A Sunday Morning Meditation

Guess this choice dates me, although young people have memories too - they just don't seem to cherish them quite so much. When I was choosing previous topics in this Sunday project, I had to check the dictionary for ideas most of the time, but for M the ideas just seemed to come rolling in - Music, My Mother, Men, Money, Moderation, Mental Health - oh stop. So here are a few of my memories of all of these...My mother was illumined from within with a great passion for peace and justice and freedom and all those Aquarian ideals. She kept me on track with piano lessons for 13 years, sweating through recitals, and playing our old upright at home, so that today a Chopin prelude eases my heart. The men in my life occasionally set out to wreak havoc, but more often they let me love their tenderness, and two of them gave me children. Money was best known in my journey for its capacity to bring sudden relief from the despair of poverty until one day I learned to stay put and pin those bills to a bulletin board and pay them. That was a good day. Mental health has been tricky all my life, but much improved since I put away the use of chemicals for that purpose and turned to a spiritual recovery instead. I count this the greatest accomplishment of my life - to have made the phone call that would bring me in from the cold on 12/5/84. And as for moderation, in the years I have left I must build on it, even while looking back at the lack of it early on that nearly took all the memories away.


This is the river that runs through the city where I live now and also ran beside the farm where I grew up from about age five till I left home for college. I've lived in big cities a lot in my life - Seattle, Oakland, New York City (where I was born), San Francisco, Moscow (Russia), Paris (France), and of course Portland, Oregon since 1984. And running through it all, like the Willamette River, is that experience of spending hours and days and weeks and months and years with the silence of nature. It was pretty much my only entertainment as an only child of very busy parents who were keeping the farm running. I sat by the water, collected bird nests after watching the eggs hatch and the babies grow and leave, almost got stung by bee swarms, fished for pollywogs in muddy sloughs, fell out of barn lofts, and mainly wandered daily over the 200 acres breathing in the balance and steadiness of it, and the birth, growth, and dying cycles. The river flooded some years, the summers were very hot, we ate fresh vegetables and fruit from our gardens and trees and ate meat from our own cows and pigs and eggs from our chickens. We didn't even have supermarkets in those days and I have no memories of shopping for food in stores as a child. Today I am trying to turn my tiny city back yard into a place where I can close out the city noises and the sight of neighbors I don't know and bring it back - it only takes the sound of one bird some days just at dawn.


From the time I was the age of this photo I've been trying to form families and groups and clubs of one sort or another and to this day I still feel like an Outsider pretty much wherever I am. I've given up trying to figure out why. It probably didn't help to be an only child growing up on a farm where I had huge amounts of alone time, having parents who were politically radical to the point of being in danger, being skipped over second grade, being taller and smarter than most till my 20's, leaving my one marriage at 23 and never finding another, having two children by men who wouldn't marry me, and becoming an addict who didn't get to Recovery till age 45 (some 20 years ago). Today, besides my Recovery groups, I belong to three different women's groups, a gym, a job where I've been for 19 years, a neighborhood where I' ve lived for 10 years, an online forum I created for women my age, my blood family consisting of two grown children and two grandchildren, and of course Xanga. And I still feel like an Outsider. So I'm thinking maybe the main group I belong inside of is the group of Outsiders. And don't think I'm not glad they're out there. When I see or hear of them, I cheer them on. I don't even have to agree with them. Go Michael Moore! Right on Ralph Nader! Rest in peace Aileen Wuornos! Try again next year Smarty Jones and Tiger Woods! Bravo Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne, and Whoopi! And the thing is, the true Outsiders are the ones you never hear of. Look around you any day out there and you'll see us. We're the ones not quite fitting in.


Peace, peace of mind, peace in the world, peacetime, peacemakers. Today is Sunday, the day many folks go to church to celebrate spirituality, and jeez (short for Jesus) I just wish one Sunday I would wake up and find out that all the billions spent on weapons of war were now going to be spent on weapons for peace. What would those be, you say? Well, for example, teaching conflict resolution from the first grade on to our children. Or requiring some form of emotional support (like counseling, or church, or support groups, or whatever) of every single individual on earth every year of their lives. Or making sure every individual and family has excellent health care and the chance for a higher education. What kind of rocket scientist do you have to be to figure this out? In that beautiful biblical verse it says "to everything there is a season." How about if we had at least a single lifetime of just one side of the balance - a time to be born, a time to plant, a time to heal, a time to build up, a time to laugh, a time to dance, a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace, a time to get, a time to keep, a time to sew, a time to speak, a time to love, and most of all, a time of peace.


Not that noise is bad or good - without it we wouldn't have music or laughter or waterfalls. It's just that the balance between it and silence seems so off. Some days it's hard to remember what it would sound like to strip the noise away layer by layer - the big noise first: bomb blasts, rockets, grenades, screaming. Then the industrial noises: cars, factories, churning, grinding. Then the media: TV, video games, radios, movies, arcades. Then the daily noises: Doorbells, typewriters, conversation, paper shuffling, babies crying. And finally the tiniest noises: birdsong, bee buzz, whispers, eyelash flutters. Everything and all of it - except heartbeat. Time to reflect. Time to ponder. Time to remember. Time to hear the inner voice.


This subject doesn't come up much in Xangaland, but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that it is the single most important feat I have managed in my life without exception. The illness of chemical addiction touches virtually every family in some way, and in my case it began in my youth when I was prescribed various prescription drugs routinely doled out to highly strung folks, and then with the way paved to find the answers through pharmaceuticals I became a wine "connoisseur" in college and then entered the '60's a prime candidate for the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury (where I actually did live) way of life. From there on it was a long downhill slide out the other side of flower childhood and back to drinking and prescription medication. I was 45 before I found the way out that worked for me in 12-step programs. Like a mole emerging from a life underground, I began a new life in the light and now 20 years later can say that I know a lot about how to stay here. I used to be Out There, and now I'm just In Here. Too. My regards to all the thousands of others who have traveled this path and survived.


In my autobiography (see sidebar) in the chapter called Coming of Age, I wrote: Sierra peers up at me from beneath the rolled-back brim of her very feminine lavendar velour hat. My first and only granddaughter is almost two years old, dynamic and sturdy, and if I could spare her anything the transition from all that is the best of childhood to all that is the worst of adolescence would be it.............Sierra turns and makes her passage down the hall and out of sight. She gets to be a toddler first, and then a grade school child before she runs this shining, sweating, flowering gauntlet from childhood into youth. When that time comes, may the watchmen be busy elsewhere and she sail smoothly through... Well, that was six years ago and she is now 8-1/2. Still dynamic and sturdy, she wants to be an animal rescuer (not a vet but one of those people who drive around and rescue abandoned, neglected, and abused animals). She is beginning to show some singular characteristics, such as being able to apply herself to a particular skill and improve it. She is surrounded by a rather large extended family, all of whom love her dearly. She has just completed a week of Mad Science Camp where she says she made me a birthday present. It will be enshrined with other mementos I love, whatever it is. What a joy to watch her grow and blossom.


I was going to tackle Truth. No that's a lie, I didn't EVEN want to get that heavy. Instead, tenderness, since I'm feeling kind of vulnerable lately (which is another facet of tenderness - the ow-ey kind). I picked this graphic partly because I'm a Leo (hear me roar) and partly because it represents that even manly men can be tender, that tenderness can be mutual, and that tenderness is not confined to the human race. To me it means the willingness to show and share our softer self - with our loved ones and with strangers, with animals, and even objects. I'm so not convinced that women are meant to be the tenderest parent or mate. It's either brainwashing or a copout that men are not perfectly capable of this as well. Oh, I get it that we live in a tough cruel world that will mow you right down if tenderness is ALL you have. So it needs to be guarded and treasured and saved up for and used carefully if you want to have a long lifetime of it. Some of the Greats have gone out in big splashes of it way before their time. I guess it's a choice.


There's a certain star-spangled-banner, heart-swelling feeling that comes to me when I get to witness underdog moments. Even reflecting back on them gets the endorphins going. For every one of us who is not going to be Prom Queen, Olympic champion, Nobel prize winner, President, etc., someone steps up to speak for us by doing it themselves. You could tell I'm hooked on underdogs by looking at my tiny film library (I rarely buy a video) that includes: Hoosiers, Rudy, Smoke Signals, A Family Thing, and Ruby in Paradise. Didn't you love to see Seabiscuit take the big horse down? How about those marathon runners who hang at the back till you think they'll never catch up and then kick at the end, sailing past the field to edge it out by a nose. What does Lance Armstrong have to tell us? All you have to see is the expression on his face to know the big C met its match. The Little Engine That Could. A Catholic in the White House??!! The unknown soldier. David and Goliath. Nelson Mandela. Jane Goodall. It's a good thing to have a little assortment of your own to pull around you like a warm blanket when you face your own dark nights. What would THEY do to find the light?


Well, when I clapped my Sunday morning Gratitude Hat firmly on my head and began to try to think of something starting with V, I realized it was going to be hard like K was. After rejecting vacuum cleaning, vampires, velvet, violence, vested interests, vortex, varsity, and vast open spaces, I finally turned in desperation to the Random House dictionary which appropriately offered up Vocabulary. So obvious. I don't know if that "sides-of-the-brain" theory is true, but it does seem like I've been a word lover all my life and it only gets more so as my vocabulary has expanded into old age. I kind of hope I won't end up like my Dad doing crossword puzzles, but I think maybe he was trying to fend off the Alzheimer's that finally overpowered him. Once you've been hooked on lines like these - No one knew from whence the strange bird came. Possibly the last hurricane had swept it from an unknown island or from some gulf; or it was born of gigantic seaweeds, or it fell from another atmosphere, from another world, another mystery. Old sailors had never seen it among the ice, nor had any wanderer ever met up with it: man-shaped it was, like an angel, and silent like any poet. - you are just not the same. Then you begin to see the world in this new way where you can turn it in the light and examine it from different angles and reshape it to take the ugliness away - or perhaps to point it out. You can even try other languages to see how the words reflect the culture that uses them and how they translate into your own. You can use words to describe complexities and words to make things simple. Words can get you through doors to magical places and words can bring you calamity and grief. Words can carry you through the night and lead you through the day. And you can learn from them the gift of "the learn'd astronomer" that there are times to rest from words, to "look up in perfect silence at the stars."


Colorless, odorless, tasteless more-or-less, water is a taken-for-granted background to daily life. Interestingly, our bodies are made up of a majority of it and we can only live so long without it. Where do we go to seek spiritual relief - the pilgrim to the sea, the fisherman to the river, the hermit to the lake. In one Sunday at home, I water my garden, fill the bird baths, make morning coffee, do a laundry and the dishes, flush the toilet, soak in a morning bath while reading my latest book, wash down the daily vitamin supplements, fill the water dish for my cats, and water the household plants. And on the news I see how in Florida, at the same time as it supports the Florida water lily (see photo), water is killing humans and destroying their homes. The same water that is home for all the seafood we eat can rage through a section of country and flatten everything in its path. Dripping one drip at a time it can torture a confession out of the most stubborn criminal. Frozen it can sink the Titanic. It can put out fires and drown a child on the same day. Civilization has developed to the point where we now have to buy bottled water because we can't trust just plain tap water. Our waterways are increasingly polluted. However this earth was created, it would seem that water was a necessary ingredient. In late summer in Oregon, my lawn has turned brown from lack of it, but soon - within weeks - it will return and I will wake once more to the gentle sound of it on my roof and be refreshed.


Okay, it's a stretch but there are only two pages of words that start with X in the dictionary. It's a part of the yellow coloring in flowers and plants. I've always loved yellow. Daffodils, sun-moon-stars-planets, fall leaves, legal pads, tabby cats, fire, baby chicks, roses. So here's a yellow poem:

Yellow trees are at the end
of what I see when
I look back into my eyes
and even further where
I speak in leaves and whisper
there is just the sound
the sound of yellow.
Slow among the trees I lie
my fingers helpless
in the grass
for at the other end of sunlight
from the sun I am newborn
the cord uncut.


It's a gray morning in Portland, Oregon though sun is predicted later and if it's like yesterday it's going to be a corker of a day. One more week and I'll be at the end of this series of Sunday meditations. The whole idea was to express gratitude for various aspects of life. It's a time-honored way of tackling the blues, that old negative thinking we all fall into on lots of days. All in all, life has seemed to me to be a series of choices - go left, go right; sign up, turn down; hold back, leap in; leave, stay; and they all boil down to Yes or No. Learning what to say yes to, what is healthy, what is going to nurture your most sensitive, most inner self is quite a task. They don't teach it in school, you have to learn it by living in the world. Those who seem to be most at peace say yes with careful consideration, with conviction, and with courage. At the end of my life I hope I can look back and know that often enough (like Molly Bloom) "yes I said yes I will Yes!


Interestingly, when I googled for an image for this topic, it brought up mostly photos of motorcycles so I thought what the hell and posted my favorite. As for zeal, wouldn't you know it's from a Greek word originally, those same folks that invented Zeus and all the other old gods of the past. It means to have fervor for a person, cause or object. I noticed recently when I posted a report from one of the protestors at the Republican Convention (who I think could be called a zealot by the above definition) that there were a number of responses from folks who are very burned out on the political scene and opting to opt out. I don't want to confine this little blurb to politics in relationship to zeal, but it's not a bad analogy. I myself, compared to my beloved communist mother now dead, am probably a rather anemic example of political zeal but I do see the point of suiting up and showing up, even if you're not sure how it will all turn out. Most of the really hideous events of history (like the concentration camps of World War II) had fertile breeding ground because so many people closed their doors and pulled the shades and turned off their ears. It was called fascism, what happened then, and I seem to hear the distant hum of that same cruel machine headed this way once more lurking behind the proud banner of patriotism. So on Sunday morning, I get down on my knees and thank god for zealots who step right out in front and tell us what they're about so we can decide. And hopefully vote on it. And with that, I wind up this series of Things That Refresh My Soul. Goodness, what will I come up with next Sunday?

To see segments A-L click here.