Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sanctity of a Single Moment ...

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~

I have been thinking about this for the last few weeks, how often we look sadly at the past and with angst toward the unknown future when the remedy is so simple. So simple and yet we live in a time when in the world the word Mindfulness is bandied about so much it has lost it's meaning for people, one of those words that when used causes the listener, all too often, to just tune out. How many books are there out there on mindfulness? I think they are all important and I think it's the most necessary and meaningful message of our time. Mindfulness, Love, Compassion. And tenderness too, tenderness toward the smallest things. 

A woman was here the other day and in my studio there are built in shelves all along one long wall with windows all the way down the wall and around the wall next to it. It is bright and sunny and I love it. And half that long shelf-top is filled with African Violets. The woman looked amazed. She said she killed everyone she got. That is not an uncommon thing to say about these humblest of plants and I find it so sad. Mine are positively huge and when they flower, showstopping. And the thing is they are not hard to take care of at all, but you must be aware of their needs and willing to take the time to care for them. That's true of every single living thing on the planet. All of mine came from the grocery store and I always look eagerly to the time when they stop flowering and no one will buy them so they put them in a cart to the side for fifty-cents. I take them home, re-pot them and feed them, and sure enough they come back bigger and stronger just covered with flowers. We are a throw away society. They would have tossed all of those little plants if no one had taken them, in fact the lady at my store will once in awhile just give some to me. And each one is precious, and I croon over them and talk to them and anyone would think I'd lost my mind but living, growing things respond to love and attention, from my little plants to tiny children to the menagerie of animals I live with. (I would encourage all of you to find an old copy of the book The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, an amazing book.)

A week ago Saturday a Greenwing Macaw came to live at my house. His beloved owner had died of cancer and her husband didn't have any idea what to do with him. He is a gorgeous bird oddly named Flounder because they lived at the beach and somehow came up with a fishy name for him. I was rather appalled and tried to called him Freddy Flounder in hopes that he'd pick up the new name but he says "Flounder" a million times a day in a multitude of different voices. So Flounder he is. He is very sweet, very gentle, and VERY large. A Greenwing Macaw can be 40" from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail. His wingspan can be 49". I've not measured Flounder but he's a good sized boy!

To have a bird of this size you have to have had parrot experience and all of my years running a non-profit shelter for disabled and unwanted parrots have served me well in rehabbing. handling and rescuing everything from the tiniest finch to the largest macaw or cockatoo. I have hand-raised a baby macaw, had cockatoos of all sorts but most were with me for a time until they were ready to go to a new home and they practically had to have an FBI background check to adopt the parrot. 

People have seen pictures and looked quite startled at his size and asked me, "Aren't you afraid that he'll hurt you?" I kind of laugh because my beloved African Grey Henry, whom I lost tragically 2 years ago -- I never thought I'd survive that -- wasn't a lot bigger than Flounder's head and he would bite the living hoo-ha out of you. Flounder is so gentle, a sweetheart of a giant, that if you are about to do something he doesn't want you to do he will not bite, he will take your finger in his beak and just hold it, not hard, and then he lets go. It's his way of saying, "No, I don't like that."

Greenwing macaws are the 2nd largest macaw, 2nd only to the rare and beautiful Hyacinth macaw, a sky blue parrot that would take your breath away. and Greenwings are called The Gentle Giants of the macaw family. His previous owner took him with her everywhere she went, to the store, to the beach, she even took a nap with him and he would curl up under her neck. 

He was very shy when he came and in these circumstances you say hello, give the bird food, water, treats, and let him settle in. They said it might be a few weeks before he let me really hold him. He was sitting in my lap kissing me the next day. 

I have a silent communion with animals and communicate with them in a place beyond speech. In the years that I ran the parrot shelter birds were sent to me labeled "unhandleable" and almost put down by their distraught owners. I said "Don't worry, he will be fine," and without a doubt the parrot just brought in, terrified, wild, screeching, biting, would be eating out of my hand, giving me kisses, and would eventually go to a home a calm loving pet. That sounds extraordinary to people, but it's not. Not really.

I would place the parrot in a nice sized cage. Food and toys and plenty of everything, and I would sit in a chair several feet away and ignore him. I did not try to get him out or pick him up, just sat there quietly reading and finally got up and went on about my business. One day I would stick a treat through the bars, half in, and half out, go sit in my chair, pick my book up and ignore him. Eventually he would pull the treat in, eat it, and rush to a perch in the back of his cage. Soon, I would scoot my chair closer and talk very softly, with very calm energy. You have to lower your energy around a wild animal. They can feel fear, anxiety and every other emotion you feel. And you have to respect them, as you would have them respect you. Next he would take a treat from me through the bars and not back away but I still sat silently beside him. Came the day I opened his cage, put a treat on the top, and sat back in my chair. It took some time but finally he would come out and get his treat and go back in, eventually spending longer and longer times out. The day he took a treat from my hand was a triumph but I just spoke a few words very softly and sat back down. And on we went. One day I gently pushed my finger up under his feet and said "Up," and up he stepped, and from there on in the relationship built. The particular bird I'm speaking about was a beautiful blue Indian ring neck parakeet, a parrot a little larger than a cockatiel. But there were many more and different little feathered friends that came and the routine was always the same.

There is a single moment, a moment suspended in time, when you look into a bird's eyes and know that you are accepted. It is a profound moment. I have even had experiences with the wild birds that congregate at the 7 feeders just outside my studio windows. In the last few days a curious little fellow, a tiny rosy finch, will fly over and sit not 2 feet away from me waiting for me to fill the feeders. I act like I don't notice but finally I looked at him yesterday, smiled, and said, "Are you hungry little fella?" And he didn't fly away, just sat there. Again, a profound moment. When a wild creature trusts you you have been given the gift of a lifetime. I felt exhilarated coming in. 

The first day that Flounder was here he was very shy. He was out on his large play stand with me most of the day, and it took a good long while before he was willing to step up on my hand to go into his cage to go night-night. The next day I opened the top door and he came out timidly. He did not say a word for 2 days. This is a bird with a vocabulary of roughly 300 words and counting. His previous owner kept a book of the words he said and sadly it didn't come with all of his things, but by the second day I opened his cage and let him come out, and eye to eye I said softly, "I love you Flounder. You're safe, you're home." He stepped up onto my hand and I carried him around awhile. We had to learn to trust each other.

Later I picked him up again and let him sit on my shoulder. He laid his cheek against mine and I reached up and took his beak in my hand gently and pulled it toward me and kissed his beautiful white face. There isn't anything softer in the world than the white skin on a macaw's face. It is amazing. I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew in that moment we were both taking a leap of faith but ready to give one another a shot. By that evening he was sitting on my chair with Sam, my velcro pug, and I, with the other pugs and big dog Moe surrounding us and I felt as if I were more blessed than anyone could hope for. And pardon the pictures. I have a torn ligament in my knee and can't get around well so I've used my camera phone to get some shots to capture his first days here.

Pug and Parrot Brothers...

Now, just over a week after his arrival he sings, laughs like a mad scientist, talks up a storm, preens me, has come beak to nose with Big Dog Moe, a lab-doby mix who now, at 17, thinks birds are just regular folks to have around. We got Moe as a tiny puppy and he grew up in the bird shelter. Many a baby parrot that I was handfeeding took their first flight and landed on Moe who sat still as a stone until I came and got him. We are a peaceable kingdom here.

It is a tremendous gift to live in a menagerie of 9 animals and who knows who else may show up along the way? Animals live in the moment. They do not worry about the past, nor the future, they live fully in the present moment. Time for dinner, time to go out, time for doggies to snuggle up to mom to watch t.v. after all the birds have gone to bed. And Flounder looks forward to his lovey time that comes just before he goes to bed. He sits in my lap and we kiss and talk and play and I rub his head and his face and preen him and he preens my hair, ever so gently, and then he will just sit and rest with me. He has given me the gift of his trust and I have given him my trust as well. 

There is real love here, and the animals remind me to be present and mindful, and when I forget I may be nipped gently or have a dog jump up and bark at me, or feel a wet nose or beak against my cheek. I forgot, and they remind me, and I never stay down or out of focus for long. Too many little people to take care of here. 

And so a great big bird has come to Dragonfly Cottage and our family grows larger with more love, unimaginable gifts that make my life more meaningful and teach me much about compassion, tenderness and trust, and, when people ask me if I get "lonely" since I'm divorced and my children grown I look around the room, scratch my head, and say distractedly, "I might, if I had the time..." There's never a dull moment here and I thank God for every single one of them and this moment, right now, writing these words to you. 

Open your heart, take a deep breath, forget the future and the past and what you're going to wear today. Stop and notice every single thing in your presence at this very moment. Feel a swell of gratitude for the smallest thing. You have air to breathe, a place to roost and call home, a meal to eat. I know that because if you are reading this on a computer you surely are fortunate enough, as I am, to have these things. Start with the fundamental things and give thanks. Move through your day and whisper a soft "thank you," or think it silently, every time you notice something in your environment you are lucky enough to have. Take your time. Go slow. Notice.

A stack of fresh crisp paper, sharpened pencils, a pen that writes smoothly, a chickadee at the window feeder. The blessing of a night when there seems nothing in the house to eat but you scrounge around and come up with a curious assortment of this and that and make a somewhat peculiar meal that in that moment tastes like the best thing you've ever eaten. I'll take one of those meals over any I've had in a fancy restaurant. There are so many things that we have or have around us that are deeply meaningful and enrich our lives beyond measure and I don't mean fancy cars or clothes, a big fancy house, lots of money, and all of the latest greatest technology around. Look to the little things and gradually move up from there. 

The breath you just took is sacred, it means that you are alive, it means that you still have time to be everything you ever wanted to be, you still have time to love and to grow and to skip and dance and sing and laugh. I laugh with Flounder. He cackles wildly which makes me laugh which makes him laugh harder and round and round we go like 2 lunatics. He would put Vincent Price to shame. And just before he came I was going through a long deep depression. We are saving each other and he has brought untold joy into my life. 

Do I get lonely? Let me put it to you this way, and forgive me if this seems a little, well, rude-ish to talk about. It seems that every morning in the middle of making my latte and shake and taking vitamins and whatnot I have to, well, you know, ahem, go to the Lady's Room. Flounder is on my shoulder so he goes too. I sit on the throne and he starts singing at the top of his lungs (His owner's husband said that he loves to be in a small space and he sings loud to hear the echoes!). As Flounder is singing, laughing, and calling out, "FLOUNDER... FLOUNDER BIRD...." three pugs crowd into the tiny bathroom and then big doe Moe brings up the rear. There is not an inch of space left in the bathroom. 

Do I get lonely? Well, I might, if I had the time...

We wish you well and send love and beaky kisses and soft doggie noses to kiss too. Some of you have kitties or other animal companions. I used to have a friend that looked forward to getting home at night so she could sit and read the paper with her 2 snakes coiled happily around her (To each their own!). What I'm saying is that if you have it in your heart to take in a gentle creature that needs a home, do so. There are so many rescues, so many animals in need, so much love to share, sublime companionship like you will never share with another human being. Animals keep you here, in the present, and if you win their love you will have one of the purest experiences in the world, and they will keep you in the moment if you stay awake and alive and aware with them.

Now I must close. Sam the pug has gone to sleep slumped over me. Flounder has his head turned around and beak tucked in his feathers. He's sleepy and it's time for me to take him in to bed. We wish you all a peaceful night and we are grateful for your presence in our lives as well. 

Blessings abound, Miracles are everywhere, and there is more to be thankful for than we will ever have time to witness and praise. Lift your face upward, smile, breathe deeply and say Thank You. It doesn't matter what you are saying thank you for, it's okay if you can't even think of a thing in this moment, gratitude makes us joyful, and makes us aware of the abundance of riches we have every single moment of our lives. 

Thank you. We love you. Namaste...

Maitri & Family

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Meditation, A Moment, A Blessing & The Most Important Question You Can Ever Ask Yourself. Thank You Mary Oliver...

The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver

"Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

Monday, October 4, 2010

What Mellisandra The Rainbow Serpent Is Teaching Me...

"One of the most important dragons of creation mythology is the Australian Rainbow Serpent, its symbol being the rainbow bridging Heaven and Earth. Given the Dreamtime is connected to our world, the creation story of the Ancestors and their mythical past is simultaneously the creation of the present and our future. According to Aboriginal cosmology the link must be maintained if our future is to be made manifest."

~ Susanne Iles, The Dragon & Creation ~

I have been trying to figure out how to write this blog entry and not intrude on the sacred space that I am in but it is a tale worth telling, one that shocked me, surprised me, made my heart hurt and then opened my heart so wide that the air around me was as filled with luminous colors, just like Mellisandra, the Rainbow Serpent who lay in my lap while I worked feverishly to finish her for a show that she would never be in. Let me go back a little bit...

In a recent blog entry I spoke about the fiber show that I was going to be in. I was thrilled to have been included and very excited, but as the deadline grew near I was in a panic. On a Monday I found out that she had to be delivered on Saturday and there was no way in heaven I thought I could make that deadline, but I was determined and made a valiant effort to finish her and finish her in time I did, but what is meant to be is meant to be, and what is not is not. 

Mellisandra was not meant to go in the show, and as I've often said, "If you don't pay attention to the signs the Universe is giving you, you will get a big walloping HELLO, LISTEN HERE!" that will finally stop you in your tracks. I wish I'd listened to my first instinct. No, I don't, because of the lessons that I have learned, the unbelievable experience I wouldn't have had any other way. It turned out to be a shamanic journey, a sacred pilgrimage into unknown territory, and I was blessed with a vision that shook me to my core. I, myself, entered The Dreamtime, and during that experience the seeds of my future were planted and are now being made manifest. 

I can barely talk about this...

So it was Monday and the deadline was looming ahead. I worked in a time out of time kind of place, twelve to fifteen hours a day, barely getting 3-4 hours sleep before the dogs woke me to go out. Mid-afternoon I would collapse for a little nap, get up and make tea and keep working through the night until 4 a.m. the next morning.  By Saturday I was so close that I e-mailed the woman in charge and asked if I could have one more day and bring her in on Sunday and she said yes if I could get her there at a specified time, only a 1/2 hour window of time because the show was being hung that day. Determined to finish her I worked all the way through the night from Saturday into Sunday and was still working feverishly as the sun rose, putting the finishing touches on my beautiful serpent. 

Somewhere around 5 a.m. I didn't think I could make it. I could barely hold my eyes open and I was literally in that place when you are running on empty and still keep going, this time with no sleep at all, but I was being propelled through a dark tunnel into a blinding light, all the colors of the rainbow flashed around me and I was in a meditative state, prayerful, a state of grace, and then it happened. I cannot speak here of all of the details because it is too private but let me say this... I had a vision and it was as real as this computer sitting on my lap. I whispered to myself, "I can't go on..." and all of a sudden I was surrounded by all of the spirits and angels and everything I hold sacred and they spoke to me. "Keep going, keep going, let Mellisandra lead the way. Ask her why she came into your life, what she came to teach you." 

For a few moments I sat in a daze and then I reached down and lifted her head up. It was on the floor well in front of the ottoman my legs were stretched out on as she was now seven feet long. I looked into the eyes I had finished somewhere through the night and I knew, on some subconscious level, that she had come to teach me far more than I was prepared to learn, but learn it I must. We communed in silence but the message cut deep. Fathoms deep. A flood tide of emotion and my whole life passed before my sleepless eyes heading past me and on into the future. 

It is hard to speak about this...

Something else was happening at the same time that had made the week far more difficult than it would have been, even past the long hours and barely getting any sleep. Somewhere through the week I tore a ligament in my knee. The pain got worse until it became excruciating and I worked through the night with my knee bandaged, with ice packs continually on it, and it made my whole body ache, like the athlete who had injured herself but makes it to the finish line not knowing how bad it is until she stops. Friday night was terrible. Saturday even worse. I followed doctors orders with the leg up and iced and staying off my feet, slathering my leg with arnica gel before re-bandaging and putting a fresh ice pack on but I kept on going. By 6 a.m. I knew that I would have her finished but there was no way I could drive to get her there, I could barely walk, and the show was in the downtown area where it is impossible, most of the time, to even get a parking spot and you may have to walk two blocks to your destination. If I had been able to drive at all and park right in front of the building I wouldn't have been able to walk to carry her in. I sent an e-mail to my daughter Rachel asking if she could pick up this beautiful serpent and deliver her in time. 

My daughter always does e-mail early in the morning but I didn't hear from her. By 10 a.m. I was writing the woman in charge to say that the piece was finished and I was trying to reach my daughter to deliver her. I kept trying to call but I couldn't reach her for hours and the deadline came and went. Finally she called me to say that they had gone out of town the night before and she had just gotten my messages, and the only other person in town, my dear friend, was also out of town. I wrote and asked if there was any way that I could bring her in on Monday. The show didn't start until Tuesday, but I didn't hear back. Rachel said she could take her on Monday, but by Sunday afternoon I knew in my gut that it wasn't to be. I was heartbroken, I was hurting badly, but then... then the clouds parted and the rainbow appeared. Suddenly I was absolutely at peace. I let go. I knew that the whole purpose in making Mellisandra was not the show but the journey I would go on and it was far more powerful an experience than I could ever have imagined. 

Rachel showed up Monday but by then there was a brief e-mail saying, "The show is already hung, sorry it didn't work out." At that point I think I was just relieved. I was so exhausted I could barely see straight, the lessons, what had been shown to me during that sleepless night, told me so much about what my work ahead was supposed to be that it was exhilarating. My daughter and I talked about it and she said what I already knew inside. I had never done a show, I was terrified, but I committed to do it and did indeed finish the piece. I tried hard to get this amazing Rainbow Serpent to the show but it didn't happen. It wasn't meant to happen. It's like the quote, "It's not the end that matters but the journey that matters in the end." The journey I had been on was deeply profound and nothing was more important than what I had gone through. 

When I started working on Mellisandra I knew, just knew, that she was supposed to be at least ten feet long, but I made a piece that was seven feet long and finished her by the deadline. The thing is, she wasn't really finished, not like she was supposed to be. Now I could take up where I left off and keep going. By Monday night I gently picked her up again and again there was a deeply profound spiritual experience where even more than I could quite comprehend at the time was revealed. I have spent the last week continuing to work on her and now I know that she will be far more than ten feet because I realized what needed to be done. I am going to continue to work on her for the next year, and chart the journey in a book, a spiritual journey that parallels the lifetime I have spent on this earth to date, and the life that I have ahead.

As in the quote at the top of this page Mellisandra came into my life in the present to take me into the future, that slide down the other side of the rainbow. I have been struggling with my work for some time and all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, working feverishly and in pain to finish the serpent that lay in my lap over my knee, iced and aching, my angels and spirit guides, God, and the magic of the Dreamtime lifted me out of one reality and into the next. I am forever changed and filled with gratitude. The link, the lesson, what I learned, will hold me steady on my course and my future will unfold before me and be made manifest. A long depression and fear lifted from me, and though I was in pain I felt better, happier, more at peace than I have in a long time. 

I have experienced a miracle. I am in awe, I am richly blessed, I am filled with gratitude. 

Just this morning, over coffee, I was rereading one of my favorite writers, Sue Bender. It was from her first book, Plain and Simple, about the incredible year that she left her chaotic life and went to live with an Amish family. At the end of the book she wrote, "Miracles happen after a lot of hard work." And so they do.

It is past 2 a.m. as I write this. I am not sleeping well because whatever position I shift into causes too much pain so I flip and flop and shift around all night long, stuffing a pillow under my knee for support, but it's all okay. The knee injury was part of a wake-up call I needed too. A lesson in living mindfully, in paying attention, in living awake and alive in the present moment and not floating about with my head in the clouds as I am wont to do. It will not be a quick recovery but I have Mellisandra to see me through and even as I write this, my knee propped up on ice, I am surround by boxes and bags of handspun yarns, and now I will be spinning a lot more yarn as I continue to ride the serpent's back toward my future. Just as a snake sheds it's skin I have shed much in these last two weeks and come to a clearer space than I have ever been before, and I am open and listening carefully to the lessons that Mellisandra is teaching me. God is speaking through her and the room is filled with benevolent presences as I write and work on this Rainbow Serpent. Maybe she will be 100 feet long. It's not for me to say, or to know at this point. It's my job to keep working and listen to that still small voice within. I am listening. There is much to do and a road ahead I must traverse, following a beautiful, iridescent, Rainbow Serpent who came to help me through a dark night of the soul, and is leading me on the path I was meant to take. 

I am listening Mellisandra, and I am following...

P.S. I wish I could have taken pictures to include here but Mellisandra is very long and unwieldy and I am not steady with my bad knee, but I will be photographing her for upcoming entries when I can manage to get around better!