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Friday, January 28, 2011

Still in the stars

Still in the stars

Six Canada Geese descend
toward the water, arcing slightly
to the left, with perfect velocity, precise
angles.  They glide on outstretched wings,
only micro-adjustments of feathered-bodies-in-space.

Witnessing, held, I hold
my breath. I am on an airplane
descending toward the tarmac: gut
going two directions, dropping down
and churning, my heart
fleeing into my throat,
in a prayer for
safe landing.

I have flown like that, my body
is remembering!  Perhaps a favorite
dream? Or my life as a bird? (Maybe
I was previously a silly goose!)

or remembering?  When
my daughter was barely
four years old, she asked me,

“Mama, do you remember when we were still in the stars?"
Note: This is a rendering of my essay "Yearning and remembering" in poetic form, thanks to my colleague and friend Simeon Dreyfuss.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yearning and Remembering

Heading toward home, skirting the west edge of the pond, I happen to witness a small flock of Canada Geese, six to eight in number, perform a controlled decent through the air toward the water’s surface. They arc slightly to the left, and I am arrested in my attention by their perfect velocity, precise angles, the way they glide with outstretched wings, their only movements micro-adjustments of feathered-bodies-in-space.

I am a body-in-space as well, and I have no option but to stop walking in order to better witness the geese in their descent, to behold their performance. Once still, I have reconfirmed an impression I’ve had many times before that when I stop, or sometimes when I am still moving but more slowly than usual, I experience time as fundamentally in flux, that it expands and contracts, alters its pace, holds me gently.

Held gently, witnessing, I realize that I am holding my breath. And that my body – especially the region from my gut to my heart – is reacting as though I am on an airplane descending toward the tarmac of my home-town airport: gut going in two directions simultaneously, dropping down and churning, and my heart fleeing up into my throat. I am slightly queasy and disoriented, suddenly inhaling deeply and raising my shoulders and eyebrows in a sort of prayer for my safe landing. This physiological drama is unfolding so quickly and seemingly automatically, keeping pace with the flock’s descent. And then my mind kicks in.

My mind kicks in and takes over my embodied experience, doing what minds seem to like to do—commenting upon and asking questions about what is happening. Now, as I continue to watch the geese, no longer in the throes of my embodied experience, I think: “I wish I could fly like that! I have flown like that, that’s what my body is remembering! Wait, have I actually flown like that, not in an airplane but just in my body? Perhaps I’m remembering a favorite dream? Or, perhaps, I am remembering my life as a bird? (Maybe I was previously a silly goose!)” In other words, my mind is in a state of wonderment, desire, recognition and confusion, all at once, the cognitive analogue to what is happening in my body.

All at once: Wonderment, desire, recognition and confusion. I start breathing regularly again, the geese have landed safely, and so have I. I resume my walk back home, trying to keep a fix on what just happened. Time is back to its business as usual, no longer rocking me gently but picking up my pace, but I resist, I dwell in the experience a bit longer. And I ponder this question: Am I yearning or remembering?

Am I yearning or remembering? Now as I write this tribute to the geese, to my life as a bird, I recall for the first time for quite awhile something my daughter said to me when she was barely four years old:

“Mama, do you remember when we were still in the stars?”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Year's Musings

I really love each new year.  Because it is, well... NEW!! Like a blank slate.  I get to fill it with something that I hope is meaningful, fun and purposeful.  I don't always receive what I expected is always insightful.   With that, here is something I have been thinking about for a while.

To age intentionally we must first be courageous enough to let our true self out in to the world.  To do this requires that we are willing to take certain risks.  Possible risk of humiliation or perhaps retaliation for being our self, or NOT conforming, is a normal reaction in our culture.  We want to be liked and maybe loved by those around us.  To be authentically "real" could put these desires at risk which might be painful.  Or even more ominous, we might lose a job or be ostracized from our community for being different or going against the grain.

The sixty-four thousand dollar question is if there are so many risks to aging authentically, why even try?  What is the benefit of taking the risk to live intentionally?  Where do we get the strength?  I ask myself these questions almost every day and although I can't really say I have the definitive answer I do have some thoughts.

What does seem to be true is that as we get older we have a strong desire to "become whole" and to feel connected in new and intimate ways to family, community and the world around us.  By whole I am refering to our inner self driven by a set of beliefs and values and our outer self or the self we share with the world which can be driven more by the culture.  This desire to be whole, I think, bears a strong resemblance to when we were children with our wonderful penchant for being ourselves, all the time.

I am also coming to believe that when we separate our inner self from the outer self (or what Parker Palmer calls the "Backstage Life" from the "On-stage Life") we suffer spiritual and maybe emotional pain.  And I think a desire to be more "pain free" or whole is one of the major tasks of aging.  Speaking for myself, I want my deepest values that direct my inner self to be the guiding principles of my external self.  I find that I  am driven to merge what has been my separate inner and outer lives in to one authentic personality.  I am also discovering that I don't care as much about what others think.

To live and age intentionally requires a "wholeness" with no differences between our backstage lives and our on-stage lives; just our true self shining for all to see.  My New Year's wish is that each of us find the courage to let our personal truths guide more of our lives in 2011.