Grateful for a Summer at Home


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
In the last week, I read a travel memoir, skimmed through an atlas, made a list of cities I would like to visit for weekend trips, and scoured a travel website for tips on my dream journey of a lifetime. However, I have not been outside of my current locale, Albuquerque, in more than three months and I won’t be going anywhere this summer, either. I have a serious case of wanderlust. I was feeling discontented and disappointed that travel is not going to be much of an option for me in the next few months due to budget constraints.

I knew I needed to sit with my disappointment, instead of denying it. After giving myself a little time to deal with this homebound reality, I discovered that mostly I was feeling hemmed in by the seeming lack of adventure in my near future. I was feeling sad, because I had expectations that were different than my reality. I realized that was my problem. When my expectations and my reality align, I am blissfully content and joyful. I was out of alignment. My wanderlust ideals were colliding with my local existence.

Believe me, I am a homebody. I love to stay home and curl up with a good book, my favorite music playing in the background. I love cooking dinner at home and savoring a glass of wine. I love puttering around the house, or enjoying a morning on the patio drinking coffee and watching the sky turn black to pink to blue. I love going to a nearby park with my borrowed telescope and viewing the stars and planets. What usually feels like a cozy option, though, was feeling more like a punishment or a slight curse.  As soon as I voiced my discontent to myself, while making breakfast one lazy weekend morning, I got a little perspective. I realized that I needed to look at my feelings of being chained at home through the lens of gratitude. I made a list of things that I was grateful for, with this idea in mind.

I am grateful that I will have lots of time at home in Albuquerque this summer.

I am grateful that I will get to make a serious attempt at a patio garden this summer.

I am grateful that I won’t be fighting highway traffic or having to share a beautiful vista with countless others.

I am grateful that I have summer employment to fill in the gap of my school-year job.

I am grateful that I live in a beautiful place with lots of hiking trails and biking routes and access nearby.

I am grateful for a summer to concentrate on some spiritual, physical, and mental fitness goals.

I am grateful for health, employment, and contentment with how things are in my life.

I am grateful that I will have extra time to finish a large writing project.

I am grateful that I will have time to complete an online class that I have been postponing.

I am grateful that I have a whole shelf of books that I have been meaning to read over the last couple of years.

I am grateful that I have a few friends who will also be in town this summer.

I am grateful that I will have a chance to put together a budget and plan for a dream trip to possibly take in a couple of years.

I am grateful that I invested in a few books about sightseeing in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

I am grateful that I have a pantry full of ingredients and a shelf full of cookbooks to try new recipes and dishes and share with friends.

I am grateful that I have made a list of some out-of-town-but-still-close places to see and visit this summer.

I am grateful that several museums, that I haven’t visited yet, offer upcoming free and/or discounted entry fees this summer.

I am grateful that I have a good camera to take pictures and find some new angles from which to enjoy my favorite local haunts and landmarks.

I am grateful for a small and cozy home in a gorgeous city.

I am grateful that I am taking initiative to invite friends from nearby towns, who might also be on the same kinds of budget constraints, to come and stay with me.

It only took a few minutes to change my perspective. I usually think that travel does that. However, I realized that the view of home, all of a sudden, looks very lovely indeed. What other parts of life, where there might be discontent, also need a new view through the beautiful lens of gratitude?

 

 

 

Rebirth


 

 

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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
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.

 

 

Clean


IMG_2109As spring fever fills the air, the deep urge to spring clean fills my heart and head. I have never been known for my housekeeping. While my mother prides herself on a floor that is clean enough to eat off of, I could always find something else to do to fill an afternoon at home, but spring cleaning always harkens at this time of year.

Somehow, though, in the last year and a half, my messy ways have changed. My dishes are washed, my clothes are folded and put away, my clutter is curtailed. Maybe it’s a newfound-yet-late maturity, or maybe it’s that I’m finally seeking clarity amidst the detritus. Hard to say, but maybe because of my ongoing spiritual work and finally striving for peace, I want to have the mental space and the physical calm among my belongings. I am striving for my physical reality to match the spiritual peace that I desire.

There are various theories about messiness. Some say that a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. Perhaps this is so, but some of the most creative and brilliant people I know have cluttered desks and messy houses. Now, there is a difference between messy and dirty. It’s one thing to have a sinkful of dishes, it’s quite another to live in filth. I do believe that when we let it get to the point of filth, we are no longer taking care of ourselves and that this is a sign that something is seriously wrong.

I don’t want this to be a treatise on housecleaning and I have no tips on ways to do chores in 10 seconds, but there is something in the human mind that seeks clean. We like clean slates and fresh starts. We like beginnings and trying again. We desire forgiveness and new ways. In most religious traditions, there is a way to begin again. There is much emphasis on clearing away and letting go.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in the middle, though, rather than the beginning. We can’t forget the past, even if we have forgiven. Is it possible to change? Is it possible to start new patterns? Is it possible to find redemption for mistakes? Can we truly begin again?

Each day, and even each moment is another chance. We can forgive ourselves, even if someone else is not quite ready to forget our transgressions. The spring is the perfect chance and the perfect metaphor. We open the doors, swing wide the windows, and dust out the detritus. We might appear exactly the same, and yet our insides are transforming. Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress, because we are right in the middle of the journey. We need time and distance for perspective, and yet we can celebrate the little steps.

We can clear a shelf, we can let go of a burden. We can write a letter of forgiveness to someone who has harmed or hurt us. We can let go of regret and we can begin to make peace with the past. We can look forward to a clear conscience and a release of old patterns. To truly change, we have to try new.

I clear out the junk drawer in the kitchen. I organize my financial files. I observe the anniversary of my father’s death and celebrate his life. I write a letter, that I will never send, to a family member to release myself from our arguments and to find redemption in an adult relationship. I talk to a friend and hope that our relationship can bloom and grow, despite some mistakes and baggage. I struggle with self-love, but I find small ways to get there. I sweep the porch and I clear my mind. I go for an early morning run, in the darkness just before the sun breaks over the mountains in the east, and I feel clean in the sweat and the effort.

We clear away to make room for new. We let go and look forward. We begin again, each new day, each moment. There is clarity amidst the confusion. There is peace even in the pain. We take a breath. We clean so that we find love and forgiveness right now. We know that this is all there really is:  this moment, love, forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

Shadows


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“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.

The Resolution of Gratitude and Thank You Notes


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”–Melody Beattie

When we were little, my mother always made sure we wrote thank you notes to friends and relatives for the gifts we received for birthdays and Christmases. In later years, my grandmother and great-aunt had saved some of those letters and shared them with us. We laughed together, remarking on the childhood cursive and funny phrasing, but I noticed that my grandmother put them away as if they were precious jewels.My great-aunt was a minimalist, before that word was commonly tossed around, and kept very little. When she died a couple of years ago, the things she had saved were albums full of family photographs and our childhood letters, especially those thank you notes.

The summer after high school graduation, I wrote mountains of notes for the gifts propelling me into adulthood. That seems to be the last time that I was consistent about writing thank you letters. I am ashamed to say that I did not keep up with the tradition of writing thank you notes, despite receiving wonderful and thoughtful gifts for many occasions over the years. In fact, I am just now writing thank you notes for the gifts I received at Christmas. It’s for the first time in a long time.

In mid-January, some people’s New Year’s Resolutions have already crashed and burned. I have always loved the tradition of coming up with resolutions and trying to find meaningful ones that will stick. In the last few years, I have tried a different tack, by getting very specific about one or two goals, or going with a larger theme that reflects all aspects of my life. This year, I have decided to focus on gratitude. I want gratitude to become my praxis, my practice. This is less about self-improvement and more about a spiritual shift after some hard-won lessons. This is something I want to become a lifelong practice, not just a quickly-expressed-but-easily-forgotten resolution.

I have read about people keeping gratitude journals, or making lists of things that they are grateful for. I love both of those ideas. So now I plan to jot down things I am grateful for in my all-purpose journal that also serves as a repository for writing ideas, dreams, goals, meditations, and all other things. I think it will be fun to find bits of gratitude sprinkled among the pages. When appropriate, I will also take pictures of things that spark my gratitude, like sunrises, a good meal, and glimpses of a full moon. Taking time to write down my gratitude and to take pictures of my gratitude, I hope, will help me to be more grateful, to more fully realize my gratitude.

I also want to examine gratitude, and not just be grateful for the good things and the beautiful things. I want to find gratitude in all. I want to find gratitude in the dark moments, in the sad times, in the things that might otherwise be difficult to find gratitude.

As well, I realize that these are all internal moments. I also want to share my gratitude for the people whom I love. I have decided to pick up that beautiful, and ancient, art of letter writing and go beyond the traditional thank you note. I plan to write thank you letters to the people I love and really say thank you and express what they mean to me. It might be on a birthday, or when I think of a friend, or when I know someone is having a hard time.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”–John F. Kennedy

The quote from Kennedy makes me realize that gratitude is so much more than saying thank you. It is taking the meaning deep into our hearts, and living it fully. It means saying thank you for the big and small, aloud and in the quiet ways we live. In reality, it means writing the thank you notes for gifts, but also sharing our gifts of talent and time with others. It means being present. It means being open. It means living fully.

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”–Eckhart Tolle

Here’s to a new year and a new practice. Here’s to gratitude. What does gratitude mean to you? How do you express gratitude? What is the practice that you hope will bring more meaning and joy into your life?

 

Writing Challenge: 35 Essays in 70 Days


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A beginning.

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!

Masks

This time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade?


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

Near Halloween, we put on costumes and masks and disguises. However, this time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade? When was the last time you masked your feelings? When did you last put layers and layers (and I don’t mean turtlenecks and sweaters) between you and the world?

Tomorrow, I will put on a pink wig and a headband as part of an easy costume for a Halloween-themed event at work. However, that will hardly be the first or last time that I have put on a costume to hide myself. I have written a lot recently about my state of grief over the loss of my dad, who passed away more than six months ago. I am certainly not the first to lose someone I love. In this time, though, what was most surprising about the rush of grief was the emerging blankets of feelings and pent up emotions. His death brought to the forefront things that I have been squashing under years of dishonesty with myself, or what I had been hiding. The grief, combined with some internal work that I have focused on for the last couple of years, stripped me of my thin skins of disguise. All of a sudden everything bubbled right up to the surface. Now, instead of pushing them down into my hidden core, I identify them, feel them, and let them go. It can be draining and exhausting and freeing, all at once. All the times that I covered things up in white lies to myself are now points of brutal honesty in my inner dialogue. All of a sudden, I have no need for the costumes, the makeup, or the drama. It is a bit life-altering. It is a time of awakening.

It does not mean that I am done with the masks, completely. However, now I can see through my own armor, and often I can see what people are trying to hide for themselves. I am stripping away and coming clean. Sometimes, though, without my disguise, I feel naked and alone and vulnerable. Right now, probably because of this inner work, I am trying to find a balance between working through these veils of disingenuity and opening myself up to others. It helps that I have only lived in Albuquerque a year, and I am still making friends, so I can spend time alone and not feel like I am hiding. I have recently reconnected with a good friend and spending time with this person is tricky, because it’s hard to hide myself from someone who seems to know me better than I know myself. I come home from a visit tired, yet exhilarated. I want to share everything, and yet I know we still need boundaries. I still have a lot of work to do.

I turn to a journal. I whisper prayer. I fold inward and think of how to use this new honesty, this new cleanliness. I find new ways to be. I look for healing. I let go of things from the past. Instead, I focus on right now. I seek sunlight. I dance to the moon as it turns new. I find myself shedding the need to apologize. I write words. I find meaning at every turn. I realize that all we have is each other. I struggle to find love for myself, even as I peel away the dislike. I try to be there for others. I apologize and forgive for the past, but now I move on. I run slowly into freedom. I take off the costumes and shake off the lies, and leave them behind, much as a tarantula leaves behind its molt as it crawls into the new and fragile.