Friday, December 22, 2006

Change is Inevitable

Change is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Bumper sticker shtik? Sure. Deep awareness grounded in experience? Certainly. My point is that reciting platitudes is one thing. Living from the truth they espouse is often quite another.

For example, I’ve been feeling kind of down lately. I’ve ascribed this feeling variously to the change in seasons, short days, traveling a lot, not being grounded and so forth. As I talk about at some length in Drunk with Wonder, there exists the “isness’ of a situation, let’s say the fact that the sun is setting a bit before 5 pm. There isn’t much I can do about that, expect perhaps to pack up and head south, way, way south, where the days are still getting longer rather than shorter and summer is coming on.

The other thing I can do is become present in the moment, particularly around my feelings; how I am with the “isness.” When I do that, I notice how much grief I’m feeling. Change is in the air, and with change comes loss. It turns out that loss is an inevitable part of change, that to grow into a more expansive perspective requires that we set aside our old stories of who we thought we were.

And so, in becoming present, at least hesitantly, to the moment, to my grief, my experience of depression immediately shifts. When I allow the “isness” to be, I become more relaxed.

My father has been dead for almost a year now. He loved the fall, the colors, the smell of burning leaves, carving a pumpkin. Or so I remember. On the tree farm we owned we loved to sit by the remains of a fire we had run as the color drained out of the sky. The leaves on the black oaks had turned yellow and dusky orange, carpeting the ground and festooning the forest with autumn splendor.

I so loved those times. A part of me knew then that it would not last, and that it was important to treasure those moments with my Dad. And I did. Until I become present, really present, I don’t realize how much I have withdrawn. I guess I thought this was just about autumn, but it’s more than that. It’s been eight years since we sold the farm and moved away, probably nine years since we ran a fire together. I miss those times with him so much!!! And grief comes pouring down like the first cleansing rains of autumn.

My family will be making a pilgrimage to this land we loved so much just after Christmas, so that we may spread his ashes by the stream. We have many wonderful memories of Christmas there on the farm. I treasure these memories deeply.

I had been resisting these feelings; now I’m embracing them. We’ll see where we go from here. There is more to explore. With the book finished, I’ve been feeling at loose ends. The marketing and such are not remotely as interesting or fulfilling. And with Challenge Day recently on Oprah, my place with that organization is sure to change. I have been letting go of that for some time, realizing that the wonderful, magic community I was privileged to be part of has already grown and transformed, as I knew it would have to do so that it’s promise and potential could be fulfilled.

I’m left wondering whether I will have another opportunity to experience something so magical again in this lifetime. I know I should feel grateful to have been given the opportunity to play with Challenge Day the way I have. And I do, of course. It’s just that, in the midst of all the excitement about Oprah, I’m also feeling a sense of loss for the way things were.

Yet I must feel this grief, let it wash over me like a tsunami and see on what distant shore I might wash up, a stranger in a strange land, becoming someone who I do not know. For now, the grief and sense of loss need to consume who I thought I was, leaving only the unity of “I am” to rest in peace.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Christmas Memories

The excitement built from Thanksgiving on. Mom would not allow Christmas music before then. Dad’s birthday was November 23rd, (he passed away last January) and sometimes Thanksgiving came on that very day. When we lived in Seattle we spent Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa’s (Dad’s father) and when we came home from Thanksgiving weekend the Christmas boxes came out and the Christmas music came on. We had a December calendar where each day had a little door, and Mom let us take turns opening these doors.

The days seemed to crawl by. After we got out of school for the holidays, the evening got even more intense. We boys spent hours huddled around the Sears Christmas catalog, endlessly discussing the merits of various toys and what we thought our chances were of Santa bringing any of them to us. We tended to be on our best behavior before Christmas, trying to curry favor from Mom and Dad, the source of many of our gifts.

When we were young, Mom read “Twas the Night before Christmas” and we all believed in Santa Claus. He was like this unconditionally loving grandfather who knew us better than we knew ourselves. We even put out cookies and milk for him, and they were always gone in the morning! Mom and Dad stayed up late on Christmas Eve, arranging our “big” gifts in front of the tree. These weren’t wrapped, and the story was that Santa brought those on his sleigh. Sometimes they stayed up very late, putting presents together, stuffing our handmade Christmas stockings, and making sure everything was just so. When we peeked around the corner at 7:00 on Christmas morning, the tree was still lit and all these presents were spread out. It was amazing, really. They showed us so much love!

Several times during that month big boxes would arrive on our doorstep, filled with wrapped presents from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We’d carefully pull out each gift, read the tag to see who it was for and who it was from and then arrange them all under the tree. I would spend hours gazing raptly at the tree and all those presents, wrapped in Christmas smells, and Christmas music, savoring the anticipation of Christmas morning.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Memories

I’m feeling exquisitely melancholy (in this case, meaning pensive reflection or contemplation) on this gorgeous late autumn day. I found the Dylan Thomas story, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and printed it out. I’d love to read it to an appreciative audience. I have no idea whether that will happen this year. Perhaps at Mom’s on Christmas Eve. I know Scott (my brother) loves it. I had kind of established a tradition of reading it up in Manton, but that life is gone. Oh well. Things change.

As I read the very first words of the story, I began to cry … I’m not sure why. I’m guessing that it may have something to do with the “story” I brought out of my own childhood, my personal “Christmas Story.” In this story, wrapped mostly in Seattle memories, our house was warm, the tree sparkled with lights and ornaments and silvery, shimmering tinsel. Presents seemed to tumble willy-nilly out from under the tree. The smell of the fresh-cut tree mingled with the odors of Christmas cookies and other treats streaming out of the kitchen in a seemingly endless and delightful profusion, my Mom a sorceress magically concocting perfect almond roca or French breakfast puffs, still among my favorites. There were also sour cream twists, chocolate crackles, the best chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts! My Dad, and so of course all us boys, loved nuts), snow drops and so much more.

My Mom was always at the center of Christmas. She and my Dad had decided they would create family traditions just for the seven of us (I have four younger brothers) and for many years it was just us, no grandparents, no cousins, just us. Mom taught us to love the whole Christmas season. She made it magic. There was a wreath on the door, snow flakes and Frosty pasted on the windows. The mantel held the cutest little Christmas figurines cocooned in angel hair that when I was little was still made from spun glass and would cut you if you weren’t careful. With my Mom, decorating the tree became high art, every ornament lovingly placed, lights just so, tinsel draped strand by strand until the whole tree shimmered in the colored lights.

Looking back, I feel as though there was such a sense of innocence about it all. I guess that’s where my feelings of nostalgia, or melancholy, are coming from. As I said at the beginning, things change. With Dad gone, and my Mom feeling less and less like taking on having Christmas at her house (this year, 2006, may be the last), I’m feeling a whole new wave of letting go break over me, scouring out more of my stories of who I thought I was. It’s liberating, in an intense kind of way. There’s such a feeling of letting go, and I haven’t figured out how to let go without feeling some sadness (hint to myself: there’s nothing to “figure out” – just feel).

Anyhow, I’ll continue with more Christmas memories in my next blog.