Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘being present in the moment’

Skating on thin ice

skating on thin ice tree

Drawing by Betsy Lewis

The Walkabout Woman blog has been languishing. The truth is . . . I have been busy making a living.

The loss of my pension in February sent me off in a new direction, one with less time for writing or art. I am actually enjoying my foray back into the working world.  I find meaning and value in the work I am doing.

I am also grateful for the previous months of solitude I spent in deep communion with myself.

Everything seems to come in its right time and place, but I am aware that I am living more on the surface of life now.

It is as though I am skating on a frozen pond, with just a thin sheet of ice between my busy everyday life above and the shadowy depths of my inner life below.  I am relishing the frosty air on my cheeks and my strong graceful competent movements.  I feel joy and exhilaration with this new slippery speed that sends me careening into contact with other people.

My months of solitude taught me a lot about the magic of being present — and I have not lost the habit.

As they say, “It’s all good.”

I joined a writing group made up of  nine women – The Portland Nine.  I am # nine, the new one. Each Thursday night, from 6:00 pm to  8:30 pm, we gather, respond to 10 minute writing prompts and share what we have written.

There is a lot of freedom in this and I feel myself loosening up as the evening goes on. It is only with these women now that the sheet of ice cracks and I fall through to the depths below.

Sometimes when I am reading aloud, it touches a nerve and I cry.

And try as I might, I am unable to write a scrap of fiction or come up with the colorful adjectives or metaphors that the others do. I can only write plainly and starkly about myself or myself thinly veiled. In this group, however, I feel accepted and appreciated for my voice. I am only slightly embarrassed by my tears. The other women seem unperturbed, and the  hostess just brings out the Kleenex.

What is profound for me is this — day by day, art or not, work or not (or maybe because of it), I am witnessing the unraveling of the tangled threads of my life. Sometimes my tears are  from the relief of finally setting the burden down.

I bought a scroll for my wall which says:

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” Buddha

As I welcome in my own humanity and claim the wisdom of the crone that I am, the love I have received and given so far wells up inside me. I see that, in big and small ways, I am beginning to be able to love myself.

Hoping for a miracle . . .

"Hoping For a Miracle", Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

“Hoping For a Miracle”, Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

My defense mechanisms of choice have always been denial and fantasy. If an important situation or person is not to my liking, I can usually spin it or them into line with my fantasy version. I have avoided a lot of misery through the years this way! The collage above captures this pretty well. There, for all to see is my magical child-like self banking on a miracle! (I don’t plan these things.)

In my last blog installment I shared that I am teetering on the edge of a “fiscal cliff” of my own– seeing the pension that was funding my dreams suddenly and mysteriously evaporating before my eyes.

It is only at night now that I sink into bag lady fear. For the most part, I am practicing what I preach and living in the moment. And I still have hope that this has all been a  dreadful mistake, or that there is some way to negotiate a better outcome. I also know that law is its own sort of madness, with rules and precedents that aren’t always based on what I think is fair or just. But sometimes life surprises me.

Yesterday this beautiful poem by Marlene Mish arrived by email:

Hope

Hope teeters upon the wings

Of your broken heart,

Balancing loneliness and despair.

Hope sits in the hollow stillness

Next to the raw places within you

And lights a small candle.

 

Hope believes that next time

The story will come out different

And gives you courage to stand

And take a step.

Hope is all there is

When all there was is

Gone.

 

Hope teeters upon the edges

Of your wary spirit

That has lost it way too many times

And grabs your collar before

The tears engulf you

And shouts, “You made it through !”

Hope is a distant voice whispering a lullaby

When all others

Scream, “Give up!”

 

Hope is the last word of God

You hear before you close your eyes,

The only proof that you are not alone.

“You are beautiful, my child.

Why have you forgotten again?”

 

Hope is the one gift that survived Eden,

The only language of love,

The last promise that won’t be broken,

And yet it teeters

On the edges of things

While you look for answers

Somewhere else.

Marlene Mish, August 24, 2003

Marlene shared a little bit about the inspiration for this poem:

Today is a good day.

Today I can see clearly that life is a series of ups and downs and that no matter how hopeless things can get, no matter how broken I may feel, I know that the sun will rise at dawn and I have a choice whether to greet it. But that wasn’t always so.

There have been times when I felt defeated by life, defeated by my own choices, defeated by the demons what swirl around in my soul, waiting to take root.

I wrote this poem in 2003 on such a day when sorrow had overtaken me, when defeat was all around me, when I had lost my way. I share it only because it is so hard to remember who we are on such days and I need to remind myself every once in a while that most isolation is self-imposed even though I have always sought out someone to blame.

I have made some progress on this journey, and so I can share a private part of it with others without losing.”

One reader expressed confidence that I would get through this pension thing with grace, and I think of that often. Now that is something to work toward . . . to  take on all of life with grace (after a kicking and screaming tantrum, of course.)

I am nothing if not resilient. And though I hate to admit it, I am already teasing out silver-linings.

Hope

Hope

Reinventing the holidays (or confessions of a Christmas overachiever)

My Christmas Tree

My Christmas Tree

Early in this walkabout I said goodbye to relationships and ways of life that no longer served me.

Now I’m ready to tackle a holiday.

You know. The one coming up . . . Christmas!

I am having to be a little bit brave because this is hard. Changing how one celebrates the most beloved holiday of all is akin to stepping into a minefield. Terrible and wonderful memories begin exploding left and right.

Christmas with my family of origin was a mixed bag, but mostly nice.  My mother pulled out all the stops and my father disapproved, so joy in our bounty was mixed with guilt. My favorite memory is of my family gathering in the dark of a Sunday evening and lighting the candles of the advent wreath. In that golden glow we sang, laughed, took turns reading aloud and told stories.  This was love, pure and magical.

It was only when I became a parent myself, that I turned into a Christmas overachiever. Months before Christmas I started creating handmade personalized ornaments for everyone I knew. I drove kids to and fro, baked countless batches of cookies, decorated lavishly and stung yards of popcorn and cranberries. I crafted Christmas cards, wreaths and my own wrapping paper. I attended and gave parties. I shopped like a fiend, making sure everybody got what they wanted. And then after Christmas, I took it all down and packed it up again for the next year’s marathon.

I was the ring master for it all. But truthfully I found Christmas stressful. I gave myself too many things to do in my mission to make everything perfect. I was my own worst enemy.

So in my year of reinvention, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. What do I love about Christmas to incorporate into a new tradition?
  2. What has become meaningless for me?
  3. How can I take better care of myself during the holiday season?

Here is the first incarnation of the new Christmas for me:

My sister, the food blogger

My sister, the food blogger

Family and friends: In smaller doses. This year I spent several wonderful days before Christmas tooling around Portland with  my sister Robin. We tried out new and old ways to celebrate.

Décor: A few minimal but beautiful (to me) decorations. For more about this, read my note on Facebook about  mindful ownership.  No  tree for me. I can visit 20 beautifully decorated trees at the Pittock Mansion in Portland or take in the city lights twinkling below  my apartment window.

Sacred: I am lighting lots of candles this time of  year, just as I did when I was a child. They make sacred the dark days of winter. I listen to the Christmas music of my past. I plan  a day of mindfulness and Tonglen on Christmas Day.

Events: One or two small — or none at all. This year I went to Portland’s Crafty Wonderland Show.

The Hubbub factor: I like all the excitement of Christmas and being anonymous in crowds, so I went Christmas shopping without buying anything. I visually soaked in the beautiful things for sale and enjoyed being part of the crowd.

Eating and Drinking: In moderation. I don’t need to make or taste every possible Christmas cookie or dish. My sister  and I celebrated simply, slowly savoring a glass of port and one huckleberry chocolate truffle each (from Portland’s Moonstruck Chocolate Co.) No more turkey, ham or huge dinners for me. I am trying a spaghetti squash meal on Christmas Day from my sister’s blog.

Port and Huckleberry Truffles

Port and Huckleberry Truffles

Smells: Fresh greenery is at a premium in an urban setting. I bought two small sprays of red berries and a  friend brought me some clippings from her tree. When I walk by, I inhale deeply!

Children: I can’t be with my kids or grandson this year.  While in the children’s section of Powell’s Bookstore, I watched with delight the little ones about my grandson’s age. They fill me with joy.

Giving: In honor of a family member who chooses to be homeless, I  buy a sandwich or two when I grocery shop and hand them off to the many homeless folks I see in Portland. I hope someone does something kind for my relative too.

Christmas Day: I discovered on Thanksgiving Day that the city of Portland goes quiet and still on holidays. With only a few cars and dog walkers about, it feels rarefied and magical. I will be walking there again come Christmas Day.

Crafty Wonderland-Mt Hood Morning 027

My way is not the way for everybody.

And — as with everything — it’s a work in progress.

What do you love about Christmas? What family traditions to you cherish? What traditions would you like to change? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Holidays!

Betsy Lewis

The Walkabout Woman

Walking through fire on my way to inner peace

The Volcano Mandala

I call myself “The Walkabout Woman.” Three months ago I sold most of my belongings and set out by car on a walkabout to discover and live my longings. I chronicle my experiences here on this blog.

So far my walkabout has been anything but peaceful.

It has instigated change and stirred up inner turmoil. In my mind’s eye I can see the old petty dictators of my psyche brandishing swords and refusing to be overthrown. I can taste the fear.

On the other side — the side of truth and beauty — is my walkabout. It has also taken on an imaginary personality of its own, that of a trustworthy little soldier who seems to have my best interests at heart — but is relentless in pushing me to confront things I would rather avoid.

And these “things” would be the painful unhealed relationships in my life.

On a regular basis, my walkabout guy cheerfully leads me to the center of the relationship volcano and says, “Here, jump right into this lava. It will be good for you.” I cover my eyes and say, “No – no!”, and he leaves me alone for a couple days, only to return and suggest, “How about this bed of hot coals – take a stroll,” or “Look at that raging forest fire – why don’t you sky dive into it.”

I get what my walkabout wants me to do. It wants me to take an appropriate level of responsibility for those relationships (not all or none), have compassion, offer and receive forgiveness, and ultimately feel gratitude. I know the drill.

But knowing what is good for you is one thing. Doing and feeling it is another, so I am taking my first tentative steps,  walking through fire, and living with uncertainty about ever healing or being at peace.

I hear this Rainer Maria Rilke quote a lot: “Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into the answers.”

Frankly, all that indefinite waiting around makes me exquisitely uneasy. It’s hard to live the questions. I want to take those questions by the throat and squeeze the answers out of them. That distant nether area, which may or may not deliver, makes me want to distract myself with pizza, margaritas, excessive chocolate or a major religious tradition.

But lately I’ve tried a few other things.

I am a little embarrassed to tell you how I am coping. It’s pretty ordinary — not very impressive.

I want to be helpful to you all. I want to give you the answers. I don’t want you to sit around forever mired in the mud with Rilke.  But here it is. Here is what I’ve done on my walkabout to cope – to achieve some semblance of inner peace:

1. Every Day Stress or Fears: I firmly require myself to be present in the moment. When I worry about my “what ifs”, my children’s futures, my health, where I am going etc., I stop and appreciate the blessings of the moment – that we are all alive and on our paths.

2.  Bigger Calamities: I recite the first paragraph of the Serenity Prayer over and over like a mantra. I didn’t find it at church or AA. I discovered it at a Dollar Store checkout counter and thought it was brilliant. It goes like this:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Daily Practice: I do art, write and share my results here on my blog and in social media.  These things help me make meaning and sense out of my life, and help me feel less alone.

That’s it. I know it doesn’t seem like much. I wish I could offer you a magic pill, the definitive self-help book or the next best savior/guru incarnation.

But,  add in a little chocolate, and it’s the best I’ve got.

%d bloggers like this: