Art, Coffee, a Robe, and maybe even World Peace


IMG_3127Sometimes, it really is the little things. I woke up early, an hour before I “needed” to be awake. I lingered in bed and read a few pages of the novel I fell asleep to. I listened for the early chirp of sparrows and pigeons and robins. Then I pulled myself out of bed and slipped into a beautiful peacock kimono robe that I bought a year ago. I savored its soft satin feel and breathed in the peace of the moment.

I tiptoed into the kitchen, even though I was alone and live alone, to honor the quiet of the morning. I took the moka pot from the stove and filled it with water and fine espresso ground coffee. I turned the backburner to medium high and let the coffee pot sizzle and hiss. I walked back into the bedroom and made the bed, fluffing the pillows. I looked up at the beautiful piece of art hanging on the wall, that I had only received in the mail a few days before, and smiled.

IMG_3124I took out my phone and took a picture of the wonderful art and posted it on fb and ig. Yes, call me obnoxious, but I have a friendship with the artist and I never thought I would be able to have beautiful, original art on my walls.

I stretched and read a few more pages of the book and then heard the rumble of the espresso pot. I swooped into the kitchen and poured a cupful of steaming, dark coffee. Immediately, I put the fresh grounds into the earthenware bowl holding a small cactus on the counter behind the sink, and refilled the pot with more water and coffee for a second cup. For just a moment, I marveled at the beauty of my well-used coffee pot. The shiny little Italian pot is my favorite way to make coffee and I love its shape and the burned coffee patina on the steel.

It’s a quiet Friday morning. I have one day of work before a long weekend and then a transition to my summer work. I was brimming with inspiration, but sometimes writing has to be well-timed, like plucking the steaming coffee pot off the stovetop before it goes from percolating to burning. I realized then, that the moment was a perfect homage to beauty, inspiration, and pleasure in the little things, which can lead to large things.

I turned on the laptop and instead of scooting into my desk, I sat cross-legged on my bed, my back leaning against the foot rail, laptop nesting against the turquoise sky blue of my peacock robe, so that I could be in full view of the art on the wall.

I sipped coffee and wondered how to pay tribute to a simple morning taking pleasure in the beauty and functionality of everyday, and yet extraordinary, things.

Considering the state of the world and current news, I might sound like a dilatant or even a more modest and modern version of the oft-told, yet highly inaccurate story of “Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette.

In honor of my friend’s art and her abundant creativity, I decided to let it fly and I am writing this. The acquisition of the beautiful robe, astounding art, and the mighty moka pot are small choices. They are me celebrating an adult life, and finally coming into my own. It’s not so much about buying “stuff” as it is about freedom and, yes, gratitude. For years, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy, that I couldn’t do something, that something beautiful was out of reach, that I didn’t deserve it. I am so grateful that I have come out of that phase, which was really most of my life.

It’s taken years, and perhaps reaching a certain age, and a lot of inner-self work to finally silence those stories I told myself. I have also silenced (at least to myself) the voices of well-intentioned friends and loved ones, who, either directly or indirectly, seemed to reiterate those stories. How many people do you know who will eat a piece of dessert and then express dismay and guilt that they “shouldn’t have!”? They probably didn’t enjoy the pie going down and then it sits in their stomachs like dead weight.

Mostly, it seems that we, or many of us, are fighting battles within ourselves. I understand those battles like fighting addiction, keeping a romantic partnership alive, and making sure kids are cared for and clothed. Those are worthwhile battles. What about our own internal battles, like finding peace and joy and caring for others? There are battles in this world to fight for:  justice, equality, access to good education, safety, environmental preservation, pick your issue. Those are the battles worth suiting up for, but maybe they don’t have to be battles.

What if, all of a sudden, we didn’t have to fight? What if we didn’t have to fight ourselves, each other, our families, our friends? What if the little and big choices could be beautiful and peaceful?

I am not equating buying a coffee pot with being the Pope. I do not think that buying a piece of art that I love from a friend I admire makes me a humanitarian. I do think, though, that saying yes to ourselves in small ways leads to bigger and braver lives.

What if the small and mundane choices, like my peacock robe, could be small ways of saying yes? Buy the damn robe, it’s beautiful and functional, plus, it’s good to have a robe in case someone comes knocking at 7 a.m.! You want a funky espresso pot? Get it and enjoy the small pleasures of a new (now seven years old) way to make and enjoy the morning ritual of coffee! Is that piece of art you have been admiring for sale? Does the artist have prints, or a payment plan, if it is more than you can chew financially? Support a living artist and maybe develop a friendship with a creative person who will inspire you in your own work!

You are worthy. You are important. You are one-of-a-kind. We need you to take down your armor with yourself and find love. We need you to find peace with yourself. The stories you tell yourself will stick around. Make them good ones. Your peace and love will inspire others, even if it’s silent and subtle.

There is freedom and grace in little moments. World peace may not depend on your peacock robe, but your inner peace that tells you that you are worthy may be the first step. If you are brave enough to speak up for yourself, to yourself, imagine what else you can do!

 

 

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.

A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Photo by Kary Schumpert.
Photo by Kary Schumpert.

“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