: we eat well ( or better ) and exercise more ( or some ) and if we're really smart, we smile a lot, dream well, and love with more depth, passion and ease than earlier. We take more genuine risks, knowing that the time is short for what matters most to us. For me, that always means people~my "tribe"; my darlings, those known, and unknown. They find me, I find them, we try to work it out and make it worth something. Those who know me well will tell you that I am not a cautious woman; I never have been. I take risks, sometimes major risks, some are, or could have been, dangerous, and I can only look to a loving God who has always protected me when my willingness to "rush in where Angels fear to tred" has posed more than a little emotional, or spiritual threat to me. I would always rather try than not try and even though sometimes, that ends up in what can only even generously be called disaster, it's also almost always worth it for the things that matter most to me. Fr. Leo asked me if I had planned my Funeral and I told him "yes...it's been in place for a long time now". I wrote it all down after my son Samuel died and I've revised a couple of small things since. Leo asked me to go further back, and then forward. He asked me to imagine my death-bed and my final hours: Who is there and why? How do I feel about each person: what do I want to tell them? Am I fearful, sad, peaceful or resistant? When the final few moments arrive, again, who, and why, my feelings, my sadness...
We then moved forward to my Funeral and the same kinds of questions with the addition of one: What do I hope people will say about me? What is my legacy? I told him that I hoped that people would say that I was a "True Midwife" in the sense that I was completely loving, present, available, honest, courageous and a wise and tender companion to them through their life journey. I hoped that didn't have to mean that I was always right, or always "nice" ( a term I hope no one ever uses to describe me; it's just too easy and usually means that one had qualities typically attributed to a door mat ) but that if I was "tough" or hard on someone, it was out of that ferocious and devoted love that knows that true healing and growth can only happen in the presence of both and that sometimes, it's all kind of messy and mucky; rarely "nice". I hope I gave everything I had and I hope I loved well; if I didn't then I will, without a doubt, be "in Hell" for eternity because that's the only way we arrive there; by failing to love.
He asked me then to imagine my body buried, and decomposing. To watch the entire slow process from within, to feel it, if I could, and to stay with those feelings. This was far more difficult for me because I couldn't do it "from within", probably because I believe, to the point of an automatic response, that I won't be "in" my body at that point, which presupposes an "I" that will be somewhere watching. The overwhelming feeling I had watching my body return to the elements was sadness. I was especially saddened at watching my hands fall away~I remembered how much work and pleasure they brought me, how many loving and passionate caresses given, how many meals made, how many laboring mothers' soothed, the babies caught, the children comforted and cared for, my piano...my hands.
For some, this may seem a grizzly exercise; something ugly and how in the world is it spiritual? Well, the spirit is the animating force to all of it and love animates the spirit. Being in the present moment, dealing with what is right in front of us, taking a contemplative approach to everything, including our dying, death and physical decomposition is taking life in hand and accepting who we are. We are finite. We are limited. And what we are at center, at the core, is infinite and eternal. What animates us, what we are here for, is what lives after us. It might be our love and kindness, in my case, "quiet kindness" as a new friend put it with some drollness, or it might be our work, art, writing, ideas or just the fact that our being here in poverty, want, need and distress allowed others to manifest their purpose for being; it all works together and it all works for good if we let it.

So, when I have died, and the "Big, Musical, Bells and Smells, Episcopal Church Funeral" is ended, my body, now ashes, will be taken to my beloved Lake in the UP and given to my friend there, someone who, if he is indeed still living, will have been my friend his entire lifetime, or very nearly. A big fire will be lit just before midnight, there will be singing and dancing, poetry and prayers. Everyone will have a bottle of Guinness as "Communion" shared in love, and what is left of me will be walked out to the end of the dock, and with ashes and bottle of Guinness in hand--my friend there to share one more beer with me--he'll cut me loose, the Guinness poured out after and around me, and I'll fly away...

Before my 'tribe' disperses, in the quiet of dark night and soft wind and waves lapping the beach, one more poem, and here it is for all of you:

Fishing in the Keep of Silence by Linda Gregg

There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.
He knows the owls will guard the sweetness
of the soul in their massive keep of silence,
looking out with eyes open or closed over
the length of Tomales Bay that the herons
conform to, whitely broad in flight, white
and slim and standing. God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

Have a fine weekend, everyone. I'm still working through my Retreat experience, and the events of this past week, which were a bit on the "risky"side of the sort I wrote about here but it's all good. It all comes 'round right in the end.

Michelle.