Saturday, August 29, 2015

Storm Comin' (Maybe...maybe not)

In between the time I started working on this post (yesterday) and now, when I am finishing it, Tropical Storm Erika has gone from being a potential Category 1 Hurricane headed straight for us, to a much-weakened storm heading off to the west.

The governor had declared a State of Emergency (which I think in these days of unpredictable and catastrophic weather events is the right thing to do). We filled up the gas tank, got food and cash, and charged up all the battery-operated everythings.

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(actually, I have no idea what that last thing is and we definitely don't have one ....)

fellsman2012-01-10.jpg (450×300)We had conversations about whether or not to put up the hurricane panels (over the doors and windows) and at what point we would make the decision to sit tight or head for the hills.

We are originally from New England and we got our share of hurricanes up there too, not to mention ice storms and Nor'easters. And, we are used to the media hype that comes ahead of time: "IT'S HEADING STRAIGHT FOR YOU! YOU'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" followed by "oops! our bad...AND NOW IN OTHER NEWS," when the storm turns out to be a dud.

It's not a secret that my husband does not like storms that involve high winds and heavy torrential downpours (well who does? but he REALLY doesn't like them). When he is worried, he often picks up his paintbrush, and last night while I was at a yoga class he painted this:

Calm Before the Storm
I like how he turns his worry into a work of art...

So we are not the type to be blase when we hear that a storm is coming. Compared to other people we probably over-prepare. We fall into the Better Safe than Sorry category, like this guy:

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marsrover_mer_big.gif (2500×2000)The thing about storms is that they are beyond our control. No matter that there are satellites in the sky and little robotic space thingys wandering around Mars - we still can't control the weather down here on earth.

And you can't be sure about what is the right thing to do. Do we stay put? Do we leave? In fact, in situations like this, I always remember the story of this little house at the foot of a mountain in New Hampshire. An avalanche came down the mountain, heading straight for the house. The people in it ran outside to escape. But the avalanche split and went around the house. The people who had run outside were killed. I think it's true story, but if it's not - well, who cares; it illustrates the point. We can try to keep ourselves safe, but we never really know if we're making the right choice until ... well, until the avalanche either hits us or misses us.

a1f6453b55d3205b9e5cab93265c3c75.jpg (525×343)I'm not sure what this post is about really... It has something to do with weathering storms; with finding balance between obsessive worry and appropriate planning; with riding out the storms with as much grace as possible; with not forgetting to enjoy today's sunshine because we are worrying about tomorrow's rain. At least those are the things I was thinking about when I started it.

We can't escape storms - not the weather ones and not the ones in our lives. We can't have a plan for every possible scenario. Nor should we, because that would mean we are always living in the negative possibility, which of course means we are not enjoying the present moment, in which there is no storm; no avalanche. Still, we can't be foolishly la-de-da either. It's about balance. It doesn't hurt to think about what we might do in this or that situation; how we might handle it. So we are ready for Erika, whether she comes or not. But this afternoon, there is no storm. So we are are going to enjoy the sunshine, read books and watch the ducks and birds on the pond behind our house. They don't seem worried...

Adding a P.S. to this post:

Storm Erika fell apart and headed off in a way that we were barely affected at all. We got perhaps an hour of rain, and that was less than we'd gotten the day before from a random non-Erika-related thunderstorm. We listened to the forecast and ended up just bringing the furniture in off the lanai but didn't put up the panels (which I am glad of because it is a Big Chore and I would want to have put them up for nothing). Today dawned pleasant and now it's overcast but this storm has passed.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Everything is changing...all the time...

That's what they say, though sometimes it feels like nothing at all changes, for long periods of time....

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Or, it feels like EVERYTHING changes all at once....

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When we are in a happy phase, we immediately think, "Well this won't last." For some reason, when things are good, we leap ahead to the knowledge that it will, eventually, come to an end. Even while we are in our happy period, we begin to fear or mourn the end of it.

But when we are in a sad or unhappy phase, we think it will never end! I wonder why it is so easy to believe that a bad phase will last forever, but that a good one won't last for long?

I think about impermanence a lot in my life and in my yoga practice, which are pretty much the same thing now. In fact yoga is, in large part, about coming to terms with impermanence, because yoga is about learning to live in the present, and that is all about accepting that things will change; that things in fact are changing now, and now, and now.

Breath+hold.jpg (400×384)In yoga, we bring our attention to the breath and stay with each breath as it comes and goes. The breath changes; no two are alike. If we tried to hold on to the last breath, or if we pushed away the next one - in either case, we would die.

It is this practice of being with each breath, without clinging to the last or anticipating the next, that is the first step toward understanding how we learn to live with change.

Yesterday morning, we sat on a beautiful beach. The sun warmed us; the breeze cooled us.

Yesterday afternoon, the skies darkened and pummeled us with rain.

Impermanence ....

For many, many years, my parents were healthy. Then, suddenly, they were both ill.

Impermanence ....

For years before they died, I feared my parents' deaths. I thought I could never survive that. I grieved for years while they were ill and after they passed. Now, I miss them, but I do not grieve them every day.

Impermanence ....

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When I was younger, I worked for many years at jobs I didn't like. I thought it was supposed to be that way; that it was normal to just stay at a job you didn't like because you wanted and needed the money. I thought it would ALWAYS be that way.

Then one day, the company I worked for changed and that offered me the opportunity to make a change too. I leaped at the chance to leave behind this way of working, and have never looked back.

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Impermanence ....

Once, I was a child. I thought I would be a child forever. Now I am an adult moving into older age.

Impermanence ....

When I write, it often seems like I am getting nowhere. And then, after some months, I have finished a book and I'm not sure how it happened.

Impermanence ...

Our year of living on the road in our RV really heightened my understanding of impermanence. One night we stayed here:

A week later, we stayed here:

Impermanence ....

My favorite quote about change is this one from Faye Weldon:

"Nothing happens and nothing happens and then everything happens."

Change. We can see it as the enemy. Or we can see it as liberation. We can see it as something to fear. Or we can see it as opportunity. I've experienced it as all of these.

Or, we can just see it for what it is: The Way Things Are. Learning to let go of what is past; to stay right here, now, rather than rushing ahead to the future; to accept that "now" is already changing - this is the work of life.

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Work of Art

"I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art."
                                                                                            ~ Helena Bonham Carter

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd been teaching a workshop series on the yamas, which are the ethical principles of yoga that guide how we conduct ourselves in the world. (Non-harming, Honesty, Non-stealing, Moderation and Non-possessiveness or Greed). We wrapped up our discussions with the understanding that these principles provide us with a set of guidelines that can help us lead happier lives. How does that work, you ask? Here's how:

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If, when we got up each morning, we said to ourselves, I think I'll try to live by those yama - thingys today, at the end of each day we would likely find ourselves with fewer regrets about what we wish we had said -- or not said; less second guessing of how we handled situations that arose; less often feeling that we have something to apologize for; less guilt; less fear of repercussions for our behavior. Less anxiety.

Let's talk about karma for a minute. We tend to think of karma as something that is "gonna get us" for the naughty things we do. We use the phrase "karma's a bitch" to console ourselves that an invisible force will exact revenge on people who have done us wrong.

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But karma isn't punishment, it's action and reaction, action and result; an exchange of like energy. You do this and the result is that. You create a certain kind of energy and that same kind of energy will be returned to you. Living by the yamas assures that the karma you generate will be positive.

Understanding karma this way takes us from being victims to being empowered. Instead of being at the mercy of this vicious karma that is out to get us, we actually have the power to create our own good karma and, with time and dedication, we can even negate bad karma from our past actions! So if we believe that karma is a real thing, then it means that we actually have the power to create our own lives!

What an idea ....

I thought that the Helena Bonham Carter quote was a nice complement to the yama discussion because it's another way of expressing this idea that we are the creators of our own lives, and the quality of those lives, every single day.

What if, as Carter suggests, we thought of everything about our lives, everything we do and say, as ART? What if every day we got up and said, My life is a canvas, I am an artist, and today I will try to make my life a Work of Art?

Would we really choose to create a life that resembles Edvard Munch's The Scream?

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Or would we create something more like Monet's Water Lilies?

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If this idea that our lives are a Work of Art were forefront in our minds, wouldn't we: Think more before we spoke; act with more kindness; be more forgiving of ourselves and others; speak our truth; be grateful for all that we have and not begrudge others their good fortune: nourish ourselves with good food and rest; follow our dreams; be more generous? I think we might.