Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nourishment for the Soul

There is something inherently beautiful in understanding that the Universe will provide us with exactly what we need.  Now, I say need, because there are times when all I want, is to consume an entire hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream.  It is then that I step outside, to find that the cherry tomato bush that I planted in the beginning of summer, is bearing seven gorgeously sun-ripened tomatoes.  Enough for a perfect salad, complete with butter lettuce, crisp cucumber and seven, still warm from the sun, tomatoes.  A little bit of heaven.
It is truly in the details, in the minute, seemingly insignificant things that we might often find our deepest needs fulfilled.
And yet, unless we look very closely, unless we stop to examine the ordinary things that make our souls cry out with joy, then we often neglect to notice the simple miracles which are placed right on the path in front of us.
How many times, during my walks on the beach, have I passed over a simple piece of seaweed covered in vibrant bubbles from the ocean?  
Art created by nature, so simple, yet complex when actually examined.  What I thought I wanted during my walk along the beach, that day, was seaglass.  What I found was what I needed.  A second look at seaweed covered in rainbow-tinted bubbles.
The miracles are endless.  I realize this as I come upon an enormous, tree-size piece of driftwood that is wedged into the sand.  It would probably take several good strong men and a large truck to move this tree.  And yet the ocean, in all of her lovely splendor, somehow effortlessly tossed this onetime tree around in her waves, and then deposited it on the shore.
Huge mounds of seaweed showing off their roots in the open air, like giant sunflowers raising their heads to the sun.
And this little guy.  A foreign looking , alien-like creature, smaller than a half-dollar, stuck on the sand.  If I had not looked down, if I had not stopped to examine its unusual appearance then I might never have learned that this is a star fish.(Google is also a small miracle.)  And my oldest daughter, my sweet angel, might not have saved its life by gingerly picking it up and placing it back into the ocean. 
Coming up on this rock, my first reaction to it was that it resembled a human heart.  Not the cute little hearts that we all love so much, but a real heart with arteries and ventricles and the Life Force coursing through its veins.  It almost took my breath away.
A Sea Urchin.  Absolutely perfect in its form and grace.  After reading a bit about the Sea Urchin, I discovered how incredibly important it has been in the study of immunology.  And yet, to me, it's just beautiful.
I could not exactly figure out what this was before it became a part of the shoreline landscape.  Possibly a giant Sea Urchin?  
Standing on my deck at the end of a hot summer afternoon, I spotted these two graceful dolphins and my heart skipped a beat.  I will never tire of seeing dolphins out on the open sea.  They are some of the most humbling and awe-inducing creatures in the world.  Somehow, I always seem to spot them when I really need to.  Rarely, if ever, when I want to.

We often think that we know what we need because it is what we want at the time.  But oftentimes, our desires are only made clearer if we open ourselves up to the possibilities.  I cannot say that I do not sometimes indulge in the pleasures of a hot fudge sundae.  I do.  But I thank God for the miracles that sometimes lead me in the direction of fulfilling my needs, especially at times when even I am not exactly sure what they are.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Ripple Effect

The beaches of Southern California have been under the siege of a large winter storm which originated around the island of Tahiti.  Normally, Tahiti is not a place that is on my radar.  When I think about it, I visualize a very far off land surrounded by ocean and lined with white-sandy beaches that are mostly desolate.  But for the past couple of days, Tahiti has been reminding me of the ripple effect which often has broad-reaching implications on our lives.  Implications which we experience, but don't really consider past the first few rings that expand beyond our usual surroundings.  Most of us are familiar with how the ripple effect works.  You drop a rock into a body of water, and the initial ripple then fans outward causing a tiny circle within a larger circle, within a larger circle, within a larger circle, within an even larger circle.  A massive storm that is happening someplace over a far off land in the middle of the Pacific ocean, is now rippling into the waters off of Southern California causing the largest waves this coast has seen in years.  The results have been bigger waves and stronger currents.  Dangerous conditions for all but the most experienced surfers as they clamper down to the water to catch the most challenging waves.
We have also experienced a heat wave combined with extreme humidity, something that Southern California seldom has to put up with.  
There have also been larger crowds at the beaches due to both the heat and the unusual wave conditions.  More ripples crossing over the thousands of nautical miles spanning from Tahiti to California.
And yet, the weather and the powerful surf conditions are only a couple of the ways in which we have been impacted by the Tahitian storm.

Yesterday, as curious beach-goers walked leisurely out on the San Clemente Pier, the waves rose precariously close to the base of it.  People sitting on the edge of the pier found that the waves were actually rising up far enough to tickle their toes.  Shortly after that began happening, a huge beam was dislodged from the pier and went tumbling into the ocean.

It was at that point that the storm from Tahiti which was effecting Southern California began to ripple into even more lives as the pier was shut down until further notice.

Looking out at the vacant pier yesterday afternoon, I was struck by the force that a storm which is nowhere even close to the United States, could have on the lives of those so far away.
And I thought about the first raindrop that might have started all of this.  I thought about that raindrop falling gently into the ocean off of the coast of Tahiti and how the ripples began to circle out, each creating a larger circle.
We are like that.  We create an action, we say something kind or something crass to someone else, and the ripples begin to radiate outward, one at a time.  A single motion that can have an infinite effect.

And like my initial thought about the obscure island of Tahiti being very far from my own radar, we forget how each one of our own actions, however obscure or seemingly insignificant, can create an enormous ripple effect.  Every thought translating into a word.  Every action creating a reaction.  Every kindness reaching out in a way that we could never possibly begin to imagine. 

So I will go into the coming week, the week that my younger brother should have been turning forty-three, and I will think about Tahiti.  I will think about waves and words and kindnesses and, I will think about you.  Each comment, each friendship, each email of support is like the tiny rock which begins the ripple outward creating an effect that can never again be retrieved.  

Peaceful birthday, little brother.  Your life was like that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When The Pain Blurs my Vision

Living with a chronic illness, sometimes means having a whole lot of downtime in which to count my blessings.  I view this as a benefit.  Something that can rescue me from the onset of a long-lingering bout of focusing on the pain, while going through the litany of the "Why me's?", only to feel worse for the wear.  When I awaken sometime around noon, most days, I am faced with unrelenting pain which forces me into an immediate state of reality that upsets my balance.  This morning was a particularly bad morning.  We have been experiencing a heatwave here in Southern California that is both unbearable and seems to be unending.  The high temperatures and humidity(Yes, we do sometimes have humidity in So Cal.) have made it harder for my body to recover, leaving me helpless against the outer conditions that I have little to no control over.  This morning, as my body ached and throbbed and rebelled against me, I quietly laid in bed praying for relief.  The pain began to worsen, as I began to make a mental list of each pang.  But then I stopped myself.  I began to breathe in and out more deeply as visions of my husband and our daughter's smiles floated through my mind's eye.  I began to focus on the joy that I have in my life.  My husband, our four daughters, our pets, the beach, and suddenly, the pain was only a background to the inner peace that I was experiencing.  Physically, I was still dealing with the pain, but mentally, I had created some images that had much more power.  The power of love.  The power of choice.  The power of knowing that everything is going to be okay, and that eventually the pain would subside.

It's important to do that.  To store up the mental and physical images that can restore your inner balance during times of pain, be it physical, spiritual or emotional.  To give yourself the tools with which to bring yourself to a better place.  To capture the moments that can make you laugh.  To remind yourself of the things which can bring your sight back into focus.  It is important to allow yourself a little time to wallow, but a lot more time to count the things that make you complete.  For me, this includes my family.  They can make me laugh like nothing else in this world can.
And this morning, these images are what saved me from the pain.  Images of Angel Daughter Number Three and Angel Daughter Number Four being silly with one another.
Angel Daughter Number Three is usually not too excited about having her picture taken.  Maybe it has something to do with being seventeen.  But yesterday, I caught her wrestling around on the floor with Angel Daughter Number Four, and we all laughed.
There is almost nothing that gives me as much pleasure and as much joy as seeing the way that my girls can love on one another.
The older that they get, the more that their childlike nature becomes submerged by more serious issues like boys and school and life.
But when I can catch them just being sisters, those are the moments that I love to hold on to.  The moments that make the hard parts of mothering virtually disappear.  The moments that can take away my pain.
These girls.  My four daughters.  My husband.  They are what bring my life back into focus.

What does it for you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Learning to Transform

Summer to summer.  July 4th to July 4th.  Birthday to birthday.  In the approximately 365 days since the summer of 2008, I have spent nearly one third of those days walking the beaches.  Through summer crowds, into autumn heat spells, which led to winter solitude and then springtime renewal, I walked my way into the summer of 2009.  Searching...  Searching for answers, searching for meaning and searching for seaglass.  Some of it I found, and some of it found me, yet much of it is still so elusive. But still, I continue to search.

Over the course of the past year, I have come upon and have collected hundreds of pieces of seaglass.  Each tiny piece, each broken shard has been smoothed over and frosted by decades in the ocean.  Quite a tumultuous existence being broken-down and then transformed by the sea.  Yet when the seaglass makes its way to the shoreline, its appearance is without the jagged edges that are inherent in a broken piece of glass.  The difficult journey that brought the weathered piece of glass from its original form, to the depths of the ocean, and then back to the beach, has created a uniquely beautiful gem which is like no other.  A piece of broken glass tossed away, disregarded, dangerous and angry looking, returns in another incarnation as a treasure.

I have always held the Buddhist philosophy that life is suffering or pain.  It is one of the four noble truths, but it has been only loosely translated because there is no literal translation for the word "dukkha" which is the original word that the Buddha used.  Because there is no literal, or single translation for the word dukkha, this noble truth has taken on a very negative connotation.  Yet from my extremely "layperson" point of view, what I have come to believe is that the word "suffering" could be replaced by the word stressful or the word painful, or even the word joyous.  The important thing to glean from this philosophy is that life is transient.  Suffering, pain and happiness are all impermanent conditions.  In other words, it is perfectly fine to experience a variety of feelings throughout our days.  The important thing is to never cling to any of them.  Like a shard of glass dropped into the ocean, we are set forth into this life to walk a certain journey and throughout that journey, we are molded, formed, transformed, battered, smoothed out and transformed again.  It is only in the end that the true essence of our treasures are borne out to the surface.  We are constantly changing, evolving and transforming into who we will become.  It is only by allowing this process to occur, by not clinging to any of the phases of our transformation, that we can truly become the gem that we are meant to be.  Life is suffering.  Life is joyful.  Life is pain.  Life is _ _ _ , you fill in the blanks.

As the road to another summer rises up to join me, I will continue walking.  I will continue searching and I will continue to open up my soul to the impermanence of things.  And as a part of this journey, I will admit, out loud, that I am finally ready to reclaim a part of me that was so immersed in the pained and broken-downness of the past eighteen months that I was often getting dragged down by the waves.  Like a piece of seaglass or some words of wisdom taught by the Buddha, it is my hope to become unattached from my original form or belief, and into a smoother, more refined version of who I can be.

A heartfelt thank you for all of the lovely birthday wishes.  Your words of wisdom, thoughts and kindnesses touched my spirit in a way that made me feel very special.  Your comments are always so appreciated and do not go unnoticed.  And thank you to Maria-Therese's(afiori) readers for stopping by!  I do hope that you will visit again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


To me, this is what solitude looks like.  Solitude is quiet.  Solitude is transformative.  Solitude is a place away from much of the excess noise of life.  Solitude is desirable.  And yet, one of the synonyms for the word solitude is loneliness.  Something that carries with it a very negative connotation.  Solitude seems to be seclusion by choice.  Loneliness implies that someone might feel shut out of the world by exclusion.  Two words that carry the same basic meaning, yet when compared to one another, the words solitude and loneliness mean very different things.
Standing on the bluff in front of my home on the fourth of July, I felt a sudden surge of loneliness that caught me by surprise.  I was not alone, Mark, Angel Daughter Number Three and her boyfriend were all present with me.  My neighbors were all outside, talking, laughing and enjoying the beautiful firework display.  But towards the end of the display, I decided to remain outside to watch other shows that could be seen in the distance.  It was then that it struck me.  Loneliness.
On any given day, I can step outside to view the huge expanse of sunlit glass which stretches out before me, and experience nothing but peace.  I can take in the inherent smallness of being a single, human soul while still feeling somehow connected.  I can breathe in the breeze that comes in off of the ocean, teeming with the scents of life.  I can even perceive the relationship that I have to the massive flocks of seabirds who float effortlessly on the surface of the water searching for food.
And in viewing those seabirds which congregate by the hundreds, their presence emotes in me a solitude that is nowhere near a feeling of loneliness.  I am alone, but I am in no way lonely.
Other days, the scene might change, but my feeling of comfortable solitude does not.  I might stand ashore watching sailboats carrying their sailors out to sea, but once again, I feel a sense of connection.  The feeling that we are all bound by that particular moment in time.  A simple snapshot, in which everything and everyone appears as it should be.  Solitude in unison.
And when I walk the beaches, the discovery of a single, brilliant piece of seaglass can draw me out of any sense of loneliness that I might be experiencing.  Each tiny piece, a reminder to me that I am never alone.  Not really.  
Yet, sometimes, even in the midst of large crowds of people and exploding fireballs of color raining down from the sky, it is possible to feel very, very lonely.  And that is okay.
It is okay because loneliness and solitude are two sides of the very same coin.  And sometimes, when solitude becomes a little bit too familiar, loneliness steps in to keep us from becoming overly reclusive.  Sometimes, we need sudden moments of loneliness in order to remind ourselves of how important it is to stay connected to other people.  Like a small piece of seaglass that turns up in precisely the right place on the path that we are walking, moments of loneliness can also turn up as an important reminder to stay balanced.

This Thursday, July 9, will be my forty-seventh birthday.  Angel Daughter Number One shared a bit of her soul-felt wisdom with me, the other day, by reminding me that a birthday is a time to celebrate oneself.  It often amazes me that such words of awareness, can come from someone so young in years.  So, in order not to allow myself too much solitude on my birthday, I am announcing it here.  In the coming year, I intend to celebrate not only those whom I love and adore, but myself, as well.  It is time.  And life is not never-ending.  Thank you for dropping that bit of seaglass wisdom in my path, AD1.
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