My daughter and three-year-old granddaughter, Ava, slept over last night. This morning before I left for work, Ava asked to see my jewelry box. She wanted to line up all my earrings and look at them, which is one of the rituals she does every time she comes over. As she does that, we sit together on the floor and talk. We have some of our best conversations while she explores my jewelry.
Today’s conversation was about the small statue I have on my dresser of Tara, the female buddha of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. Ava thought it was a doll and wanted me to take it down so she could play with it. I told her it’s not a toy and explained in broad, three-year-old terms, the significance of Tara. I told her that when you are scared, sad, or lonely, you can call on Tara, and she will help you because she doesn’t want you to suffer. She’s like a mother who loves you and wants to help you. But you won’t see her because she is invisible.
“Is she like a fairy?”
“Yes, she is kind of like a fairy,” I agreed.
She liked that idea and exclaimed, “Tara! Help!”
After she put all my earrings back in their spaces, she noticed something that I explained had to do with the basement. She became curious about the basement and wanted to see it. I told her I don’t like to go in the basement, and she asked why. I replied matter-of-factly, “Because it’s kind of creepy down there. I just don’t like it.”
Ava’s favorite holiday is Halloween, and she likes spooky things. She beseeched me to carry her to the door so she could see the basement.
I love this child. Her sweet, little face can get me to do almost anything. So when I realized she wasn’t letting this go, I carried her to the basement door, which was partially obscured by several jackets hanging on hooks. Behind the jackets were two vacuum cleaners I had to move out of the way before unlatching the lock, turning on the light, and opening the creaky, old door.
In other words, there were some barriers in place to conceal the door and make it hard to open (kind of like at the end of the movie, Sixth Sense). As if the basement didn’t even exist. Even though it’s there below almost the entire house.
The light only illuminated a portion of the stairs. There was another light switch toward the bottom, but I didn’t want to walk down the steep, narrow stairs with Ava in my arms to turn it on.
She pointed to a large cobweb just inside the door and asked why it’s there.
“Because we almost never go in the basement.”
“Are there spiders in the basement?” she asked cautiously. Apparently, she’s not a fan of spiders, so I mentioned a couple of their finer attributes.
Then she wanted to know why I don’t want to go in the basement. What’s down there? Well, not much more than a water heater and a heating oil tank and sometimes some mice and mousetraps. I didn’t mention the mousetraps.
I grabbed my phone, turned on the flashlight, and shined the light down the stairs, revealing the 200-year-old stone wall and cement floor. Silently, we regarded the emptiness. Safe in my arms, she again asked why I’m afraid to go in the basement.
“Actually…I don’t know,” I said while still shining the flashlight around. “It’s dark. But when we turn on the light, there’s nothing down there that’s scary. It’s just a big, empty space. It’s not so bad.”
Welcome to my metaphor of the day.
It makes me think of all the avoiding we do because we convince ourselves something is scary and off-limits. But when we open that door and shine a light, it’s not so bad. It’s just a lot of darkness and stories we tell ourselves about it. Familiar stories that keep us afraid of the dark, like scary stories children are told to keep them away from danger. The original intent was to keep us safe, but the story doesn’t serve a useful purpose now that we’re all grown up. If only we have the courage or determination to open the door and turn on the light, we can see the scary places differently, from a more empowered and enlightened perspective.
The basement is the part of the house you don’t see. It’s the foundation that was laid before the rest of the house was built and remains underneath it all. In clutter coaching, feng shui, and dream work, the basement represents the subconscious: stuff that is hidden or repressed, issues you’ve been carrying around for a long time, often from childhood. Your deepest, darkest thoughts, feelings, and memories. It’s where you store things from the past and things you don’t want to deal with. Sometimes the idea of having to clean out the basement because of all the stuff stored there prevents people from moving to a new home and keeps them stuck where they are even when they’d like to move on.
For me, it was perfect timing. Yesterday afternoon, I had a conversation with my spiritual director about boundaries and how essential it is to communicate cleanly and clearly. Why is it so hard to have healthy, self-preserving boundaries and to be up front with people? To say no and not feel obligated to provide acceptable explanations. Why do I decide it’s easier just to keep quiet, appease, and maintain a safe distance … walking on eggshells? What’s this lifelong, people-pleasing pattern about?
Fear. Fear of people’s emotional volatility and fragility. Fear of rejection. Lots of fear. Where did the fear come from? What’s the worst that could happen? And so what?
Although I couldn’t put my finger on it during our conversation, I woke up from a dream this morning with crystal clarity about where it came from. It was childhood stuff. Something that felt scary and powerless when I was a child and set me up with a limiting pattern of relating to others. Like the blueprint beneath it all.
At last, I understood the core wound behind my boundary issues. It was like opening the door to the scary basement and facing it…and realizing it’s not so bad. Because I’m not a child anymore. I’m an adult with greater resources and options. As an adult, I can give my inner child what she didn’t get all those years ago and set myself free from the limiting beliefs and behavioral patterns put in place to make the best of a situation I had no control of. I can send love and light to everyone involved and fill those dark places with light. This is how we heal and grow into our wholeness.
And less than an hour later, there I was standing at the top of the stairs peering into the basement with a young girl in my arms, literally shining a light on it all. Feeling I reclaimed some of my power.
It’s the beginning of a new school year. What courses are you taking?
Do you know? Can you sense it?
Me? I’m enrolled in a Healthy Boundaries practicum and a course on More Than Enough. Through Schoolroom Earth, of course.
I finally passed the What Do You Really Want? course over the summer. I had to retake it many times because I kept getting distracted by what everyone else wanted. It was a prerequisite for my current courses. The final exam was buying a used car on my own, for the first time since my early twenties.
Thirty years ago, I sold a health club membership to a used car salesman, and we talked every time he came to the gym. When I needed a car, he had one for me, and I bought it even though it was a stick-shift, and I didn’t know how to drive it. (I sat in the passenger seat during the test-drive. How’s that for a metaphor?) My future husband gave me a couple of lessons before I picked up the car, and I’ll always remember that first ride home in my Nissan Sentra and how nervous I was at every red light. There was one light I stopped at on an incline, and I couldn’t get moving when the light turned green, so a carload of good-natured Cornell students behind me talked me through it.
That’s how I used to make decisions.
This summer, I took the 2.0 version. It was a lot of work and very frustrating at times. But finally I settled on a 2008 Honda CRV that was within my budget and felt right. It’s a burgundy, well-maintained, single-owner vehicle with no accidents and 100,000 miles. This time, I test-drove several cars and brought them to my mechanic who graciously took each car for a drive and a look-over.
At the beginning of my car search, I thought I wanted another Accord, like the 2003 I got from my mom a few years before she passed away – only a newer model. I printed out Dave Ramsey’s “how to buy a used car” checklist and went from there. As I got deeper into the search, I realized I wanted more space to haul my photography gear, exhibition pieces, and my granddaughter. And AWD to get in and out of my driveway during wintry weather. Shifting from what others offered me (including their opinions) to what really served my needs was the big jump that helped me finally pass the course.
However, I really wanted a newer (2011 or later) CRV or RAV4 with lower mileage (70,000s) in a certain price range. “Mountain Air Metallic” blue exterior would be icing on the cake. Nothing came up in that price range, and I was under a deadline because my son was starting a summer job, which would make sharing the Accord virtually impossible. So I had to choose between expanding my price range and compromising on specs. That’s how I ended up with the 2008 CRV, which I’m very pleased with. But would I be even more pleased in the long run if I’d paid $3,000-$4,000 more for a newer model or held out until I found exactly what I was looking for?
Naturally, the More Than Enough course begins with noticing how I’ve compromised in various areas of life. Deep-cleaning my bathroom yesterday really brought this home. One voice in my head insisted that I was not raised to live in a house like this (which we’ve been renting for 11 years now). Another reminded me that many people on this planet don’t have a bathroom with running water or even a roof over their heads, and what I have is enough. Fortunately, I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation long enough not to ruminate on all the questionable choices I made that resulted in me being down on my hands and knees scrubbing this particular bathroom. (This particular bathroom on the freaking river, the other voice would add.)
At any rate, I have my work cut out because it still feels like reaching for more when I already have enough is selfish and superficial. Even though I realize I can do more good in the world by making more of this precious life. I imagine that would be hard for people without this particular hangup to understand.
But then again, others have hangups I don’t understand. For example, this week in my mindfulness meditation teacher program (the actual one I’m taking with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach), we’re focusing on self-compassion, and expert-researcher, Kristin Neff, wanted us to understand the misconceptions people have about self-compassion that prevent them from embracing it. I don’t have issues with cultivating self-compassion…just as others might not have issues around manifesting more of what they want or enforcing self-preserving boundaries.
While studying transpersonal psychology in the mid-1990s, an image came to me of the spiritual path as a multifaceted crystal. Each facet represents an essential aspect of development necessary for attaining enlightenment. The facets are of different shades, colors, and luminosity. Different degrees of dinginess. As a person develops and refines each facet, it becomes clearer and cleaner until it’s transparent enough for the light to shine through. When all facets are clear and clean, you are a truly radiant, clear, enlightened being.
That image still resonates with me. Each of us has different facets that need to be cleaned and cleared so the light can shine through more completely. It’s not a path like a walking path where someone is ahead of another. It’s a multifaceted, 3D path, and we’re all working on different facets that block the light from shining through us more completely. We could spend an entire lifetime working on just one facet!
There’s something rather wonderful about the non-linear, crystal path on which nobody is better-than or less-than. If you accept that everyone is working on cleaning and clearing different facets, you won’t equate your true worth with your nasty bathroom, old car, or any other condition or quality that makes you seem less than anyone else. We’re all just working on different lessons, and each facet is a course in the Universal curriculum we magnificent beings are working through here on Schoolroom Earth.
The air is cooler now at night. The mint in the garden has gone to seed, and the basil is trying, as well. In recent years, the muted colors and mature textures of late-summer gardens have commanded my attention. If the natural world is a mirror, then perhaps it’s my fifty-something showing. Truth is: I’m quite drawn to them.
In youth, it’s the tender flower that draws attention. The outer show. But after all the colorful petals fall off, the plant quietly and discretely continues to mature. Without the showiness of the flower to distract, the patterns at the core become visible and intriguing in their own right. Somehow it all makes a little more sense: So this was behind it all along. More of the mystery is revealed in the bare bones mandala.
Earlier in the summer, I photographed a pink poppy in full bloom and returned today to discover that this stage of its life cycle is every bit as marvelous as the flower stage, in another way. You just have to look at it a little differently, with presence and wonder and without comparing it to something it no longer is, to behold its beauty.
Later in the flower’s life, if you look closely, you’ll see there is so much going on. Profound transformation. The plant turns its attention away from being physically alluring and focuses its energy on producing seeds to give as its offering to life. A shift from petals to seedpods: seduction to deep generosity.
The pollinators let it be, and it focuses on its larger purpose. The tender petals and vibrant colors give way to interesting textures, greater strength, and individuality. It’s less delicate and fragile.
In the time between the two images above, things get very real. Superficiality falls away. What do you want to give? What kind of legacy? What will you create with this precious life? You get down to business.
I’m walking the labyrinth this morning and noticing dewdrops on blades of grass as they catch the light of the rising sun. Patches of dewdrops are visible only from certain angles. Otherwise, they are present but unseen. It’s an interplay that depends on where you and the object are in relation to each other and to the sun. Timing is also a factor because of the dewdrops’ transitory nature.
I recognized this immediately as my daily metaphor. Nature is a mirror that helps me to make more sense of the ambitious curriculum of Schoolroom Earth.
I can tell the labyrinth received some TLC recently, probably yesterday. It was neat and tidy and perfect for walking. Feeling appreciative, I stood at the end of the willow branch threshold and didn’t step into the labyrinth until I arrived fully in the space and could feel my feet on the ground, hear the sounds, and feel the breeze on my skin. Ground, sound, around.
As I walk, I notice the shadow pictures on the recycled slate steps of the labyrinth and think of all the different images that went unnoticed until I looked in a new way, and they became visible. Then I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed them before.
Isn’t that just how it works, though? You’re blind to certain realities until you’re in the right place and ready to see them. Visually and otherwise. Even when they are right there in front of you and had been all along.
All of a sudden, in one moment, breath, or footstep, it seems so obvious, and you can’t unsee the thing. I remember the day I first noticed the shadow pictures. It was like a new world opened up, and from then on, they were plain as day. Then I started noticing other kinds of shadow pictures. It was a new, expanded way of perceiving the world.
Sometimes other people can help us open our eyes. For example, one of my photographer friends shared a picture of geese floating on colorful, autumn reflections. Her image spoke to me and planted the seed of longing to notice and photograph the interaction of birds and reflections. Sharing her perspective made me aware of a new possibility.
Shadow pictures, others, self: It’s all the same. When the blinders finally come off, you see (and then can’t unsee) things that previously passed under the radar. We evolve by becoming aware of blind spots and expanding our field of vision and awareness. Sometimes it happens when there is a pressing need and we’re actively seeking a new perspective, and sometimes it happens when everything lines up just right. And when it does, there’s no value in regretting that you hadn’t seen it sooner. For whatever reason, you weren’t ready.
Just be glad you finally did, and go on from there.
It’s incredible out here on the dock this morning. There’s a refreshing river breeze. It’s even a little cool, which is welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. The waves are lapping against the shore, the sunlight is sparkling on the water, the warmth of the sun is caressing my skin, and the birds are singing. If the water weren’t so choppy, I’d go out in my kayak. But honestly, I’m glad to have an excuse to indulge in a different pleasure this morning: playing my singing drum on the dock.
I’ve had the drum for less than a week but have wanted one for quite a while. Actually, I wanted a hang drum, but they are very expensive and harder to come by. So I began exploring alternatives and then kind of forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago.
I love to play my singing drum. Especially on the dock on a bright and breezy, summer morning.
There’s road noise to contend with. Always is here on the busy side of the river. I hear the familiar vibration of the steel deck bridge and the cars and trucks only a few yards away from my spot on the dock. But I’m trying to keep my attention on what’s most important: what uplifts me and feels most right in this moment. Just letting all the traffic noise be and not pull me away from my own be-ing.
Making music while all this other stuff goes on is this morning’s meditation practice. Choosing to feel and express my interconnection with the sparkling sunlight on the river, the eagle flying over the island, the wind, the movement and rhythm of the water. Focusing on that. Making music with that.
I can’t control the road noise. But I can control where I put my attention and whether I am in harmony or disharmony with my surroundings. Does my music embody union with the sparkling sunlight on the water or resistance to the rumble of traffic rolling by? Am I expressing wholeness or separation?
The state of your mind and heart is an integral part of the music you offer the world, literally and figuratively.
My advice? Play what you love. Focus on what you love, what brings you joy, meaning, satisfaction, grace. Can you keep your focus on that when all the other stuff is going on around you? Can you tune the other stuff out so you can co-create with life? Or even better, can you incorporate it into the totality of what you are living and embracing this very moment and express unconditional presence?
I sense our music is of a higher quality – less fearful and more authentic – when we play (talk/listen/act/love) from a state of presence and interconnection.
It’s all part of a larger practice of being more improvisational and not relying on notes (of one kind or another) on a page. Expressing from the heart in the moment and trusting that whatever arises is what’s most needed and real and true. That’s the leading edge of my practice these days.
When I hit the record button on my phone, I noticed a subtle shift from expressing to performing. From letting the notes and rhythms flow uninhibited to wanting to sound good and be appealing. But that’s a practice, too. A continuum. My intention is to push the record button and remain in presence, whether I’m communicating through music or words. It’s the same basic practice whether it involves playing music, interacting one-on-one, leading a guided meditation, facilitating a meeting or workshop, addressing a group, or teaching a class of young children. In my case, all my early childhood teaching experience has become a foundation for the rest.
Cultivating deep authenticity and trust…in myself and the wisdom inside me. And also in the magic of connection that happens in the moment, that transcends any stories I create in my head about relationship.
I looked to others for guidance and validation my whole life. But that need comes from the false self, which is a layer I’m in the process of shedding. Because it’s time, and I have a feeling that hormones are finally on my side. Now what I want most of all – more than any kind of worldly success or status – is to trust and follow my own guidance. To be MORE present, improvisational, inner- and inter-connected, and LESS self-conscious, rehearsed, and influenced by others. To express my inner being rather than try to be who I think others want me to be. The latter has had a long enough run! It’s time for a new experiment. It’s kind of scary. But even more, it’s exciting.
So this morning, I brought my singing drum to the dock and allowed the sparkles of sunlight on the water to be the notes I played. They looked like this:
And if you’re curious, they sounded something like this: