Where You Lead, I Will Follow

Roxy Takes Her Rest

Roxy Takes Her Rest

Roxy has the right idea here! Whatever the season, napping is her favorite thing, next to playing soccer with her purple ball. Or maybe her favorite things are breakfast and dinner?  Maybe napping, eating and playing are all tied for first? She enjoys most everything in life, except going to the vet and swimming.  There’s not too much swimming in the desert, so life is good.

She wakes up every day, purple ball in mouth, totally psyched for her morning pee, breakfast, bowl of water and insulin shot.  Then it’s time to find that purple ball she was ordered to drop before going outside for the pee.  Once retrieved, it’s time to play ball.  I sometimes wonder if she was Pele in another lifetime; she guards the ball with such vigilance.

Ready to Play Ball?

Ready to Play Ball?

After all that running and retrieving, it’s time for a nap.  She’ll settle down on one of her rugs or beside my feet at my desk.   She lets out a sigh, stretches out her paws, and drifts off.  No matter how deeply she sleeps, if I whisper: “Do you want to go out?” — she leaps up like a Pop-tart out of a toaster and races for the door.

In a word, she takes her rest, and then, at a nano-second’s notice – is up & about and good to go. As an Australian cattle dog, she is also bonded to me and follows me wherever I go.   So, in deep sleep, at three in the morning, if I arise, she arises and follows me wherever.  When her master moves, she moves.   There’s no argument.

This, to me, is what Advent is all about.   The season reminds us to do what we need to be ready. Ready for the moment of grace, which never falls neatly on a calendar.  It’s about preparation, the balance between work and play, nourishment and digestion, taking rest when needed but remaining vigilant.

As the Zen master Dogen said, “If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where do you expect to find it?” Are you ready?  What’s the next right action?  Do you need to find a purple ball in your life, or to take a nap? Or someone to plant a kiss on the top of your head?  It’s all part of the balance.

Kisses for Roxy

Kisses for Roxy

0 Comments

St. Nick’s Day – Child’s Play for Young & Old

Jolly Ole Saint Nick

Santa Claus decoration from my childhood that I’d hug! He lit up our front porch.

In many countries around the world, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated today, December 6th.  Countless legends abound about this holy man.  At the St.NicholasCenter.org, I learned that “Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.” The common thread among the legends is that St. Nicholas was a great defender, patron and protector of children.

In many Northern European countries, on St. Nicholas Eve, children leave out their clogs, shoes or boots to be filled with sweets and small treats, akin to American kids hanging stockings on Christmas Eve.  Where U.S. kids may leave cookies and milk for Santa, the Dutch, Belgian and German kiddos may leave carrots or a bit of hay in their shoes for St. Nick’s horses.

For nearly twelve years, I lived in Belgium, where I taught English. One of the first colloquial expressions I learned from the Flemish children was the question: “How many more nights do I have to sleep ’til St. Nicholas Day?” Anticipation from a child’s eye view! I love subtle differences between languages in that twist.

When Christmas finally arrives (or St. Nick’s Day today around the world), the best present one can give, or receive, is simply to play together.  I recall hearing a wise statement to the effect of “Everything that lives, loves to play.”

Knock 'em, Sock 'em!

Knock ’em, Sock ’em! Larry & Liam in the rink!

My dad showed this to me, a few Christmases ago.  All the adults were pooped after the big Christmas meal, but kids have endless energy.  My cousin’s son Liam got these super-duper boxing gloves from Santa. My dad had been an amateur boxer in his youth.  In his late 70s then, he challenged six-year old Liam. Dad put up a good fight, but in the end, Liam took the title.

Afterwards, the whole family got our second wind. We launched into an exciting game – something like Trivial Pursuit suited for all ages.  Young and old formed teams. We got psyched.  Before you knew it, all weariness vanished. We laughed and shouted and had a blast.

Dad’s example had set the stage.  Sadly, for the first time, he’s not going to be at the Christmas table. But the lesson, his joie de vivre, remains.

The Thrill of Victory

Liam McKenna – Victorious!

 

 

2 Comments

Bless me, Father, for I have deleted….

Another Snowfall in Taos

Another Snowfall in Taos

“Bless me, Father, for I have deleted…”  Do you subscribe to inspirational daily quotes?  At least a few grace my in-box everyday. I don’t delete all of them, but I do confess to speed reading.  I was about to delete another e-lecture on gratitude this morning when something gave me pause.  I’ve learned to listen to that pause, and to spare the minute or two it takes to at least skim a piece. It was worthwhile: another reminder of how the more one practices gratitude, the more abundant life becomes.

Later, I looked at one of the daily meditation readers stacked beside my altar. The first one quoted a favorite mystic, Meister Eckhart:  “If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” 

So, gratitude – a week after Thanksgiving!  Imagine that.  I want to revisit the giving of thanks, to pause before launching headlong into the harried time of year.  In my world at UNM-Taos, it’s end-of-term.  For students, this means the stress of finals and unfinished papers. For teachers, the stress of grading, administration, and revising syllabi for January.  Also, around now I hear a wealth of students’ reasons for why they are late with their final papers. They look for mercy:  “Bless me, teacher, for I am late.”  I wonder why all that creativity and imagination cannot be thrown into their writing?

Sometimes the reasons students give for being late ring true. Helping a person in need, a grandmother, an elder, when no one else is showing up to pitch in —  this is right action. First things first.  A friend goes by this hierarchy to navigate priorities: God, Self, Family, Others. What’s yours?

One gratitude practice is to turn around whatever I am complaining or anxious about, and look for gratitude in the situation.  I may not be excited about late papers and excuses, but I am grateful for the privilege to teach.  I am grateful for surprises revealed in my students’ essays, the windows into their lives.   My compassion for my newly adopted Taos community broadens with each new class. I get to see students who are failing at first, turn the energy around, show up and be present. I get perspective on my own days as a student,dealing with all that angst. My gratitude deepens for my own special teachers, the ones who took time out to talk to me, listen, offer guidance. The ones whose words I hear in my head and heart today thirty, forty years later.

What and who are you grateful for today?

2 Comments

“Love laughs at the end of the world….”

Sunset view from Maestas Rd, Taos

Sunset view, Taos, New Mexico

It’s Wednesday – midpoint of the first week of Advent. Chanukah ends tomorrow. Writing this blog has yielded surprising gifts already, four days into the adventure. Through the wonder of social media and good old fashioned email, I am reconnecting with dormant, but cherished friendships.   What a blessing to rekindle these bonds. As I push myself out of my comfort zone by writing publicly, I feel an emergence from protective shadow into a gentle, forgiving light of winter.

Having leapt spontaneously into this decision to write daily reflections this month, I see that some days I must sit dormant with language, to allow whatever arises up to take its own sweet time. I will not force the process, nor subject you to pointless chatter, just to fill the space. Silence, white space, is essential to the deep listening demanded by this season of preparation.

So today, I offer you a few words from Thomas Merton’s journal, excerpted in Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing.  The date is October 10th, 1948, and Merton has been contemplating the possibility of the end of the world, three years after the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Sooner or later the world must burn, and all things in it — all the books, the cloister together with the brothel…. Sooner or later it will all be consumed by fire and nobody will be left….

And here I sit writing a diary.  

But love laughs at the end of the world because love is the door to eternity and he who loves God is playing on the doorstep of eternity, and before anything can happen love will have drawn him over the sill and closed the door and he won’t bother about the world burning because he will know nothing but love.”  

0 Comments

If Not Now, When? If Not You, Who?

mantelpiece

The Author, age 4.

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you.  Acts 18:9b-10a

Nearly every child gets asked frequently, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  What did you answer, when you were young?  Have you lived out your childhood dream?

In this season of darkness and light, in which people are lighting menorah candles now, and preparing to celebrate the return of light at the Winter Solstice and the birth of the Christ child on Christmas Day, what childhood dreams are buried deep within you? What would you like to give birth to? What is holding you back?

I remember trying out different answers to ‘what will I be’ as a little child. For a little while, I tried nurse, or doctor, or astronaut. (I was nearly five at the time of the first lunar walk).  None of them fit: I didn’t like blood – for first two, and the third – moonwalker – I was too young and took it for granted.   What’s the big deal?  Why was mom crying as she watched the man walk on the moon?

By the time I reached the grand old age of five, I hit on an answer that rang true.  “I want to be an author when I grow up.”  The adults must have gotten a kick out of that one.  Uncle Mike, who teased me playfully, might have chuckled and said, “And what are you going to write about, Little Miss Muffet?”

I did, in fact, grow up to do a lot of things to do with books and words. I studied English and then taught it, here and abroad; I’ve edited books for major publishers, as well as magazines and journals. And I have written a few (as of now) unfinished books.  [Later this month, I’ll dig into ‘finishing things’ as a topic for reflection.]

Over eight years ago, a couple of weeks before he died, my brother asked me, “What makes you afraid?”  The answer that came to me, as I sat at his bedside, was that I was afraid I might die before I achieve my dream of becoming an author.

One of my favorite books is If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi.  It tells the story of Jewish partisans who fought back against the Nazis in the Ukraine during WWII.  The title comes from the famous Jewish Rabbi Hillel.  Hillel also said:  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am ‘I’?”

It is in this spirit that I share these Advent/ December musings.  I could continue writing in my journals and for my desk drawer for as long as I live.   But if I am only writing for myself, what am I?

Indeed: if not now, when?  Why wait until January 1st, for those New Year’s resolutions that are made to be broken?   What can you start – now?  What can you, uniquely you, do to make this world, your world, our world – a better place?  And if not you, then who?

2 Comments

Cyber Monday – Finding Balance

CAM01225

A seat of quiet reflection, Norbertine Monastery, Albuquerque, NM

December Monday, “Cyber Monday”: the to-do list is so much longer than the day. The sun goes to bed early, yet many of us stay up late like elves working overtime at the North Pole. We struggle to get it all done: the planning, the preparing, the shopping, the decorating, the card writing, the cleaning, the cooking, the traveling, the wrapping – the tasks go on and on.

All this busyness seems counter-intuitive at the time of year when our natural instincts tell us to rest, stay at home, go within. How to find the balance?

Several weeks ago, I went on a Vision Retreat at the Norbertine Monastery, outside Albuquerque.   In the South Valley, the horizon stretches for miles. Imagine yourself sitting at this bench, taking a spiritual time out, in the midst of your busy day.

I offer you a vision of quiet expanse, silence stretching inside and out.   Peace and quiet.

We can only share that which we have been given.

CAM01264

Sculpture inside St. John the Baptist Chapel on the Monastery grounds

We can only give that which we have received.

Take a moment.  Maybe two.

Breathe.

Be quiet.

Open your hands.

Open your heart.

When the time arrives to exchange gifts, what will you have to give? Really give.

Not just the i-Pad bought on Cyber Monday or even the hand-knitted scarf.

Will you have energy to give, to listen? To be present to your higher power, to yourself and to your loved ones? Will you have the strength to give to those outside your inner circle? Or do you envision that you will be tired, depleted? Exhausted and cranky?

Ask yourself:  how can I become refreshed in spirit?

How can I replenish my soul today?

2 Comments

Advent Musings 2013 – “Let This Be the Moment Now”

Winter Light

Winter Light, Rio Grande del Norte

My yearly renewal for my blog hosting and domain came up this weekend. How did the year slip away?  I must confront the fact that I have not posted since January. Would I renew or not?  To blog or not to blog?  If I am to blog, why?  The tagline of this blog is, after all, “Devoted to Making Meaning in the Sangre de Cristo.”  Have I not made meaning this year?

Of course I have.  But soon after my last post, where I declared my intention to write a book on healing and grief, life and death soon took over. Much of my emotional and creative energy this past year has been devoted to transitioning my parents to assisted living. In the process, my sister Anne and I  emptied our childhood home in Chicago in early summer.  By late July, my father – Larry Lynch – gently passed in his sleep.  Four months and a few days ago.

This will be the first Christmas – as it was the first Thanksgiving – without the men from my childhood family.  Dad and brother Dan have both passed.  Dan was buried eight years ago today, Dec. 1st, 2005.

Now, December first, 2013, as the light continues to fade in the sky, and the first candle of the Advent wreath is lit today, I am inspired to share reflections on light. It came to me today to share the quiet musings of my heart with you this December, as preparation for Christmas.

It all started in Espanola.  I’ve started attending Mass there, about an hour’s drive from Taos. It’s an unlikely place of pilgrimage – I promise to fill you in on how that unfolded in a future post. The inspiration to revive this blog with daily Advent Reflections for the season arose from the final hymn at today’s Mass. Listening, I recalled good advice I’d once heard about how to make attending weekly services meaningful. How to go beyond a what can be a rote exercise to fulfill an obligation of practicing one’s faith. The speaker suggested to reflect on one simple thing that you got out of the service, the Mass, the meditation gathering – wherever it is that you practice or worship.  To take that one spiritual insight from the service and to apply it during the week ahead.  My insight came with the final hymn : “Let Peace Begin With Me.” Why not? Why not let it begin with me – and share whatever humble insight I have through my blog? That would be a way to make meaning – and to share meaning.   “Let this be the moment now. To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Sage Snow-scape, Rio Grande Gorge, Pilar, NM

Sage Snow-scape, Rio Grande Gorge, Pilar, NM

On my way home, I drove up Route 68 through to Pilar, where I detoured onto Route 570. This snakes along the Rio Grande for miles in the area that since this past summer has been designated as a National Monument.  This was my second worship service of the day, as the landscape in New Mexico always brings me in direct contact with Creator and Spirit.

I love the winter landscape, its quiet austerity.  I stopped to  breathe in the scent of snow soaked sage, and rest my eyes on soft winter light.   I knew it was time to begin writing and photographing again, and sharing reflections this Advent.

Whether or not you celebrate the season, I hope you will join me on this daily exploration of the light in the season of darkness. I will trust the process and write from my heart.  I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections as you journey through this time of incubation and ultimate rebirth.

Blessings – until tomorrow.

0 Comments

Somewhere Under the Rainbow

DSCN3153

This is where I live now:  somewhere under the rainbow.

Under the rainbow, under these skies, under this sun and moon, walking this land every day.

Beneath this celestial array, where earth and body are denser heaven, it is possible to heal.

On the dawn of this new day, as I echo Maya Angelou from her inaugural poem back in the Clinton days, I can begin to write the story of grief.  I can begin to bring grief and loss into the light, the clarity of a New Mexico sky.  Only here, where the land is this big, the sky this vast, the mesa this silent, can I feel safe enough to let its voice be heard.

In the coming weeks, as 2013 continues its march in the dawning of each new day, I come out and speak of healing.  Healing that comes when loss is accepted, not rejected, not repressed, not glided over.  When brought out into the light — death, loss, grief — each finds its sacred place in the land of the living.

Stay posted!  My long-term plan is to write a book of my journey of healing: from standing in New York in the shadow of that plane crashing into the Tower that morning – coming up on 12 years ago; to sitting at the side of my brother dying of cancer seven years ago, asking me: What makes you afraid?; to leaving behind Belgium which I called home for 12 years, and with it, my beloved teacher and spiritual family.  All this leading me to New Mexico, this place under the rainbow.  Here, where I am slowly building a home, both within, inside me like bedrock, and beyond in sublime skies like no other. All this leading to a place strong enough, with a light clear enough, that all things can be brought into it – shadow and light.

One day since I arrived, I sat still with all my losses.  Seeing all that was broken in me and around me, all I had left behind to come to this place. I sat quietly and looked at the mountain.  I heard inside, “You came here to heal from everything.”  Everything.

I came here to heal from everything, and one way that happens is by sharing it with you.

Let’s watch the story unfold, one whisper at a time.

 

2 Comments

Wet and Wild: Rafting the Arkansas

Agnes Vaille Falls, Colorado

Agnes Vaille Falls, Colorado

Less than two weeks since our last trip to Gunnison, Colorado, we again headed North – still seeking respite from the New Mexico drought.  This time, not content with getting soaked with summer monsoon rains, we baptized ourselves in the Arkansas River via white water rafting.

Alas we have no pics of our adventure. Forty bucks for the disc from the rafting company would have sunken our budget. Forget about taking your own pictures. The game is survival, not scenery. You are lucky to leave the raft alive and unbroken, let alone commandeer a camera at the same.The scenery interspersed here was shot on the Agnes Vaille Falls trail, by Mount Antero near Nathrop. We took the rocky road more traveled on day two, getting our land legs back the day after rafting with Canyon Marine.

Tilghman & Laura hiking

Tilghman & Laura hiking

Rafting on  the whites is an adventure.  “A participatory sport,” the guides warned us on the shuttle drive to the launch site, “think rollercoaster without the rails.” Relatively safe, but not completely. Now they tell us…. You know how you don’t really read the fine print in the waivers when you’re signing up for these things, in the rush to get your equipment? Such as the life-savers. But on the bus ride they explain, “We don’t call ‘em lifesavers because they don’t do that. They are PFDs – “portable floating devices.”  So you can float around dead in the Arkansas River.

Tree Roots by Chalk Creek

Tree Roots by Chalk Creek

Yes, the number one priority is safety. The raft companies do their best, but the river is always in charge.  Our guide got philosophical during a quiet stretch at the end of our ride, quoting Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”  The young jocks who flock to Colorado attracted by the extreme sports live this to the hilt. At the same time, the guides do a hell of job steering the boats and keeping you in the raft. And getting you back in a.s.a.p. when there’s a “swimmer” – i.e. knocked out of the boat by force of water or capsize.

Rocky Mountain Falls

Rocky Mountain Falls

We made it unscathed three hours through the extended trip of Brown’s Canyon, north of Salida. Not all hills and valleys on the river, a few peaceful floats are interspersed between more treacherous patches.  And then you twirl and buck again, riding the waves, catapulted by the boulders midstream. We spun inside “The Toilet Bowl”, but thrashed cleanly through the “Seven Steps”, a series of increasingly fierce rapids.

With a slow, easy start, they get you warmed up before you hit the rapids.  Inexperienced, at first you think you just might die, shaking your head in dismay, “I signed up for this?”  Each rapid that you, your team and your raft make it through boosts your confidence.  The cool water soaks through your wet suit and spackles your sunglasses. The midday July high altitude sun glitters on the river; you are giddy with light and glee. You catch your breath, paddle two more strokes at the command of the guide, “Two forward – Stop!” And then you fly through the next wave, a rollercoaster off track.  Somehow the raft slaps down and lands hard on the next wave.  It’s a thrill like no other.

Falls & Spray

Falls & Spray

So often we scramble in the heat of the summer to stay cool, safe, comfortable.  Not to splash, sweat, get wet. As we floated, I remembered my brother Danny and his spirit of adventure. He passed away a few years ago after a battle with cancer. He loved the Rockies and had been a young hot dog in the Southwest himself, an Eagle Scout camper at Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico and leader of his troop from Chicago.  I miss him. I wish I could tell him about my adventures.

Sunflowers in Cimarron, NM

Sunflowers in Cimarron, NM

When we docked midway down the canyon, the guides invited us to jump off a 15 foot rock into the river. It looked like a lark from the ground, but when you got to edge, I backed off.  “Come on!” encouraged the young buff raft guide.  I was wearing my brother’s baseball cap under my protective helmet and thought, “I’ll do it for Danny. He’d jump in.” Plunge!

I pop up, reaching to ensure I still donned Danny’s cap under the helmet and thanked my big brother.  Indeed, life can be a daring adventure, and sometimes, far too short.  Seize the day.

Flower Crack Falls

Flower Crack Falls

3 Comments

Dust in the Wind – Drought Refuge in Gunnison Waters

Black Canyon's Green Waters, Gunnison, Colorado

Black Canyon’s Green Waters, Gunnison, CO

 

We needed a break from the smoke, dust and heat in New Mexico. My boyfriend’s cough was nearly two weeks old. It started the day the Los Conchas fire near Los Alamos area, the biggest wildfire in state history, began spewing smoke up to the Taos Valley.

Fire on Crest, So. of Alamosa 285, on our way home

Fire on mesa crest, south of Alamosa 285, on our way home.

We’d first tried for Crested Butte, Colorado, but for this last-minute getaway, found no rooms at the inn. An annual wildflower festival had kicked off last weekend in Crested Butte, so we looked in Gunnison, thirty miles away.  Based on the  Pioneer Museum headling the Triple A guidebook, we’d wrongly assumed Gunnison was an old mining town that had seen more adventurous days, merely a gateway to Crested Butte’s ski community.  Instead Gunnison far exceeded our expectations. This short weekend away felt like we’d nibbled on a appetizer on of a place to which we hope to return soon.

Blue Mesa Lake, Curecanti National Recreation Area

Here in Gunnison County the verdure of Colorado complemented a landscape of mountains, mesas, canyons, lakes, rivers and dams.

Gunnison River, Curecanti National Recreation Area

Gunnison River, Curecanti National Recreation Area

The air was fresh and the seasonal monsoon rains, whose clouds were only teasing New Mexico, unleashed daily downpours.  The Gunnison River was bursting at its seams.  The force of its flow, tempered in modern times by river dams, seemed perfectly capable of cutting the 2,772 feet deep Black Canyon.

Black Canyon, Exclamation Point, North Rim

Black Canyon, Exclamation Point, North Rim

To be blunt, Black Canyon’s sheer intensity blew me away. We live four miles from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, so the sight of a spectacular canyon is an everyday luxury for me. In fact, the area’s National Park Service map puts Black Canyon on a parallel with the Grand Canyon and Yosemite’s Canyon.

Storm Clouds Gather over Canyon Rim

Storm Clouds Gather over Canyon Rim

We braved black skies streaked with lightning, to hike out to “Exclamation Point” on the North Rim.  Along the path, we crossed a veritable wasteland of broken pinon and juniper trees, struck by lightning, roots exposed, a space of gnarled, petrified wood. Tree Uprooted on North Vista Trail Nature is the Artist Sculpture-like to me, the trees felt inhabited by spirits. A few outrageous survivors were half-dead, crippled by wind, erosion and storm – but still donned branches of life.  Luck was with us, and we were able to take in the heights and precipice of the Canyon with the storm’s blackest clouds at bay. By the time we made it back to the car, I felt a little like one of the trees, half-alive, proud, enduring. Delicate mountain blossoms along the path to the North Rim Ranger Station balanced the badlands like yin & yang, as sage scent burst into the air as rain fell in buckets. Always Yin & Yang Wildflower Beauty

Sagebrush

Back in civilized townscape, we found Gunnison full of culture and plenty to do.  The Gunnison Arts Center, at the corner of Main and Tomichi, featured four local artists exhibiting paintings, photography, sculpture and pottery. A Friday evening yoga class was happening on a wing of the building, above an open pottery studio. Yogis saluted the evening sun astride an open glass architecture overlooking a public garden space, where a lively blue grass quartet played for free.

Gunnison is home to Western State College and as a college town has a lot going on. On Friday night, we stopped by the Gunnison Observatory, featuring a 30-inch telescope, for a free Friday night viewing. (Viewings are open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights through mid-September.)  While they had to cancel the viewing due light rain and lightning (with the cost of replacement to the telescope’s mirror running half a million dollars), we enjoyed a informative presentation on Saturn. When I heard about the thousand mph winds that besiege Saturn on a regular basis, it put the howling winds of New Mexico in universal perspective.   I was able to come home to Taos and see our mesa home as just that, precious and fragile amidst fiery winds.

View from Kitchen Window Sill

View from Kitchen

Bad Dog Road, El Prado, NM

The Road to Home

Roxy Doodle Anne

2 Comments