My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Category Archives: beauty

Celebrate the Day!

Today is the birthday of prize winning poet, Mary Oliver.  Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver!!

I discovered the words of Mary Oliver in a bathroom of a professional building in Fremont (one of Seattle’s neighborhoods) sometime in the last few years.  Someone had printed out the poem, “Wild Geese,” and taped it to the wall by the sinks.  This line, perhaps the most famous, resonated deeply: “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

My mindfulness teacher read me the poem, “Summer’s Day,” one evening last summer after I got back from my trip to France.  She was inspired to do so after hearing my tales of how I had laid in the grass in Provence watching grasshoppers, contemplating their movements, noticing how they leap forward.  Insects, – life’s little teachers.

image borrowed from Extended Yoga

image borrowed from Extended Yoga

“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.”

Nearly a year after my introduction to “Summer’s Day,” I serendipitously stumbled (not a literal stumble, one of those cyber stumbles) across another part of this poem, a beautiful line that spoke to my heart:  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  This line became the inspiration for my post, “Vows for the Summer Solstice.”

Mary Oliver. . . prolific in her poetry, offering so much depth and insight in her craft.  And she, who was born into this world on the 10th day of September.  She, like me.

Let us celebrate Mary Oliver by celebrating some of her wise words.

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”

“…there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

“But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive. ”

“So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.”

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”

Let’s sing and dance and CELEBRATE the day, this 10th day of September.  Happy Birthday!!

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Thank you, Brian, for your inspiration!  You are a gift to me and to this world!  I remain forever grateful that our paths crossed.  Until we meet again……

Vows for the Summer Solstice

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?

My Inner Mystic ... I vow

I vow to . . .

LOVEHONOR, CHERISHTRUST

CELEBRATEPLAY

SING & DANCESTRETCH

DISCOVER

I vow to love, honor, and cherish all beings, including myself, and to trust in their innate goodness. 

I vow to celebrate the preciousness and beauty of life. 

I vow to play, sing, and dance, to use my body joyfully and harmoniously. 

I vow to stretch myself, inside and out, always. 

I vow to discover (or simply re-discover) within myself the vast wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and truth that will guide me in this life.

In celebration of my favorite day of the year, the summer solstice, I bow to the L I G H T that shines within me and within all of us, and I salute the sun!

 Namaste!

The Last Breath

It’s March.  It’s been March for the last 22 days.  I never know from year to year what emotions will bubble to the surface in March or how long the bubbling will last, but something always stirs in me in March and to varying depths and degrees.

Some time in early March I started thinking of those I’ve lost in my life to death – all of my grandparents, my brother, my dad.  I was remembering the last weeks of my maternal grandma’s life, her sadness that her life was being cut short by untreated breast cancer that spread to her organs.  Once the cancer metastasized in her organs, she declined fast.  I have a vivid memory of her saying to me, “there was still so much I had planned to do…I haven’t even finished your quilt.”  My grandma had such an amazing work ethic and was never idle, making it especially hard for her to let go and accept that she was leaving things unfinished.

A sense of my own mortality was very present on my mind.  I ruminated on the fact that we have a limited shelf life, that our hearts only beat so many beats and then it’s over.  I was feeling depressed about aging and expressed to others often, “I don’t like it.”  I was keenly aware of those around me that are at a more advanced place on the life spectrum.  I was filled with dread, with despair.  I am quite sure I expressed out loud (or maybe I just said it in my mind), “this is what we have to look forward to?”

I imagined how difficult it would be for me to lose my mom, especially when I’ve worked so hard to strengthen our relationship and am still very much in need of mothering.  My heart yearns for mothering, for nurturing, for nourishment.  I was imaging that if my mom died at this point in my life that it would be especially painful for me.  I was feeling a lot of pain just imagining losing my mom; I got choked up sharing these thoughts, my imaginings, with a friend.

It finally clicked for me why my mind had traveled to such a grim place.

My brother died 15 years ago today, March 22.  I was a senior in college.  My brother was 27 years old.  He died after a four and a half year battle with brain cancer that in the end spread down his spine.  My brother was such a fighter, hardly ever complaining or grumbling about his illness.  My brother had a very strong faith in God and a belief in heaven; he was an inspiration to others and touched many lives.

My dad died 3 years ago on March 11.  My dad was not especially old when he died.  He was 64 years old.  Over the last 10 years and more of my dad’s life, he declined physically and mentally from Myotonic muscular dystrophy.  My dad was amazingly strong in his body.  As a young man he was a championship wrestler.  One of my dad’s doctors said of my dad in the last years of his life, “he has the constitution of a horse.”  Because of his incredible strength, my dad actually lived quite a long life.

The numerical parallel of my brother’s and dad’s death dates is not lost on me and has forever solidified their death dates in my mind.

Somewhere in my circuitous ruminations on death and mortality I arrived at thoughts of the last breath.  I’ve not been with anyone during their dying moment, their final breath.  I was imaging what it might be like.  I was imaging the pain of witnessing a life slip away, witnessing a life coming to an abrupt stop, the heart wrenching and instant shock or grief that sets in when someone you love passes.  I was also imaging the beauty of holding and being present with a loved one during their last breath, that moment when the whole body lets go, when the body completely surrenders, when the struggling and suffering is over.  I was imagining the peace and stillness of this moment, the beauty.

A woman in my yoga teacher training program just lost her brother-in-law to cancer.  On Friday of this last weekend she shared with our group that she said her good-bye to her brother-in-law earlier that day.  Witnessing her grief stirred some things in me and undoubtedly prompted thoughts of the last breath.  On Saturday, she and I engaged in a heartfelt dialogue about the beauty of the last breath, of being with someone at the end.  I shared my newly discovered desire to be with someone for their last breath.  I want to embrace both the pain and the beauty.  I want to hold and support someone at the end.

On Sunday our teacher led us in pranayama, or breathing practice.  Being fully present with and observing my own breath was very meaningful.  Holding my hands on the rib cage of one of the woman in our group as part of a breathing exercise and feeling her lungs fill and expand with air…it was so intimate, so beautiful.  Our breath is so precious.  Our life is our breath and without breath there is no life.

At the end of our pranayama practice I commented to our teacher and the woman whose brother-in-law was dying that our practice was especially meaningful given our discussion of the last breath the previous day.  Our teacher echoed our sentiments of the beauty of the last breath and added, “our last exhalation is the completion of our first inhalation – we finish our first breath.”

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In remembrance of my brother, Doug, who would be 42 years old if he were alive today, and my dad, Bob, after whom I was named (Bobby Gene was his nickname as a kid).

Staying Present in Switzerland

When I was planning my visit to Switzerland, I had visions of cloudless blue skies, wildflowers carpeting the valleys and hillsides, vistas of the Swiss Alps.

I traveled to Switzerland after spending just over one week in warm, sunny, and dry Provence, France, which to me was divine.  I enjoyed a picturesque train ride showcasing the many peaks and green valleys and hillsides of Switzerland.  The closer I got to my destination, the darker and more ominous the skies above.

When I stepped off the cable car in Gimmelwald, the air was warm, but it was overcast and the mountain peaks were obscured.  The friendly Barnaby from England checked me in to Pension Gimmelwald and I remember asking him, “is the weather usually like this?”  He said, “yesterday, we were melting up here.”  I prodded, “do the clouds usually clear?”  I don’t remember his answer or if he had one, but that evening it did clear up, which was very exciting to me.

Gimmelwald – after the clearing

When I went to bed, the skies were clear.  A waxing and almost full moon rose just over the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.  Sometime around 5:00 am I woke to the sounds of booming thunder and pouring rain.  I slept a few more hours, hoping it might clear.

The weather was ok after breakfast – cloudy, but not ominous; decent enough visibility so I could see across the valley and make out some rugged formations below the cloud ceiling.  I enjoyed a cloudy, yet thankfully rain free, hike from Gimmelwald to Chilchbalm, a dramatic glacier bowl.  The clouds started to stir and at one point, the clouds lifted just enough so I could momentarily begin to make out the peaks above the glacier bowl.  As I headed back, it started to sprinkle.  During lunch the rain set in.  I stayed inside the rest of the day.

As expected, according to the weather forecast from the friendly pension staff, things were still gloomy the next day.  My trusty travel guide writer, Rick Steves, recommended if it were a cloudy day, to head down to the Lauterbrunnen Valley to take in all the waterfalls.  I did just that.  I call this valley the Yosemite of Switzerland.  It is a giant U-shaped valley carved out by a massive glacier during one of the ice ages and a multitude of waterfalls cascade down the valley walls.

Clouds hugged the valley walls, but the scenery was still very majestic.  I was aware that I felt disappointment that the scenery was obscured by the clouds, but I paused and mindfully chose to stay present, to allow my experience to be moment by moment and let got of expectation.

present moment: finding a 4 leaf clover

I felt a sense of gratitude that I had a mindfulness practice that enabled me to be with and embrace what is, to more deeply appreciate the beauty of each moment.  As I made my way down the valley, the clouds grew darker and started to express themselves:  rain.

Later that afternoon the weather shifted:  the clouds broke, the vast blue sky emerged, and the radiant sun dried things out.  Of all my moments in Switzerland, this may have been my hallelujah moment.  I was sitting under cover of the eave of the town church when the sun broke through the clouds.

hallelujah! here comes the light

I bolted out into the light.  As I took in and was warmed by the bright light filling the valley, I could practically hear angels singing “hallelujah” from the heavens.

hallelujah moment – Lauterbrunnen Valley

In a moment of inspiration, I took a cable car up to the west rim of the valley for a gentle hike back to Gimmelwald.  Though still somewhat obstructed by clouds, the views of the mountain peaks across the valley were exciting and energizing.  But…it didn’t last.  About 20 minutes into my 1.5 hour hike, the clouds closed up and drew in and it started to rain.

As I walked with my head down, eyes focused on the path that I strained to make out in the dense clouds, a voice from my past played in my mind, “I’ll never be good enough for you.”  I knew this voice.  I remembered when these words were spoken to me.  This was one of the many incredibly hurtful things said to me by “my person” at the end of our relationship, when he finally, after 10 years, decided to “get real.”  Something about being in less than perfect conditions, on a vacation dreamt up from hope and expectation, brought this memory from the deep recesses of my mind.

After I got back to Seattle and my mind cleared and I transitioned out of travel mode, I was able to take a closer look at this moment and dig deeper into the issue that surfaced:  perfection.  I was triggered by a less than perfect, less than ideal situation which brought up a memory of a time where the words spoken made me feel that anything that is less than perfect is not good enough for me.  I am sensitive to this notion of “perfection” because I have high standards and strive for excellence and have a tendency to influence outcomes instead of letting things emerge.

Even though I had enough presence of mind and spirit to recognize I was in less than ideal weather conditions and instead chose to practice mindfulness, I clearly was not immune to the “imperfections” of wet, gloomy weather and cloudy skies when my heart desired sweeping vistas and hallelujah moments.

I think everyone can identify things in their lives that they want to be perfect:  a new purchase, a dinner prepared for special guests, our hair for a special occasion, the family holiday photo, a party that we host, the restaurant chosen for our birthday dinner, the colors we are painting in our new house, the weather on a special day, our vacation.  Where does our need, or more specifically our propensity, for perfection come from?  Some of it is rooted in a desire for excellence.  This can be a positive thing.  It keeps us striving to do better, to improve, to grow.  Some of our desire for perfection is fed by the idealism created through culture and media.  This can set us up for disappoint.

Much of our compulsion toward perfection comes from a place of inflexibility within us.  We have a tendency to hold on to an ideal or expectation and have an inability or a difficult time letting go and adapting to unforeseen or unimagined circumstances, to unexpected outcomes.  We have a difficult time accepting and feeling contented with things just as they are and this leaves us feeling let down, disappointed, disgruntled.  We see what is not perfect.   We do not feel happy or content with what is.

I pondered this:  Why is it that some people see more perfection and beauty and some people see more imperfection or flaws?  I believe that the lens through which we see and experience the world is shaped by our life experiences, by how light or heavy those experiences.  If we had loving, nurturing parents and a childhood of stability, we probably see our experiences through a brighter lens.  If we had a tumultuous childhood filled with strife and instability, we probably see the world through a darker lens.  Our experiences shape our pattern of thinking.  I believe this “not good enough” mentality is rooted in hard wired negative thoughts patterns which develop during difficult times or unhealthy situations or relationships.  Without the ability or mindfulness it takes to begin to rewire our thought patterns (our neural pathways) and let more light and beauty filter in through our lens, we get stuck seeing imperfection where in fact so much perfection exists.

As one who has lived through heavy and painful experiences and had a very tumultuous childhood, I know how hard it can be to let the light come in, to see the vast beauty and perfection that surrounds us.  How do we do it?  We cultivate.  We get out our gardening tools and plant seeds. We plant gratitude, peace, love.  We nurture new growth.  We begin to see the blossoms of contentment, happiness, joy emerge in our lives and fill our being.  We become less rigid and more flexible.  We soften.  We begin to feel and see the love and beauty that exist all around us and in us all the time.

What is perhaps most illuminating about my hallelujah moment, when I stepped out from under the eave of the church in Switzerland, is that the Universe gave me this very important message:  come out of the darkness and into the light; let the light fill your heart and warm your spirit, allow yourself to feel love, allow yourself to be love and you will see clearly and without obstruction, the infinite beauty that surrounds you in all its perfection.

PRESENT MOMENTS

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