Living in the Place Between Elation and Despair

dsc01119Over the past few weeks, I sacrificed myself to constantly undulating experience.

It was not the Zen recognition that I am one with the great waves of the sea, rolling in and rolling out in a constant dancing pattern to eternity. I was making no metaphors to help me realize I bear my own ocean of breath that is forever washing in and out of my faithful lungs.

No, I was letting myself be thrown into the air, high on untethered adrenaline and then allowing myself to get lost in the panic of the free fall back to earth (or the water, to drag that metaphor a bit further).

In a bid for financial security (the buzz word actually is meant to be “abundance”), I actually offered up any sort of peaceful control I might have had over my routines of sleep and recollection, focused work and unselfish love.

Ok, I am being a bit dramatic here, I know. Part of that is probably rooted in that I have written oh-so-little of late that I am just reveling in my ability to weave tangled webs of succulent, hyperbolic words. I guess I am just rejoicing that I caught myself before I really got lost. I came back to this space before all of my dear readers gave up on me. I’m ready to return to my novel before I decided to drop out of my writing group as a failed creative scribe.

But for all that I protest (too much…), I was still living during the last few weeks. I may have strayed from the plan I had intended for myself, and I may have been swinging madly between elation and despair, but it was still all an expression of some part of me. After all, John Lennon told us that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

dsc01122_2I was riding extremes, but isn’t that what living is, at least some of the time? It may not be the ideal – I am definitely excited to return to a more orderly lifestyle that supports dedicated contemplation rather than a fixation on “prosperity” – but sometimes I think we have to resign ourselves to riding the fluctuations of being and give ourselves over to that process.

All this is a way to tell myself that I forgive her for the wild ride. I need to remember that I must continue to take risks and trust that even if things do not end anything like I had planned, I am the stronger for having dared to stretch myself in a new direction.

Am I being a relativist, concocting lessons well learned so that I won’t have to feel so silly for temporarily being the mouthpiece for a company that was not what it purported to be?

Or am I wisely making the best out of a detour, reading it as an opportunity to understand and learn compassion for people who are driven by fears about money and wealth that are otherwise foreign to me? It is so easy to act from insecurity, to make choices based on fear of loss, of downward mobility.

I am blessed to have had this brief chance to see how these fears have played out in my own life and were able to take precedence over my true calling as a writer and a healer.

My dear ones, I will no belabor this awakening too much, but it was such an unexpected gift, this widened perspective. I guess the wonder potion that is Zrii still keeps giving even when its business prospects seem to have gone bust…

And so, these extremes of life… How can you catch a ride on these powerful forces to learn what you can and what you must? And then, how can you most gracefully step off the wild ride?



A Simple Yearning for Home

Julia Cumes - birdsToday I am wearing my red shoes.

I spent yesterday in a fog as thick as one might see on a spring morning over the Vineyard Sound. My weekend back on Cape Cod hung around me like a shroud – a thick blanket of memories that warmed me even as it muffled the world around me. I couldn’t find joy in the days at home with my family for all that I felt compelled to mourn being away.

Last evening I went to visit the woman I can only describe as my “healer” – a small, undervalued term to describe someone who has helped me immeasurably and who does amazing work with energy that I am just beginning to understand. I spun her a few tales about my fears of leaping out of a settled job and the feeling of urgency to start acting to change the world on a piece of land that I love so well and several other theories about why I felt so off balance in the face of making this theoretical move. That’s when she laughingly and forcefully informed me that all of these intellectual reasons for why it might be hard to go back to the Cape even though it seemed to be the right thing to do in many ways was, frankly, bullshit.

“You want to go home. It’s as simple as that.”

And she is right, that is what I want, and this new existential dilemma is rooted only in the basic yearning for something so simple that I can barely credit it. I am meant to be a complex, cerebral creature who is ready to adventure across the world and send back post cards to mom and dad, not be the one down the street who drops by for tea on a random Tuesday afternoon! The place I came from – the ocean that perfumes it, the winds that buffet it, the tourist traffic that plagues it – finally that arm of sand is making itself known as integral part of myself, an essential, elementary force in my life.

When I stop spinning through the little dramas I have concocted around how difficult it will be to color outside the lines and construct a life somewhere with a reputation for expensive homes and few “good” jobs, I will realize the problem with my desire to be back where I began is not about the logistics of modern existence. It is about understanding simplicity and the recognition of the power of home and a voice deep inside of me that says “I want.”

The problem with dipping into too many spiritual texts and self-help books is that you are often left with any number of conflicting pieces of wisdom and nonsense. With the little I know of Buddhism, I can reject such wanting as too much attachment. But then, how many books are written to help empower the individual to cast a dream into the contrary winds of life and dare to chase it.

I will surely be grappling with the spiritual ramifications of want for some time, but for now I am comforted (if still more than a little surprised) by the sweetness of declaring I am more like Dorothy Gale than I ever imagined.

Kansas, Cape Cod, whatever. I am on my way.

An Arctic Chill Whispering Through a Cozy Life

Arctic Tale

We’d had the disc at home for days before I was ready. In the midst of the pre-Christmas madness I swore to my husband that it was the right time, but wisely he overruled me and we watched something involving guns and bad guys instead. Finally, last night, wrapped in the glow of days full of family and immeasurable fortune, I knew I was actually ready for the polar bear movie. How foolish it must sound to spend days debating over when I could handle a G-rated film, but parts of the March of the Penguins set me weeping and I know I am not ever going to get over An Inconvenient Truth. Is it because watching and interacting with animals connects me to the girl I once was like no other experiences despite my overactive adult brain? Is it because some of the seawater that flows through my veins happens to be of the frozen variety as well? Is it just because I happen have a soft spot the size of the hole in the ozone layer for lost causes?

That’s really the thing of it, what had me wiping tears from my cheeks at the end of Arctic Tale: the idea that these majestic creatures – bears, walruses, narwhals – might truly be lost and that this is a cause I cannot begin to effectively fight for. I think I can generally say that I did not cry for selfish reasons (arctic mammals tend to have little direct effect on human life in the Hudson Valley as far as I have heard) but because it is devastating to think of those great beings starving for lack of ice. And that our behavior as a race is so much the cause of it all. Of course, I just realized in rereading that paragraph that I am clearly mourning my own helplessness because, let’s face it, I will always understand what it is to feel ineffectual while I will never know the texture of a polar bear’s fur. In the end, however, does it matter exactly why we act, just as long as we act?

At this point, there is little to say about the issue of global warming and climate change, as far as I am concerned. Al Gore has a well earned Nobel Prize for bringing the issue to the forefront and books like George Monbiot’s Heat have further proven the science and politics that surround this crisis. I have as much patience for the “naysayers” as I do famous atheists – you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I really haven’t got the time to consider all of your arguments against what I believe in since I am busy enough with the belief itself.

I hesitated in writing this because it somehow feels like old news. The movies I have mentioned have long since been on DVD and the Live Earth concerts are just so last summer. But I guess that is the biggest danger, allowing our impact on the earth become a phenomenon that captivated audiences in 2006 or 2007 and then settling back with those new compact fluorescent bulbs to wonder if they will make Hummers forever.

On Christmas Eve my father and sister and I got to talking about how incredibly lucky we are. I am always the one to bring up the things that distract me from the “good life,” be it shrinking ice caps or the unsustainable nature of American life and my dad is always telling me not to worry about it – I cannot change it so why let it detract from all my blessings and all that our family has worked for? The only answer I can have for that, even as I have another glass of wine and wonder if we can turn up the thermostat a little, is that there are certain people in the world who have to worry about unseen species and yet unrealized disasters, and at least to some degree, I am one of them. The only real task ahead of me is to sort out how to move from just worrying about it all to actually forging a small aspect of the solution…

A Path to Someplace

The seaweed fingers of the ocean laced themselves through Friday night’s post as I dreamed of a Cape Cod childhood. The specter of all I didn’t really appreciate living with the ocean so near to my door sweeps ever closer as I delve into the essence of place.

pathWe are steeped in the language of landscape – after all, this corner of the blogosphere is stated to include notes from a spiritual quest, and what is a quest if not a journey along a path? Only one part of me envisions a trail through a forest; the rest of me relies on the abstract – images of neural pathways or a trek up a spiritual mountain with little reference to reality. We have reached a point where we move through life without ever risking blisters as our feet never touch the ground. William Blake’s vision has been realized in so many ways: “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”

So often in my life I have lived this creed, devouring poetry for the sway of the verse rather than to feel the rise of the hill being glorified on the page. We can discover countless aspects of the planet with such speed and alleged accuracy, but still I am left to wonder if I have ever actually seen a moose by the side of the road or if I have just watched the opening credits of Northern Exposure often enough to feel I have that big mammal all figured out.

At last I am beginning to realize that my moments of greatest unhappiness (often after heady flushes of joy) generally swallow me when I am most oblivious to the cycles of nature, the constant spin of birth and death that exists well beyond my narrow scope. It strikes me as strange that we can completely forget the ground beneath our feet. Does a sailor ever forget the ship that keeps him from slipping into the sea?

These considerations come at a time when my husband and I talking about where to set roots for an eventual family. Back to the Cape, back to Europe, some foolishly warm part of this country, or perhaps just embracing the community in which we currently find ourselves. There are so many factors that would inform that decision – occupation and livelihood; the proximity of family and friends; whether residents of these new places would seem to be “of our tribe”; is it too hot, too provincial, too landlocked? What would it mean to make the decision not only in light of such practicalities, but because of the pulse of a place, the language of the land itself rather than the vocabulary we have thrust upon it?

Finding My Fins at the Foot of a Mountain

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebackward/I was born a Cape Cod girl with salt water in my veins (though I would not realize this until the ocean was no longer a mile from my door). I discovered my fairytale soul and soaked it in romance on Prince Edward Island (not recognizing until later the dangers of treating my teenage self with such painful earnestness). I became a Galway girl and parodied the Normans to be “more Irish than the Irish themselves” (not that I would have owned that dubious distinction at the time). As the shine of childhood and collegiate entitlement began to dull, I resigned myself to be someone caught between being a chameleon and a fish out of water and lived in a few landlocked spots that meant nothing to me at all. I have tried on more than a few guises and landscapes trying to find my own true home. Now, after nearly four years in a little town in the Hudson Valley at the foot of a ridge that leads to the Catskills I am beginning to realize aspects of myself beyond ocean and nation and alienation. At the same time, I am also able to recognize that the identity I forge is still built from the stuff of sand dunes and sea grass.

More and more I am coming across references to the essential nature of place and the way that location is an active participant in the events of one’s life. In so many ways this is a quaint notion that seems to apply to people who find joy in composting or who hail from a line of wisewomen and men stretching back to time immemorial. It is a luxury that seems to apply to people with large families in spots that are either too idyllic to leave or too destitute to escape. As I read about the vibrancy of some seem to see in their homeland I wonder at the privileged and the blighted few who enjoy such intimate knowledge of each stone and leaf.

Somehow in reading such texts I forget that I grew up with a list of my top five favorite beaches – one had the best waves, another the best sandbars, another the best rocks upon which to figure out the allure of sunbathing (this redhead has still to sort out that mystery of adulthood), etc. I was raised by people who chase across our peninsula on the three or four most perfect nights of the summer to see the sun set and the full moon rise on opposite sides of the sky over different faces of the sea. Just last weekend my mother and I rolled a busted buoy far further than might be considered sane to enhance a driftwood and debris sculpture and make part of that Chatham shoreline our own.

Woods Hole Research CenterI spent eighteen years on a world famous arm jutting into the Atlantic with parents who love to sail and collect heart shaped rocks and still don’t mind if the dog jumps into the water minutes before getting back into the car, and somehow I have managed to feel disconnected from an authentic sense of belonging, from a place that seemed to know my name as well as I knew its.

Now we can point to a global society riddled with modes of communication that has afforded us the ability to eat strawberries in February and play Scrabble with friends in Budapest in the middle of the night as the source of this separation from the land. This new parallel existence has also allowed us to trade organic “place” for self-determined “space” so that we get to define our world rather than letting it define us. I know that I gain infinite wealth from this wired world, just as I profit immeasurably from the first frontier that separated us from the earth around us, the printed page. At the same time, I am beginning to realize the reciprocal relationship that exists between me and the corner of the planet that gave birth to me as surely as my parents did. Nature is calling out to cradle us as sweetly and as strongly she always did, if only we are willing to listen.

The next mystery to sort out is how loudly the waves are calling me home…

In the Pocket of a Seashell

Ruaidhri ArtOnly a Cape Cod girl like me could find great liberation in visualizing herself as a mollusk, but at yoga class this morning that image brought me pure bliss.

This week I have been trying to sort out the proper responses to the people and events in my life. The unexamined bits of myself that constitute the mask I so often show the world thrives upon reacting to everyone who looks at me cross eyed or treats me like a secretary. I feel entitled to my (un)righteous rage and revel in the version of me that is stereotypically fiery and red-haired and well-soaked in sarcasm. At the same time, I think of Stephen Cope‘s measured voice describing one of the basic tenants of yoga, letting experience roll through me like a wave, not reacting, but simply being present in the world. I return to the former set of responses again and again because I am afraid that embracing this nonreactive sense of self will obliterate the me that has taken 28 years to cultivate; my negativity may not be something I am proud of, but it is mine, and I will be damned if I am going to trade my identity to be some vessel through which life just passes.

Today, however, I realized that there really is nothing wrong with letting life flow through me, because that has nothing to do with life passing me by. In fact, it may be just the opposite since I can actually enjoy the world and see it fully instead of losing precious time composing scathing comebacks for the next time someone crosses me.

My teacher was describing ahimsa: living without harming or living the practice of universal love. I have always loved the music of the word and have invoked it often when I am trying to avoid cursing my body for its inability to conform to my will (or the confines of my jeans). Somehow the word had new resonance this morning and it conjured the ocean for me, Cope’s waves of experience rolling in and out, a constant opportunity for renewal.

My relationship to mussels and clams and conchs, those amazing, simple creatures who filter the waters of our shoreline and then litter the sand with their abandoned homes, has largely been quite the opposite of ahimsa. Making a meal of something or collecting its remains to adorn my windowsills may be an odd way to embody “selfless service.” This perspective changed when suddenly the absolute simplicity if their existence – pulling water through for nutrients it can provide, allowing the ocean to pass ever through them – was my moving metaphor as I gave myself over Close up of shell treeto my asana practice more fully than I have in some time. I just felt cleansed as I allowed the sea to flow through me, as I allowed my life to flow through me.

Somehow this image feels so renewable, something that I can recall and that can resonate at any moment of my life just as I can always carry a seashell in my pocket.