Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Blue Flow ~ The Thing We Can't Teach... Ellen Gilchrist

"What she wanted to do was work. She threw herself deeper than ever into her studies. 'She's got the blue flow,' her teachers said. 'She's got the touch. She's got the thing we can't teach."

Ellen Gilchrist, The Annunciation

Meditate on the blue flow, let your eyes go out of focus as your whole body relaxes. Breathe in and out slowly and go deep beneath the surface of the blue stream of your conscious mind. Relax, breathe, relax, breathe... Do this every time you feel stress. Enter the blue flow...

As a long time teacher as well as human being living on Planet Earth and struggling, as we all do, to find my way, when I was reading back through one of my favorite author's books, Ellen Gilchrist's The Annunciation, and came upon the quote at the top of this post, something struck me suddenly and it was akin to those commercials where someone as that Aha! moment when they realize that they could have had a "V-8!" Oh, how very many glasses of "V-8" I could have had in my life, thought I, with a shrug.

What I realized, in reading the quote, was that the blue flow is what we enter when we are not rushing, trying to do too many things at once, scrambling and tumbling our way through life and never sitting still and simply letting go. I have meditated for over 30 years. I know all the techniques, the philosophies, I've read all the right books and studied personally with some phenomenal teachers, but because I am only too human, just like everyone else, and when life's sweeping grand gestures, or sometimes just the little daily hurdles we must constantly cross align with something huge, something that would huff and puff and blow anybody down, the littlest thing can trip us up and we fall out of the flow, into depression, anxiety, anger, and more. My goal, now, is to remember the blue flow and do my best to stay within that stream.

You know what it feels like when you are floating through life seemingly unencumbered, you've found a balance, the sun is shining, you feel loved, the day is good, and everything we do feels easy -- we can take on the world! The trick is to maintain this flow even through the dark and troublesome times, and it takes effort, but once you dip a toe back into that stream it feels so good you are ready to dive in.

The last decade of my life has been particularly difficult -- ending a decades long marriage, coming out as a lesbian, and after a couple of failed relationships that took their toll, going deeper and deeper into myself until the outside world nearly ceased to exist; all kinds of family adjustments and my mother's cancer which still has her dangling by a thread, ready to drop at one moment, and gaining a little more strength and then going lower than ever before, near death countless times in the 3 1/2+ years since they gave her only six weeks to a few months to live. The very slow degeneration, the ups and the downs, are wearying and heartbreaking, BUT, death is part of life, and we all go through it, seeing those we love die around us until our own time comes. Too, we all have little mishaps and roadblocks in our days and in our lives, and we will keep having them until the end. We cannot stop hard times from coming, but we can develop practices that keep us in the stream, help us to dive back in to the deep blue flow, and meditation is one of the most accessible, free, and profoundly life changing things that we can do. Or so I have found in my own life.

I developed a practice called Snail Mind Meditation, and if you visit the cottage site you can read through this simple page and return to it every day, even a few moments help. Simply click on Dragonfly Cottage and you will see the link for Snail Mind Meditation on the left side of the page. This practice will be in the book I am working on right now and can be done anywhere, anytime, and it's amazing how quickly one can restore a sense of equilibrium by meditating even a short time.

Also, there are incredible meditation tapes available, my favorites are available through which you can download right onto your computer (I store my library of books and recordings right in iTunes.) or onto an iPod if you have one or even burn your own c.d.'s. I have been a member of audible off and on for two years and love it and have amassed quite a collection, mostly of Buddhist material, books by my favorite writers, and wonderful novels that I have wanted to read for ages, or reread but don't have the time. I listen while I do my fiber work and it is very soothing. It puts me back into the stream.

My favorite meditation teacher whom you can get through audible is Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, (...pronounced "Tie," Vietnamese for Teacher.) because he has the softest, most soothing, gentle voice, and he uses the deep, resonant mindfulness bell to bring us back to our breath when we drift away. Return to your breath, return to this moment, feel the still, calm, waters of gentle ease flow through and around and on beyond your body. Once you can visualize this you can make a practice of entering the stream more easily.

Now, having said that, it is as Gilchrist wrote, "the thing we cannot teach." I can tell you what I do, but my way may not be your way. The most important thing is to get ye to that flow as soon as possible and stay there as long as possible. Finally, you'll find yourself entering the blue flow automatically, without thinking. You will fall away, and you will remember. And when you are in the stream, no one, no thing, no circumstance can touch you. That doesn't mean that you won't have to deal with anything difficult, but that you can remain calm and fluid at your center, and like water flowing around rocks in a stream, you will maneuver your way through your days with an ease and grace heretofore, for the most part, impossible. We all have "old tapes" in our heads, looping around and around from as far back as childhood. These things can trip us up, pull us under, but if you have your practice under your belt you can find your way.

This reminds me of something we hear in the news every beach season here in coastal North Carolina. Every year there are reminders about what to do if you are in the ocean and caught by a Rip Tide. These are deadly whirlpools and if caught up in one you will be pulled under the water to your death. We are told not to try to swim back in to shore from where we are because in doing this we will surely drown. Rip tides only encompass small areas so what you must do is to swim parallel to shore for a time and then, out of the reach of the deadly tidal pool, you can swim safely back to shore. The thing is, as in so many other things in life, we know this, we hear it every year, and yet every year people die anyway in these turbulent waters because they panic and try to swim for shore anyway, pulled under to a certain death.

Any time we encounter a devastating or frightening event in life, it is just like the rip tide. We scramble as fast as we can to try to make something happen, and in rushing and pushing and trying to scratch and claw our way to safety, we are pulled under. If we can stop for a few moments, collect ourselves, close our eyes and breathe in and out, relax our bodies and become still, and approach the problem only when we are calm and can move slowly through it, we will find that we can walk through the storm far more steadily and accomplish more than if we were rushing through like white water on the river. It is the slow, still waters that I seek. To be a frog on a lily pad simply sitting and watching the world go by would be a very lovely thing to experience. Why did the Tortoise beat the Hare? Slow and steady beats running like a jack rabbit gone wild every time.

In the stunning, mind-altering book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990, he writes:

"To know oneself is the first step toward making flow a part of one's entire life. But just as there is no free lunch in the material economy, nothing comes free in the psychic one. If one is not willing to invest psychic energy in the internal reality of consciousness, and instead squanders it in chasing external rewards, one loses mastery of one's life, and ends up becoming a puppet of circumstances."

Wise is the man or woman who follows those words. Csikszentmihalyi's book is not an easy read, but well worth the time and effort and it changes you forever. I prefer those kind of books to quick, easy reads. We've only to look around us today to see a world gone mad with materialism, dancing as fast as one can, and never, no matter how much money is made, material things purchased, or recognition gained, one rarely sees truly happy people who are using every ounce of energy to seek fame and fortune. There is more drug addiction, alchoholism, suicide and more among those seeking that path for the end result only. It is in the doing of the thing, the living of the life, the marching to the beat of one's own drummer, at one's own pace that is the key to a happy, flowing life. No one, nor anyone's life, will be perfect, but we can enjoy the ride a lot more if we work toward our goals and dreams.

Finally, I love this quote from Csikszentmihalyi's book as well...

"Half a century ago, the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote that happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy - it must come as the unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself."

I believe this with all my heart and so, in the face of people who think me odd or crazy, and amidst enough animals to fill Noah's Ark, and living as close to the singular moment I am in as much as possible while I do my chores, my fiber art, research and write a book, or simply kiss a pug on the nose, I do feel that "flow" coursing through my veins, a gentle streaming sense of calm. I lose it of course, but I never stop trying to reconnect to that Source within me, the still small voice within, and I will spend my life doing just that.

Be gentle with yourselves, be patient, and kind. When you slip and fall away from the path, as surely we all will, don't beat yourself up about it, simply glide back into the water, watch your breath, and begin again. Come sit with me on a lily pad...


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Someday The Train Will Come ~ Believing In Your Dreams...

"Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew some day, the train would come."

~ From the movie, Under The Tuscan Sun ~

Based on the book by Frances Mayes

The train is coming...

When my marriage ended in the spring of 1999 I had no idea what my life ahead would bring. First I was too caught up in the emotions of the moment to think ahead, and then I was too afraid because I couldn't see ahead and I didn't think life would ever be anything approaching normal again.
As the years have gone along I have imagined a thousand different directions I might like my life to go in, but I never dared dream of a full life, a happy one, and certainly not a house of my own. I never imagined it until I saw an old farmhouse in the middle of town. All of a sudden, my spirit lifted and I was swept away at the very thought of being able to live there. You see, this wasn't just any house. No, I have loved that house for the 15 years we've lived here. Now, alone, I see it as a place I could spend my life in and be happier than I ever thought possible. It's on the market now but hasn't sold, and I can't buy quite yet, but I can dream. I can build those train tracks in my mind, and believe that the train will come around those tracks just at the right time. Please dream with me. Say a little prayer and sprinkle a little magic fairy dust and imagine one woman, one big black dog, 4 little pugs, 6 parrots and one beta fish named Vincent living there (Not to mention the partridge in the pear tree!).

I can't remember when I've wanted anything this much and it is absolutely perfect for me. And I have wanted an old house all my life. It's not one of the fancy Victorians like they have downtown in the Historic district, it is a charming old farmhouse that has it's quirks and certainly some work to be done, but some already has been and it's very liveable.

You see, to me, an old house represents a past, history, and finding out today that the bottom of the house was built in 1856 (the rest in 1920) made it even more exciting. As an adopted child I've never felt that I had a sense of history, and I think that's why I've always loved old houses. I would love to learn the history of the house. I imagine the babies that were born there, those people who died there when their time had come, laughter and cooking and reading by the fire and I can see a big Christmas tree there. The places I have lived since leaving the marriage have been so small the last couple of years I haven't even had a tree. I want old ornaments and handmade ornaments and popcorn and cranberries, and pugs and Big Moe stretched out asleep by a fire as I crochet or spin yarn or read a book.

The floors are all hard wood, heart pine, and worn smooth with age. The house holds many memories, and has many secrets. I want to know them all. In this house many people have made love, have shared meals with friends, generations have lived together in this house as people once did, and at one time, this area of town having been agricultural, there was a real farm here. Those days are long past and it's on not much more than one third of an acre now, but this is perfect for me. Not a lot of ground to maintain, but perfect for a fenced yard for the dogs and a place to garden. The upstairs is perfect for a studio, a writing room, a sunny room for the parrots. I will work upstairs with the birds during the day and when I put them to bed at night I will creep down the stairs to my living quarters, dogs around me, and write and read and dream.

It's a sad time of life when one can't dream their way into the future and I felt that sadness for some time. And while none of us know what our future really holds, we can imagine the near future and pray for it and plan for it. And though there is work to be done on the dear old house, as I said, it's liveable, and the bathrooms and kitchen have been redone. It is a yellow house. It is sunshine itself. I feel it's rays warming my heart. I feel joy there. I sense great happiness is possible there. Oh dream with me please, and even more pray for me, and most of all, imagine me in it. I believe this sort of thing works, seeing myself there, walking about the rooms, spreading out, living my way into one room at a time.

I simply adore the movie Under The Tuscan Sun, because it is a woman alone after a divorce rebuilding her life and buying an old villa in Tuscany that is practically falling down, and in restoring it, and learning the area, and meeting people, a life grows and as it does, so does she. I need this house. It is not fancy, it is not in a ritzy part of town, it is in a comfortable part of town with old trees all around that haven't been leveled for a subdivision. It has a wrap-around porch that once was screened in and I can see screening it in again, and having a porch swing, rocking chairs, sitting there, under the deep shade of the trees and watching the world go by while I drink ice cold tea, write in my journal, knit, crochet, read, or visit with a friend. Yes, this is my house, this old yellow house. This is my dream. Help me dream it into reality won't you?

I have to go to bed now because it's nearly 2 a.m. and by 11 this morning little Harvey, my newest rescue pug, will arrive here from out of state to join our little pack. He's had a hard life and a lot of problems but his wonderful foster parents and good vet nursed him back to health and he will have a life here where he will be deeply loved and have other brothers and sisters to play with, and sit in Mama's lap and be kissed on the nose! I think Harvey and all the others would like to live in the yellow house too. Will you picture us there?

Thank you for listening. It's wonderful to have friends travel with you on your journeys.

, sleepy, happy, and taking my yellow house with me into my dreams....

Monday, September 15, 2008

On the passing of a beloved dog... I'm not sure I could be this brave, but ah, "Out of the mouths of babes."

Dear Ones,

This beautiful piece was sent to our Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue list by one of our lovely members who had had it sent to her. It made me cry, and I feel quivery long after. I don't think I could have the grace the small child did in this piece in losing one of my beloved companions, but as always, out of mouths of babes come pure pearls of wisdom and a deeper knowledge than we, as adults, seem to retain. In honor of all of our dogs and other beloved animal companions, I wanted to share this with you...

May we cherish every single moment with our beloved companions. No matter how long they live their lives are too short.

Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to all,
and now, here's the piece....


A Dog's Purpose

"Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.' Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would
learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in
your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a
shady tree.

W hen you're happy, dance around and wag your
entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit
close by and nuzzle them gently.


Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If
you can't eat it or play with it....

Pee on it and walk away...

May we never forget these tender words...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Migration Of Fiber ~ How A Life Comes Together...

A Spindle Full of Maitri's
Wabi-Sabi Handspun Yarn...

Off the spindle and into a skein...

... Skein into ball ...

Yarn knitted into a piece that was
meant to be a wall-hanging or
table mat...

Finally, even a newly finished piece becomes...

... simply part of the fabric of our lives. Hand-
knitted wall hanging above my fiber chair
amidst many of my little looms and more.

I am sitting here rolling a skein of thick, softly spun, kettle-dyed yarn in a color called "Apple Green" into a ball. For the last week I have been going through piles of skeins of yarn and rolling them into balls for the very large crochet project that I have started, a 12' by 12' (before felting, so it will shrink some) piece of freeform crochet, and there will be every color and type of yarn, all wools, for the felting. I will be writing a detailed entry with pictures on this piece-in-progress on my Art For Joy blog in the next day or so. I have no pattern, but the rhythm of the work carries me. Winding a loose skein of yarn into a neat ball is an alchemical adventure, as if seeing all the disparate parts of our lives and winding them together they become a neat little universe. I think this happens at midlife, all of the myriad bits and pieces and experiences, people, places, and things that have come before start to congeal and we begin to become whole human beings. Not babies learning how to walk, not young people, tremblingly making choices about their lives, worrying that they will make a mistake or not knowing what to do at all. Not the elderly at the end of their earth-walk who are looking out over the ocean of time, preparing to cross the sea to a distant shore we cannot imagine. No, at midlife we know there is no one way, no wrong way, that one choice doesn't nail our life down forever, and that we become more "of a piece" as the years roll along. And so it is for me right now.

At 54 I have raised my children, the first of the grandchildren has come along and is already four, and I have moved into a time of life that, like a loosely wound skein whose ends are seemingly lost or hard to find, the yarn going every which way, has been, or is in the process of being, sorted out and rolled into ball. Balls become undone of course, or change shape and form like the little pictorial story above, and we keep reshaping it as we go. This is how life comes together, I think. It is not a straight path but a wavy one, to and fro. Don't worry that your life should be going in a straight line. It won't happen, and it shouldn't. Maybe that is why I am a fiber artist. There are infinite possibilities, every time I start a new piece I am surprised what the outcome will be. To me, life is just like that saying, "It isn't the end that matters but the journey that matters in the end." I am a peregrinator, always traveling onward, picking up bits of this and bits of that to spin into my yarns to make the magic carpet I will ride through the rest of my days. Ah yes, now I know exactly what this rather mystical piece I'm crocheting is, so large and brightly colored and yes, magic! It is a Magic Carpet, one that will record the journey it took to get to that new home, and one that will inspire me all the days of my life. Perhaps I shall spend my life making magic carpets. Crocheted, Knitted, Woven, it doesn't matter. Just meditate deeply on the piece before you, then close your eyes, and feel yourself lifting up off of the earth and being wafted on the airwaves of life. Magic Carpet, that's it! I am a purveyor of magic carpets, dreams, secrets, and hidden things in vintage teapots that carry the Secret Of Life. Yes. That's exactly what I am!

Lately I have been imagining the house I will move into one day when I leave here. There are endless possibilities of course, but I want something, well, unusual. However large the overall size I want to feel vast open spaces where there is a flow and all the birds, dogs, books, fibers, art, food and cooking utensils, bedroom and all the rest of the living space feels alive and vibrant. I have come upon an idea, just today. Ecologically sound, not expensive, and yes, unusual. I am delighted, and will talk more about that as the time rolls along.

So what do I have, what am I, what will I do? These are the questions I have asked myself for years but could never answer. Now I know there is no one answer that will fit, except what we know in this moment. In this moment I am a mother, a daughter, a friend, a writer, an artist, a gardener and a woman who lives alone with many animals. At this very moment I am a woman sitting writing in the dark save two small lamps next to me, listening to a chorus of three pugs snoring. I am looking around at my little cottage which, though small, seemed charmingly spacious enough for me when I moved in with one dog and three parrots 6 1/2 years ago. The family has grown! And my life as a fiber artist has grown and takes up a LOT of space here. I want room for it all. The fiber has migrated all throughout my life in myriad ways and I am all the better for it, but it doesn't leave much room to walk about and live in. We are, all of us, human, animal, and inanimate objects, outgrowing this space. We are in the chrysalis state, having lived in the cocoon long enough, we will soon emerge, like the butterfly, and take flight.

Flying is not something you necessarily do in the sky, as a bird, an airplane, a kite. or even, alas, a magic carpet. True flight takes place internally. It is that time when we are breaking the bonds we created ourselves, it is a sense of freedom, inner freedom, when we shake off the world's expectations of us and allow ourselves to truly be. I am not here to impress anyone, I simply want to be myself, unencumbered by other people's expectations about who or how I should be. I can never listen to Frank Sinatra singing "My Way" without crying. It touches me so deeply. And that's what I want to do -- not only live my life on my own terms, but in a way -- and I just realized in this instant something I've been trying to get to -- I want to live my life and share it through my work in a way that shows other people that it is possible to follow your dreams and to be what your heart desires. It doesn't come swiftly or easily, but every step along the way is important. You can't skip one, even the hard times allow us to deepen and strengthen for what will lie ahead. I have done a lifetime of work in that direction, and while there will always be new things to learn, new lessons to grapple with, we can celebrate life in every moment. It needn't even be a big deal. I am winding a skein of apple green yarn into a ball. I will crochet it, along with countless other yarns of many colors, into a huge tapestry that will hang on the wall of my new unusual, perfectly wonderful, outrageous, magnificent home. I will plant a wild unruly cottage garden all around and have a fenced yard where the dogs can romp around with me. It makes me giddy to think about it.

This life of mine is so precious to me. Just the other morning I was fast asleep, on the big couch downstairs here amongst all of the animals, which I usually do, and I am used to Sampson, the pugalug, sleeping on my feet or on my person. Well, I have a lavender eye pillow to keep the light from waking me as it streams in four French Doors that lead out to the patio, so I couldn't see, but I could feel something very strange. My inner, muddled, still sleepy dialogue went something like this... "Something feels funny. I guess it's Sampson. (He sleeps with me and, puglike, will keep working himself up from my feet to practically under my arm, feeling as if he were hermetically sealed to my body which he practically is anyway.) No. It wasn't Samspon. It was far more delicate, and sort of felt like a chicken scratching about in the dirt. I reached down, eye pillow still firmly in place, and felt this "thing." It happened to be Blossom, the Greater Sulfur Crested cockatoo who had, Houdini-like, completely unbolted one of the doors that hold her foodcups in and climbed out through the blankets and quilts that cover her very large cage, hopped over to the couch, walked over Sampson who wouldn't wake up if the atom bomb went off in here, and walked up and happily nestled on my stomach. She had her head under the old quilt I was covered with and was searching about for nesting material, ever so delicately, and gently, I may have not even noticed she was there. When I felt feathers, not fur, I took the eye pillow off, half sat up, looked at the cockatoo on my stomach and the pug on my feet and laughed. Blossom turned around, looked at me, and said in a cheery voice, "Hi Blossom Bird." Hello indeed. The dogs all came running and the parrots talking and Mama was up now, looking at the holes in the once precious vintage quilt and arm of the couch with fluff everywhere. Blossom wants badly to build a nest and have a family. Living with her has turned my world upside down and inside out, but truth be told it already was anyway, so what's the difference if you are awakened by a cockatoo when there's already a pug on your feet. This, too, is part of the fabric of my life, and this section has been crocheted in bright colors in my tapestry of dreams. No longer earthbound, not I!

I wish you all the equivalent of a cockatoo on your tummy and a pug on your feet. Of an over-crowded cottage bursting at the seams, of flowers growing wildly in the garden and brightly colored yarns everywhere. We are not neat, but neither is life. We are happy, and that's what matters. May you find your joy, live your bliss, and love your days, each and every moment. I shall now go back to winding my yarn...