Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Canvas

"Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."
--Pablo Picasso 

In the midst of moving over the summer, there was something I knew I had to do.

Several years ago, when I was in the throes of Project Redecorate My House, I purchased a large square canvas and painted it with a saying I had coined during that season, a mantra that kept me grounded in the midst of change. The letters were white and the background a soft sky blue.

I loved that canvas. It reminded me of the sense of strength and inspiration I experienced daily during a time of shifting.

But when it was time to direct my energy toward a new home, a new space, I knew I couldn't take it with me. Not in that form. As much as I savored the truth it contained, I needed to stay close to the new truths that were unfolding. Because I hadn't decided which one I wanted to capture on it (nor did I have the time to do so), I knew it needed to come into my new life blank.

I set the canvas on my kitchen counter and passed over it with several coats of glossy white paint. I spilled the paint directly onto the canvas so it formed little puddles and then took my roller and smoothed it around. I went back and forth and back and forth until all of the blue was covered with a bright white finish.

This process was therapeutic. I have often wanted to discard relics of the past in the hopes that the pain associated with them would be simultaneously washed away. Though I loved the truth it contained, that canvas also reminded me of circumstances that pierced me not long after I painted it.

As I rolled each fresh layer of paint over it, it was healing to acknowledge the kernel of hope the canvas still embodied. Letting it come with me into the next season of life felt right, like an act of acceptance of all that had happened and of what was ahead.

After several coats and lots of dry time, faint reminders of my mantra remained. The outline of the letters was still slightly visible, as if they had been engraved. There was no way to cover over this, it was simply a result of how it had been painted the first time.

I found this trace of what was there before comforting, further evidence that my goal was not to erase the past, but to carry it with me in a way that strengthened and inspired me.

The blank canvas made the trek with me into my new space. Then it sat, perched on my dresser and leaning against the wall, for almost three months. I knew I wanted to fill it with something, but I wasn't sure what that was.

One day I knew it was time, and I also knew that painting it--filling it with something new--was as much an act of faith and acceptance as covering it over had been.

I gathered my materials and--with no real plan except a vague picture in my head--I went to work. I tried a new technique, using several layers of different colors of paint in soft, broad strokes.

As I added each coat of blue, gold and brown, I thought about the sea, the sun and the sand and the emotions these things evoked in me.

I questioned myself through the process, feeling the pressure of "doing it right," but I kept at it. Deep down, underneath all my fear, I knew that it would all work out. 

When the background was done (and I had to admit that I loved how I felt when I looked at it), I added another layer to it: the words of one my favorite poem by Rilke--broken into bite-sized pieces--appropriately titled "Moving Forward."

The canvas now lives in my new space. It hangs there as a tangible reminder that though my future is still blank, in due time I will fill it with colors and words that inspire me. I may feel insecure, I may feel confident or I may feel a little bit of both as I do this. But I will know when it's time to pick up the paintbrush and what unfolds will be just what I need.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Yesterday it was cold and cloudy, damp and dark outside. That’s exactly how I felt inside.

On rainy days, I want to be very still. I want to put on my coziest clothes—my short furry robe, my fuzzy socks, my super soft yoga pants—and I want to crawl under the covers and do nothing but read or nap or watch delicious movies.

So that’s what I did yesterday. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my heart needed something more than sweats and sappy movies. It needed space to breathe. It needed air.

I knew I needed to get outside and I was hopeful that a warm shower would refresh me enough to shift my mood to get me there. But when I got in the shower, I just wanted to sit in the tub and let the hot water run all over me.

I plugged the drain, laid flat on my back, and with the back of my head touching the tub basin I let the water fill up around me until it was just touching—but not covering—my earlobes.   

That was then the tears came. They didn’t come easily. They were pooling on my bottom lids, hovering and willing themselves not to come out on their own. I had to press them out. I had to say, “You can come out now. I won’t hold you back.” And I had to give them a little push and shove.

I didn’t make myself cry, I let myself cry. I needed to.

Every time I pushed out a tear, I felt like I was pushing out some pain that had been encapsulated and lodged in it. I was conscious of this as each drop rolled down the side of my face and landed in the water I was soaking in.

When there were more no more tears to press out, I lingered in that water for a long time.  I put my hand on my abdomen and felt it rise and fall with each deep inhale and exhale. In through my nose, out through my mouth. Rise and fall. Inhale, exhale.

All I could think about as I laid there was tears. Tears, tears, tears.

How I needed tears. How I resisted tears. How I stifled tears. How good it felt to release tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Long-awaited tears.

I exited the tub more refreshed than when I climbed in, but I didn’t leave the house as I had planned. Instead, I crawled back into bed and opened my favorite book and began a new chapter, a chapter I had bookmarked a few days ago even though I didn’t know what it was about. In stunned silence I read the first three sentences:

“Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping creates a river around the boat that carries your soul-life. Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver someplace new, someplace better.”

--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

Tears. Creating a river, a current, a channel for me to get from where I am to where I need to go. Tears. Oh, why do I resist the tears?

Monday, October 8, 2012

In Season

On the first day of Fall this year, I felt like a woman out of season, out of time.

I spent the few days preceding it in bed with a stuffed up nose and a bleeding heart. I was grieving over the change that happened. Every part of me had been engaged in the push that it took to get me in to this new season, and once I was in it every part of me also temporarily gave out.

I knew I needed to breathe fresh air and sit in a different place, so I picked up my tired body and I drove to the park near my new house. I found the biggest tree I could, and I sat in its shade.

I kept musing about how so many I know were relishing that first day of Fall. How they were out buying pumpkin lattes and woven scarves. How they were rejoicing in the turning and falling of the leaves.

But all I wanted to do was lay on the grass and weep.

This summer was a good one for me, and I didn't want to let it go... because it was also the end of an era. When I moved out of my house, I closed the door on everything that it represented: my long gone marriage, my idea of what my life was going to look like, my elaborate dream for my once intact family.

Of course, I opened another door when I closed that one. An ancient door. A door to a world that holds secrets and treasures that can only be found once the other door is closed. But I couldn't see that at the time.

I was afraid.

I was afraid that if I kept my eyes wide open and I saw the full, lush trees change their colors and start exposing their bare branches that somehow all that I recovered of myself in the summer months would color and fall away as well.

As I thought about this, a single yellow and green speckled leaf fell from the tree above me. It drifted gracefully down. As it fell, it sang a sweet song, like a bird in the early morning hours. 

It assured me that I was right where I needed to be. Sitting under that canopy of leaves--as the first of them came flitting down--anchored me.

As much as I enjoyed being cocooned in the water this summer--like a baby in its mother's womb--the birthing waters had broken, and I was panting for air as I belted out my first lung-strengthening cries that day.

I was physically born--almost thirty-five years ago--in the Fall. And I knew that it was no accident that this second birth was happening in the same season as the first.

As I gathered my things to return home that day, I took the fallen leaf with me. I tucked it in my notebook and haven't thought about it until yesterday.

Though I have no memory of putting it there, it was hidden inside another book that contains some of my favorite poems. When I went thumbing through it--looking for something special for a friend--the now brown leaf came drifting down, flitting this way and that, just like it had when it fell off the tree a couple of weeks ago.

And to my surprise, it was bookmarking a poem that seems like it was written for the out-of-time feeling me; a poignant reminder that everything truly is happening right in season. 

It reads:

I love the dark hours of my being
in which my senses drop into the deep.
I have found in them, as in old letters,
my private life, that is already lived through,
and become wide and powerful now, like legends.
Then I know that there is room in me
for a second huge and timeless life.
 --Rainer Maria Rilke

As the leaves continue to fall and the life I left behind a closed door is further and further away, I am breathing in the Autumn air. And I'm letting myself revel in what's here now and what's ahead. All this change was right in season, right on time.

Born once. Born twice. In the Fall.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

All is Winter

High Resolution Winter Pictures - Trees is a free comely image   

(In honor of the first day of Fall)

All is winter
All is bare
All the limbs
have shivered
their crackling leaves
to the floor

crystallized, frozen
clings to
presses on
the naked branches
that splinter and groan

There is no sign
no detection
no gleam of green
to hint at
an under-

But down below
beneath grass and snow
hidden away
with rocks
dirt and loam
a seed was sown

The seedling drinks, swallows
nourishes itself
even when all else
empty, barren

the first trimester
of every gestation,
when the embryo grows 
and no one knows
All is beginning ...
                                       but all seems gone

In the spring
all of nature
is pregnant and proud
She bares all
her swelling buds
and blooms
Then summer comes
with burning heat
Sun throws open
her curtains
and reveals herself:
hot, brazen, bold

Spring flowers
take their perennial bow
and the summer buds
peel back
their petals
in flirtatious charm

All is Sun and water
warmth and wet
in the summer months;
the flora grows
without both

When the season closes
and Sun
puts on
her autumn coat
all of nature
changes with her

The trees give up
their dangling leaves
the plants their blossoms
and Earth
its seed--
now full-grown

In Autumn
Sun tilts her head
until the trees
strip down again
and another seed falls
ready to be sown

Then Winter,
the first trimester
of every gestation,
when the embryo grows 
and no one knows
All is beginning once more...
                                        when all seems gone

Monday, September 17, 2012


This summer was all about being wet. As the season draws to a close, I see it wasn't just about cooling myself from the heat. It was a practical way to teach my heart to drench itself in beauty, refreshment, relaxation, peace.

It reminds me of my summers as a child. On the days when no one was available to "come out and play" I would venture into the pool in my backyard alone. After I had done enough handstands and somersaults, front dives and back dives to satisfy my need for play, I craved a different kind of movement. I would swim to the bottom of the pool and sit with my legs crossed Indian style and see how long I could stay there.

I learned quickly how buoyant my little girl body was. As soon as I positioned myself, my bottom would go floating up, up, up. I'd be suspended in the water, body tilting forward and sideways, legs still crossed, trying to get myself back down, down, down.

I learned that if I stretched out my arms beside me with my elbows bent, and made small upwards motions with my hands, I could keep my body down.

Once I mastered this, I remember enjoying the expansive stillness around me. I recall yelling out and listening to the sound of my own warbled under-water voice.

As my mind wanders back to that place, my body can still feel the palpable comfort of being enveloped by the deep.

Right now I feel like I could stay at the bottom without any butterfly movements of my hands. It's like I have leaden weights tied to my ankles, and if it weren't for my need to come up for air, I could stay in the deep for a very long time.

I crane my neck and look above me at the water's surface. It seems far away from here. And that's exactly where I need it to be.

I relish the muted sounds. I'm fascinated by the way everything looks fluid under water--even my own body.

I want to hush everything around me and say, "Listen. Just listen to the deep."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Five O'Clock Shadow

During my recent move, I got rid of 75% of what I owned—my belongings. My belong-ings.

It required me to get clear about what I did and didn’t want to fill my life with. Now I am searching to find what fits—what belongs. 

When the search-and-discard impulse seizes you, two crosscurrents are at work: the old is leaving and grieving, while the new you celebrates and grows strong. As with any rupture, there is both tension and relief… You may find yourself feeling volatile and changeable. You are.
-Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

It feels like I’ve just shed skin. I feel raw and vulnerable and exposed. I only want to touch and handle things that are light, fluffy, soothing and calm. I’ve temporarily lost my ability to tolerate things that are rough around the edges.

My soul wants to settle into a bed of down and feathers. I want to be enveloped by Grace. And I don’t mean church-y Grace. I mean I’m free to be me Grace. Uninhibited, unfiltered, unashamed, unabashed Grace.  Human, vulnerable, honest, beautiful Grace. The you-can-rest-because-it’s-all-going-to-work-out Grace.

I have just been through the arduous process of creating s  p  a  c  e in my soul, and I’m not anxious to fill it back up with little tchotchkes, meaningless trinkets that create the illusion of full-ness.

My soul is waking after a long sleep—a hibernation of sorts—and it needs room to spread its arms in an I’m awake! stretch.

Stretching always comes after waking.

As I’ve been adjusting to this new soul-space (which doesn’t always feel expansive), I have noticed this phenomenon.

During the morning and afternoon hours, I can (for the most part) wrap my head around all the change. I feel grounded in this needed to happen and I am learning to embrace this new season.

But when evening rolls around—almost precisely when the little hand hits the five—when my natural rhythm is to think what’s for dinner, and how will I unwind, my heart turns toward Home. And Home is not the same as it used to be.

That’s when the clouds roll in all I want to do is clear the deck, collapse and cry. It feels like a torrential downpour is on the horizon and I have to take shelter immediately.  And if I don’t or can’t, I feel prickly—like the coarse whiskers on a man’s cheeks whose face was shaved early in the morning.

It's the five o’clock shadow.

As far as I can see, there are two ways to deal with the pesky thing. I can get up and (figuratively) shave it off (and then it’s only a matter of time until the shadow comes back), or I can just let the freaking hair grow in.

I like the second option.

I have to just let myself grow in to this new space—not just the rooms I’ve set up furniture and clothes in—but the new space I’m inhabiting in Life.

I can’t say I know exactly how to do that or what it’s going to look like, but I have a hunch that simply by putting my Yes out there, the answers will present themselves.

Growing in might look like collapsing and crying for now. It might look like hanging curtains or painting canvases. It might look like walks on the beach, dinner out with friends, bike riding at dusk. I don’t know.

But I do know I can’t hide the shadow in the shadows. I don’t have to be ashamed at my growth. Because that’s what it is. Growth.

Five o’clock shadow emerges on a man's face because the hair that has been cut back keeps on growing. The five o’clock shadow in my soul emerges because even though my external living space has been cut back, my insides are still growing and expanding.

But it doesn’t necessary feel like I'm growing while I am in the midst of it. Sometimes it feels like I’m shrinking; other times like I’m regressing.

We may feel—and look—erratic. This erraticism is a normal part of getting unstuck, pulling free from the muck that has blocked us. It is important to remember that at first flush, going sane feels just like going crazy.  
-Julia Cameron

Five o'clock shadow feels a lot more like grieving than growing. And even though grief is involved, the pain isn't just over what I am leaving behind, it's over the enormity of the blank canvas of my future that has been set before me. The prospects are both exhilarating, exciting and--when the shadow appears--exhausting.

The five o'clock shadow comes because I'm at the end of a long day, and it's time to breathe in the new and let my hair down. It's time to embrace the rugged, wild terrain in front me. 

I've never been here before. And today I'm reassuring myself that that's okay. In fact, it's good.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Saying Good-Bye

This weekend I moved out of the home I have lived in for the past seven years.   

Those walls hold some of the dearest and most painful memories of my adult life. It’s where I lived when one of my sons was born; it’s where I lived when my marriage died.

On my last night there, I crawled into bed early to give my body adequate rest for the big move. It seemed as if I would doze off immediately, but after a few minutes of lying there quietly I suddenly felt wide awake.

I felt a pressing need to sit in the dark and say good-bye. I listened to that need and decided to start right where I was--in my room.

I mentally roamed around the space and let myself connect with the many memories I made there.

Then I got out of bed and glided to a corner where an armchair sat--nestled in front of a large window where the light streams in every morning. I love how the wind blew the curtains up in a good morning dance as I sat there to write every day.
In another corner, I leaned against a wall--with my palms and forehead pressed against it--that used to support a makeshift changing table when my school-aged son was an infant. I remembered what it was like to change and dress my baby when his body was small enough to be held with one arm.

As I stood near my bed, I remembered the countless middle-of-the-night feedings that had taken place there--some filled with angst, and most filled with awe. I remembered the times my son laid belly laughing as I played peek-a-boo in a high-pitched sing-song-y voice that made my baby boy's eyes sing with delight. 

The mood changed a bit as I paced the floors on a spot next to my bed where I had sprawled out on the ground late one night and cried tears of anguish and let my heart-blood spill all over the ground. I knelt down and let my fingers caress the spot--knowing that it was a sacred touch point in my journey toward healing. 

I remember, I remember, I remember, I whispered as many times as my heart needed to say it and my ears needed to hear it.

I felt courage and strength as I remembered there that night. I held my open hands out in the darkness and I relished their emptiness. I felt unburdened and free—knowing I was not clinging to the past but was willing to embrace the present. I was aware of my heart and the pulsing rhythm of life, energy, peace and rest that was flowing through it.

 Empty hands and a full heart, I said out loud with a smile.

Then I made my way downstairs. 

I walked softly into the room of my sleeping child. I knelt down next to his bed and gently pressed my hand against his heart and whispered my fierce mama love into his ears. 

I thought of the pencil marks we had made on the wall next to his closet--a cheap alternative to a growth chart--and how we'd excitedly recorded his growth and celebrated every inch he added to his stature.
As I tiptoed through the rest of the house, I found I didn't want or need to linger in all of its rooms. Some I simply passed through and mentally assented my good-bye.

My last stop was the family room.  I gazed at all of the furniture in it that would soon grace other homes, and I felt relieved to be leaving it all behind. I looked forward to the next morning when I would take the remaining curtains down so the windows would be left uncovered--letting the light shine in full force. I prayed that the light would never again be covered in that place.

I remembered the blessing of health, joy, hospitality and peace I had written for that home two years ago after my brush with death--a blessing I had typed out, printed and camoflauged in a frame with 3D paper butterflies taped to it. I left that blessing in the air for whoever would live there after me. I prayed they would inhabit the blessing and not resist it.

I went back up to my bedroom and in the middle of the night under the soft glow of a bedside lamp, I wrote this journey down. I felt like I was standing in the middle of my own “promised land” of a restored heart. 

I wrote, “Now I stand on a precipice, face to the wind, and I know it’s not me against The Force anymore. I’m not struggling to survive. I’m living, breathing, hoping, dreaming. I’m ready to say good-bye. I’m ready to move on. My tear-soaked pillow has been replaced with a new one. It’s time. Good Lord, it’s finally time.”

I’m clinging to that clarity and those words tonight, when I feel stripped of the familiar and my heart feels like it might bleed out.  

Empty hands and a full heart. That’s what I’m praying for. 

Empty hands and a full heart.

Monday, August 27, 2012


 I am an ocean. And in the rocky inlet where I have been living, it's high tide.

The waters have risen up, up, up to the edge of the rocky shoreline. In this corner of the ocean, my inner life is filled to the brim. 
(from this post)

It's still high tide season in my life, but I am learning how to swim.

At the suggestion of a dear friend of mine, I am getting right into the water so I can f l o a t when the water gets really high.

Because I don't know quite how to apply that advice metaphorically, I decided to go for the literal first; I've been getting in the water a lot lately.

I floated for the first time a few weeks ago when I was at the bay by myself.

I was soaking in sun and poetry and making sure my soul was getting nourished. I felt comforted and comfortable lying there on the sand, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had to get in the water. I had purposely chosen a spot on the beach where there weren't a lot of people, but I still had to confront my gnawing anxiety about walking down to the water's edge in my bathing suit. I felt silly, exposed.

I did it anyway.

When I haven't been in the water for a while, I have to submerge slowly. It's not just that I have to adjust to the temperature of the water; I have to adjust to letting myself get wet. I take small steps until the water level reaches my abdomen, and then I stop.

At that point I either need to plunge in one motion and pull my whole body, head and hair under the water, or I just need to turn around and get out. The belly spot is the point of no return for me.

That day, I took the plunge. As soon as my head emerged--dripping wet, cooled and refreshed--an involuntary smile spread across my face. I stood there quietly in the water and let the feeling soak in.

I felt emboldened by my first dunk, so I decided to do it again. And again.

Because I was thoroughly wet, I let my body relax into the water. My head rested on an invisible pillow and the rest of my body was stretched out on a bed of water. I floated for the first time in a long time, maybe since childhood.

There was a sound of clicking under the water that made me think boats were shifting gears. I shot my closed eyes open and looked around. The coast was clear. (Literally.) When my ears were under the water again the clicking sound continued. I'm still not sure what it was. But the point is, I heard it.

I made a conscious effort to stay connected to my body. I felt what it was like to be buoyant and fully supported by the water under me.  I was aware of the total relaxation in my body as I rested there.  

This I have to remember, I told myself. This is what I have to take with me when the pressure of stress starts to build up and I feel like I'm going to sink emotionally. Float. Remember what it feels like to float.

When I emerged from that water that day, I felt refreshed to my core.

But as the days have worn on, I have had to return to the water to refresh myself again.

This past week, floating opened something up in my soul.

As soon as I arrived at the beach, I stripped down to my suit and and went right to the water. I did not need to tip toe in like the first time. I have become accustomed to being wet, so I walked briskly to the belly point and then pulled myself under.

And instead of just getting wet, I decided to play.

I swam out until I couldn't touch the bottom and did forward and backward somersaults; I laid on my back and made big, noisy splashes as I kicked my feet. I felt like a kid again.

Before I could get out, I had a strong sense that I needed to float for a bit longer than I am normally comfortable with.

I laid myself down on the water's surface and counted--as slowly as I could--to sixty. (Those sixty-ish seconds felt like sixty minutes.) Midway through, I had to open my eyes and make sure everything was okay around me. It was.

When I got to sixty, I was amazed at what I'd found. I was floating in no more than 10 inches of water. Just enough for the underside of me not to be scraping the sand. 

All that time (during that l o n g float), I felt like I was drifting into deeper and deeper waters, where the security of the shoreline was far away. (It's what always makes surrender to relaxation so scary when it's high tide and I'm in deep water.) But instead, my surrender carried me back to the water's edge.

As these thoughts raced through my mind, all of a sudden this joyous laughter came bubbling up out of my belly. It all seemed too wonderful and simple and my heart and mind and body were full of delight.

There is nothing to fear! my heart sang.

I was alone in the water at dusk--laughing out loud--and I didn't care. 

That laughter isn't bubbling up out of my belly right now--when I feel I could sink or swim--and that's why I'm here to remind myself of what it feels like to totally surrender to buoyancy.

I may not have time for a salt-water dip today, but I can still remember what it feels like to float.

There's nothing to fear. Nothing to fear.