Thursday, April 21, 2011

Missed Perceptions

I've been thinking about perception a lot lately.  The beginning of this reflection was prompted by a recent trip in a zip car.  As I turned on the wipers and began to crawl through the NE maze to I-5 I became aware of how little I could see.  Even after the foggy windows cleared I could only glimpse the world through windows and mirrors with many blind spots.  Driving gives a false sense of security, of being safely ensconced in this metal box which could in an instant become a steel trap or worse, a coffin.  This sense of security leaves the mind free to roam miles away from the moment, to take a quick look at the latest text message, change the radio station or take that call, giving way to irritation and anger when other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians call  the mind back to sudden awareness of present moment and requiring a split second response.  Why is it that we get so irritated when people demand our attention at the present moment, shouldn't we already be there?

When riding my bike the blind spots, foggy windows and mirrors are gone, my vision of the world around me limited only by the flexibility of my neck.  I can see in front and behind, but never both.  The mind becomes focused on the next moment, will that car turn, will they stop for the sign, is the light going to change, where's the next clear space that I can dart through, and on and on.  The mind wanders less, feeling the cool air and rain on the face reminding that every moment counts.  The scenery speeds by, lost in a blur.  No time to stop and smell that newly bloomed red tulip.

Then there are the days that I take to the streets on foot.  The world unfolding slowly, each step moving me seconds through the mile.  Time to smile, wave, give a buck, smell a flower, watching the cyclists whiz by in deep focus and motorist motoring by in their own oblivion to the sweet smelling tulip that my daughter and I stop to inhale.

I deeply cherish these slower moments lately.  Ten days ago I experienced the world from yet another vantage point, a new perspective, that dropped me to stillness.  It was a normal Monday.  I cruised to work on the bike, enjoying the strong pulse of energy and oxygen surging through my sunrise express to the Portland waterfront.  About two hours into my work day I began to experience a discomfort in the center of my chest.  As the day progressed the discomfort demanded more of my attention.  By the time I was reunited with my bike I doubted my ability to ride.  By then my breathing was shallow and attempts at deep breathing caused a surge of pain into my neck and ears.  So I abandoned the bike, bused to my daughter's school and then we walked to another stop to catch a bus to the ER.  The courteous staff at Legacy Emmanuel wasted no time in collecting EKG data from me and entertaining my six year old daughter.  During my five hours in the ER I had ample time to practice mindfulness, taking comfort in the embrace of the compassionate Tara as her mantra diverted my mind from worries of the unknown.  As I was being wheeled to the CT Scanner, my housemate walked with my daughter down the same hallway and out of the ER.  In that frozen moment I felt a tear escape realizing that if my lease on this body was soon to end I had surrounded myself and my daughter with an amazing network of loving adults and young friends that would be there to help her on her journey.  In those moments I didn't think about religion, politics, my activism, the unfinished screen play, books and poems.  All of these concerns evaporated and in the remaining residue of my life I found only love and gratitude.

Before the night was over I had blood work, chest x-rays, a CT Scan and the relief of knowing I did not have a heart attack or anything growing in my lungs.  Again, the supportive housemate came to collect me at the ER.  I found a sleepy eyed and smiling daughter in my bed, where I gladly curled up next to her for some sweet slumber.  One week later all trace of the pain was gone.  I see a cardiologist next week just to make sure all is indeed well with my heart.

I haven't resumed my daily bike rides yet, but have opted for the slower route.  My daughter and I are monitoring the tulips each day, anticipating which ones will be fully open and admiring the variety of color they bring to our day.  There's a particularly sweet smelling red one on the corner of Multnomah Blvd and NE 21st St.  So if you rambling by in your car, or rolling past on a bike, you just might want to park it a moment and get out to inhale it's rich aroma.  Oh, and there's another little red one hiding it's vibrant colors under the next bush over.  It is amazing the world that exists just beyond our vision.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Walking in Sunshine

I've been walking more lately.  Riding the bike at rush hour with a kiddo on the back is stressful whereas walking is quite the opposite.  Admittedly it takes longer but I have more time between getting off the bus downtown and when I need to be at Alexa's school which is across the river and up 16 blocks.  It's only 2 miles so I can be quite leisurely with it.  Today she went to her father's and I still walked, in the sunshine!!  I forgot how much I love walking (and sunshine).

It would be hard to to plan, but if you're ever in Portland on the first sunny day after about 30 days of rain you're in for quite a show.  Just take a stroll in South East for the most interesting people watching you'll ever experience.  Everyone is happy.  Young girls with glowing white skin will skip around like their only eight, giggling as if they just spied a grasshopper in tall grass.  As we shed our layers of fleece and fuzz, the newly adorned winters artwork from the local tattoo artists shine in techno color.  The food carts become social centers for all the cool hipsters, freaks, geeks and hippies.  The crazy bikes parade down the street, taller than the Humvees and wayyyyy cooler.  Even our homeless are smiling and gregarious.  I stopped and chatted with Ron, a heavy set disabled man.  I asked him if he had been responsible for the sun's appearance today.  He laughed and said he was going to ask me the same thing.  We talked about Obama (a sign he carried asking how we liked Bush dark - Obomba ), our government, the empty houses and all the evils of capitalism.  I asked if he had enough for dinner that night, he said he could use a little more so I dug out my last three bucks.  I told him it was the least I could do for the guy who could get the sun to come out.  We waved farewell as if we were great pals, both happier for the interaction with our fellow human. 

There is so much wrong in the world and yet there are these special days filled with moments fleeting yet somehow frozen in time where everything becomes crisp, clear and perfect.  The world fills me up with its beauty providing this brief glimpse of how it could be if only we would let it.  May I learn to see every day as if it is the first break of sun after a long darkness.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Resurrection

The taste of damp sweet Spring teases the palate
A craving for warmth sends chills deeper into bones
Tiny green sprouts struggle for survival
Feeding upon the humus of the old
Birth and death reflected in a drop of morning dew

As the shadows of winter fade my journey turns
Once maiden, then mother
resurrecting once again
Dipping an apprehensive toe into cool wise waters
Enter the crone

As fertility of my flesh fades
Seeds of creative freedom sprout
Feeding on memories of pain, passion, of youth
Dipping the quill into the dark
Rich ink of the soul
May life begin again

Last Sunday Rev Sinkford spoke about resurrection, how we are born and reborn many times in our life. One life change shaking us up and moving us in new direction. Pema Chodron dedicates a whole book to the idea that when things fall apart, when the solid ground beneath out feet suddenly becomes thin as air and we find ourselves in a free fall, it's not necessarily a bad thing. These are moments of tremendous growth.

As I gallop headlong through my 45th year of this life I am confronting new realities. My eyesight is less reliable, requiring drug store cheaters to read. Allergies are cropping up that have never been an issue in the past. And now I begin the transition into the crone phase of this full and wonderful life. With the onset of menopause come new challenges. My early morning meditations are often accompanied by a hot flash or two, reminding me ever more deeply not to mistakenly think myself immortal. Sleep can elude me more with the occasional night sweat.  Taking time to relax physically and mentally has become important. For this reason I have taken up knitting, finding that as I tie little knots into yarn, the tight bundles of knots in my mind loosen as do my muscles.  Another great relaxation is walking back from school with my six year old daughter.  The more present I am in the moment, the more relaxing it is.  Mindfulness is a practice for all ages (pun intended).

I search my feelings for anything hinting of fear or anxiety but find only a sense of relief.  I've wondered at this for a time and it has dawned on me that the women I most admire have all achieved their greatest accomplishments late in life.  I've caught myself many times searching for gray hair on my head and being disappointed when I don't find it.  I'm hoping that I have my greatest accomplishments still ahead of me.  Most of the women I work with in the USNPCA and the UU Peace Action Committee are older than me and I admire their wisdom, beauty, poise and relentless persistence for the cause of peace and social justice.  They are my constant inspiration and role models.

Our culture is so devoid of spirit and heart.  I find myself yearning for a ritual that would connect these moments of passage with my larger sangha or social circle of friends.  With first menses there is a blossoming into womanhood, the maiden.  It is a busy time of love, heartbreak, work, struggle and finding our inner strength. Many cultures have beautiful rituals surrounding this rite of passage.  As we birth new life, dancing with a new spirit who carries some of our spark, we connect with a deep, primitive force that makes us one with all of existence, past, present and future.  By burying the placenta under a rose bush for which my daughter is named, I created our own ritual.  Prior to birth our culture has the baby shower, and my pagan sisters performed a beautiful birthing ritual for me just prior to Alexa'a entry into this realm.  Suckling our young we feel a sense of the order and perfection of this life, just as we doze off to sleep the new born sleep.  We nurture our child and forget ourselves, focused on protecting that bit of our heart with legs, arms, and an inquisitive mind not yet afraid to engage this world.  We give all we have... and then we let go.  The hormones begin to slow, the family needs us less and at last there is space to create in a new way.  A chance to more closely examine the cracks in the mortar to see what we have blocked away in our busy-ness.  Finding wisdom hidden in the hair and mud buried beneath years of tacky wall paper.  In there we are all three; maiden, mother and crone.  In this sacred matriarchal trinity, I am reborn whole.