Thursday, December 30, 2010

Praise Wet Snow

The stark duality of everyday life sometimes drains my energy to the point of exhaustion. The ongoing vigil of staying present in the face of cold and warmth, disappointment and satisfaction, anger and equinimity, acceptance and rejection. Sometimes I'm so weary, yet still there is a joy and stillness deep in my core.  And so I "praise flow and change."

Denise Levertov had the idea in this poem:

Praise wet snow
falling early.
Praise the shadow
              my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
the invisible sun burning beyond
       the white cold sky,giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.
god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our hand,
our murderous hand,
and gives us
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Make of Yourself a Light

At Christmas there are the candles and the tree lights and lights on our houses ~ lights everywhere! It reminds me of all the ways we have been told that we are light.

Mary Oliver says it in her poem "The Buddha's Last Instruction"

Make of yourself a light said the Buddha, before he died...

And in "When I Am Among the Trees" she writes:

The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.

Just think what the world would be like if we did this!

Peace on Earth ~ Goodwill toward All ~ Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Tree Ornament

We returned home yesterday to find a small package in the mailbox.  Remembering so many Christmases past, I was a child again. Back then excitement over the mailman dropping off packages bubbled up like great geysers of joy bursting from all five of us kids.  There was such innocence in our curiosity; devoid of advertising-induced desires for the latest toy, we just wanted to know what it was and who sent it. Someone loved us enough to send a gift!

Every year packages arrived from our cousins. Their mother and ours were sisters and, though we lived 200 hundred miles apart, we were like extended siblings. This package, wrapped in the familiar brown paper the post office once required, was from one of our cousins. It was the first to arrive in many, many years. I wanted to open it and not wait as we always had to when we were young.

But such intense emotions filled my heart and burst out in all directions, not knowing how to be expressed.  This was a package from John & Karen; and I knew it must hold a precious memory. For in August, John's sister, Kay had died quite unexpectedly. My cousin Kay just a few years older was gone.  The sudden and cruel reality has left us all with eyes burning from tears and hearts weeping for the loss of time to spend laughing and just sharing life.

That a trucker driving a huge gravel truck had carelessly hit Kay as she tried to cross the street in downtown St. Charles is still so difficult to believe. Not a day goes by that I don't pause to remember her. Generous, kind, authentic, always meeting each of us with an open heart, really being present. Everyone who knew her shares the deep love and compassion that simply radiated from her.

Now there is this package that I slowly unwrap. There is small box wrapped in tissue paper, Christmas card greeting and a letter that at a glance looked like those familiar annual "brag" letters people send.  I knew at once it was not one of those, but a tender remembering of Kay and a sharing of what our cousins have experienced since August.

What is here now in this moment? Deep sadness for the loss of this remarkable woman; deep gratitude for the gift of her life.

The package, as it turns out, contained an ornament from Kay's collection of Christmas decorations. They decided to give people who knew and loved Kay each an ornament. I received one of the "Little Women" Hallmark collection as each of my three sisters did. I smile as I look at the tiny Josephine "Jo" March and my mind's eye fills with images of Kay's huge collection of Madame Alexander dolls.

"Jo" will grace our Christmas tree, along with angels, santas, little drummer boys, nutcrackers, stars, bells, shiny balls and all the precious handmade ornaments from Christmases so long ago. New ornaments join our treasures as grandsons proudly add their special gifts and adorn the tree with love and family memories more precious than gold.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Snow!

I awoke to white snow everywhere!  There's something about the first snow of the season. Snowflakes swirling, drifting, dancing, and alighting everywhere. Spectacular! Each flake is unique; mother nature's creative hand turning frozen crystalized water into artistic beauty. Awe-struck, I am filled with wonder, gratitude and joy.

Walking this morning was brutal; harsh winds made it feel like the tundra rather than central Illinois.  But Payton loved it!  He runs, jumps, and dives into the white fluffy stuff like a puppy's first winter adventure...

The Storm
Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon 
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.
Oh, I could not have said it better!

by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Here You Are, Alive!

“That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’”

–Mary Oliver, from the foreword of her book 
Long Life: Essays and other Writing

My comment to the world is this: I want to pause and feel the space between my thoughts so that compassion, loving kindness, joy and peace can emerge from deep inside. I want to be spacious and open enough to hold the entire world, without judgment, without making assumptions, without fear.

This morning it was 10.5 degrees above zero when I awoke! That's COLD! I rolled my Yoga mat out in front of our gas fireplace with deep appreciation for this warm, cozy house. After my practice and meditation, I thought, "Do I dare take Payton for his walk?" Guilt got the best of me and I piled on layer upon layer, ending with my long down coat (good to 20 below). Finally, we were ready!

As we walked, the frigid air stung my face and it took only a few minutes for my hands to feel the bite of the cold, even through two pairs of gloves.  The sky was a winter blue, crisp, clear and light, too cold to hold any heavy molecules of moisture. Even in this harsh temperature, every cell of my body was dancing with joy. It's great to be alive!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Points of Light

Do you ever think about how everything is made up of points of light? Compacted vibrations that shimmer and radiate in all directions at the same time? In a dream last night everyone and everything were just sparkling lines of light. Zooming in I could see each tiny point and moving out there were the lines forming images and connections to one another. What about this? Could we be something more than what we are able to see with our physical eyes?

At this magical holiday time, it's easy to believe things that can't be 100% proved in the physical world. That's just one of the reasons I love this time of year. There is such excitement in the air ~ anticipation, joy, and wonder. That is, if we can awake each day with the heart of a child, wide open and ready for everything!

This morning as I look out my dining room window, I see a cold December dawn. Buddha sits contentedly against our red bud tree surrounded by fallen leaves and what remains of our perennials as the great winter's rest begins. And thoughts return again and again ~ Why are we here?  Who am I?

Buddha in Glory

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet--
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is my all time favorite holiday... not for the huge dinner, all of the eating, but for giving and the thanks.  Each year I am amazed by the love that surrounds us and radiates from each of us.  No matter the group, his family, my family, assorted friends or neighbors, always there is the love.  The kind that is full of laughter and acceptance - a sharing of just plain joy and fun!  The work of preparing and cooking the feast doesn't seem like work at all.

Then there's the thanks; I can actually see it! Moving from one heart to another and out into the world is this energy flowing on invisible lines and renewing us with appreciation for each other, ourselves, and life itself.

The exotic recipes and sheer abundance of food are just a ruse, a cover-up for the real things - giving and thanks.                                    

Thanks for the beauty of the world.
Thanks for my life.
Mary Oliver

If the only prayer you say in your entire life is "thank you," that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart

If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house 
near the corner, which I have named
Mary Oliver

Monday, November 29, 2010

Truckers Are Angels Too

 A couple of weeks ago we had a "writer's challenge" from the Tuesday night writer's group. Write a short, short story in 55 words or less.  When I first read the message, I thought, "No way!" It was automatic resistance. It can't be done. I'm not really a writer anyway. 

But the idea just kept rolling through my mind like a faint reminder.  It wouldn't go away.  It wasn't nagging at me or trying to force me.  It was playful, like my grandsons when they want to play, "Just one more game, Grandma, Nancy, please!"    

When the idea popped into my head, my reaction was this just might work.  After six or seven revisions, here's what appeared...

While driving on Route 4, I didn’t realize my favorite ring was so loose that it flew out the window along with my apple core.  After much searching, a semi stopped and the trucker stepped out, eyes set upon a specific spot, reaching for a small shining object.  “Is this what you’re looking for?”  

Everyone at Writers' Group had one or two writings and we listened like wide-eyed children to the rich, vibrant stories, each told in 55 words or less.

                  Autumn Bucks County Country Road

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Today is my birthday!  It began with an early meditation at 5:15 (the exact time of my birth).  After Payton and I took our walk, I found this Mary Oliver poem that expresses this moment exquisitely.  "What I want in my life is to be dazzled... I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery... that the imperfections are nothing and the light is everything... And I do!"

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them --

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided --
and that one wears an orange blight --
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away --
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled --
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing --
that the light is everything -- that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading.  And I do.
~ Mary Oliver ~
(House of Light)

Much gratitude to for this photo & poem found @

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Shout of Joy

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets. He is so honest that you cannot help but open your heart and look closely at who you are. The House of Belonging is a collection of poems published in 1997, but I've just recently discovered it!  There are so many poems I want to share, but I'll start with just a part of "The Winter of Listening."

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy 
waiting to be born.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

~David Whyte~

When I Am Among the Trees...

There's a Mary Oliver poem that resonates so much, especially during the autumn.  The last stanza is a reminder of why I'm here on this earth. She says like the trees, we are here "to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine!"  

Last week I found myself driving down a tree-lined street and the maple trees dressed in their vibrant red leaves quite simply took my breath away. I returned with my camera and took a few photos. I stood under them, walked around them, felt their rough bark and smooth leaves, inhaled the earthy fragrance, and wrapped my arms around them. The pure joy of aliveness filled my being...

Of course, there is no way to capture the awe-inspiring beauty of that moment. Nevertheless, here is one image and that poem:

When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."
~ Mary Oliver ~

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Great Mystery

My mother died in July of last year, less than a month from her 88th birthday. I miss her. She was my anchor though I never thought about it much.  Her last several years brought health problems that diminished the quality of life, like a thief stealing just small things, but over and over until so little remained that she was able to do.  She used to say, "Why am I still here, Nan?  What use is there for me to be alive?"

To be honest, at times,  I wondered that, too. But I would repeat each time she asked, "It's a mystery, Mom. No one knows why.  It's the great mystery!"  Then we'd laugh or sigh and talk about what was happening with the family or the latest gossip at the assisted living center where she lived.  She was like a giggling teen when she told me about the man who sang "There she is... Miss America" as she slowly worked her walker through the dining room to her place at the table. She never liked attention, but I think underneath the embarrassment she remembered how beautiful she really was.

Before she died, my sisters and I were able to have a discussion about those final details. She had some papers in her desk with insurance and cemetery information, along with a folded yellow newspaper clipping.  It was a poem she had kept from the local newspaper many years before.  She wanted it read at her funeral. The four of us sat quietly staring at each other. I picked up that tattered piece of paper and began to read.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am in a thousand winds that blow.
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain.
I am the fields of ripening grain.

I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush 
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.

I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I do not die.

~Mary Frye~

I knew I wanted to read this.  After a lifetime of connection with this woman I called "mother", my heart overflowed with quiet gratitude.   How could I have not known who she really was?  After all of my studying and practicing the non-dual teachings of Yoga...  

It's a mystery!  When do we realize who we really are?  Is it just a glimpse or does it stay? Do we need to do anything to keep it?  What happens when the body dies?  Why are we so afraid?  Who, exactly is afraid?

Now I watch as each moment unfolds, wondering what will this body experience? And welcoming everything just as it is ~ letting go into the great mystery.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Out of the Silence... Everything Comes!

This morning Payton, our Golden Retriever, and I tried to leave the house in time to catch a beautiful sunrise. From the window the sky was vibrant with pink and golden hues shining through a few light fluffy clouds.  I wanted to capture the beauty with my camera, but being even less than a novice, the photo couldn't begin to depict our experience. Still, I wanted to post my first photo!

Payton loves his morning walks. Being in the present moment ~ alert, senses wide open, body vibrating in pure gladness ~ is what he does best! Whoever said dogs aren't enlightened obviously hasn't met Payton. We continued down the block until our attention awakened to a cacophony. We paused to listen to what seemed to be 100's of birds, all in one tree!

Their chirping caught our attention and even though it disturbed the morning quiet, it was not a disturbance.  It was simply unfolding, coming out of the Silence that holds the entire universe.  Wendell Berry says it so eloquently ~

Ask the world to reveal its quietude-
not the silence of machines when they are still,
but the true quiet by which songbirds,
trees, bellworts, snails, clouds, storms
become what they are, and are nothing else.

~ Wendell Berry ~

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why I Wake Early! Don't Go Back to Sleep!

I love the time change!  Not for the extra hour of sleep, but for the light ~ the extra hour of morning sunlight!  I've always been an early riser, even as a teenager when all of my friends & my siblings relished sleeping in until noon.  The colors in the morning sky are so vibrant & the air sparkles with aliveness.  The best part, though, is the quiet.  The morning silence is my time to melt into the Presence that is always here, but often overshadowed by all the other stuff.  Stuff to do, places to go, appointments to keep...

So, even though the days are short and the sky is often that November gray, today the sun is shining brightly, the sky is radiantly blue, and the breeze is so soft on my face.  Two poems come to mind.  The first by Mary Oliver and the second, Rumi.  Am I overdoing this?

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(Why I Wake Early, 2004)

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Falling Toward the Center of My Longing

Today is Writer's Group.  I started going a few months ago and I find this group has sparked a longing deep inside.  Though I have no idea what will emerge, I know that it offers me the chance to open to each moment.  I listened again to one of my favorite poems by David Whyte, "Self Portrait."  I recognize that I am "prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change" me.  I want to look back "with firm eyes saying this is where I stand."  This is where I stand!

Self Portrait

It doesn't interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

  -- David Whyte
      from Fire in the Earth 
      ©1992 Many Rivers Press

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Treasures Hidden in the Pages of a Memo Pad

Last night I was looking through my book bag for paper to jot down some notes and a serendipitous poem appeared folded in between the last page and the cardboard back of a memo pad. Standing at a crossroads, filled with uncertainty and unanswered questions, I am immersed in deep gratitude.  Non-dual Yoga teachings remind me to let go and just BE.  Allow each moment to unfold just as it is.

The following poem is taken from "Letters to a Young Poet" (1939). Rainer Maria Rilke is a German poet who is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

Be patient toward all that
     is unresolved in your heart
And try to love the questions
Do not seek the answers, which
     cannot be given you
Because you would not be able
    to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will... gradually,
     without noticing it
     live along some distant
     day into the answer.
                                     ~Rainer Maria Rilke~

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why Worry?

I found a wonderful Mary Oliver poem today on another Yoga teacher's blog, First Sip. Claudia Cummins is a yoga teacher in Ohio and wrote the "For Beginners" column in Yoga Journal for many years. I have enjoyed her articles and incorporated several of her suggestions into my teaching. I'd like to share this poem here as my first blog!


I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

~ Mary Oliver