“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently, I had a slight rearrangement on my calendar. I had planned to take a weekend trip to southern New Mexico for hiking, soaking in hot springs, sightseeing, and taking pictures. Due to a schedule change and needing to save some money, I decided to stay home for the weekend. I was a little disappointed for postponing the trip, but a couple of extra days at home turned into a lovely adventure and renewal. I took advantage of my time, my spring fever, and my wanderlust to rearrange my apartment.
I should preface this by saying that my current apartment is my favorite place that I have ever lived. It also happens to be the smallest, even more miniature than a studio apartment I dwelled in for a year in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. For one, I love, love, love Albuquerque and New Mexico. Secondly, I am grateful for the tree view, a second floor patio, almost-cathedral ceilings in the living room and kitchen, two cool neighbors downstairs, and getting to live alone. It is home.
Home is where the heart is. Sometimes, home is a loved one. Sometimes, home is an abstract place on the map, because you don’t know where your sense of place is. Home can be where you came of age. Home can be where your family lives. Home can be portable, wherever you pull up stakes on your tent. Home can be an abstract concept while you concentrate on other things.
I have always concentrated on home, in both the abstract and the concrete. I have possessed homes in my heart, in people, and even in my avocation. This little four-room rented home is all I need right now for dwelling.
The rearrangement was a welcome opportunity to look at my place in a new way. Often, the unpacking process is rapid and perfunctory. When I moved in, a year and a half ago, I was juggling full-time work, four nights of school, and staying temporarily at a friend’s house. I did not have a ton of time and I was worried about wearing out my welcome at the pal’s place. Plus, as soon as I unpacked one or two boxes, the apartment was overwhelmed in a flood of newspaper packing paper and the belongings that had just emerged from the containers. I quickly stowed my bookshelves in the corners of the living room and bedroom and filled them with my treasured reading materials. I pushed the edge of the couch against one wall and stashed a splindly floor lamp under the couch’s edge. I assembled my long, modern shelf to hold wine glasses, bowls and plates, mason jars, and collections of sugar skulls, Buddhas, and tea pots. I used my entry wall to hang small crosses and the metal frog hook given to me by good friends to help me find my keys. In the kitchen I turned the blank wall near the fridge into a small gallery of framed family photos. After a month in my apartment, I was finally unpacked. Later in the winter, a dear friend helped me assemble my bed frame and place my beloved collection of art on the walls at strategic vantage points, blessed with his good taste and designer eye. One huge advantage of a small space is being able to see most of my treasured belongings from any point in this lovely little apartment. It also takes very little time to clean it and put things into order.
After more than a year in this place, I loved the space, but felt a faint dissatisfaction with the flow. I have a lot of stuff in a small area and some spots felt crowded and disjointed. When I decorated during Christmas, I was tempted to rearrange, but was a little overwhelmed and just wanted to enjoy holiday ornaments. In late winter, after a couple of sick days on the couch, I had an idea of what I wanted to do to move things around, but didn’t have the energy to begin the effort. My mother visited at the beginning of spring and I told her of my ideas to refresh the space. She nodded her head enthusiastically, but I think my mom would support me in most efforts, even if she didn’t really like my decorating vision.
Sunday, I woke with the sun and decided it was the day to rearrange and reinvigorate the space. I stuck to the bedroom, and made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t go to bed until I had put everything in its new place. In some ways, the rearrangement of the bedroom had already begun when my landlord removed an old heater and installed a new one on a different wall, forcing me to change the spots of my antique flea-market dresser and a vintage footlocker trunk. I moved the bed and desk to different walls and switched out the two bookshelves. It was small and stilting and steady effort, shuffling enough books out of the shelves to render them moveable. I dragged the printer from an awkward spot on my cedar chest to the wire bookshelf, along with my other office supplies and files. I created a little writer nook under the window with my desk arrangement. I felt like a squirrel, slowly arranging my cache until satisfied. All of a sudden, after heaving and sweating and contemplating, my bedroom was a new space with more light and room and much better flow. It was a refresh. That night, my sleep was hard and sound and peaceful.
The next morning, I woke up with energy and excitement at having another day to finish the rearrangement. I turned on the kettle to boil water for coffee and filled the sink in the kitchen to wash dishes. I put away a few mugs and bowls and began the contemplative process of mentally rearranging the living room while I looked on from the kitchen sink. I took out a couple of small bags for donation to my car and then ran back up the outside stairs to perch on the couch and drink the last from my mug. I used my arms to make measurements of furniture and fractions of walls, knowing points on my body and spots in the nubby paint to make more precise measurements than my hard-to-get-to-measuring-tape, which I conveniently discovered in the couch cushions after moving around the furniture. With my body a little sore from the previous day’s bedroom redesign, I thought about curling up with a good book and another cup of coffee, but I gave myself the metaphorical kick-in-the-butt that I needed. I wanted my whole place to match the magic of the bedroom.
I slowly took some stuff out to store temporarily on the patio and unloaded the contents of the tops of two bookcases onto my couch. I lifted the pictures off the walls and placed on the refuge of my freshly made bed. Then I braced myself for the dragging and lifting across thick apartment carpet. I pushed two bookshelves into a corner, and made a reading nook with a lamp and my fairly new turquoise upholstered chair. I tucked the small kitchen table, once awkwardly shoved in front of a bookshelf, into a newly vacant spot and dressed it up with my potted succulents and an old milk vase full of flowers. I dusted and vacuumed and then moved more stuff around to do more cleaning. Rearranging the tiny living room was like moving the components to a tightly-fitting puzzle, every slight adjustment affected another piece of furniture or wall hanging. Plus, the placement of electrical outlets and the heater smack dab in the middle of one wall made for a decor riddle. Finally, though, I solved the puzzle.
I rolled out the rug at an angle, hung a couple of pictures in new spots, and put everything away. The room didn’t get any bigger and I didn’t remove any furniture, but now there is a reading nook, a better place to eat, and more space on the floor to do yoga. The TV doesn’t distract from the conversational placement of furniture, and I can imagine more people coming over to visit. The room felt like the “after” picture in a design magazine, at least to me.
This rearrangement, coupled with a some recent epiphanies, makes me feel new and excited and reinvigorated. All week, coming home from work has been a beautiful welcome. Somehow, household chores feel like renewal, rather than drudgery. I am reveling in this new placement of my belongings, loving the books and seeing the art on the walls as if for the first time. Every place I sit feels cozy and warm and just-right. It feels like light and love are blooming in my home. Funnily enough, while I am enjoying my objects all the more, I feel blissfully okay if they disappeared. It is more about love and light and finding space and grace, both literally and figuratively.
I make plans with two co-workers to have them over for dinner next week. I invite a friend to come over for a cup of tea and a chat. I write this blog entry in my new writing niche. I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a devotional to have a quiet morning wake up of prayer and contemplation. I stretch in a yoga pose in the middle of the living room. I wash dishes and put away the recycling bin. I drop compost in the worm bin and water the plants. I leave for work with my keys in hand and bag on my shoulder. I plop down on the patio to plant seeds and seedlings for a container garden. I reach for a book and cross my feet in the turquoise chair.
A rearrangement can bring refreshment and rejuvenation. Rearrangement doesn’t have to be about home decor. It can be about letting go of a rigid schedule for an hour. It can be about taking a walk on a different road or path. It can be about inviting someone you love to share a meal. It can be about making a new friend. It can be about not reacting and taking a pause. It can be about writing in your journal about the day instead of drowning in a glass of wine and complaining about co-workers. It is about being brave and taking another chance. It is about forgiveness and letting someone in. It is about finding love for self and others.
What does rearrangement mean for you?
Spring is the obvious time to celebrate rebirth. After the “barren” winter, we take notice of the fecundity of spring. It’s feral and wild. Animals are mating. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. People have spring fever.
Spring is all about our deliverance to life, to a new start. The astronomical calendar begins with the start of spring. We plant seeds in our gardens. Our religious and spiritual holidays like Easter and Passover celebrate new beginnings.
Last Friday, I had a type of spiritual renewal. An epiphany. A discovery. It shook me to the core. I used to be very suspicious of people when they would talk about these moments, these discoveries. Then I realized that these moments are so much more than a moment. It’s a little bit like studying history. In elementary school, when we learned about historical events, we memorized important dates. Folks familiar with U.S. history might recognize the timeline points of 1492, 1776, 1865. However, if you look more closely, those discernible events and moments were buried in thousands of other moments and events that preceded them. Just like those history lessons, in a personal spiritual journey, an epiphany on one day is really a culmination of many other revelations.
It felt like all of a sudden my resistance, only recently identified, to everything just floated away. My epiphany felt a bit like a rebirth. All of a sudden, everything felt different, and yet everything felt the same. It was as if a 2,000-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had a similar moment of epiphany last November, and then a smaller, but no less substantial epiphany a couple of days ago.
The celebration was in the discovery, but even more so in the awareness. I felt grateful to be aware of the awakening (using that word feels a little worrisome, but I cannot find another) and to embrace the little and tiny moments that resulted. Life feels easier in so many obvious and tangible ways, yet it’s all still mysterious. I don’t mean that all of a sudden I do not have problems. I’m still figuring out things financially. I’m still figuring out my relationship with myself. I’m still learning to love someone else. I’m still needing to find peace, moment to moment.
The moment of clarity is like cleaning a window. All of a sudden the light shines through so much brighter than before. I take a breath and a step. I’m grateful for the growth.
I love to compost and the parallels astound me. I throw old scraps into the bin. Something that was rotten becomes food and sustenance and then new growth can begin. The growth is small at the beginning, but miraculous. It feels new, but all of a sudden we can’t remember what it was like before that. It is a constant cycle and there is no ending.
Do you remember the first time you could read a sentence? Do you recall the moment you could ride a two-wheeled bicycle? Have you seen a baby’s delight in walking her first few steps? There is delight in the new and then it becomes routine, a foundation for the rest.
We learn, we stumble. We fall, we recover. We have moments of darkness, and then moments of epiphany. We share, we gather. We grow, we find new.
I pray for grace, for peace, for empathy, for honesty. I give thanks for spiritual growth and the path. I ask for friendship and help. I give friendship and help.
We find the seeds. We plant and honor. We nurture ourselves, our families, our friends, others. We hold hands and we find strength. We drop hands and find stability.
Spring is upon us. We begin again.
“To think of shadows is a serious thing.”–Victor Hugo
It was Groundhog Day on February 2, and supposedly if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If you look at the calendar, six weeks from February 2 puts us into mid-March, right before the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. Anyway, many others have written quippy and funny articles about the weird holiday, but it got me to thinking about shadows.
Sometimes, we are scared of our shadows. We think of our shadow selves, our real, honest deep-down selves. For some, we are trying to find our true identities, or getting rid of the labels and digging into what is within. Our shadows might be the places we need to work on, to find what we have missed. Our shadows might be the wounds long ignored that finally need to be healed. Our shadows can be the strong and authentic that need to emerge. For some, the shadow and the self are no different. For some, shadows bring about the side of us that we do not share with just anyone. Maybe our shadows also hide our secret talents, passions, and desires. Perhaps our shadows are sheltering a new direction, a new project, a new relationship. Perhaps our shadows are letting this new thing gain ground, gain strength, gain shape.
Despite our enthusiasm for the approaching spring, I like to think of this last bit of winter as the most crucial of the hibernation time. It is the time to dig deep, literally and figuratively. It is the last of the dormant season before things begin to bud and sprout and grow. The winter time is often mistaken for the dead season, but it is just as important as the growing time. In a false thaw, when trees and plants sprout early, they can be damaged or even killed by the frost. Winter and this time of shadows can be the season for recovery and reflection and reassessment. This time of silence and darkness eventually yields to sound and lightness.
At various points in this blog, I have written about big new directions and goals. Sometimes, those have come to fruition. Other times, I have stumbled and faltered, or found a new direction very different from where I began. Sometimes, it helps to announce the goals, for excitement, for camaraderie, for accountability. Sometimes, though, it helps only to allude to the shadows and instead, shut up and get the work done and see what emerges. This is one of those times.
We can all find our resources, our tools, and our directions. We can find our shadows.
I sit back. I hunker down. I find the margin between the dark and the light. I take refuge in the shadows. I gather my tools. I sit in the right now. I begin.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, February 4, 1968
Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge that is popular among some writers, and a summons to those interested in writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I remember a friend and roommate of mine wrote to her heart’s content one cold November while we were in college in northern Wisconsin. It was years before I heard of others doing the same challenge. There is a website and social media groups and hashtags all celebrating the feat. The idea is that you write that many words and then come back to edit and revise later. There are critics of the idea: that some will write drivel in order to just complete the challenge, with the emphasis on quantity instead of quality. Others ask why not write year-round, why save it for one short month? I think I understand both sides of this supposed argument and I have wanted my own writing challenge, but I am both contrary and not that interested in writing a novel, yet. I am interested, though, in writing a book of essays.
A new friend of mine recently mentioned that she was planning to participate. I admire her grit and fortitude. Another friend recently told me that she had just landed an agent for a novel she had finished writing a year ago. While I celebrated her next step into the literary world, I was almost more amazed at the idea of a completed novel (written and edited). Inspired by these women, plus being sucker for a gimmick, and also ready to take on a challenge, I sat down to figure out my own writing goal. Earlier this summer, I curled up with a glass of wine and a deck of index cards. I brainstormed and wrote down titles for essays for two book projects and titles for a book of short stories. I had pinned those packs of index cards to the bulletin board near my desk in the bedroom, but hadn’t looked at them in a while. Tonight, fueled by another glass of wine, I realized I could use one of those packs to begin a new book. One pack of cards for the essays had 35 different ideas jotted down. Then I realized that I was more comfortable with a stretched out timeline compared to a month. So, I multiplied 35 times two and realized that 70 days felt like a good number.
My challenge: Write 35 essays in 70 days.
The challenge is to write 35 essays in addition to my plan to write at least weekly for my blog or to work on other writing projects.
The challenge begins today, Sunday, November 6, 2016 and ends Sunday, January 15, 2017! A focus, a challenge, a beginning. Let the fun begin!
Is all that I have to give”–Sarah McLachlan, “Sweet Surrender”
In the popular lexicon, we think of surrender in terms of the end of war when one side gives up completely to the other. In movies, the criminals finally surrender to the police. We think of surrender as giving up, and most often in terms of defeat. Surrender, in a traditional meaning, means giving up control to someone else or something else. For me, surrender has changed its meaning and significance over time. In fact, this morning, the word and meaning changed completely for me.
For a couple of days, I had been thinking about the state of my life, in terms of an assessment. The questions came and went, and while I considered the situational circumstances, it was really more of an internal process. How am I doing in my career? How am I doing in my health? How am I doing financially, and in terms of my relationship with money? How am I doing in terms of my relationships with family? How am I doing in my spirituality? How am I doing in terms of my relationship with myself? How am I doing in terms of my friendships? How am I doing in terms of love? How am I doing in terms of loving myself? How am I doing with myself in terms of being a “good” person? I wasn’t looking for answers in terms of external “success,” but more about how I felt in terms of peace within those questions. I thought a lot about which areas of my life where I felt peaceful, and which ones where I did not.
Last night, I felt like I had reached the end of the questions, at least for the moment. It was difficult to figure out what had brought on the questions. Although for me, questioning and thinking, in terms of spirituality and my life, is a familiar exercise, sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. It wasn’t a birthday or anniversary of any particular event, but maybe it had to do with the season of fall and recent conversations with a good friend.
Last night, I made a pot of tea and sunk into the couch to watch a few episodes of a guilty pleasure TV show. I purposefully pushed the questions away and lost myself in the story of something else. Last night, the word that was on my mind before I went to sleep was “surrender,” I kid you not. This Sunday morning, I woke up early. My heart and mind were quiet and I felt calm. I opened my patio door and curled up in the turquoise Adirondack chair and felt the silence. I drank coffee and felt the steam from the cup and the cool energy of autumn. After almost an hour, I returned inside and picked up my phone. I opened up the e-mail app and clicked on one of the daily meditations that I subscribe to. I was surprised and pleased that the subject line was “The Secret of Surrender.” Once again, I found synchronicity in both meaning and timing. I lapped up the words and thought back to the word on my lips when I fell asleep last night. I read two more daily devotionals that also seemed to match up magically with the idea of surrender.
Surrender for me, just in the course of the journey between last night to this morning’s readings and reflections, means something new. For me, it is peace in the moment. For me, it is being comfortable with what is, even when it is not what I want. It is learning to realize the long path, but being in step with right now. It means letting myself go and not getting caught up in end results. It means sinking into the moment. Surrender is the ultimate measure of taking control by letting go of control. Surrender means being okay, even when things are not okay. Surrender is not wishing for something, but finding comfort in loss. I find surrender when I let go. It is not defeat, but neither is it a win. Surrender is finding grace. Surrender means letting go of people and situations and results. Surrender means not knowing. Surrender is finding love for myself. Surrender means giving up looking at everyone’s “papers” trying to find the answers, and instead looking down at my own work. Surrender means being in my own footsteps, literally and figuratively. Surrender means forgiveness. Surrender means right now.