Judgment: an act of UnLove

My phone bleeped shortly after breakfast. A strange message lit up the screen. You’re invited to get together tonight at 7:00 to talk about love. The text was from my neighbor who often hosts impromptu drinks at sunset, or gatherings to hear live music in her garden. Just about any excuse is good enough for a party and since our houses share a property line, I’m usually included. But a get-together to talk about love wasn’t her usual modus.

I’d LOVE to come! I responded.

I LOVE your answer! She messaged back.

I’m an early bird and 7 p.m. is late for me to set out to party. So after a stroll to the local grocery for crackers and black pepper cheese dip to contribute to the evening, I took a two-hour nap. I wanted to be sharp for a discussion on such a profound topic as love.

The group was a combination of familiar folks and some new faces. My neighbor collects friends as easily as corners collect dust. Her outgoing persona is a magnet for visitors passing though our touristy Bali town. That night I was introduced to a fiery Indonesian woman from Jakarta, a dainty, elfin creature from Singapore, and a leggy, sultry, model-quality blonde from Estonia. Well established regulars, one from England and one from Italy, rounded out the European presence and there were two of us from the U.S. We were an eclectic group, the best kind, and I anticipated hearing a variety of contradicting viewpoints.

As we sipped wine, nibbling cucumber sticks and tropical fruit kabobs in a preliminary ritual for the business to come, I imagined a scene in Paris in the 1940’s, an intimate setting in the home of Gertrude Stein. Gathered around her would be the brilliant writers of the day, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis. Even legendary painter, Pablo Picasso put in an appearance at her salons to dissect subjects of interest in what I presume were scintillating conversations that became more animated and potentially heated as the wine flowed and the evening waned.

My wistful journey to the past was reined in when our hostess cleared her throat. She began with a reading from Plato and was followed by the Italian who had studied with Osho. She shared a sampling of his liberated teachings on love. We were in illustrious company as the wisdom of these venerable philosophers washed over us. I mean, really? What can you say after the greats have weighed in?

It so happened we had plenty to say. Opinions, like Cupid’s arrows, flew from one side of the room to the other. The Jakartan woman was raised Muslim under traditional expectations that with or without love, she would marry. She’s thirty, not married, and her family has stopped nagging, but she feels their disapproval. Love of music was discussed, how for some it’s a meditation that transcends all thought and leads to ecstasy. Familial love vs. love of friends, love for children, grandchildren, the freedom of loving without the cage of marriage, we touched on all of it.

After an hour or so, the theme worn out and threadbare, we strayed. “What do you think the world will look like in thirty years?” our hostess asked. It took only a moment to shift gears and we plunged headlong into seething controversy. Some believed technology would escalate exponentially and our problems would be solved. But the leggy blonde was the most vehement of all. With a tentative command of English, her second language, she explained why a blindingly rapid ascent was impossible. I half-listened with mild amusement wondering why this animated model-type was expounding with such confidence. My mind was busy collecting thoughts for my next argument when she dropped the bomb.“I used to build robots,” she said. The room went dead silent and our mouths dropped open with a collective gasp. She continued unaware that her credibility had just undergone a seismic shift.

The discussion dwindled after that and one-by-one we took our leave. Before my thoughts turned off and curled into sleep I recalled the Muslim daughter, criticized for her choice not to marry without love. I envisioned the Estonian beauty, how she’d had very little to say until the conversation veered into her scientific comfort zone. I’d questioned her intelligence, even though as a young woman I’d battled the dumb blonde stereotype and felt wrongly judged. Looking back I’m embarrassed and ashamed at how sexist and dismissive I was based solely on her looks.

We came together to talk about love and I was guilty of one of the least loving acts of all: judgment.

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The Momentum of Intention and the Healing Power of Ritual

P1110803Today I did something I’ve never done. It felt important to remember Dad in a special way on Fathers Day. In America that falls on Sunday, June 19th.

When the idea dawned to assemble mementos, the 19th was still two days away. As I went about the normal routine ideas floated to consciousness: Dad loved to play Texas Mean! I’ll find the game and set it up. What were his favorite foods? He liked hot stuff, chilies! And raisin pie, and, oh! Flowers!

I fell asleep anticipating Fathers Day morning but awakened at 2:04 a.m. Where was that photo of him that I brought back with me from the States? As I was scouring my brain trying to place it I fell asleep only to awaken again at 4:18. His purple heart and dog tags! Those must be displayed, and pictures of our family…I dropped back into sleep. At 6:00 a sunrise befitting the magnitude of the day summoned me. I scrambled out of bed for the camera and captured a stunning sky.

Still in pajamas, I set about looking for his photo. It wasn’t in any of the expected places, but in the process of the hunt I found others. Perfect! While unearthing the Texas Mean game from its place in the cupboard a collection of old calendars caught my eye. Inserted between March and April, 2015, was my handsome Dad on his wedding day. Beside it was the program from his funeral. Did I want that reminder? It took a few minutes to sort through how I felt. Then one line caught me eye: Died January 29, 2016. Yes, his death was a fact of his life.

As I assembled the keepsakes, a carved Buddha head on the wall just above the display felt off. The eyes, locked into an unwavering stare, didn’t fit. In my scarf drawer was a black loosely-woven shawl. I draped it over Buddha’s head so just the shadow of a face could be seen. That was the missing piece. It represented the veil of sadness and loss that today I’m allowing myself to feel. Then the tears came.

A time-out to shower and dress restored my composure. Barefoot, I walked outside, down the stairs, and into the garden breathing the moisture and aromas of breakfast being cooked. I sensed Dad’s presence with me. He loved gardens! Damp and cool underfoot, a slow amble around the perimeter produced yellow, purple, and hot pink blooms. I’d just added two green chilies to the mix when Ketut appeared.

“Ya, good morning. What are you doing?”

“I’m preparing a ceremony for my father.”

His face lit up. “One years, same as Hindu?”

“No, it’s six months since he died. But in America this is a special day for fathers.”

“I will bring offering,” he said. A few minutes later he returned with two palm leaf creations filled with the appropriate grains of rice, flowers, and mossy bits that appear everywhere on ceremonial days in Bali. I asked if it was okay to put raisins, the chilies, and a sweet biscuit on top. He assured me that this is how it should be.

All in readiness, I lit a candle and incense.

The raspy voice of Johnny Cash came to life on the computer: I Walk the Line. It was a song we loved to sing. While it played I made coffee, one for Dad, one for me, and we had our time together.

Underlying the sadness was intense joy filled with loving energy both his and mine. From the moment of intention, my subconscious mind had spun the story. When it was time to bring the idea to fruition, all the needed elements were there for creating an altar of memories.

Ritual is healing. I’ve heard that but I didn’t really understand. Now I get it. It can’t just be a concept. It has to be performed. I’m grateful that I took the time, made the effort, and followed the subtle promptings of my heart.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad, and all my love…always…

Sherry

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A Fathers Day Farewell

Sherry and Dad on guitarDad died in January. It’s my first Father’s Day in sixty-six years without him. I don’t know how to be with that truth. He was the most important person in my life. I was alone with him, holding his hand, when he took his final breath.

The last years weren’t easy for him. I was glad when he shed the troubles of his worn out body and escaped to wherever kind, hard-working, beloved men go. His presence hasn’t left me. He’s the blue butterfly that flutters around the bougainvillea and threads in and out of my house. We commune in a language free of words.

But when I saw an ad for Father’s Day, my heart lurched with pain, searing, immediate, deep. I was bereft knowing that this year I would not scan Amazon for a book with pictures of Norway, or stories about boyhood in the Midwest to send to him. When Dad stopped reading I knew his life-force was weak. He loved to read. When he was no longer interested in food, I mentally prepared for the inevitable. When the message reached me that he was failing, I took the next plane.

How will I navigate Father’s Day without him? I need a plan, a ritual, something that will not allow the day to pass like any other day. Perhaps….

…I’ll gather flowers. Dad loved them and taught me their names: bloodroot, honeysuckle, clover, buttercup, lady slipper, goldenrod, and many more. I followed his footsteps through fields of alfalfa bordered by marshy swamps as he pointed them out. None of those exist in this tropical climate, but Dad won’t care if it’s frangipani and heliconia instead.

I’ll listen to some old Johnny Cash tunes, maybe strum a few lines of Down in the Valley. Dad loved to sing and play guitar and he taught me the chords. We spent hundreds of hours playing and singing together.

And because this is Bali and offerings are an integral part of every-day life, I’ll prepare one for the ancestral spirit that is now my Dad. It will have raisins, chocolate-covered cherries, and the hottest chilies I can find. He’s the only Norwegian I’ve known who popped them in his mouth like candy, grinned with sweat beading on his brow, and asked for more.

Then I’ll play the video Jessa made with the song she sang at the funeral while her partner, Dan, accompanied her on Dad’s old guitar and I’ll cry. Of course I will. There have only been a few tears so far, but I’m ready. They’re stored up behind my eyes like a pressure in my skull that reaches all the way to my heart. And it will be the first time in many years that I’ll be with my Dad on Father’s Day.

Background song: Fall Down as the Rain written by Joe Crookston. Guitar by Dan Gaustad and vocals by Jessa Walters and Dan Gaustad.

The Crabby Old Lady Syndrome

Mild panic grips me when children visit. My house isn’t fragile, but little ones have a way of ferreting out exactly what I don’t want them to find and desiring it. If parents hesitate to say no, I’m left in the awkward position of either allowing the treasure to be handled or becoming The Crabby Old Lady.

Don’t get me wrong, I have colored markers and reams of paper. When my girls were little those would have kept them enthralled for hours. There’s also a covered cup with dice inside that can be rattled, or opened to explore the contents. Dice. Right. That’s about the extent of my toy collection. Balls roll off the edge of my living room and drop two floors to the garden. Can’t have balls. Everything requires storage space. There’s not an extra inch of that.

Dad always said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” So when Ketut and Komang brought three-year-old Nengah to visit me yesterday, it was time for creativity overdrive. I remembered a collection of empty yogurt containers that substitute for the non-existent Tupperware here. My guests watched with curiosity while I assembled the bottoms with the matching tops and stacked them, one by one, higher and higher. In less than a nanosecond we were embroiled in a wild game of build the tower and knock it down. Everyone within miles heard Nengah’s shrieks…and mine!

I don’t remember when I’ve had so much fun. Later, alone in the happy aftermath, I waxed reflective. It struck me as ironic how the richness of life seems to multiply with simplicity. True happiness requires so little.

To Risk Being Disturbed and Changed

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From A Morning Offering
by John O’Donohue

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fears no more.

 

 

Bali, steeped in ritual, alive equally to the seen and the unseen, demands offerings.

I came here to ‘break the dead shell of yesterdays’. I had no idea what lay ahead for me but I wanted a life that I would love and I had a shadowy dream of what that might look like.

I noticed the offerings first. How quaint, I thought. How pretty. Weeks later in a small village I saw others that were not lovely. They held dark, partially burned objects. Women in trance danced beside them, swaying, eyes closed. An involuntary shudder rippled head to toe. In an instant it was clear that I was living on the face of things, lost in the romance of paradise while another reality roiled and churned just out of sight.

It’s that Bali I’ve grown to love. I’m still smitten with the enchantments of her beautiful face, but I’m no longer naive. The Balinese devote hours every day making prayers and offerings to spirits both dark and benign. This, they believe, maintains balance between the worlds. Since they operate in both realms simultaneously, that balance is essential. Unlike Western consciousness grounded in the seen, Bali-mind is equally at home with the physical earth and the spirits at play here.

I’ve been ‘disturbed and changed’ by the tremendous power of this island. People ask me, Do you believe all that? And I answer, How can I not? I’ve experienced her transforming fire first hand and I’ve watched as others fall prey to her spell. A friend commented recently that Bali is a karmic accelerator. That’s a piece of it, but it’s much more. If you stay any length of time you’ll see. Bali intensifies character good or bad, manifests intention, spawns creativity, and rearranges beliefs. If you merge with her flow she’ll nurture you. But if you cross her, beware. You’ve no idea what demons you’ve summoned!

 

 

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Who stole my time?

sun capturedI didn’t come to Bali to recreate a life of frantic busy-ness. That’s what I left behind, a frazzled, strung out, head spinning schedule that fried me to a snarling crisp! I’ve done well to maintain peace, my cherished sacred idleness, until now.

It changed abruptly after the last trip back to the States, the catalyst that shot me into this altered state. Where did all these friends come from? How did I make so many promises? I didn’t join a new group or link arms with a cause, but maybe there’s a different kind of magic at the four year mark. Maybe until then I was still a tourist, a visitor who may not be committed to the long haul. Perhaps now I emanate a more settled energy that attracts responsibilities like ants to sugar.

This kind of frenzy used to make me feel alive. I needed the chaos, the structure. Over-commitment was my comfortable familiar. Then I moved to Bali where I knew no one. As years drifted by I’d taken my blissful solitude for granted. I was unaware of the subtle shift slithering in under the radar. The first month I thought, After such and such, things will slow down. The second month came and it was as though I’d hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

I’ve got to get them back, the week-long stretches of unassigned leisure. In my body there’s a gnawing resistance to the calendar squares with writing on them. They’re all activities and people I enjoy but taken together it’s overload. My nervous system is tuned to Bali’s rubber time, a phenomena that defies explanation but cannot be denied. It’s lackadaisical in nature, capricious, and gives the illusion of eternity melting, expanding, turning inside-out and looping back upon itself until there are no days, weeks, months or years, just one long continuum of lifetime after lifetime.

Without spacious hours to gaze into the distance and think of nothing, confusion sets in and the panic alarm goes off. Why have I fallen back into this? What forces, inner and outer, have propelled me headlong into an old, unwanted behavior?

I don’t know the answer, but the question calls for a serious stint of discovery writing. I want to oust the slumbering ghosts that have awakened and come out to wreak havoc with my peace!

 

 

 

 

Three Strengths – One You Don’t Want

 

You’re so strong! How many times have I heard that throughout my 66 years? But it’s true.

I have physical strength –

Emotional stamina –

And willpower –

Muscular arms and legs, probably earned from early years lifting hay bales and running through farm fields doing all the tomboy things I loved, still ripple under loosening skin. And by sheer force of will, I’ve maintained my weight and continue a regimen of daily exercise.

But looking back, emotional stamina was a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it kept me sane when my world, at various times, sank into the abyss. But the dark underbelly of that strength hindered me from moving out of difficult places. I knew I could manage extreme mental anguish so I did. Rather than change what I was doing, make different choices, I stayed and endured far too long.

Both pride and fear played a role. I proudly maintained a placid surface when inside chaos raged. I was complimented on my calm demeanor by co-workers, even complete strangers. My ego, undernourished as it was, feasted on those crumbs of praise and preferred the safety of known misery and a well-studied façade, to the terror of change.

There’s a high price for being strong. It took many years to realize that the same emotional resilience that enabled me to withstand destructive situations without losing my mind, could also be mustered to chart a healthier course. It’s the same muscle, but the more I practiced releasing it instead of gripping tight and hanging on, the more space opened to other possibilities.

Most people reach a transition point. The timing is different but the catalyst is the same. It’s the moment we grasp the concept of mortality, the uncomfortable truth that we’ve reached a place closer to the end than to the beginning. For many it ignites a mid-life crises. For others, depression. But for me it prompted the question: Is that all there is? And my answer: It better not be! The thought jolted me out of apathy. I became more afraid of staying the same, marking time waiting to die, than I was of change.

Beware of the strength that keeps you hanging on, stuck in an unlived life. Does your jaw clench, your neck stiffen, the space between your shoulder blades ache? Do you breathe shallow in the top of your chest while your stomach constricts? Ask yourself, What do I want more than this? What’s the worst that could happen if I just let go? let go

 

 

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