Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meet the Muse: Travel

A Trip to Joy
       As the holiday season rolled in this year I decided to try an experiment in fostering joy. "More joy, less oy!" as a Rabbi friend of mine says, was what we needed. Maybe we should re-evaluate the whole idea of gratitude, of mindless participation in the proscribed obligations and ritualistic activity associated with the traditional time of feasting and festival. Pondering why the joy of past holidays often can feel so tempered these days, I concluded that life takes on only the purpose and meaning we give to it and at a certain fork in the road, aka, the second half of life, there can easily arise a sense of discontent. Kids gone, empty nest, health questions, financial plannings, social and political upheavals everywhere... such matters of the heart and soul can, if we let them, weigh upon us heavily, quenching some of the essential joy that's always present if only we recognize it. I wondered if it's possible to create more joy in our lives as an act of conscious will. Can we become mindful enough to recognize and embrace the joyful in whoever we meet, wherever we go, whatever we do?

"More joy, less oy!"
        This experiment in joy involved an early Thanksgiving celebration as we traveled to upstate New York. And because I was looking for it, I found an overflowing cornucopia of people, places and things to celebrate and be joyful about, to be thankful for, lending new meaning and purpose. We visited our grandson for Grandparent's Day at the Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York. Darrow, a 365 acre campus in the Berkshires, sits on a National Historic Landmark where a Shaker community once lived and flourished in the 18th century.  (

  A Day At Darrow
Shakers shaking
      Grandparents, students, faculty and staff all attended a short meeting with Darrow School Head Simon Holzapfel ( who invited all of us to introduce ourselves with plenty of time for requisite and well deserved huzzahs for everyone's respective grandchild. We then all attended a school wide mediation in the meeting hall. The session was similar to the many Quaker meetings I'd attended back when I was a teenager myself, a time when I was
Established 1787!
searching for my permanent spiritual home. Every now and then someone would stand up, speak their piece, then sit down again. I admit I may have been more impressed with this event than my grandson was.

Where We Ought To Be
Marc Chagall's "Cemetery Gates"
     Next we had a simple, tasty lunch in a clean, spacious dining hall, after which we all got to have our photos made with our grandchild. I fretted and wished my hair looked better, realizing of course that such matters of vanity should probably be set aside at a once-in-a-lifetime event that was already half over. After the photo session, we were invited to sit in on our boy's writing class. The lesson involved analyzing and writing a short narrative on
Marc Chagall's painting of cemetery gates, an interesting choice and one my grandson said he liked. Me too, I told him. Bingo, there it was: Communication +Connection= Joy! A simple but profound gift.  

 A Place Just Right
Watercolor water studies at art reception
     Later that evening we toured the school's amazing art building at a dessert and coffee reception, saw lots of works in progress and learned that Darrow's commitment to art goes way beyond that of many similarly sized and focused schools. Grandson is interested art, which is gratifying because it's one of our passions. When I encountered a group of images, life experience collages created by him and other students,
Black & white sketches in progress at art reception
it was another experience of joy, viewing personal journeys through this medium of artistic expression.


 An Unexpected Joy
       What, you may ask, is a bathroom sink doing in a meditative piece on simple gifts? It's not the sink, it's the flowers, fresh flowers in a vase in the ladies' room at the Baltimore airport. Forgive me if I'm corny, but I found this unexpected sweetness to be a true joy for a weary traveler. Yes, Baltimore is having it's trials and tribulations and we all hope the day will come soon when racial and other strife will subside. Meanwhile, to find this light touch of beauty was a most appreciated wonder. And that's not all. At the Albany airport we found a small, artfully constructed meditation room available for stressed passengers, tucked away discreetly by the gate where we waited to change planes. So sweet, so appreciated. Joy often comes on very soft little feet and if we listen and look, it is there for us to behold and embrace.
Meditation Room at Albany airport

We Come Round Right
   We're home again and now you may wonder what  I discovered from my experiment in finding and creating joy. Just this: That when life that has a few more empty spaces than is often comfortable, that space is filled best with a warmth, a sense of comfort, hope and caring that can only come from the love felt in reaching out and touching those you love and cherish. Telling them that while you miss them, you nevertheless honor their separate and often faraway journey to places you never went and will never be a part of, except in a tangential or momentary way. An early Thanksgiving holiday trip encountering new, unexpected and profoundly kind and thoughtful moments created for me a sense of connection vital to making meaning, which in turn created joy. I count my experiment a roaring success.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Divine Abyss

Inspiring wonder

   It was overcast, just before the big winter blast as we set out for parts north, wondering how the photos would turn out. The Grand Canyon beckoned last week, it's splendors ready and waiting for us, as it has awaited its millions of admirers throughout the ages.  Walking with maybe a thousand South Rim trekkers hailing from all over the world, I was part of an astonishing display of human beings being...astonished. 

Dreamtime Remembered
          I remembered a poem I wrote three years ago,  even more meaningful on this day of  grand visitation. As if in a trance, I entered dreamtime, not even sure I knew what I was writing. What appeared beyond my small self, with no sense of measured control, was a throbbing
connection to a greater voice taking hold.

Surprised by joy

        Today the wild beauty of this ancient place calls forth the same voice. Rational thought breaks down, whole sentences evaporate, words almost fail, only a few remain...surprise, awe, dumbstruck, incomprehensible, wonder, joy, choking, wrenching, holy, beauty, humbling, inspiring, comforting, timeless, refuge.

 Riding a River,  Releasing a Rock

Rapids Ahead by Serena Supplee

Heading down the north fork
on the south rim
of the Grand Canyon
a brilliant moment appeared on the horizon.
A movement,
a star of heaven
descended upon the mountain top
Hallelujah! Aha.

Moving down the river
several signposts presented themselves.
How far have you come, how far can you go
they shouted.
Beholding beauty

Does it matter? Isn't the end of things
just the beginning of things
Who is to say what
a turn in the river
can mean.

How is it possible to hate those hard, ugly,
hurtful, contemptible, flattening, faceless, 

                                                               jagged, piercing, cutting, wounding,
deepening rocks 
whose sole soul purpose is  only 
to point the way home?
Shallow shorelines, empty caves,
Buddha sits and Jesus saves...
move on, move on, move on.
Sometimes things are
just what they are and
can’t be known by a
nor a man 
nor a beast.
The full bodied yowl
of moments too difficult to say
are the stones that find their way
to smoothness
never looking back.  
Finding our way home
If you were a stone
now smooth and ready
would you look back?
          You know where you've been,
you know where you're going.
The light hovers closer now leading you home.