Clouds ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien
Practices like yoga stretches and centering prayer are vital to my well-being. A few months ago, I discovered a new practice that takes a mini-moment and shifts my perspective: 30 seconds of watching clouds.
First, I begin with self-observation and become more conscious of my bodymind. What’s cluttering my thoughts that’s causing the negative feelings? What is my left shoulder and neck pain telling me?
I put on my shoes
Walk outside the door
Pull my shoulders back
And look up to see what the clouds have to say.
Clouds form intricate shapes and patterns that float in white narrow bands and billowing balls. Symmetrical spirals and puffy-cheek clouds catch the wind and everything changes by the second.
In that tiny space of time when I change my sense of scale and look up, watching clouds gives me a deeper connection to a still presence within me. Looking up at the clouds shifts the focus away from thinking of the past or the future. I experience the awakened senses in my body and arrive in the present moment.
Spiritual traditions around the world teach that practice develops and transforms us, encourages discipline, and enables us to focus, facilitating change and increased awareness.
The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien
St. Hildegard of Bingen [1098-1179] The Cosmic Tree
Early February is the traditional time for the celebration in the ancient world of a festival of the washing of earth’s face. The pangs of rebirth are beginning in the dark womb of winter at this halfway point towards the spring equinox. Time draws closer to prepare for another cycle and wash the sleep from my eyes.
Cloudy bone-chilling winter days continue, yet a moment of light illuminated the darkness last Saturday at the Benedictine Sisters’ Monastery in Cullman, Alabama where I attended a retreat ~ “St. Hildegard & the Living Light”. Hildegard lived over 900 years ago as a composer of music and a visionary leader. She studied plants and herbs for medicinal needs and believed that the “body was a plant and the doctor was the gardener”. Prophets “illuminate the darkness” Hildegard tells us.
Our retreat meeting space was filled with Hildegard’s artistic visions that she called “illuminations”. We were invited to create a mandala ~ images and symbols within the form of a circle ~ to express an illumination of “God as the living light” to rekindle our hearts.
After our drawing time, we propped our mandalas on our chairs, placed a small candle in front of our creations, and then walked in silence gazing at each one.
In the dimly lit room, the flickering candles illuminated our drawings in a warm community of souls that revealed our inner light shining in the dark of a winter’s night.
Wake up for the Light returns.
All living creatures are sparks from the radiance of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun.
St. Hildegard on the Cosmic Tree
Pressing On ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien
Long after the music stopped, a song refrain kept playing in my innerspace.
I am pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord.
I first heard Alicia Keys singing the gospel song Pressing On in the documentary Muscle Shoals about a famous 1950s Alabama recording studio. On the banks of the Tennessee River a country-soul-rock sound emerged. Bono says in the film, “It’s like the songs come out of the mud.”
Even on a frosty dawn-breaking Sunday morning walk in my neighborhood, the song refrain made endless loops inside my head. As I walked, I saw a woman in a blue knit cap walking her black lab and gave her a silent wave. When I encountered her again on another street, she asked, “Are you almost done?” She probably noticed that I was huffing up the steep hill as she was coasting down on the other side.
Winded from the climb, I nodded my head Yes! All the way home the song became a breath prayer ~ I am pressing on.
Can’t you see I’m pressing on… pressing on…
Shake the dust off of your feet, don’t look back.
My intention for this now moment is to stop looking back with rear-view-mirror gazing. I desire to live with a deeper trust that the Source of all Being is calling me to press on.
Summer Play ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien
I like how Brene Brown defines play as “time spent without purpose”. Then she adds a caveat “which in our culture is also known as an anxiety attack”.
Over my life a false assumption has dictated that play was allowed after the work was done. So play time never arrived. Finally, I am learning how to drop some of those intense and obsessive behaviors that pushed me beyond emptiness and exhaustion and kept me from play.
My ego’s need to succeed and accomplish resulted in an out-of-balance life that was obvious even in a brief conversation with a Catholic priest. Two decades ago Fr. Jack listened to me babble about my life. Abruptly, he interrupted my discourse and said: “You’re on some FM radio station, and I don’t mean easy listening”. The truth of his words startled me.
Knowing for sure that I was stuck in an old pattern, I took one small action. On a full moon night, I went to a neighborhood playground to swing. Pumping my legs to go higher and higher was exhilarating!
Now, play looks like … piddling and puttering at home like today when I filled small vases with the beauty of summer flowers. One property of play is losing track of time. Making the collage for this blog post was play. As I glued color paper scraps together, time and space seemed to fade away.
In the book of Proverbs 8:30-31, the voice of Wisdom [who is portrayed as feminine] was with God from the beginning before creation.
Before the formation of sky, earth, and seas … I was with God playing all the while -playing on the surface of this earth. My delight was with humankind.
Since God is delighted with creation, including the miracle of my own life, I hope that one day my FM radio station really is tuned to easy listening.
Spring ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien
Often someone asks ~ What are you doing? During this past winter, I wanted to say ~ I am weary of doing. I am Be-ing. So, for a season, I set an intention to spend less time focused on accomplishing something as a measure of my worthiness.
What would happen if I slowed my pace to turtle speed and aligned with the natural rhythms of winter?
On a cold stormy day during an acupuncture treatment with Zion, he taught me that the seasons have a universal pulse that is attuned to the pulse of our bodies. He said that my winter pulse was stable and slow as it should be. Our bodies express the principles of winter: rest, reflection, storage. God has created us in harmony with the energy of the seasons.
As daylight diminished and darkness descended deeper into winter’s cycle, I wanted to be snuggled in my cozy condo. Make fewer commitments. Purge another layer of perfectionism. Replenish my soul. Linger longer in centering prayer times. Let go of how others might judge me. Give stuff away.
I remained active yet considered my energy level before making a plan. Even my jabbering inner voices took some time off. One quiet cloudy January day I wrote in my journal ~ It’s like I am in a place of deep rest at a level unknown to me. I watch my day like an Observer and allow empty spaces.
After a long winter’s rest, a hopeful thought arrived along with the emergence of spring’s blooms: I am worthy of love and belonging without striving or pushing or accomplishing.
Your yearning takes you to a place of a deeper code and you say ~“I am ready for the rest of my life to rise”. Jean Houston
Gratitude ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien
Distractions. For the past two weeks with the constant replaying of images of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy and the non-stop political pundits talking about the recent election, I have allowed my writing schedule and the rhythms of my day to go awry.
Yesterday during a checking Facebook distraction, I was baffled about a topic for a blog posting this week since a dozen ideas had not produced an offering. Then, a posting from Sojourners Magazine caught my attention.
At an October poetry reading with Billy Collins in Baltimore, Maryland, Mary Oliver spoke wise words: “Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful.”
Yes! I am soaked in distractions that have disturbed my peace as I have allowed my own Storm Martha to cause havoc in my innerspace.
Mary Oliver offered an idea to consider: Think about the world’s beauty and be grateful.
Divine Beloved ~ Turn me into a woman who is immersed in the world’s beauty and is forever grateful.
Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing. by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Dream-maker’s Message ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien
I am a Dreamer. Last week, I set a clock alarm to wake me at 4 AM for a trip to the airport. I made a mistake and set the alarm for 4 PM so the alarm did NOT wake me up.
However, at 4:02 AM I woke up because I was dreaming that an alarm was buzzing:
“I have to go back to my room because my alarm is buzzing and I need to turn it off.”
Although I have recorded my dreams for decades, I have never experienced a dream be a literal wake-up-call that roused me awake. The dream-maker is like an inner Friend that nudges me to wake up and pay attention to my life. My dream journals are full of the dream-maker’s offerings of chances to wake-up to guidance and healing.
Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest, John Sanford, begins his book Dreams and Healing:
Suppose someone told you that something spoke to you every night that always presented you with a truth about your own life tailor-made to your individual needs and life-story… that connected you with a source of wisdom far beyond yourself – absolutely free. This is exactly the way it is with our dreams.
When listening to the dreams of my life coach clients, I ask: “What was happening in the dream when you woke up?” An insight about the dream’s message is revealed at the moment when we wake up. Even if it is only a word or phrase, you can interpret it as: “Wake up to this!” and honor the message from the unconscious.
One of my dream “wake-up-to-this” moments came from a dream image of being on a train trip when I am expressing my frustration with a work colleague. Another woman in the dream that I did not recognize [a shadow part of me] announced ~”You will not enjoy the view if you are angry“. Wise guidance from my dream-maker.
What is buzzing in your ear asking you to wake up?
Autumn ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien
Five sunflowers stood inside a crystal vase catching prisms of light from the sunny window and nodded their yellow hats until their beauty faded. On a whim, I opened my patio door and tossed the flower bundle into the creek that was running higher and faster than normal due to a severe overnight storm. Usually, Sugartree Creek flows at a trickle, but during the storm it was a four foot rain drain where tree limbs and debris dashed around in the rapid water.
In a few seconds, the yellow saucer-like-sunflowers were almost out of sight bouncing over rocks on their wild ride towards Richland Creek and eventually into the Cumberland River. Summer is out of sight as the days float into autumn’s seed–planting wearing a mask of decline and death.
Good-bye to the faded flowers of sunny summer and welcome to the regenerative seeding season of autumn.
Parker Palmer speaks about the paradox of autumn ~ Faced with inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn…scatters the seeds with amazing abandon and beauty of autumn colors that will bring new growth. My delight in the autumn colors is tinged with the sense of impending loss.
Last Saturday my sweet-spirit sister, Carolyn, and I walked a country lane at Beersheba Springs on the Cumberland Plateau looking for signs of autumn’s arrival. The day dawned under a gray cloud with mists of cold rain and ended in a peek of suffused sunlight with soft breezes. Dogwood trees gloried in crimson berries. The oakleaf hydrangea foliage dazzled with scarlet leaves.
Leaves release their grip and let go of the branch. Acorns search for soil that fosters another season of growth. Seeds dry and are tossed into the air when a strong wind blows.
What are you seeding for another season of growth?
Saint Lucy by Francesco del Cossa c.1470
Jeanne Achterberg‘s 2002 personal memoir details her illness with cancer of the eye [ocular melanoma]. As a renowned PhD researcher and visionary, Jeanne focused her entire career on the use of inner vision for healing the spiritual dimensions of people with cancer. With a relentless schedule of teaching, writing, and editing an alternative medicine journal while traveling all over the world, Jeanne wrote:
I have exhausted my font of talent, vision and creativity. I need to cancel things, turn off, stay focused inward, and make daily life a ritual. When my Vision returns, my vision will return.
My life intersected with Jeanne’s in graduate school in her mind-body course Imagery in Healing. On hearing the news of Jeanne’s cancer, my friend Margaret Christensen and I had a candle lighting ritual at the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas. Praying on the kneelers, we faced the altar in the small chapel under the gaze of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Lingering scents of melted wax from dozens of lit candles and bouquets of roses embraced us. To our amazement as we turned to leave, we saw a framed picture propped against the side wall. It was Saint Lucy, the patron saint of Vision, whose name is derived from lucis meaning light.
We inquired in the church office about the picture and were told that it had been “dropped off” that day by a woman who was moving: “Give it to someone who needs her”. So St. Lucy traveled to Jeanne as a symbol of the return of her spiritual Vision.
I remember times of dark descents walking like a blind woman dis-oriented and dizzy from my hurried pace without a clear vision. Sometimes, those who love us gather and hold the light of our Vision when we lose our way in the darkness. May I have eyes to see.
I have a core belief that when we are open, we can experience healing, not by medicine with its promise of cures, but by the bonds we create with each other in the invisible facets of the healing power of relationships.
Jeanne Achterberg 1942-2012
Circuit Stop by watercolor artist Naomi Brotherton
Admiring the creative expression of artists at the Frist Museum and Lipscomb University’s art gallery last week, I returned home curious about the artist of a watercolor hanging on my own wall for the past twenty-five years. I googled the artist Naomi Brotherton and wrote an email attaching a picture of her painting wondering about its story.
To my delight, Naomi quickly responded and was pleased that one of her paintings had come “home”. At the age of 92, she continues to teach art and maintains a studio/gallery in Dallas! While driving to Ruidoso, New Mexico, in the 1960s to teach watercolor classes, Naomi saw a white church in a serene landscape. That scene sought expression. Later, she donated Circuit Stop to a benefit sale at a church in Dallas where I purchased it.
What is that creative desire within each of us that seeks expression?
Aaron Copeland in his book Music and Imagination poses an idea:
Why is the creative impulse never satisfied… because self expression is the basic need to make evident one’s deepest feelings about life. Self knowledge is an endless search…I keep creating to know myself.
When I read the line ~ I create to know myself ~ I remembered a scene from my life six years ago when I began to create a series of collages to express my deep sadness. My husband’s cancer had advanced and the doctor said that the time for hospice care had arrived.
On a brisk November Sunday afternoon I wandered into the storage shed to the craft space. I needed time alone while Tom watched golf on TV. I found a crumpled drawing pad in a stack of clutter and started tearing pictures from the magazines waiting for the recycle bin. Colorful ribbons, feathers, fabric, and stones on the shelf caught my eye ~ left-overs from making fairy wands when little girls had visited.
With a glue stick in my hand, unguarded feelings spilled onto the page in a collection of images. An hour passed, yet it felt like one healing moment. When we create we connect to our true Self and with God, the Creator.
Someone said ~ I create, therefore I am.