The Power to Change Lives

Sunflowers in the garden, bowing their lovely faces in the gentle rain.

My favorite sunflower yellow Fiestaware mug, steaming with lemon tea.

The beginnings of a sense of being soothed after a nap, after a mostly sleepless night.

Nothing major is “wrong,” per se.

Just a litany of jangly, achy, irritating details I’m trying to release.

First, to get it over with, it’s camp nurse flashback time again.

“Freddy is fine!”

Though Freddy (read that me) had another fall. A very minor fall, this time.

Really!

It turns out that if you fall off an overly enthusiastic little rolling stool you don’t have nearly as far to go before you hit the floor which seems to be a good thing.

A couple of bruises and some aches. About equal parts frustration and gratitude.

It has slowed down the painting, though.

A minor riot on the part of the resident rescue dogs resulting in the need to completely rearrange the pantry for security reasons.

Rather more frustration. Until I realize that I have food to put in my pantry and nobody got hurt.

Time challenges. Reflections on the old Amish quote: The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!”

And thanks for having work I love.

A reminder of the time, 30 years or so ago, when I first wrapped my head around the notion that stories have the power to change lives and I get to tell stories.

I hope that some of those stories are helpful to you. To people we know. And don’t know yet.

I know they are helpful to me.

In choosing what to write, I am also, in an odd sort of way, choosing what to believe.

Or, as the story goes, Stephen King has been known to say, “I write to find out what I think…”

For today, I am choosing to believe that life is for learning and sometimes that means we fall down.

And get back up, looking for tea and sleep and maybe a bowl of soup.

(Not to mention the Muscle & Joint essential oils I brough back from Hawaii!)

And now, there’s a break between the rain showers and the big dogs need a stroll out back. Soon it will be time to feed them. And laugh while I watch them loving their food.

Which is a pretty great story right there.

What stories are you choosing to believe?

 

 

 

 

 

Chunking It Down

Here’s something about me you may or may not know:

I’m addicted to The West Wing.

Somewhere, deep in those seven seasons of what may just be the greatest TV ever, there is a message that is, apparently, still not through with me. So, around and around I go, each season after the other, all in a spiral, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Listening, still.

I’ve thought about that a lot since my Pilgrimage journey began a couple of weeks ago. Unlike The West Wing, where I imagine that  I know exactly what’s coming and when, I have no idea where this experience is headed. And with each step I find myself deciding, over and over again, to keep going. To accept the ancient truth that all journeys happen one step at a time and we don’t know what’s next, even when we think we do.

I’ve also thought a lot about how we learn. How we change. How we grow.

Several of my various gurus and wizards through the years would contend that one powerful way we learn is through the process of modeling. Simply, finding somebody who’s doing what we want to learn and watching their process until we can break it down into tiny chunks. Then we “just” do what they do.

According to the experts, it works for just about everything. “Just about” being, I think, the key to the concept.

It is, in fact, possible to watch Mario Batali make pasta on foodie tv until you have each step figured out, and all the ingredients, and then practice often enough that your hands learn what everything is supposed to feel like and you wind up with truly excellent pasta.

Some things may not be quite so possible. For example, when I was in high school I had the unlikely notion that I wanted to learn to pole vault. Really!

Now, if we were to ask the experts, they’d say that, with intense modeling, I could indeed learn to pole vault.

I applaud the theory. I just think that it ignores the realities of six knee surgeries, some debatably reliable lower back discs, and at least a couple of the laws of physics.

It is possible, as I’m doing now, to watch really gifted people who’ve spent years breaking down the steps of painting with a certain outcome in mind and begin, against all odds, to paint yourself.

Painting, at least in an intentional process like the one I am learning, also involves a lot of pondering. And layers of meaning. (A lot like quilting!)

What are we hoping for? What are we trying to express? What might be better because of what we’ve put on a canvas?

Which reminds me of another use of that word, modeling.

Sometimes it does mean watching somebody else, chunking it down, and practicing what we have observed.

The grandmother in me knows that it works the other way, too.

What am I modeling for my girls? (Or my dogs, for that matter?)

What are any of us modeling for our world?

And how, exactly, do we do that?

I suspect the answer looks different for all of us.

But what if the underlying reason was a celebration of something along the lines of openness, justice, inclusion, peace-making, love, or maybe just weeping with the people in Texas?

What if, as much as humanly possible, we walked about the world each day modeling that?

I know. I sound like a hippy-dippy, tree-hugging, soup-making grandmother wandering my world in Newf proof, paint stained clothes.

I’m ok with that. That is who I am. At least, it’s who I’m learning to be! (Some days, perhaps, rather slowly.)

Every moment is a new chance to practice!

Which reminds me of one of those things I wouldn’t personally have planned quite this way, though it seems to be true, regardless:

In order to feel differently, we have to do something different!

(Just in case you needed a reminder like I did!)

The Power of Hands to Teach

Lately, my hands have been teaching me.

Planning. Planting. Watering. Watching.

Hope. Surprise.

Glowing yellow sunflowers, sheltering tiny sprouts of arugula under their towering stalks.

But before that, my hands taught me something else.

In the early months of 1985, I began working as a nurse in the operating room of our local hospital. Here’s the way the story began:

I’d only been in surgery a few days when an emergency came in and the surgeons needed more help than they had. I was scrubbed, gowned, gloved, and squeezed into the crowd around the table. “Hold this,” a surgeon said, “and don’t move.”

For the next four hours I stood, barely breathing, with my hand wrapped around a man’s beating heart. I was terrified. My feet fell asleep. My back ached. I needed to use the bathroom. And still I stood, with life in my hand.

Finally it was over. The patient was wheeled away to recovery and the surgeons scattered to their busy worlds. 

I went to wash my hands. As I stood at the scrub sink for the second time that day, I was overwhelmed with the certainty that humanity, in all its tremendous complexity and fragility, could not be an accident. What my hand had learned through all those long hours of sheltering a beating heart had taught my own heart the truth of a universe created in Love. 

Lately, my hands have been teaching me again. This time, wrapped around paint brushes. Feeling as if I am holding my own heart beating in a way I have not noticed before. Which feels, in turn, as profound as holding another person’s beating heart!

Pilgrimage is a time for growing.

I thought I signed up for this month-long journey I’ve been on for about two weeks now because I’m intrigued by Shiloh Sophia’s artwork and the symbolism involved in it. Because I became interested in the Black Madonna traditions through things I’ve read over the last several years. Because I wanted to know more about the truth that many scholars call the Divine Feminine.

All of those things are true.

There seem, however, to be other true things as well.

First, I have two granddaughters. Mighty mini women growing and learning by leaps and bounds. Full of questions.

Then, I seem to have been on this journey much longer than I ever realized.

I feel as though I’ve discovered parts of me, of my heart, that I never knew before.

As though I am literally painting my circle of faith larger and more rich in stories and symbols.

And I’m stretching my understanding of history, as well.

It’s exciting. And a little scary. When I stayed safely in my old circles, I knew where I belonged.

If you’ve been reading along for a while, you’ve probably heard me mention one of the most important books in my own journey of learning: Women’s Ways of Knowing. Written by a collection of academic types, this volume explores the ways in which women regard individuals and institutions with authority and what they accept as true, or not.

The fifth of these ways of knowing is called constructed knowledge. According to the authors, it is “an effort to reclaim the self by attempting to integrate knowledge that [women] felt intuitively was personally important with knowledge they had learned from others ” (134).

There’s more. Lots more. Here’s what we need for today:

“Constructivists become passionate knowers, knowers who enter into a union with that which is to be known…personal knowledge as…the passionate participation of the knower in the act of knowing”  (141).

The authors are frank about the observation that it’s not an easy journey. I would agree!

I do feel, in these days, a conscious sense of connection to a universal, archetypal “Mother” in a whole new way, making, as the old story goes, newness out of chaos.

It will probably take me a while to figure out where all this will lead. Except for more painting! I do know though that my hands have led me, yet again, to a place where my world is bigger than it was before. And more true.

Where are your hands leading you?

Oh, just in case you didn’t know…In the Hebrew language, the word for hand and the word for power are the same!

How many Kleenex???

On our recent visit with the kids, I took along the latest bag of those box top things that help schools get what they need. We don’t eat many foods that offer them, but we do use lots of Kleenex. So many, apparently, that Kelly actually asked what we did with them all!

Well, the dogs and I do a lot of tea and Kleenex time with folks who come to rock in our chair and sort through important stories.

The pollen has been really rough this year.

Then there are my tears. The kind that appear in a sudden rush, “The surest signs,” as Frederick Buechner would say, “of truth that we have.”

The kind, as my Pilgrimage friends would say, that we are meant to follow.

There have been lots of those this week.

Charlottesville.

Barcelona.

Deep connections forging themselves inside me as I learn new things.

Sadness. Grief. Anger.

And hints of relief, here and there.

Fortunately, today is a Kroger day. Or, more specifically, a Bill is going to Kroger day.

We don’t really buy food there. Mostly just things we can’t get at the Farmers Market.

Pills for Sarah who made a hasty leap from the couch, where she was helping me paint, and sprained her shoulder.

Paper towels. Probably zippy bags. Kleenex, for sure.

You get the drift. The dogs, who have recently become fascinated by bags of groceries, won’t even notice.

And yet, we need those things too. The things that support us in whatever else we’re trying to accomplish.

And cup after cup after cup of hot water with lemon in a sunny yellow Fiestaware mug that just makes my heart feel full.

It doesn’t make much sense that a mug full of water would feel that special, day after day, and yet it does.

What are the things in your world that feel like that?

Do you allow yourself to notice them? To make them part of your daily life?

We humans have learned through the ages to notice the things that aren’t working, far more than we do the ones that are.

It’s an important survival strategy!

Think about a hungry bear waddling rapidly in your direction through a field full of golden daffodils nodding in the sun.

Which needs more of your immediate attention?

Exactly! And, on the one hand, we want to keep noticing the bears in our world. When they’re literally there.

On the other hand, things like my beautiful, comforting mug, all warm and sunny, help us to be in the moment where we are, breathing in and out, and letting go of a bit our stress, which is really good for us and for the world.

Tears often work the same way. Also music.

So, Kroger. Kleenex.

And prayers for peace.

 

Just tell the stories…now!

You know how two things that are familiar, separately, can suddenly appear totally different when they wind up close together? Especially if you add in an unexpected wild card, or two?

This is what my world feels like just now.

It has a lot to do with stories.

Yesterday, a friend told me that she was spending hours and hours a day worrying about the current occupant of the Oval Office. What, she asked, did she do about that?

Please be clear that the answer was not mine. It came from the uber-wise Dr.Clarissa Pinkola Estes, whose book, Untie the Strong Woman, I’m reading at the moment, inspired by my Pilgrimage into the mythos of the Black Madonnas.

Because of this book, I who have five college degrees, am beginning to learn some crucial things about world history that I somehow managed to escape thus far.

The one that feels most important to me in this moment is that this is not the first time the world has been here. We have a long history of power-hungry dictator-types trying to secure their positions through fear.

It has never been fun. It has often been effective.

Knowing that, we have other choices.

One of those choices is telling the stories of liberation.

I have some friends who are working hard to do just that.

Our book, Breathing Words, is coming out in September. It’s an anthology. A collection of words by a community of writers. Many of them, stories of overcoming oppression and tragedy, lifetimes in the making, and utterly of the moment.

We’re all busy learning new things. Formatting. Websites. Pinterest. Perhaps even Twitter. Meme making. (See above. Thanks, friends!) Being a writer is complicated in our world. And yet, we have stories to tell.

Why?

According to author and teacher, Natalie Goldberg, “To write is to continue the human lineage” (The True Secret of Writing, p. 3). The oral traditions count, too!

Then, this morning, a wild card.

We’re still adapting to the blessing of three dogs rather than two.

Recently, Sarah and Luther have developed a new dynamic. Sarah, as she is fond of doing, stares out the front window.

Luther barks his head off, in these days, even when there’s nothing to bark about.

I devoutly wish he’d shut up.

Suddenly, this morning, in the midst of all these perceptions rumbling in me…a new thought.

But, on the way, a hint from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, “Write what’s in front of your face”.

Here’s mine… Three minutes. Go.

Luther has eye problems. He can’t see out the window. He can see Sarah, looking out the window. And he assumes that there is something to worry about. So he worries. And barks. Loudly.

It’s a lot like watching the news, especially these days.

The garbage collectors come two times a week. The recycling folks, yet another. The UPS drivers, a whole lot more often than that. It’s the way our world works in this time, no matter how much we might think barking will help.

Politicians worry about polls. And self-image. They look for scary things to distract us from the hunger for power and self-interest. It doesn’t help, any more than barking does.

What will help is hope. Our hope. And the certainty that we will not always be where we are.

Also, paint. And stories.

 

Keep up with the news on our anthology project by liking Breathing Words on Facebook. We’d appreciate it!

 

 

 

 

 

Pilgrimage

If you’ve been reading along for a while, you may have heard me tell the story about growing up with a mom who spent my childhood telling everybody that I was the smart kid and my younger sister was the artistic kid.

It took me a while to realize that Mom was doing the best she could. I wouldn’t presume to speak for my sister, but that particular set of labels didn’t work too well for me. In fact, I was literally 40 years old before it occurred to me that it was possible to be both smart and artistic!

I’ve found my own art forms through the years. Words. Quilts. Photography. The odd scribble drawing or unexpectedly satisfying pottery project. And knitted scarves. Miles of them.

This weekend, I set out on a journey. A Pilgrimage, really.

The kind of perspectives that involve loosening my grip on tales I learned to clutch tightly, in order to receive additional, more liberating ones in this moment.

Also art. Painting, to be specific. Not rollers and walls. Canvas and brushes and even an easel, which I sincerely hope comes with training wheels!

Thirty three days of exploring the traditions of the Black Madonnas.

Haunting music and dance. Tea and rose petals.

Women I’ve never met, and yet somehow know already. Community, simultaneously virtual and real.

Utterly amazing leaders, including Shiloh Sophia and Kayleen Asbo.

A red thread around my wrist.

And my granddaughters as my inspiration.

The world they’re growing up in needs more love.

More of the divine feminine.

More art.

And a whole lot more openness.

I made a promise that I’d do what I could. So, Pilgrimage.

You can come along with me!

If you haven’t discovered Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor’s bestselling book, Traveling with Pomegranates, that could be a good place to start. Or to re-visit in this moment. Along, of course, with The Secret Life of Bees and The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I’m sure I’ll have some other hints along the way.

We don’t need new hiking boots. Or special tourist visas. Or even a stash of air travel friendly protein bars.

We just need hope. And an openness to more love in the world.

What, really, do we need more than that in such a time as this?

A Trip to Another World

Deep in the winter of 1989, I went with a group of seminary students and one of our professors to visit the far away land of Hungary.

It was just before the old Eastern block fell. Free falling into a world of communist customs agents and Russian tanks thundering through what were once farmers’ fields beside the road.

It was cold. It was dark. It was so very, very different. (Which was, after all, the point.)

Alternative Context. A program designed to get wanna-be preachers outside the familiar worlds where they grew up and into the lives of those who seemed other.

Food was quite an issue.

Red pickled cabbage, the only vegetable we encountered.

Coffee so dark and thick it didn’t require a cup.

Something that resembled liquid peanut brittle for breakfast.

A fabulous bowl of fish soup on the shores of Lake Balanton. If you didn’t mind picking out the eyeballs.

And the infamous “pig jell-o” all gray and jiggly on a platter, full of suspicious chunks, at a village luncheon.

So much I didn’t understand, long before my days of local, seasonal food.

And so much I’ve learned.

We’re having a similar learning experience at our house.

The resident herd of Newfies are going species appropriate real food.

Controversial, perhaps, in some circles. The next logical thing in our world.

They have orthopedic and digestive and allergy problems I haven’t been able to solve so far. Problems that limit their lives.

We’re starting with turkey and, while we have some skill development to work on, it looks like they’re pretty thrilled.

My fears are disappearing.

There was the whole (perceived) germ thing, after years as an O.R. nurse. (Which is way more me than what they’re eating!)

And the hunting and gathering thing which I’m doing lots of myself, still complicated a bit by that recent fall.

Quantities. Timing. Keeping them from mugging each other for a chicken foot.

I started out anxious. And hopeful. And pretending to be confident!

Which is exactly how I’ve felt about every big change in my life.

My local farmer friends are thrilled.

Bill’s stocking up on dishwasher soap.

The ironic thing is that I’m feeding our dogs essentially what we eat. Clean, local, seasonal food.

Sources I trust.

Support for farmers I know.

The beasties might be feeling like they woke up in Hungary for a while. And there’s the whole thing about shifting to one meal a day!  Adjusting to that may take a bit.

I’m hoping they’ll be glad to learn new things. I’m still learning from that trip to Hungary.

And grateful now, more than ever.

Life is for learning!

 

 

 

 

 

Sue Boardman, Certified Intentional Creativity® Color of Woman Teacher