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!

 

 

Take Care


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

It’s the casual salutation in an e-mail. It’s the lovely thought at the end of the phone conversation. It’s what we learn how to do as toddlers. But what does it really mean to take care?

I have been sick with a bad cold, home from work for a couple of days. I sent texts to my boss and the people I supervise, to let them know I wouldn’t be in and to keep track of general tasks for the day, before going back to the couch to watch comforting videos from my DVD collection and to try to get some sleep, which has been quite elusive in the last couple of weeks. That rare sleep probably has something to do with the worn down immune system that has made this cold feel like a permanent state of being, rather than just a brief interlude.

Isn’t it weird that we often don’t appreciate something so important as health? Why is it that we take it for granted, until a cold, or worse, a scary medical diagnosis snaps us into grateful awareness? I am still harboring a fever with loud coughing and noisy sneezing. All of a sudden, I am very aware that health is a beautiful gift and that taking care should be a shouted command, not a whispered afterthought.

Sure, I can talk about eating healthy: fresh fruits and vegetables, less sugar and fewer processed foods. But what about taking care of our whole selves? What do we need for our minds, for our spirits, not just for our bodies? I deeply believe that these are all very much connected. If we are taking care of our bodies, we should also be paying attention to what feeds our souls, our minds, our beings.

A few months ago, I was deep in the midst of loss:  the loss of a dear friendship and the loss of my dad after his death. I read some books on grief, wrote a lot in my journal, and slowly found the way to healing. Almost everywhere I looked, it was recommended that I take care of myself in the midst of the grief, despite the bad instinct to do otherwise.

What does taking care mean? What does it mean to you? What does it look like? What is self-care comprised of? What are the habits and rituals that help us to heal? What helps us to remember to take care of ourselves? Why is that we often lose ourselves in the care for others, when in reality, we aren’t much help to someone without taking care of ourselves?

I realized that while my bout with a cold might have been brought on by a co-worker who came to the office in a fit of sneezing and coughing, I realized that I had lapsed greatly in my own self-care. Regardless, both of these are probably contributing factors in my recent illness. Unlike those with serious health problems, I should be feeling better in a day or two. As I rest and dream of returning to a normal routine, I think about hitting the reset button and coming back to my routine of “taking care.” Some will be the same for all of us, but others will be specific to me. You will have your routines and practices that help you take care of yourself.

Here are some of the things that I need to do to take care of my mind, of my body, of my spirit, of my self, of my soul. Sleep. Eat three meals with lots of vegetables. Spend at least three minutes, no more than it takes time for the tea kettle to boil, in quiet meditation. Go for a run, no matter how slow and plodding, a few times a week. Limit my tv viewing time to a couple hours a week. Read good books for fun, for inspiration, for peace. Reach out to people I love in texts and phone calls. Take a few minutes to quickly clean up the messy routines of daily life: washing the dishes, putting away the clothes, dispersing with the recycling, clearing away the clutter on my work desk, watering the plants. Watch the sunrise and sunset. Keep track of the moon. Walk dogs. Donate a little time, donate a little money. Make good and sustaining meals. Find self-love, even when it feels difficult. Spend a little time in hobbies that I enjoy:  taking pictures, learning to quilt, going on road trips, hiking on local trails. Spend time with loved ones. Say thank you for the magnificent and the mundane. Write a little each day. Lose myself in the magic of teaching. Reach beyond my self. Remind myself of all that I take for granted: health, love, friendship, a beautiful and small and peaceful home, access to good food.

What do you need to take care?

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.