Friday, August 28, 2015

Life In The Afternoon


As transitions take place during our later years, a fundamental and primal shift from ambition to meaning occurs.
--Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life

Afternoon Transitions

A brain organoid
        Summer's almost gone and I'm writing at the beginning of the full moon in Pisces, when Neptune rules and hazy, foggy moments are abundant. So let's see what sense I can make of the images and themes of ambition and meaning that spoke to me this summer. First there's that little brain organoid. It was grown from autistic patient skin cells in a small Petri dish by scientists so they could study various and sundry brain functions. In a nutshell, what they found was a neuronal imbalance, too much of this, not enough of that. I expect in the future such methods of discovery for all kinds of disorders will become commonplace and we'll all know more and more about how our bodies work. But what I wonder is will we be able to use that knowledge? If we know more about how our brains work can we better our lives and the lives of others? There's actually a whole new burgeoning field of neurobiology and neurotherapy dealing with those ambitious questions. I expect our grandchildren will be the recipients and practitioners of such advanced learning.

 Ambitious Questions
Abstract painting of butterfly wing
             Do you 'spose they will find out things like whether an enhanced sense of the sacred or the beautiful comes with age? Will brain mapping be able to tie together spirit, mind and body? Could we stain brain sections to identify areas that represent the flowering of attitudes, thoughts and feelings? Such things as this, ephemeral and  intangible, would be interesting to see in a Petri dish. But I don't know if that will happen. Maybe these are really matters of the spirit and can't be measured by science at all. Maybe they rightly come to be known to us only after the quest for an authentic life at wisdom's edge. In the afternoon of life at 60, 70 or beyond, it's interesting to realize how very different are our perceptions and articulations about life. After  the folderol of the fifties, the strength of the sixties emerges and then we settle into the seventies. Point of view and perspective on life change. Luck and pluck will give us a sense of who we've been, who we are now and what we can reasonably expect from the rest of life. Still, there are of course, ambitious questions to resolve.

Elusive Meaning

A place somewhere in time and space
       For such questions we find ourselves dusting off our tool box of  'stuff we used to do, still do, want to do more of.' You know what I mean, that snazzy set of skills and talents we always fell back on to put order into chaos, find meaning in the unfathomable or even to celebrate the ineffable. Writing happens to be mine. I used to find it thrillingly meaningful to write about things out there... the DJIA, IPOs, REOs and the SEC. Ditto budding entrepreneurs, zany inventors and right livelihood. Then there came the frantic chaos of turning fifty when  the whole world as I knew it ended (I left my job as a business journalist) and I was staring at the prospect of starting all over from scratch. Now I write about things that have meaning in here, things that touch the heart, things I like and find beautiful and inspiring.  Rounding up and integrating the pieces of the life I'd learned with so I could get on with the life I would henceforth be living has been a big job. But after much back and forth and a few false starts, I'm learning to engage the conscious aging process. It's sometimes daunting, often thrilling, definitely perplexing, truly intriguing. I wonder who else is up for this quest. Who's up for this kind of stuff anyway? Who needs or wants to teeter on the brink of a back and forth state of mind looking back and forward at the same time, all the while hearing that waking up, being present to the moment and living in the power of now is really all that matters anyway.  Maybe you want this. If you do, maybe I have something to share with you.

What Matters Most
          I can tell you this: At some point there is an end to the struggle
Huichol yarn painting, Resurrection Bird
to become conscious and present. A shimmering lifeline appears when after due diligence and paying attention to the signs and symbols, a life theme is revealed, intense and richly rewarding in its juicy simplicity. This comes as the editing of the life commences, asking us to keep what matters most while letting go of that gorgeous, precious but now dead memory, that fabulous but irrelevant idea of who we are (or aren't), those cardboard boxes full of, godalmighty-I-can't-believe-I-saved-this, papers and letters from the ancient 1950s. It takes plenty of courage in the beginning to go there, asking yourself to muster enough trust in your  now seasoned self to stand back and whack away, letting go of cherished thoughts and beliefs and creations about who you thought you were, all that stuff you've accumulated along the way and expectations and aspirations for the years ahead. At wisdom's edge is where it all ends. And where it all begins. Our ambition now is transformed and resurrected. To give meaning to our lives and to give that life back to this precious world we inhabit.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer's Crazy Wisdom

 Editor's Picks

In the garden of gentle sanity,
May you be bombarded by the coconuts of wakefulness
.  -- Chogyam Trungpa

Crazy Wisdom
           Legend has it that once a sage has passed a certain point on the spiritual journey, all wisdom becomes 'crazy wisdom.'  What I think this means is that the sage has reached the point of knowing that she/he knows nothing for sure and besides, the only things worth knowing were already inside her/him when he was born. Sort of a "it's all here, all now" carpe diem kind of wisdom. I grow more certain of this as time goes by.

Assistant Editor Izzy, ready for lunch break
             The end of summer is a kind of crazy wisdom time...we aren't sweating and sunbathing, neither are we pulling out sweaters in anticipation of cooler days and night. We are in between all that. The liminal time, as the anthropologists say, when we are just here, languishing in the now. What better time to peruse as much crazy wisdom as possible before the season really changes? Though we may be anticipating a bittersweet goodbye to the end of this year's garden we still have a little time until the last rose of summer fades so I say let's all savor this present moment of living, loving, and learning. Here's my crazy wisdom for the moment.

The Purple Robe, Henri Matisse
             I know you have one too, a favorite artist. Matisse  does it for me. Color has become my new best friend this summer,  ever since we took the Beautiful Mess abstract art workshop at Sedona Art Center. Matisse is the master of color and helped establish the post impressionist Fauves –“Wild Beasts”-- known for their wild and unconventional use of color. The abstract art classes this spring helped set me on this path,  I'm discovering what color can mean in a life...from mood to tempo to structure, color can do it all. Matisse's line works show fantastic rhythm and the paper cutouts never fail to inspire me, particularly since he took up this up much, much later in life as a result of impending infirmity and found this was a medium he could still manage. He kept on, didn't let life stop him from embracing it fully as he could until the end.
         Everything you can and should have in a great piece of writing --  point of view, subject, talent, texture, character -- is there in a great painting as well. Sometimes I literally shiver with delight when I'm looking at a Matisse creation. Looking at this right now makes me want to run outside to the garage into my newly created art studio and whip out the paints and brushes. Look, draw, choose, enter, commune....well, you know the rest...crazy wisdom calling!

The New Yoga For People Over 50
       Sometimes crazy wisdom is lurking right around the corner, just open a book and there it is. Suza Francina, 66, is someone I deeply admire and a couple of years struck up a friendly email correspondence with her about her yoga teaching and writing workshops. I visited her studio last time I was in Ojai where she specializes in yoga for Wisdom's Edge-age women. A follower of the late, great yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, she's quite the mover and shaker in her adopted hometown of Ojai, California where she was at one time the mayor. She's got several books out including The New Yoga for Healthy Aging  which has a dedication page with a quote from Malchia Olshan who reminds us to "Start your morning with yoga, wear beads while baking, make brownies and enjoy life!!" (I did the wearing beads part this morning, I generally do my yoga in the evening and am taking a pass on the brownies). Suza's The New Yoga For People Over 50: A Comprehensive Guide for Midlife and Older Beginners inspires, entertains, uplifts on lots of levels, reminding us all that with a yoga practice, a whole new life can begin. Here's a review:

       Yoga is a gift for older people. One who studies yoga in the later years gains not only health and happiness, but also a freshness of mind since yoga gives one a bright outlook on life. One can look forward to a satisfying, more healthful future rather than looking back into the past. With yoga, a new life begins, even if started later. Yoga is a rebirth which teaches one to face the rest of one's life happily, peacefully, and courageously.
                                     -- Geeta S. Iyengar, YOGA, A Gem For Women

With artist and humanitarian Adele Seronde
 at Sedona Arts Center

     Adele Seronde is a lovely 90-year-old artist I met last year at the Sedona Arts Center's reception and retrospective of her work. She looks super next to one of her paintings of our red rocks here in Sedona and I was so pleased to have a few minutes to chat with her at the show, she gave me  hope that class, talent, courtesy and generosity of spirit were not things of the past. Renewed my sense that certain individuals who have spent years cultivating a sense of connection with a higher sensibility can make a real difference in the lives of so many. She started Gardens For Humanity and writes searing poetry about her love of nature. That's her book of poems on the stack in the photo up there, Living Bridge. I especially like Sacred Voices, a paen to the red rock country where we live:

Sacred Voices
By Adele Seronde

 I can believe tall spirits touched this sky
tangential to fire and finding it
imprisoned the holy flame forever in these cliffs.

I can believe these mountains cry 
to all the reaching citadels of sun
and hold their bent prism
of rainbow to the storm.
Who are the answering voices of our shadow fate?
Where are the speaking cauldrons of our lives?

I can believe tall spirits cleanse--in torrential rains--
the inertia of our dreams and quiet
the aching Earth
with new fecund seed.

     My good friend Kris, the artist, kindly sent me a copy of Paulo Coelho's book Aleph, the story of a spiritual seeker's zigzag journey to enlightenment. She was certain I would like it and she was right. Supposedly based on the author Paulo Coelho's own life, this book is a great read, a sort of fictive memoir (I don't know, is there such a genre?) with a solid narrative voice that hooks you from the get go. Sometimes I grow weary of first person 'how it was, what happened, how it is now' tales, but here is a story of the  transformation quest in fictional form and its message has the power to resonate. This excerpt has crazy wisdom written all over it:

        In magic--and in life--there is only the present moment, the now. You can't measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. "Time" doesn't pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we're always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn't act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we're going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don't want and how to get what we have always dreamed of. -- Paulo Coelho