Saturday, December 11, 2010

Restoration: Attention

I picked up the telephone: “Hello?”

“I’m dying.” Those were the first words out of her mouth.

My head scrambled for a thought - fast! Mostly thinking, ‘how do I respond to that?!’

I paused, took a breath and just went for it: “No, you’re not,” I answered without skipping a beat. “You’re talking to me on the phone right now.”

She stopped for a moment. I don’t think she had quite expected that response. The quiet hung in the air, finally interrupted by her reasonably dejected voice: “Well, they gave me a death sentence. They said there’s nothing more they can do for me and I’m gonna die.” It was her turn to let the air hang heavy as she waited for an answer to that.

I decided to go out recklessly on a limb: “Well, we all are aren’t we?” She was listening closely now, so I took the advantage and continued: “Some sooner than others - and nobody really knows when somebody else is going to die, do they? They don’t know that. They’re just saying they’re out of tricks in their bag for you - but you’re not dying - not this second. You’re talking to me on the phone right now.”


“Where are you right now in your home?” I asked.

“Sitting in a chair.”

“Where? What do you see in front of you?”

“The window.”

“What do you see outside the window?”

“The big pine tree.”

“Anything else?”

“There’s a cardinal in the tree.”

“Good. Watch it!”

Silence. This time the silence didn’t hang heavily, but was a deep, profound kind of silence one is rarely privileged to hear: the deep silence shared with another.

After a solid moment of silence I pushed on, “You’re not dying. You’re alive - you’re talking to me on the phone, and you’re looking out the window and looking at the pine tree with the cardinal in it. How big is that tree? Tell me about it.”

And she did, describing its height and breadth - how it filled the front yard; its deep green needles and the bright red bird - all cast against the steel-grey, winter sky of northern Michigan.

Over time we had many more conversations where she sat in front of that window and described all of the life she saw before her. She described it in detail throughout the seasons: the birds at the feeder - the cardinals and chickadees of winter, the bluebirds in the summer - the oasis that it became to both herself and the birds - her ‘sitting spot’; her zen cushion of meditation. She never spoke to me again that she was dying - not that she didn't think about it, I'm sure. But she chose to bring all her worries, fears and burdens to that tree - and they were heavy and many. That tiny spot of nature helped her to carry them and it also carried her - not dying, but living clear through to her final day.


Nature heals. Whether looking out at the vista from the mountaintop, the horizon from the shore, or the view of the bird feeder outside the kitchen window, our senses take in the sights, smells and sounds of nature, helping our minds balance out in the most basic and primal of ways. We might find it in sailing the sea, but we might as easily find it staring into the aquarium in a doctor’s office. Nature heals, calms, centers and restores.


It’s in the basic wiring.

We’re only beginning to tap into the mysteries of our brains, how they function and why sometimes they don’t. Research by University of Michigan psychologist Stephen Kaplan, has led to what he calls the “Attention Restoration Theory.” This study examines how time spent in nature in relaxed attention has a restorative quality for our minds. A simple enough idea - common sense, really. Easy and within reach.

The theory is based upon the observation that the human brain has evolved through thousands of generations spontaneous response to the natural environment. According to Kaplan’s research, our species has developed the mental wiring to have a natural attraction to green, to trees, flowers and plants, water and wildlife. When we pay attention to nature we use a different, more relaxed, involuntary kind of attention. It requires no effort - which for some can bring its own kind of challenge. But for a moment, if we can allow it, our mind can relax, offering us the overall benefits of rested attention, mental clarity and focus.

Kaplan, in his ‘Attention Restoration Theory’, lists four components in enlisting nature’s help to restore inattentive and poor quality concentration:

1) Being away from your everyday environment -“Away” could be as simple as the backyard garden or the park at the corner. The idea being that interacting with nature in any form helps one to move away from ‘tired brain’. Tired brain zaps us, robbing us of our ability to attend.

2) Fascination - What engages us requires no mental effort. When we are fascinated, watching the colors of the sunset, the flock of geese heading south, or listening to the pounding of the waves, we engage with an easy, involuntary attention. It takes little effort to ‘look’. We’re drawn in by the details. Remember, it's been said: ‘God is in the details.’

3) Extent or Scope - So you’re ‘away’ from the everyday, and fascinated by what you behold, touch, hear, smell or taste, but can your remain there? Will your attention remain without becoming bored or restless? If you're satisfied and able to ‘let down’, i.e. safe and comfortable, involuntary attention comes to the fore; directed attention becomes unnecessary. Now there’s sufficient ‘scope or extent’; attention span increases.

4) Compatibility - “Different strokes for different folks.” Interact with the natural environment in a way that is compatible for the individual. Fish, hike, garden, smell the flowers, play with the dog, sit by the river, pet the cat, birdwatch, collect rocks, watch the clouds, walk in the open air, feel the wind as you ride a bike --- Find your way. YOUR way.

When life throws us the unexpected curve ball - the job loss; health crisis; the loss of a loved one through divorce, death or an empty nest - the ordinary bumps and bruises of life - they take their toll, leaving us stressed and potentially eroded. We become more forgetful and challenged in clear thinking. Our emotions get the better of us and we feel like an exposed, raw nerve ending dangling out there being stepped upon, irritated by everything. Our mental quadrant governs it all -- not only our clear cognitive functioning, but also our emotional and coping capabilities.

The details of the unexpected curve ball don’t matter much; our responses do, however, - how we find our way back to repair and restoration - how we reboot ourselves. We all need to reboot from time to time; a good place to begin is by ‘Restoring Attention’ through nature.


“Don’t think: Look!” - Ludwig Wittgenstein



For further reading, ask your local public library for: "Your Brain After Chemo: A Practical Guide to Lifting the Fog and Getting Back Your Focus" by Dan Silverman & Idelle Davidson

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Paying Attention

Attention - Concentration of the mental powers; from the Latin attendere: to stretch toward.

Thousands of images, events and fires, both big and small, demand our attention daily -- everything from the kids, to work, to the next apocalyptic disaster around the corner, all vying for limited mental parking space. The parking lot is usually overflowing with a line backed out to the street -- and still, we hope for a little space left over where maybe we can also 'attend' to some of the things that help us stand strong another day - the rejuvenation and restoration we all need to find, if only in the corners of our life, in order to have the reserves and will to rise again, to not only survive, but thrive.

Four facts about mental acreage:

> What you attend to matters.

> What you don't attend to matters as much.

> There's a finite number of parking spots in your lot.

> We each are the parking 'attendant' of our own lot; i.e. it's up to us to carefully attend to who/what enters - OR if we allow everyone/everything that loudly demands entry "NOW!" to enter just because they're loudly demanding [it's always 'now', isn't it?].

We work the gate. We decide to allow entry -- or not. There's no one and nothing else to blame - even if the cars are circling the block, leaning on their horns, flippin' each other off, demanding 'NOW!' like a three year old's tantrum. Best thing to do with overly demanding children is to ignore their unreasonable demands. Just 'cuz they're loud, doesn't mean they should get attention for it.

Patience, delayed gratification and self-restraint don't get a lot of 'attention' these days. It shows - just drive a car for 15 minutes among your fellow travelers if you doubt it.

Not much time is spent 'attending' to Beauty either, Beauty with a capital 'B', not the trivial kind you can buy, but the awe-some kind that stops you in your tracks as you hustle forward in your busy day.

Walk with a two year old discovering for the first time the world laid out before them and you'll experience it: "That leaf! That leaf! Look!" and you know you are in the presence of a 'high being' in a state of awe and ecstasy.

If we can stop to look, we'll see how the raindrops from the night's rain have settled on the fallen leaf like jewels - an ordinary leaf - the same as millions of others, except this one - it captures the glint of sun rising in the morning sky - it magnifies the light, magnifies Life and Beauty ---


we stop to notice it - an ordinary leaf on a slab of ordinary gray concrete, made Extraordinary by stopping, getting close, and noticing.


It takes practice. It's not just for two year olds and crazy artists.

We are the gatekeepers of OUR Mental Parking Lots - and mine has gardens, flowers and vines growing all over it. If I let you in, please park carefully and know this is premium parking space [I don't let just anything in!] and please pay attention to not run over the sunflowers growing along the edges.

To read more, ask your local library for:

'Rapt - Attention and the Focused Life' by Winifred Gallagher

Thursday, November 4, 2010

'Restoration' - the Mental: Avoiding Bad Roads

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.”
- John Milton

Over a year ago, I started writing about the “Wheel of Restoration.” I had an outline laid out and it would only take me a short time to write the basics of ‘whole person wellness’ as I’ve learned it thus far in my observations in a life-long career in the healing arts and navigating my own health challenges. Thing is, when you set out to ‘teach’ something and you also know that you yourself are a life-long student, sometimes life comes along and knocks you upside the head with some new schooling, some more advanced lessons on the subject -- especially if your eyes and ears are willingly open to being schooled.

I should have known better. I do know better, but I forgot.

To me, that right there is the core of healing: usually, a circuitous path of forgetting and remembering -- and as long as we keep remembering, keep reminding one another, not so much by our words, but by our actions, we keep moving forward in the strengthening direction - the direction of healing and restoration - whatever it is one thinks ‘That’ looks like and however one personally measures it.

I wanted to write down some of the things I’d learned over the past years from working with thousands of clients throughout my lifetime, to pass on to others, especially my children, gathered anecdotes, thoughts and reflections on the lessons I’ve been fortunate to have been shown over the years, reflected in the lives of diverse people struggling and working hard to be and do their best, owning responsibility for their bodies, health and lives, and DOING something about them. Often, a writer thinks that they are writing to or for someone; always, to some degree, we are also writing to ourselves.

I’ve met some amazing people over the years; they all had something to teach me. Some taught me what a person willing to take ownership and responsibility looks like, others were an example of other roads - ones I’d rather not go down.

Remember those television commercials where an elderly person falls on the floor and helplessly cries out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”? Motivated to never be like that, my elderly mother’s response was: “Never lose your ability to get yourself up off the floor!” As an independent widow she knew the importance of this. To her, what would save her if she fell was herself -- her own ability to rise up again.

She practiced what she preached, intentionally getting herself down on the floor daily to do floor exercises --- and then getting herself back up again - sometimes by ‘hook or by crook’ - but always, she got herself back up.


That’s what I’ve been busy doing for the last five years, since my personal world went through a revolution. I fall, metaphorically speaking, and by hook or by crook, I work at getting back up, even if it is sometimes frustratingly, two steps forward - a limp and a half back. Still, always forward, thankfully. There are a variety of floors one can fall down upon - and as many ways of rising.

When in a revolution, become a revolutionary. Resist! Fight! Rise up and stand toe-to-toe with the Challenger. Rise Again! And again, and again, and again.

In the summer of ’09 I began writing what was going to be this short series on ‘Restoration’ and Healing. I divided the wheel into four quadrants and was writing on them one by one: the Physical, the Emotional -- and then we came to the Mental....

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! [inside joke for the one or two who know the man behind the curtain]

I thought I could easily and quickly write about the Mental Quadrant - the ‘how-to’ of maintaining quality mental activity and ability. And it’s true, I have learned a lot about that over the years. I’d even recently been studying the subject in my personal recovery from medically-related cognitive issues. Evidently I was going to ‘study’ this from a deeper place; I was swept down the slippery slope, obliging me to “get myself back up” just as mom had instructed.

It wasn’t easy - and in the condition I found myself in, I had nothing to say on the subject -- not until I got back up that slippery mountainside.

When we find ourselves sliding down that mental slope, it’s usually because of a combination of events and circumstances, mixed with lowered ability to ‘spring back’, fueled by a cocktail of adrenaline and other bodily stress hormones. All come together in a confluence with our name on it --- and > SNAP! < .... there we go..... down that slope.

And there I went. Reflections on the Mental Quadrant [which is the governor/determiner of the Emotional, also] are actually all chronicled in these writings of the past year - mostly between the lines, behind the language of poetry: chrysalises and monarchs; haiku, cutting to the bone; and the occasional essay of musings on personal topics such as mortality and endurance. I wrote about sailing high seas, both my young sailing son’s actual waters, and metaphorically, my own personal paddling through choppy seas. I couldn’t hit it directly - straight on - I had to come at it sideways; I had to tack my way forward. I dug my paddle in and pulled hard.

And I’ve been pulling since, digging the paddle into the strong current. This moment of paddling, the only thing of importance. Forward >>> the direction.

When the body becomes not as steadily reliable, when you feel as though your life-long chassis, the old, steady-and-ready vehicle that it once was has somehow betrayed you, then preserving mental ground becomes of utmost importance. It always was important, but it was taken for granted that there was wiggle room. Now, with other parts challenged, mental strength becomes more highly valued. We NEED our rudder of stability and clarity. It needs our attention. Where we place our attention can literally be the difference between life and death and most definitely IS the difference in the ever-fluctuating quality of life.

Where we place our attention is key. A stable, alert, awake, creative, problem-solving mind is what we all want. But how do we create that? Like a fit body, for most of us it isn't just going to happen. It will take work and attention.

We begin at the beginning: WHERE we place our attention.

To be continued....

[Other writings on ‘Restoration’ are archived from July ’09 to present, some under that heading, others hidden in 17 syllables of haiku or instructions from Rumi.]

Sunday, October 24, 2010


for the dawn's release from night
for the rosebud's open bloom
all good things: in their own time
without demand or force
even as we wait
ill winds passing by

the long wait of the rose
the perfume that will not be hurried

Monday, September 13, 2010

wash my spirit clean - haiquatro

my thoughts were angry
holding me hostage again:
they were only thoughts.

Previously, I
held many beliefs sacred:
they were only thoughts.

Yesterday was hard.
I do not remember more:
they were only thoughts.

Today, rejoicing
in lightning, thunder and rain:
my spirit is washed.

Monday, August 30, 2010


haiku for my sons

Never looking back
Fixing on your own North Star
Your sails billow full

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fire in the Sky - Night Magic

The sun was going down last night and the mosquitoes were having a holiday feast. I was providing. I was headed indoors to escape them, when I looked across the road into the darkness of the park across the way and saw something I'd never seen before. The end of my day was echoing the start of my day; a synchronicity of what I had read earlier in Ray Bradbury's 'Zen in the Art of Writing'; stumbling upon a 4th of July childhood memory of Mr. Bradbury's. An excerpt:


A final memory.

Fire balloons.

You rarely see them these days, though in some countries, I hear, they are still made and filled with warm breath from a small straw fire hung beneath.

But in 1925 Illinois, we still had them, and one of the last memories I have of my grandfather is the last hour of a Fourth of July night forty-eight years ago when Grandpa and I walked out on the lawn and lit a small fire and filled the pear-shaped red-white-and-blue-striped paper balloon with hot air, and held the flickering bright-angel presence in our hands a final moment in front of a porch lined with uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and fathers, and then, very softly, let the thing that was life and light and mystery go out of our fingers up on the summer air and away over the beginning-to-sleep houses, among the stars, as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself.

I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own still thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this.


Now, in the dusk, I looked across the road and into the park and saw a man with his three kids building a small fire. Then, suddenly, the fire became a glowing orange orb lifting up into the night sky. "This is it! I'm seeing a fire balloon!" I thought to myself. "Ray Bradbury's 1925 Illinois has come alive tonight in 2010!" - and I ran to the street for a closer look. It was an incredible sight, just as he said, watching this mystery of fire rising up into the air - an unexplainable orb of fire rising, rising, rising --- higher and higher, burning as it rose till it was just a small, distant, orange dot high and far in the sky.

It truly was magical, from the sense of having never seen anything like it before, and only made sense in light of having just read earlier in the day about "fire in the sky."

Expect the unexpected.

Happy Fourth of July

love, magic, fire,
el po

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

~more waking with Rumi~

~~ gracias, for all the reminders, Friend ~~

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

For You, Sitting There ~

by Jelal'uddin Rumi

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.

Don't go back to sleep.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Revival Haibun

I’m not so much interested in
learning how to die
as I am in practicing how to live.

If you only knew how the earth
really can open up and swallow you whole,
how a complete universe can disappear
in the blink of an eye
regardless of your nationality,
race or religious affiliation,
despite your status, wealth or a future
secured with a pension and good insurance policy,
equally devouring the believers
and the non-believers alike,
with a ravenous, insatiable appetite.
If you only knew ---

you would live as if
this moment really counted --
as if you counted.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime, wouldn't you say?"

My all-time favorite television moment:

Northern Exposures; Season 3, Episode 8: "A Hunting We Will Go"; the conclusion.

On hearing Ruth-Ann is turning 75, young Ed, feeling concern for her mortality, wants to give her a meaningful gift that will last forever. Ruth-Ann seizes the opportunity of a lifetime.


Seize the opportunity...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Teach Me to Dance

"A man needs a little madness, or else -- he never dares cut the rope and be free." - Zorba the Greek

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Cinco de Mayo Gift for Arizona - a day late


I'm thinking once again: 'I need to get me a machete.' What can I say? Boys with toys? They're really good for whacking down those overgrown jungle parts of the back forty?

They're cool. That's good enough.

And then this li'l sump'n passes my way...

Synchronicity? Coincidence? Recruitment?

hahahaha! Yes, it's hysterical -- in every sense of that word. And here's another word for ya: Mexploitation. Soon we'll have a movie about it that looks like it's got a little sump'n for everyone - from your basic slasher aficianado to yer Lindsay Lohan fan [as the pistol packing nun!] to your stay-at-home activist [you just never know who your neighbors really are].

Yep. Time to get that machete in time for the premiere. Here's a special trailer to whet America's appetite:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This Too Shall Pass -- OK Go

Enjoy ---

This clip came via a 9 yr old. Personal favorite line [well there's many - this is one]:
"'Cuz when your mind don't move then your knees don't bend"

Flexibility of body AND mind = aging gracefully.

This Too Shall Pass -- by the band OK Go

You know you can't keep letting it get you down -
And you can't keep dragging that dead weight around
Is it really all that much to lug around -
Better run like hell when you hit the ground
When the morning comes, When the morning comes
Can't stop those kids from dancing -
but why would you want to?
Especially when you are already getting yours
'Cuz when your mind don't move then your knees don't bend -
But don't go blaming the kids again
When the morning comes, When the morning comes
When the morning comes, When the morning comes
When the morning comes, When the morning comes
Let it go, This too shall pass
Let it go, This too shall pass
You know you can't keep letting it get you down,
no you can't keep letting it get you down
Oh Is it really all that much to lug around,
and you can't keep letting it get you down
When the morning comes....
(oh you can't keep letting it get you down,
no you can't keep letting it get you down).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No Longer Landlocked!

Popeye headed out. Enough of this being on land! He's back on the water, so for those of you who like to live vicariously, who also wish they could hit the open water, live on a dime, call a bag of rice a bed and live lightly and free - this is for you. At the moment he's part of a crew sailing relief supplies down to Haiti. Here's a short clip of an earlier trip this year by the same group.

For more info, or to keep up with their travel here's a Facebook page link:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vernal Haiku

spring in the garden
winter survived once again
dreaming Buddha grins

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Aman Iman - Water Is Life: Teach Us Endurance

"Your only obligation is to live and be happy." - Camus

Part ll: Further Explorations on the Trail

Here in the North Country at end of winter, endurance is the quality needed most of all. The snow, cold, and months of overcast skies and darkness conspire together, challenging us to rise again as we wait one more day for the spell to be broken by Spring.

Frankly, folks are depressed here in greater numbers; 'checking out' in one variation or another; flirting with the darkness, vulnerable and susceptible to its sway. Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about when I say our endurance is tested daily. Camus' "only obligation - to live and be happy" is tested, also.

So, as I often do, I turn to my favorite text - the dictionary, and ask the oracle to define 'endurance' for me.


1) to carry on through despite hardships

2) to bear with tolerance

3) to continue in existence; to remain; to last.

Not an easy task, but a simple one: to carry; to bear; to continue.... Regardless, if you're looking at a long life ahead or have been told by some NOT-omnipotent human that you "have six months left to live," -- today's ability to endure, to remain, is a successful day.

Our obligation to be happy? First, one has to endure and from that ground we stand strong [or as strong as we are able] and aim our daily arrows at what might bring us some happiness - whatever it is our hearts find precious. What is your precious? Strengthen your bow arm, take aim and let your arrows fly....

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you this clip. It may seem long at almost eighteen minutes, but would I steer you wrong?! If at any point this past winter you've spent ANY time reflecting on "my life is soooo hard"; if you've spent one second questioning if all the hard work of facing one more day is within your capacity; if you've spent one dark moment thinking of alternatives to being 'here' - then this 18 minutes will be well-invested. Trust me.

I've watched this myself many times over the recent days since discovering it [thanks, Luis Alberto Urrea,]. I'll let it speak for itself and just tell you that at 14 min. the screen will go black for a few seconds, but then continues and is well worth your last few minutes of attention. All I will say, is that from here on, whenever I think that my life is too hard, too challenging, when I question my ability to endure longer, I will remember the Touareg people of northern Africa, a tribe who unquestionably KNOW the definition of Endurance; and this group of musicians, Tinariwen, who have used music and the guitar as some of their arrows aimed "to live and be happy" beyond difficult circumstance.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Night Riff: Mortality, Wealth 'n Art


Your only obligation is to live and be happy. - Albert Camus

There's that joke about 'if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.' Thought I'd try to give the Ol' Guy a chuckle.

In the year 2010, the average life expectancy in the United States is seventy-eight years old. Seventy-five if you happen to be male. That's AVERAGE. That would give me 20 more years - IF I live an average life span for a US male in 2010. A hundred years ago, I'd be ancient material at 55. Today, through the miracles of medical technology we've managed to extend that span - at all cost, sometimes at a questionable cost of quality. But that's a whole 'nuther conversation about how in the average last year of life, a person in the US will have 10 specialists involved in the care and management of their humble, mortal chassis.

I heard that daunting statistic the other day. Now, being someone who has had daunting statistics before in my doctor's attempts to define my undefinable life, I tend to place statistics out of my reach; they have NOTHING to do with ME - not when you are an Outlier - someone who skews the statistics. Still, average is average, and as non-average as I'd like to believe I am, I also have enough humility intact to know there is nothing special about me. Still, even with irony thrown in to stack the odds, averages prevail. But the complement of 'average' - on the other side of the tracks - is 'Outlier'.

Which brings me to a favorite art piece I saw in the Toronto Art Museum about average mortality statistics. Okay, hang in there with me; this is more elegant than dreary and frightful. In a window like you might see in a jewelry store - a display window - is a velvet-lined case that holds stacks of gold coins; each one representing a month. So 12 months X 78 average years = 936 gold coins TOTAL. Sounds like a lot. It is. Especially when you consider that there are still parts of the world TODAY where you are old at 40. The average life span today in Swaziland is 39 years - or 468 months oF gold coins; exactly half of what we receive in the US.

Each month the artist visits their on-going, ever-changing art piece at the museum; opens the display window case; removes a coin from the neat stack in the blue velvet lined box and drops it onto the ever-growing pile next to the box - another month of their life gone: another gold coin spent. No returns, no do-overs, no exchanges - and perhaps most importantly - NO Complaint Desk; just a gold coin, a token of something much more precious: a month of life - hopefully spent well on things of value.

The artist makes you stop and think about the preciousness - not just in theoretical terms, but in the coins spent, never to be seen again. When I saw this piece, immediately I did the math adding up the 'average' left for myself, if I GET TO have an average US male lifespan of 75 yrs. That's 20 more years X 12 months equaling 240 gold coins of earthly life. A nice amount; a respectable amount; but still, not a HUGE amount. Rather, a FINITE, limited amount, much smaller than the 660 coins spent so far - approximately one quarter of the original total. IF I get to be average. Maybe I have more; maybe less. I could be spending my last gold coin right now and not even know it.

Lucky me! I have a gold coin in my hand today! Lucky you! You have one in yours also! How many more will I get? Where do I want to spend them? How do I want to spend them? With whom do I want to share the wealth with?

It's a precious gold coin in my hands; could be the last one - or maybe there's a dozen or 500 more left. Don't know, but any way you slice it - the one gold coin in my hand right now?: Precious. The only precious one. The rest of the stack is just a 'maybe', 'hopefully', or 'if I'm lucky.'

But luck's a funny, fickle thing. Everybody thinks they want the quantity of a big stack of coins; everyone thinks they want longevity - a hundred years, please. But if there's any chance of my ending up spending those last twelve months with 10 specialist doctors and hundreds of props as the 'average' US citizen with 'artificially induced longevity' will - PLEASE! Let me be mercifully struck by a random, stray bullet to the heart - perhaps while dancing! I'd prefer it.

But then, just as with jokin' on God with MY plans, I imagine my preferences bring a wry grin to the Mysterious One, also.

Bottom line: In the end, it ain't about how much you had in your stack; it's ALL about how you spent it and how much happiness it brought.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fallow Ground

I hate the term 'writer's block'. It sounds so purposeless and broken; like a part of me that is important to myself has fallen into disrepair and needs remedy. I remember a favorite author and writing mentor of mine, Luis Alberto Urrea, at one time saying: "Then write about why it's difficult to write." This is my attempt.

At a time in my life when I was very broken physically, a teacher of mine told me I had to learn how to rest 'intentionally'. Up to that point I looked at resting as a necessary inconvenience - a collapse of sorts from my purposeful life. He instructed me to walk out into nature every day, find a place with few people, and sit. Intentionally. Not walk because it's good exercise, but sit, because IT would be good exercise if I did it with intention and purpose. I followed his advice and found myself sitting under a large oak tree every day.

I'd pry myself off my couch or bed, a place I had every right to be collapsed upon due to my condition and force myself to go elsewhere - just to sit there. To make sitting my purpose. To become the best dang 'sitter' I could be. Intentional rest.

It's not so easy. In fact, at first it's quite uncomfortable. The rest of the world seeming so purpose-driven while I was trying to accomplish what really looked like nothing - AND become good at it.

It's the same thing with the rest of my life. I love it when there's lots of energy pouring through me, when the fire is burning high and my only job is to keep up with stoking it. But then there are those times when I have no logs to burn. Limitation can feel painful, confining and imprisoning.

Last week I learned something about that through my own physical limitations - the funky nerves whose electrical circuitry suddenly go into a 'brown-out', the muscles of my legs that follow into weakness and then the joints that won’t operate properly and slide painfully out of place. I was in such a predicament last week; one of the worst episodes I'd had in a while. With that comes lots of opportunity to revisit past 'bad episodes' in my mind and to actively 'awfulize' my situation.

But this time, I refused to go down that road.

You see, I had a plan. I had to drive my son across the border to catch the train so he could visit his friends in Toronto. That meant not only driving - an activity that is difficult under these conditions, but I also had wanted to stop in Detroit on my way home to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. I've wanted to go there for inspiration for several months. Finally, i was going to go. But then the brown-out happened.

But I'm an ornery ol' cuss - and I was going dammit! I didn't care if all I could do was be there on my feet for only ten minutes. I was going - and NOTHING was stopping me.

Walking from the parking garage to the admissions was a short, painful walk. It looked like I wouldn't be able to be there for long. I paid my eight dollars and stood there staring at the folded up wheelchairs to the side, debating inside myself. Now, I've used the little electric carts before in the stores; those are fun. You can zip around in those like you're in an electric go-cart, but a REAL wheelchair, well, that's a different story - one that I resist. The woman behind the desk noticed me with my cane staring at the wheelchairs and said the most perfect thing she could have to a middle-aged man grappling with ever-changing disability: "Why walk when you can roll?" She made a lot of sense.

"SOLD! I'll take one," and she unfolded it for me. I hopped in and took off. Now, even though this latest hurdle of mine was a challenging one, as it is for most people when they find themselves in the position to use a cane or a wheelchair or some other 'prop' for everyday activity, I have experience.

When I was much younger, I worked in Special Education with kids with multiple disabilities of one type or another. As with all kids, life was playful and you play with what you have. We'd often have wheelchair races - kids against kids, or better yet, kids against staff. I became quite good at 'spinning on a dime', quick stops, ninety degree turns and going fast - really fast! It was a gas! A gas IF you didn't HAVE to be in the chair. Now it was my turn; my turn to HAVE to use a chair; either use it or just go home - AND I WASN'T GOING HOME! Instead, I took off like a madman on wheels! I had art to see. Matisse awaited me along with Diego Rivera and I'd kept them and myself waiting for far too long.

I flew from one room to another, from gallery to gallery, taking in old favorites and new ones I'd never seen. I whipped down the hallways excitedly to the next room, and the next, and the next.... It was a GAS! and I had THE BEST time I've had in recent memory.

Five hours later I looked at the clock and realized it would soon be closing time and I'd spent the day so immersed, so captivated in the Beauty and Creativity that my body with its limitations was nowhere to be found. What normally would have been painful walking to endure, had become a cruise through the best of what humanity has to offer. I'd forgotten my pain, my limitations, simply because I had surrendered to the wheelchair - my cruiser. I'd become so immersed I'd forgotten my body; I'd forgotten to eat, drink water or go to the bathroom. My bodily needs had become nonexistent. There was only art and my creative mind taking it all in. It was a piece of heaven on earth - and I'd only found it by surrendering.

I learned a lot that day about myself and about how art can carry us - a vehicle to somewhere beyond 'here' - especially when 'here' is difficult or challenging. I learned again that sometimes the path of least resistance has its own rewards. But it's also coupled with my ornery will, my stubborn determination that I WILL do it!

It was a strange day; one of the more crappy ones physically, yet mentally and emotionally one of the better ones. It could have so easily been otherwise.

So when the tide of creativity and writing seems to be in an ebb, I try to remind myself that these moments are equally as important as the highly productive ones; uncomfortable, but important. Sometimes we need to rest; to sit fallow and empty. That's the time of taking in inspiration; time to read, to go to the library, to look at art, watch movies and nature - take in - breathe in - INspiration. Later will come the exhalation, the breathing out, the expression. Fallow ground IS productive - as is INTENTIONAL rest.

I leave you with two pictures here. During the Depression, Diego Rivera was commissioned by Edsel Ford to paint a mural in the courtyard of the Art Institute. Rivera lived with Frida Kahlo for several years in the hotel next door while he painted what he considered to be his life's masterpiece: four large, towering walls of murals depicting Nature, Technology and its uses both positive and negative. There are hundreds of stories on those walls. The one at the top of this post is one small frame high above the floor. It got him in a lot of trouble with the Catholic Church in 1932: How dare he depict a baby coming from the earth! To me, it's a wonderful depiction of 'fallow ground' - purposeful, intentional incubation.

The other I just add for fun and interest; an honoring of the spirits of Diego and Frida that resound within those walls. Look closely to the right side and you'll see the two of them stealing a moment of 'love on the scaffolding.'

Here's to Diego and Frida; here's to fallow ground; and here's to surrendering to the creative fire and how IT wants to burn.

Monday, January 4, 2010

December on the North Sea

Come aboard. This is Popeye's ride - crossing the North Sea from the Netherlands and arriving into Copenhagen. He makes an appearance at 2:09.

Now he sits in our living room watching television, catching up on 'pop culture', asking: "who is so-and-so?" some pop icon he's never heard of. He's been blissfully ignorant of such things while passionately engaged in others. Now he's recovering, regaining his bearings for 'the next thing' which still is yet to appear on the horizon.