Frailty

Shaken, I see myself more clearly.
Knowing my imperfections: humbled, and encouraged to practice patience.
Seeing another’s pain: moved to compassion and greater love.
Finding myself weak: finding the will to  fight for strength.
Finding myself broken: seeking to mend.
Seeing my flaws, I see my humanity, and that of others.
Ignorant, I seek the Light.

Flawed, I seek Heaven.

We never know what life is going to hit us with next–or hit someone we care about. A family member recently sustained severe injuries as the result of a freak accident, and the news jolted me so much that I lost myself for a time. Compelled to mend old bridges, I got back in touch, trying to shift my focus to them instead of me. The insights were humbling, especially hearing with what hopefulness and cheerfulness this near-tragedy was being managed. Taken in stride, almost. The way an event such as this can stir a deep, old bond is amazing.The way an event such as this can stir a deep, old bond is a reminder of how connected we are. I found that truly heartening and inspiring.  

Advertisements

Spring [Personal] Discipline

The winter is so far from wearing to its end. I look out the window and see three feet of snow, but the sun is out and there is a freshness on the air when I venture to crack a window or open the door to call my children in, their noses and cheeks sufficiently red and snow gear shining wet across the yard. At least the promise of spring is in the wind, though still far off. I glance at our liturgical calendar and note the number of weeks left until Great Lent, the preparatory time before the greatest annual celebration of our faith, Pascha.
I have read that in many countries, Russia and Eastern Europe most notably, this 40-day period of abstinence from consuming animal products (among other things) was a practical means of getting through the last phase of winter, stretching a family’s supply of farmed goods until the weather relented enough to begin spring planting. The practice is threefold, however: we conserve what we have, but in order that we can give to those in need. Also: we pray and meditate as we work on increasing virtue and diminishing vice, and so draw nearer to Christ in preparation to celebrate His resurrection.

0214151800d
Another Spring, without so much snow!

As a newly converted Orthodox Christian, the Lenten Fast seemed a horrible ordeal to be undergone. Admittedly, I was spared the first three years of participation because I was either pregnant or breastfeeding. But the first year I was eligible to participate, I was floored by the intensity of the experience. It also turned out my health was not going to allow me to eat vegan for such a duration without serious consequences. As a result, my Spiritual Director urged me to focus on the spiritual and giving aspects of the time, which were almost harder. Giving is a joy to me, and I can almost never do as much as I would like, but increased prayer and weeding out some of my worse habits proved incredibly challenging. And, after a time, I realized it is supposed to be exactly that. The challenge of leaving one’s comfort zone is immensely stretching. Being accountable to a priest/Spiritual Director ensures accountability. And I have noticed that, especially at first, the spiritual undercurrents in one’s life always make it harder, for me at least. I am always hit hardest when and where I am weakest, and usually just when I think I am starting to do well. I am beginning to find it almost worth a laugh. And I am beginning to settle into the rhythm of the Fasting seasons (they average one per season, of differing duration–Great Lent is the longest). So now, I find myself anticipating the change in the seasons, the change in spiritual rhythms, the outward practices in aid of the inner progress.
The first week of Great Lent is Clean Week, an excellent precursor to good old Spring Cleaning, but with the intent of clearing out all our junk, all we don’t need, and all our grime, personal and physical. In addition, things that we don’t need may be useful to others, and again we are encouraged to give/donate instead of hoard/clutter (a greater and harder act for some of us). We are also encouraged not to spend unnecessarily during Great Lent, to be less materialistic, and again, help those in need with either our time, talent, or resources (either money or “stuff”).
This year, something in me started Clean Week over a month early (perhaps because I usually start when everyone else does, and am still cleaning when Pascha rolls around), and interestingly, something in me followed step by taking a long, quiet look inward. Time to uproot the unnecessary and harmful, time to prepare the soil for the season of planting and growth. Time for the new season, the new “year” in the natural sense of things, and a time where we celebrate Life anew. Glory to God!
Though, knowing me and my house, I may still be cleaning when Pascha rolls around…

Zen and Hot Water

I’ve had a long courtship with the Zen mindset, and it’s often seemed rather hopeless. As a teen I was enamored of Eastern Philosophy, and journeyed through Taoism to several different Zen readers, most of which were deeply cryptic. I flattered myself that I was esoteric enough to grasp the concepts, but the woeful fact was, I was far too volatile, busy-minded, and strong-willed to easily school myself to an even-keeled, “no mind” modality.
My struggled with meditation are almost laughable in retrospect. Sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, fiercely trying to keep my mind free of thought for one brief, peaceful moment. Ah well.
It’s been a long meandering path since then. I had a somewhat rocky experience with New Age religion, and subsequently rejected all but the most basic and scholarly philosophic principles. Unwilling to simply craft my own mishmash of beliefs, I felt spiritually homeless…Until…
Suffice to say, I found an old path cleared of its overgrowth enough to be brought into view. and thankfully, the glimmer of Truth echoed in other beliefs are not taboo. Sigh of relief. Zen mindset is actually encouraged, within certain parameters. Further sigh of gratitude.

contemplating-mamas-cup
That peaceful mindset still eludes me, eight years later, except for a brief ray of clarity here and there. In some ways, childrearing has helped and in some it hasn’t. The exhaustion of motherhood and poor health has eroded much of my volatility, my pendulum-swings of character. I’ve gotten over a lot of my illusions–or delusions–about myself. I’ve become less egocentric. But I still have a helluva temper, and stubborn need to have things my own way. Ah, well. I’m finally learning to recognize and accept my flaws, too. Then work on them. I used to have trouble accepting anything I didn’t like.

Wait, I still do…
Ah, but the moment in question: It had to do with tea, as I recall. medicinal or otherwise is uncertain, but likely medicinal. We have a carafe-style gadget that heats water, and dispenses it at the touch of one button too many. Lately, probably due to mineral deposits, it runs more slowly than it used to. So I stood, watching it drizzle out each brief series of drops, my head tilted rather vacantly to one side. Some rather peaceful Medieval-style music was playing, and the sound of my children was a duller roar than usual.
The amazing thing was that I wasn’t impatient. I wasn’t in a hurry to check on the kids and forestall any apocalypse they might have brewing, or to hurry up the water so I could do this or clean that or get something else ready for tomorrow, or write myself a note so that I didn’t forget something of overarching importance. Not at all. Spurt. Drip. Whirr. I was as peaceful and content as could be. I watched the light roll over each droplet of water. I studied the rhythm of the falling spurts, which was really no rhythm at all. I felt I had nothing better to do, nowhere better to be, only this task to compete. Without worry. Without anxiety. Without over-thinking. It was wonderful.
And now I wonder if I was simply listless because i was getting sick…

Long-lost Art

Finally, after years of deprivation, I’ve managed to scavenge some drawing chalk from a long-forgotten stash. These were actually my “substandard” materials at one point. I used to use them for sidewalk drawings. I never thought they were good enough for my “real” work. Ah, how things have changed!
I know, “deprivation” sounds like hyperbole to someone who doesn’t get what art is: a deep, gnawing hunger in the soul. Not to be sacrilegious, but my need for art isn’t that much different than my need for my faith. Though my faith affects many more areas of my life than it once did, so I suppose in that way it has taken a step ahead of my art.
It’s also like my need for my other driving passion: ballet, even though my dancing ability has long been lost and since crumbled away on the dusty road of my past. And for years I’ve denied myself painting, drawing, even sketching, because there was no room, no time, no money for materials. Once every few years it would get to be too much, I’d scrape together a few dollars for some low-grade acrylics or drawing pencils, and knock out a few hasty paintings or fill the last few pages in an old sketchbook. Nothing I was ever really happy with. I even had a mediocre showing or two when my daughter was a baby. I can’t imagine sustaining that sleep-deprivation now, not after prolonged illness. But back then, it was easier to keep going than to stop and rest and have to get up again. So I would plow through, settle for less than my best, and defray the cost…until now.
Now, I’ve managed not more than a few scribbles in the past year. I thought the passion was dead, and maybe it still is, but the hunger is still there. Starvation. It’s worse than living without love. And, the more miserable my physical health makes me, the more I crave anything that nurtures my spirit and keeps me a little further from despair. My faith community is now a long, slow, hazardous, winter drive away, and with love and companionship, even friendship in scarce supply due to schedules and priorities, what’s left? After I’ve given all I have and more to motherhood every day, what’s left to replenish me?
Another pursuit I’ve been trying to resurrect is recreational reading: so far I can only focus on well-written fantasy. Everything else becomes a soon-forgotten blur. In the latter of two well written fantasy books I’ve managed, I found a few lines incisive:

“Beauty is no end in itself, but if it makes our lives less miserable so that we might be more kind–well, then, let’s have beauty, painted on our porcelain, hanging on our walls, ringing through our stories. We are a sorry tribe of beasts. We need all the help we can get.” (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, copyright 1999. p 367)–forgive me if my citation skills aren’t what they used to be–rusty.

20060822_IMG_0016
I finally worked the chalk over a large sheet of newsprint (I always hated working on brittle newsprint! but it’s cheap & disposable, lessening the artist’s reluctance and attachment), remembering what my art teachers used to say about getting the process going. That method consists of circles, mostly: large, shaded circled. I used to be so frustrated by them, but now they were all I had the confidence to start with.
The result was electrifying. Intoxicating. I felt like I’d finally been let out of a small, dark space I didn’t know I was in. What I sketched was crap–a few shading exercises and a quick–very rough–sketch of a woman’s head, soon to be joined by some contributions from my children. But it was something. A drink to a withered soul, a few crumbs to the starving. A passion I can maybe rekindle if it’s not too dead. And if my hands and shoulders will take the repetitive motion.
Even one rough sketch now and then might keep my spirit from drying up and blowing away. And my trees: my lonely, dead trees that almost no one likes or understands. I miss my trees.