JDA (Jaw Dropping Awesomeness) for The Day.
Every day, I kiss him goodbye at the back door of the farmhouse before pushing the door shut tight behind him. I make my way across the galley kitchen, through the living room, into my office – a trip of 15 strides or less.
Then, I open the front door, stand behind the glass meant that keeps out storms but not stink bugs, and wait.
It’s our ritual.
As I wait, I see how the wedding mums have started to fade – the honeymoon’s consequence.
The trees at the bottom of the farmyard illustrate, as if planned by the most creative and enthusiastic of third grade teachers, the stages of fall – just yellow, the orange-yellow of the dogwood, the bare spindle branches of the persimmon.
The chicken coop door stands empty still, waiting for us and Dad to resume now that the wedding work has faded.
I catch glimpses of Lee the tractor as he poses in the lower pasture.
All this in a few moments – a minutes, maybe two.
The gift of ritual – the space it creates to see, to breath, to wait. The preparation of a moment. The air around time.
Like lighting a candle. Or closing his eyes before turning on the computer screen. Or standing at a storm door waiting to blow her new husband a good-bye kiss.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing teacher. She blogs regularly at her writing website – andilit.com – and the website for God’s Whisper Farm. Her book about the principles in place at their small Virginia farm is God’s Whisper Manifesto. She just got married in September, and she plans to blow her husband Philip a kiss every day for the rest of their lives.
As I walked to the stage, I realized I was still tipsy. My pulse thundered in my ears and I could only see the path to the pool of light surrounding the mic. Since the moment the MC read my name, I’d gone blind to the features of all the people around me – most of whom were younger and all of whom had an effortless, artsy cool I’d never quite mastered. My friend had suggested we meet at the restaurant where she moonlighted which ended up meaning unsolicited samples of exotic martini flavors. For a light weight like me, all those sips of jalapeno and chocolate flavored gin added up.
I made it to the microphone. I cleared my throat. We had waited on the sidewalk for nearly an hour to get in. The tiny black box theater was so packed that people had to sit cross-legged on the stage. Every inch of the room, aside from the spotlight in which I stood, was filled with activist, musicians, students, homeless people, and dreamers who had come to hear poetry. So, I opened my mouth and began my first spoken word performance.
I signed up to read because I was in awe of the young people who devoted their Tuesday nights to raising their voices. Here in Los Angeles, we are saturated with stories. The billboards remind us over and over of what heroes ought to look like and who’s tales are worthy telling. Online, we are drowning in the minutia of near strangers’ lives. In the midst of this constant recycled chatter, there are voices daring to speak raw truths. This courage is of utmost importance because stories form the perimeters of our lives. Whether we are aware of it or not, the stories we tell frame our thinking. As Jack Kornfield observes, “sacred traditions have always been carried in great measure by storytelling: we tell and retell to see our own possibilities.”
When I spend time working with children, I notice how deeply our narratives build our world. Children are still learning the stories, still questioning how the outcomes, still believing they can end in a different way. You can clearly see the scaffolding of socialization in kids where it has already be cemented over and accepted by adults. Kids will stare in wonder at my prosthetic leg whereas adults have already learned pity or embarrassment. Kids can still dream about what it might be like to be part robot.
A five year old recently informed me and my girlfriend that she has girlfriends that she doesn’t kiss. We could see her fact checking the world against what she had heard in fairy tales and seen on the Disney Channel. Princesses are supposed to be pretty and wait for princes. Recently, a friend also sent me a touching video where an Italian toddler explains to his mother why he doesn’t want to eat animals. Children show us that most of what we take to be “the way things are” is simply a network of stories. This is the reason so many religions remind us to have the minds of little children – not because children are innocent but because they ask questions. They say why, why, why to everything and are not afraid to add their own embellishment. They haven’t learned yet to be afraid of their own voice.
The Hindi tradition teaches that in the womb infants have one song, “please let me not forget who I am.” Once they are born, the song changes to “Oh, I have already forgotten.” We must find the inquisitiveness of a child to question our stories and the bravery to make new ones. Every major social change began with a person being willing to say: this is how it is for me. Brene Brown, a researcher who explores the importance of vulnerability, reminds us that the original Latin definition of courage is to “tell the story of who you are with your who heart.”
So, do you need to be a writer or poet to make your voice heard? No, there are so many ways to bring our true story to light. Paint it. Journal it. NPR does a beautiful program where they record “ordinary” people talking about their lives. Record tales for your grandchildren to listen to one day. Take time to write or call or chat with loved ones and skip right over the pleasantries. Better yet, ask someone to tell you a true story.
I’m currently in the ridiculously difficult process of attempting to write a memoir chronicling my journey from being diagnosed with cancer at age 15 to surviving a decade of recurrences only to find yoga, become a vegan, get divorced, and come out. In the sheer terror of realizing one day people might read these very vulnerable confessions, I’ve taken to telling stories to my girlfriend’s dog.
It started as a joke at first. I’d sit on the couch and say, “Once upon a time, there was a dog named Coco.” I thought it brought me comfort because it reminded me of how my mom used to read to me and my four brothers every night. We’d all curl up around her after our baths and listen to tales of strange heroes. To this day, I know my strength comes from the books my mom carefully chose about brave girls and soulful outcasts.
Yet, as I continued telling the sweet stray about where she came from, I began to tear up. My girlfriend arrived at the shelter minutes after Coco sunk her teeth into the man trying to adopt her. After a life of abuse, Coco was scared and mistrustful. My girlfriend said she didn’t mind that Coco was broken. At the time, my girlfriend also felt broken and alone in a city far from her family while struggling with all that life had dealt her. The story ends with the broken girl and the broken dog teaching each other slowly that it is okay to love.
I tell this story over and over to the sweet puppy who can’t understand because it is a good story about how even when we feel wrecked and weak we can find healing. It reminds me that even when we feel unlovable and unfixable we still have something to give in this imperfect world.
Whether you whisper it to your sleeping child or turn it into a song, find your own very true “once upon a time.” And listen carefully to all those stories other people are telling you and to the ones on loop in your head. Do the deserve to be there? Or is it time to take the princess out of her tower and into the woods on her own quest? The best kind of tales are the ones that remind us we are both amazingly individual and undeniably connected. Like millions of unlikely heroes all stumbling around on our own dark paths, our lanterns become the pinpricks of light that create constellations. Each voice is needed to tell the story of the whole – the story we forgot at birth about who we really are.
My friend is a teacher deep in South L.A. Just recently, he lost three students who were shot in gang related incidents. Today, he tagged me on Instagram with this photo below. It’s a photo of his 7th grade boys’ #5mostbeautifulthings. He said they were having their weekly chat and the boys started to get macho with their talk of sex and violence so he used the 5 most beautiful things project to bring them back.
I was so moved by this!
Take a peek at some of the things they wrote. Girls, video games, my mom, Ganesh (loved that one!)
Beauty transforms. I don’t care where or who you are. It transforms.
Follow me on Instagram at @jenpastiloff and post a pic with hashtag #5mostbeautifulthings. Tag me and write why it’s one of your things. I share some of them!
Please share this post as I would love people to see how powerful this project really is.
With love and beauty,
Join me over on Instagram, where I hang out a lot these days. @jenpastiloff (same as Twitter.)
I posted a question on my Facebook page last week. I asked if there’d been anything in your life that was painful or sad that you now see as a gift? Below is something that got posted under that question on my Facebook. I had to reach out and ask if I could publish it here at The Manifest-Station. Wow.
Blue Interior. By Suzanne Rolph-McFalls
My father was murdered in his hotel room when I was 19. He had left his second wife and was staying in a nearby hotel, a known chain. His car broke down and he called me for help, a ride, a taxiing around for a few hours.
I had a new, blue car with new blue crushed velour interior, and my first car payment. As I drove my father to the places he needed to go to pick up car parts and liquor, it began to rain. A cold, March in the Midwest rain. He wore a light jacket that day, and I could see him shiver as he worked furiously under the hood of his car while I sat, cozy warm, inside my blue car with the blue crushed velour interior.
He got so cold he opened the passenger side door and asked if I minded if he got in for a minute.
No, Dad! Get in! I said.
But as he pulled the door shut the grease on his hands got on the blue crushed velour of my new blue car door.
And I yelled at him.
Dad! You got grease on my door! Look what you did!
He looked. Then, he looked at me and said he was sorry, and then he said, “I’ll just get out.” And he did.
The car repair was unsuccessful and he asked if I’d I’d drive him back to the hotel.
~Can we stop at White Castle, honey, I think I am hungry.
Back at the hotel I let him out in front and he hugged me, carefully, so no more grease got anywhere. He gathers his bags of sliders and unused car parts and liquor, and he looks lonely and forlorn and cold and old, and he was a terribly flawed sometimes terribly abusive sometimes terribly alcoholic Dad who I loved, still love, with all my heart, and instead of taking him home with me, or staying for a White Castle, or even just a longer hug, I drove away.
In my new blue car with blue crushed velour interior.
I wouldn’t know until early the next morning, when my step mother called to tell us, that my father died a few hours after I left him standing cold, wet, and alone in front of a popular hotel chain.
A few hours after I begrudged him warmth and shelter from the storm, out of a need to protect my new blue car with blue crushed velour interior.
I had always been a kind and generous person, but that day I let my anger over Dad’s new wife new baby new family old wounds old mistreatments, make me small. Petty. Value a thing over a person.
That day, that horrible rotten day, someone horribly rotten broke into my father’s room and beat him in the head and face until he died. Then they ripped the ring us kids had given him as a gift, back when we were a family, off his finger in a bloody skinned tear; and then they robbed his wallet of all those hundred dollar bills he loved to flash.
On that day I became a thing forged in grief and steel.
Never, ever, EVER, would I place greater importance on a thing, any THING, than I did a living being.
I would never cease offering shelter from storms.
I would always share warmth.
I would always hug longer.
I have an adorable oyster white Lexus SUV with buff leather seats, now.
But, whether they know me well enough to know it or not, when people ride with me, anywhere we’re headed, we’re really in blue Oldsmobile with blue crushed velour interior.
Contact Suzanne Rolph-McFalls:
Find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.rolphmcfalls and
I am a writer. I have a deep and abiding love affair with books, with reading, and with the written word, most recently those of my grandson, who tends to spell things so purely gorgeous I cry on regular basis. A few days ago he wrote me a note and told me I was “byootful.” I had never felt more beautiful in my entire life, because I knew he was seeing inside, to whatever good stuff is in there. I wanted to wear that note as a sign, since 8 year olds are fantastic judges of character, and seers of bullshit. I practice yoga and Buddhism, and try every single day to alleviate suffering in the world while creating and inspiring joy, and, hopefully, inspiring others to do the same. I studied Fiction Writing at California State University, Dominguez Hills , MA, and before that, I studied English, Literature, and Language/Fiction Writing at Northern Kentucky University, BA. I am married to Michael McFalls, President of S&M Custom Painting Services, Inc. Our 20th Anniversary is Halloween 2013. 🙂
By Jen Pastiloff
Let’s say it’s like this: He leans over to talk to me. We’re at an airport. Let’s say we are at an overpriced fish place in the Los Angeles International Airport. Flight’s been delayed five hours. Imagine that both of us traveling to the same place: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He leans over to tell me he’s been married 58 years and that he and his wife normally share dinners and would I like half of his? He lost 4 of his fingers on his right hand 45 years ago on a rotary lawn mower, has an adopted son who is 6 foot 10 and he’s a Christian. He told me to keep talking to God before he passed me half his trout.
He told me he’d “just met so many nice people at the airport.” He’d been there since 6 am. It was now 6 pm. While I was huffing and puffing at all the time wasted he was looking around for the miraculous in the mundane, in the faces of people searching flight status boards or shuffling through security, begrudging the fact that they had to take off their shoes or remove their laptops.
When I told him I was a Jew he grasped his heart as if the fact was astounding enough to actually pain him. One of our neighbors was Jewish and they were just the most wonderful people, he’d said. I laughed (it reminded me of when someone says “I like gay people. I have a friend that’s gay) and told him I wasn’t a practicing Jew. He reminded me that I was one of God’s chosen. I wondered if there were any Jews in South Dakota but didn’t ask him. I knew there was at least one family, his neighbors, The Wonderfuls.
I drank my wine as I watched him carefully cutting his fish and smiling as he scrolled through his cell phone (a Blackberry.)
The man has on this light red raincoat and as my red wine slides down the back of my throat, I think of William Carlos Williams:
so much depends
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens.
He leans toward my table. This is a picture of my beautiful wife.
So much depends on how we react to things.
His fingers, for example. How did he react 45 years ago when he was showing his father the newest features on the rotary lawnmower and the blade just sliced his four fingers off like they were irrelevant as dead grass? Nothing more than meat under a glass case at the butcher’s. Hurry, I’m a rush. I’ll take a pound of American and a pound of provolone. Slice it thin, please. He told me that when he’d lost them he quickly had to learn to laugh about it. I guess I’m going to have to learn to pick my nose with my left hand now.
I didn’t react well to the flight delay. I’d felt entitled and ornery. Ornery is a word that makes me think of old people but my hair is greying (not for much longer, I swear) and I had my glasses on and a face free of any makeup, so I felt like an old person. An ornery old person. Sometimes with my hearing loss, I would mistake horny for ornery. I tend to imagine each word containing parts of the other, like distant relatives.
Doesn’t this airline know how busy I am? Huff. Don’t they know I am trying to write a book proposal? Puff. I made a stink and rolled my eyes and couldn’t believe I had to wait. The flight was meant to leave at 2:40 pm (it didn’t leave until 8:30 pm.) I even thought about going home and canceling my workshop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
I couldn’t cancel the workshop. People were driving 14 hours from Canada! They were coming from Minnesota! I couldn’t cancel simply because I had to wait a few (okay, 6) hours at the airport. I got my meal voucher from Allegiant Air. (I had also never heard of this airline before this trip. For good reason, apparently.) The meal voucher was for eight dollars which made me chuckle. because really, what can you get for eight dollars besides a half glass of wine or two Snickers bars and a pack of gum? With 8 dollars (okay $7.69) I bought a New Yorker magazine so I could read the latest by Joyce Carol Oates and a story on the Steubenville rape trial and Twitter. (When did the New Yorker get so pricey?) I took my eight dollar voucher and with a huge chip on my shoulder, a chip weighing as least as much as a small man, I headed to a restaurant to sit and sulk.
So much depends.
So much depends on where we are. Where we are born. Where we park our asses down to eat a meal. Where we sit to write. Where we lay our head at night. Where we find ourselves on a map changes the course of everything, and whether it’s literal and full of pushpins and highways and mountains, or an emotional one, you better believe that life is an exercise in mapmaking.
I get led to a table for one. There are two men on each side of me, also eating alone. Let’s say I get led to the bar. It then becomes a whole different story. The map is then green instead of red, perhaps.
So much depends on so much.
I was content on being pissed about my wasted time, all the while wasting more time. I got no writing done, no reading done, nothing productive to speak of. So when this older man leans his body towards mine and says something I can’t really make out but which sounds like something to the effect of I’ve been married for 58 years, you know, I smile.
Here, an opportunity for you to connect. Here, someone to talk to. Here, someone offering you his food. Here, some fish.
A red jacket. A red wheelbarrow.
So much depends on where you look.
I loved him immediately. He became my grandfather, my priest/rabbi, my meal ticket, my companion, my cartographer, my reminder to pay attention. He also wore hearing aids (like me! He also became my twin!) He was my fellow conspirator against the hearing world. I heard this story about a man who, after 40 years, finally got a pair of hearing aids, he told me, and ever since he’d had to change his will twice, he laughed. I’d thought he was going to tell me that the man gave the hearing aids back because not hearing had been better.
So much depends.
The fact is, when you can’t hear well you have to pay attention. Closely. You see that lady three tables over licking her fingers and although you can’t hear the slurp, you imagine the suck and the little quack it makes, and the man across from her? You see him eating his chicken sandwich without chewing even though his back is to you. You can tell by the way his jaws move from behind. You can see all this while your ears prick for any sound at all, and, when no sound arrives, your eyes scan the room and notice every painful exchange, every empty gesture, every goddamned chicken finger being picked up and put back down by every child in the world.
There’s nothing you can’t see when you can’t hear so you have to be really careful where you sit or you will see it all.
So much depends on where you sit.
His name was Dick and the thirteen year old in me wanted to laugh when he told me his name. He said dick! Haha, he said dick! He gave me his card and wrote down my name on the bottom half of his own meal voucher for eight dollars, which he tore off and put in his front pocket, next to a pen. Would we ever see each other again? Let’s say: no. Let’s say we leave it at that.
And that that is enough. One of those rare moments in life when we say I don’t need more than this.
The having had it happen. The exchange of two human beings in an airport enough to sustain you for a while. Let’s say that’s the case here.
He pays his bill and shakes my hand. I have a styrofoam container of fish sitting in front of me like a gift and I will remember him by it. The man who gave me half of his dinner. The man in the red jacket with the missing fingers.
He leaves his jacket behind so I reach over and grab it. I drape it over the back of my chair knowing I’ll see him on the plane and can give it to him then. I’ll carry the fish he gave me in one hand and his red coat in another.
For a few minutes I feel calm, as insular as a cave, as sturdy as the land I would soon be visiting in the southwestern part of the state of South Dakota. I am as protected as the Badlands I would be at in just two days time, that rugged terrain I’d dreamt of seeing again ever since I first saw them at 18 years old on a cross country drive I took in a mini-van. Mako Sika, translated as “land bad” or “eroded land”, my beloved Badlands, which beckoned to me with their otherworldliness and various personalities (how human of them!) I was part of them and no one could come close to me in the safety of my red vinyl jacket. I was on the interior.
My insides warm from wine, the red jacket a heart on the back of my chair, holding the world in place. Knowing it’s there enough to keep me sane.
So much depends on a red jacket.
Ah! You found my jacket, he rushes back up to my table.
So much depends.
Yes. I was keeping it safe.
Let’s say it ended like that.
We finally boarded the plane. A few rows up, he sleeps, while my legs shake uncontrollably (too much wine and coffee and too little sleep) and I rest my head on the shoulder of a stranger.
Do you mind if I lean my head on your shoulder?
The stranger was on his way back to Iowa. Football scholarship. Young. Polite. Kind. No, I don’t mind. Lean on me, he says.
So much depends on where you sit.
So much depends.
Let’s say two days later I am standing on the edge of the world, at Pinnacles Overlook right by Route 240 at The Badlands National Park, and let’s say I wished that right then and there I could ask that man in the red jacket if this is what he meant by talking to God?
**This essay is dedicated to Melissa Shattuck for having the chutzpah to get me to South Dakota. And to Dick, naturally. Red wheelbarrows. All of them.
(a p.s. to the story: after I posted about it on my Facebook, through the serendipitous nature of the universe, a woman commented: “The man in the red jacket is my dad!”)
Find the miraculous, even in the mundane.
Jen will be back in South Dakota May 28th for one workshop. Click here to book.
This butterfly was believed extinct for 11 years before entomologists walking across the site spotted one fluttering ahead of them. The Palos Verdes Blue.
I hear this story about this nearly extinct butterfly and an ex-gangster, just released form prison, and how he’s out there saving her, daily.
He’s there by five a.m. with his big nets and his teams of butterfly catchers.
He confides in the dark gray wings of the females and whispers into the males’ upper wing surfaces. The blue quiver, coddled in between his fingertips.
This, his gentle prey.
This is how I imagine it: A young black man brings them together to reproduce. Just watch him talk to these fragile winged things. He tells them what prison was like, what it feels like to lose a game of cards and to have to deal with a child molester for this small misfortune.
It was business, not pleasure he tells the world’s rarest butterfly.
His belief that he has found something bigger than God. Finally.
Extinction is a choice, he tells the butterflies.
Gently, he prays.
Extinction is a choice, the butterfly says.
In 1903, in Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, “Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.”
These mysterious existences. Aren’t we all mysterious existences floating through life with our diagnoses and our personalities and shoe sizes?
In his letter, Rilke asks the young poet if he must write? And if the answer is Yes, I must, Rilke says for the young poet to build his life according to this necessity.
I think of the necessity of saving those butterflies. But first, the seeing of them. For ten years they were believed to not exist anymore in the world. They were literally invisible to the human eye.
I wonder how much of our lives go unseen? Unnoticed? the butterfly asks.
I was at a party last weekend where I felt invisible. I flitted in my butterfly-like way through the layers of people staring vacantly into space as if cake, or someone better were always on the way.
Until someone joked with me, did I slip back into my body, did I realize I was not invisible. It took that man, however, in his wire-rimmed glasses and white sneakers to make me a person again. Then, bodies bumping into mine and excuse me and hello and there you are! but before that: invisible. It took one pair of eyes to see me and I was no longer extinct.
Imagine that! Extinct to the world until someone spots you and says you exist. Oh, sweet butterfly, I get you. I get you in your gossamer wings. I get with with your desire to go on and not disappear.
How much of what we see is a choice? the butterfly asks.
I remember one of the guys that used to work in the kitchen with me at the restaurant. We worked together for years. Sweet guy, this chef. Covered in tattoos and a hard-core gangster but one of the sweetest men I had ever met. Always laughing. Always making me little plates of food when I got busy with tables and hadn’t had a chance to eat.
He’d wear these long sleeved shirts to cover his tattoos but if you knew anything at all about gang life, you wouldn’t want to cross paths with him. His tattoos meant business.
Extinction is a choice.
One night, after work, we were drinking on the patio. I asked him about prison as I sipped my red wine. He had tequila and a cigarette.
He told me that when he’d lost in a game of cards he had to rape a child molester. I remember wanting to unhear that information so badly that I swallowed the rest of my wine in one whole gulp. My sweet chef. My sweet tattooed gangster tomato chopping chef. He didn’t want to talk about it.
It was business, he’d said.
What are the things that must be done? the butterfly asks.
It was business. The survival business. We are all in the business of survival.
Rilke, in his Letters, over and over asks this young poet Must you create?
How can something be believed to be extinct? Then one day, there it is, fluttering away in front of you like it had been there all along.
Maybe all these parts of us are always there. Dormant until the necessity arises in us and we are willing to grab our nets and go out into the wild with them.
I must do this. I must create. I must not let myself disappear.
Extinction is a choice.
Rilke says “ Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.”
So this young kid, this ex-gangster, practices preservation every day on the coast south of Los Angeles, in a shrinking patch of coastal scrub community. He attaches himself to this piece of nature by the sea, where he thinks not without irony that so much of life is chance and through what delicate slip in luck did he get to stand out here, with sweat in his eyes and a butterfly in his hand when he could be non-existent? A non-person. What hair-like accident allowed this to occur?
The stone’s throw, the butterfly catcher, this unequivocal beauty in watching hands rove over rocks, over winged creatures. The renewed hopes for survival. The transformation from the pupae into adult butterflies.
I will not disappear, he tells the endangered creature. Nor will you.
We are here, the butterfly says.
Extinction is a choice.
Both of them out there in the wild, waiting to see what life will allow them to keep, what will return.
I think I have always loved the Italian language. Having a BA in Italian language and literature makes this fact by no means a surprise. Growing up and watching RAI – one of the Italian TV channels – somewhat instilled in me the love for this melodious language. I studied Italian for eight years and God knows how many componimenti (essays) I have had to write and analyze Italian poets, writers, and scholars.
Learning a new language is a transformative process – one learns of a country’s culture and point of view on different subjects: love, social attitudes and customs, likes and dislikes, history and politics. To this day, whenever I communicate and engage in Italian, I feel transported to another dimension of my being.
Through the years I have also had my share of heartbreaks with it too. I have fallen in love with different Italian poets and eventually ‘cheated’ on some of my favorite writers. It is never hard to have a favorite Italian tune on the tip of my tongue either, whether I am cleaning my apartment or just being in a good mood.
The list of likes is substantive when it comes to anything Italian. My critique of it follows too, but that would be another essay altogether. Yet, my love for this beautiful language, its singers, food, capuccino (or cappuccio as the Italians call it) as well as my fascination with this rich culture simply resist time.
In the midst of such vast cultural repertoire where so much can be admired and appreciated, oddly – at first sight – my love of it does not land in Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s and Francesco Petrarca’s (Petrarch) poems, which I joyfully used to memorize during high school, nor does it go in the direction of Dante’s fascinating idea of Inferno, aka karma (hey, you only rip what you sow!), or towards a long list of past and current writers and scholars. Instead, it lands in one particular verb: Oziare.
I respectfully like to add that the translation of this word to English just doesn’t do justice to its embodied conceptual and cultural richness. Idleness is but one of the connotations of oziare as the rest would be reflecting, absorbing, enjoying and cherishing – all in the NOW. The idea of being present in the now, while applying all of the above, is what oziare is all about. It is an active act of relaxation – one where while almost doing nothing, the subject is submitting him/herself to a meditative process of sorts.
With this semantic background in mind, and realizing this is a word that comes from a civilization that has given so much to the human tradition, would you be surprised if I speculated that the great Leonardo da Vinci would take time for some serious oziare in order to create the cupolas that hundreds of years later don’t cease to wow us?
But let’s not speculate at all actually. Any culture that has dedicated an actual word to the process of oziare needs to be applauded and studied carefully. In a way or another, a good part of the creative process consists exactly of this concept: doing ‘nothing’ on the outside, i.e., physically, while mentally, emotionally and intuitively one crosses worlds and runs through universes in search of a brush stroke, a musical note, or just a word.
Oziare. In Italy the act of taking time to enjoy food, be with yourself and family, is an art with deep roots. Those who have traveled there know way too well that people sit around the dinner table for a while, in order to enjoy each other’s company and conversation. Sadly, however, as globalization trends continue to sweep the globe we see how such customs start to change at least at a generational level where youth, for instance, start to adopt a lifestyle that emulates more and more the American culture.
Before summer is over, make it a point to pronounce this word out loud to yourself and actually live it even for an hour. Next time you decide to give yourself some time, as you lay on a beach chair, sand, or close to the one you love, say it like you mean it – mi piace oziare! (I love to rest!). Take your time to savor the moment – a moment that will never repeat itself in its full entirety.
We don’t always have the good fortune to travel to faraway wonderful places but luckily, we can let our minds and attitudes rest for a while as we adopt the best that cultures have to offer.
Wherever you are this summer give yourself permission for some well-deserved Oziare experience.
Make this your summer of Oziare.
Mirela Gegprifti is an Ayurveda Consultant, in-training, with the renowned Kripalu Center. She is also an avid yoga practitioner and a student of Paramahansa Yogananda; a published poet; and writer with an interest in wellbeing and culture. A passionate advocate of self and human development–with a Master’s degree in Feminist Literary Theory and another in International Education–you can follow her reflections in her new bloghttp://LivingLightClub.wordpress.com/.
I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. Specifically:
Where has it all gone?
How can I get more of it?
Why’s it moving so damn fast?
I have none.
Is it really possible to bend it? (Keep reading.)
Last week I had a short coaching session with one of Martha Beck’s Master Coaches – the slathered in Awesome Sauce, Jen Trulson. I won’t get into the boring details of the whining which led up to my takeaway, but essentially I have a deeply ingrained thinking error that says, “There’s not enough time.”
There’s. Not. Enough. Time:
… for me to take in sustenance.
… for me to pant on the treadmill for a measly 10 minutes.
… for me to shave my legs (and most definitely not for the subsequent braiding of the leg hair from lack of said shaving.)
… for me to take time off (ponder that one, folks.)
… blah, blah, blah.
But the thing is, I know, at the deepest level of my core, that time is a man-made construct. Who’s the asshat who came up with Leap Year, people? I have long believed somewhere inside of me that time is an illusion. Maybe part of a 42nd dimension that we just can’t comprehend yet. I started to get an inkling of the proof of this (from what my tiny brain could understand) when I first read Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – essentially that “the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers, and that the speed of light in a vacuum was independent of the motion of all observers.”
At first, I thought the trouble boiled down to my vacuum which is like 12 years old, the belt constantly smells like burning rubber regardless of how often I change it, and the rotors are so mired down by hair and bundles of dust that it doesn’t pick up. Jack. Shit.
My brain was really stretched thin, however, when I read what it now my favorite explanation of “time” from The Complete Conversations with God:
A true understanding of time allows you to live much more peacefully within your reality of relativity, where time is experienced as movement, a flow, rather than a constant. It is you who are moving, not time. Time has no movement. There is only One Moment… Your science has already proven this mathematically. Formulas have been written showing that if you get into a spaceship and fly far enough fast enough, you could swing back around toward Earth and watch yourself take off. This demonstrates that Time is not a movement but a field through which you move…
Ding, ding, ding… “what have we got for Him, Johnny?”
Add to all of the above thoughts the Buddhists’ wisdom of living in the present moment. Samiddhi, a disciple of the Buddha, says, ““I, friend, do not reject the present moment to pursue what time will bring. I reject what time will bring to pursue the present moment.”
I’ve often had moments wherein I’ve thought those Buddhist people were smart as hell. But what really lit my brain fire was when I started thinking about this Buddhist way of living as opposed to our American way of living (my way of living) – multitasking. For the longest time I thought I was an adept multi-tasker. But the more I tried to do it, the more I realized that multitasking is just one more big, fat illusion. Wethink we’re multitasking when, in reality, we’re dissipating our energy so that one task does not receive our full attention which causes us to feel scattered (and a bit crazy, really) and the task itself is done sort of half-assed. But, the real zinger, came when I realized that by focusing my attention, fully, to the onetask at hand actually expanded time for me.
Here’s how it works for me. If, in the morning, I wake up and immediately repeat this mantra a few times, “I have plenty of time” and “I have all the time I need,” and then go about my task of answering my four gazillion emails in a focused way, doing only that task, time does seem to pass more slowly. In fact, if I just focus on my email (without moving on to a website I need to make changes to, or a call that needs to be made) I can look at the clock feeling like it should be way later than it is for the amount of work I’ve gotten done. Read: Holy crap, it’s only 10:45 a.m.?
I’m totally awesome. I ROCK. Nope, I BOULDER.
Alternatively, if I wake up in the morning and think of my gatrillion emails, the website I need to build, the calls I need to make, the fact that I need to register my car, the payroll I need to cut, blah, blah, blah and I go about my day weaving in and out of all of these tasks, moving from one to another without ever really completing any one thing, I look at the clock and it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’ve accomplished notta. Nothing. Zip. Read: Holy crap, it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m a totally worthless pile of dingo dung.
This is physics, people, I don’t fully understand it. My brain hurts from trying to write this post and actually convey any semblance of rational thoughts.
The Leftover Bits
Just like in any task I take on, putting together my own IKEA bookshelf, for example, there are always a few bolts and baubles left sitting on my floor. Here are the questions I’m left to ponder:
If movement were to stop, would “time” stop altogether? Are clocks only measures of relative motion? Am I bending time when I focus, fully, on the NOW? It sure feels like it. Think about it: If it’s you moving through time… Are you running? Are you frantic? Are you calm and centered? Are you fully present in that moment or are your thoughts dwelling in a future time while your body is where it is? Maybe it’s our thoughts that do the time traveling and we all know we can’t be in three places at once… Or can we? I dunno, but I’ve definitely felt the magic of tinkering with time and stretching it out and I’ve also felt the effects of letting it run all over me – harried and chaotic.
Before he died, Einstein said “Now Besso [an old friend] has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us … know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Melanie Bates is a writer, a nomad, and a nondescript heathen. She dons geekdom like other girls shoulder a Fendi. She works with visionaries who are setting the world on fire as a Virtual Assistant to Powerful Women (& a Few Kick-Ass Men.) In the wee dark hours you might find her with her nose in a book, hands on a game controller, or toes in the dirt.
Melanie’s most joyous moments in life, however, come from “applying ass to chair.” She began her writing career at the age of seven when she penned her first brilliant short story about witches with carbuncles. She is currently working on a young adult novel which she plans to finish this century-ish.
She’s moved over thirty times, hence the nomadic nature, but for now resides in the Wild, Wild West with the loves of her life – her boyfriend and So-Kr8z & Sancho the pups. To some this urge to move might seem exciting, however, there have been times when she has ended up in the deepest bowels of our great Mother Earth. For example, she spent a year living in a greasy town in Wyoming where she was blown back and forth across the road and where she ran home from school every day on the lookout for dark vans that kidnapped children. She once peed her pants while frantically searching for her latchkey.
It was hard leaving Maui today but not hard in the way it is to leave a vacation or a beautiful place. Hard in the way falling in love is after you’ve been hurt. The way you want to trust it and say Yes, come on in but you are afraid and that But I am afraid wells up in your throat like a stone and you can’t speak for it. And although you are happy you are also sad because you recognize this feeling of having something and yet not trusting you have it. Not trusting that it’s a thing to be had. It’s a football rushing at you and you’re going I got it! I got it! and then I don’t got it. All at once. If that’s possible.
The stone in your throat is hard, as stones tend to be (especially stones in the throat) which is the place things often get stuck, even if they aren’t stones. Even if they are people.
Stones and words and anger and all the rest. All the things.
Before we ended the retreat this morning, the girls gave me a necklace to say Thank You. One of the most beautiful necklaces I have ever seen and as I held it in my hands I thought how I shouldn’t look up at them because I probably wasn’t reacting in the way they expected of me (Tears? Emotion?) so I kept looking down at the gold chain, at the purple stone, at my ugly hands holding this beautiful gesture. Don’t look up, keep looking down. Don’t ever look up. (No tears? No emotion?)
Well, no. I wasn’t there. I was looking down on it all. A million hours passed and I finally looked up and they all had tears in their eyes and were nodding thank you’s.
There’s been a mistake. This can’t be for me. I shall float away and keep looking down (no tears, no emotion yet.) But I look up and they are still there nodding their thank you’s in the most knowing way, as if we have known each other our whole lives and this moment was simply a confirmation.
There’s been no mistake. The necklace and the thank you’s were for me so I put it on and touched it repeatedly. Sharp and smooth and tiny enough to fit in my fingers. I pressed hard into it to pull me back into the yoga room there at Lumeria. But still no emotion because I didn’t trust my body was sitting there on that floor or that the floor wouldn’t cave in.
So many things we think are mistakes. So many mistakes we think are things.
When they’re not. They are hallucinations. They are non-existent. Or maybe they are just long gone. Over and done. Maybe they once were things, but they have longed since stopped being things and now are just that happened once or I turned left instead of right.
I turned left instead of right and there I was at Lumeria in Maui leading a retreat with a gorgeous group of women but if I’d turned right I would’ve been __________.
That’s right. Blank space. Who knows. So many blank spaces.
Look right there. There’s one. And there. Another.
Not mistakes. Not things. Just that happened. And then that happened.
It was hard leaving today because I was afraid to leave what we created.
Then, just like that, one of the girls said she had a letter to read. She had written a letter to the group which was moving and brave and lovely. She turned to me and said Jen, your dad would be so proud of you. And just like that: emotion. Magic. Just a few words and the idea of a man long dead in his physical body and bam! I am re-rooted back into the world as if I had always been there.
A double rainbow appeared after we finished our closing circle and we all ran out onto the lawn and pointed and snapped photos and cried a little because it was, again, like falling in love. What if we never see something this beautiful again? How can we make this stay?
I am afraid that was it for me. I am afraid that I will never have that again. I am afraid that. I am afraid of.
I am on the plane, where I do most of my writing, wondering if I turned right instead of left would I have even been to Maui? (Who knows but most likely, no.) Would I be on this plane sitting next to a sweet but loud nut-eating Russian couple? Could I ask the pilot to steer us back, and, if he agrees, would it be the same? Could I stay as safe as I felt this week with all my women during my retreat? (Probably not.)
I feel for my necklace and repeat So many things we think are mistakes. So many mistakes we think are really things and my necklace lays over my heart and doesn’t move or suggest it knows the difference so I decide to make a list. Mistakes and Things.
~Dropping out of college with one year left after I had won an award for having highest GPA at my school within NYU (Oh, that’s a thing. Things and accolades and this and that which I think makes me me but in reality is just a thing signifying nothing.)
~Filing taxes for the wrong year.
~Saying yes when I meant no.
~Saying no when I meant yes.
~Saying too much.
The rest I can’t write here because the Russians might read over my shoulder and that makes me nervous.
My necklace the girls gave me this morning.
The airplane I am sitting on.
The book in my lap.
The glasses on my face.
There are too many things in the world to list them all.
I feel for my necklace and think if it could grant me one wish it would be to hear perfectly. Then I think I would like to change that wish to I would like to be here perfectly.
If I am here perfectly I can see that dropping out of college wasn’t a mistake but it was my left turn and if I hadn’t turned left I would be _______.
And the filing taxes bit, eh. The IRS will figure that one out.
The rest, the yeses and no’s and the overpacking aren’t so much mistakes as they are ignoring my gut in the way I used to ignore my hunger. I hear you and I don’t care.
It was hard leaving today because I am not yet perfectly here.
I worry. I send vessels and ships into an imaginary future stockpiled with fears and toilet paper and anxiety. I worry that I will never have this again. This being what I had there on that island. That it was a fluke. That there wasn’t a group of women who flew from all over the world connecting in the way everyone dreams of connecting or maybe there was but it was a blink and it will never be back as things we love sometimes choose to do. I am happy. This is working out. You are alive. I love you.
Then Poof! Up in smoke. That’s what the things we love sometimes do as unfair and shitty as it seems (and as it is.) That’s what the life we love sometimes does. It just goes.
And yet and still, I am happy they gave me a necklace with such texture because I can press it into my thumb and have it bring me back on the same ship I sent off into the future with toilet paper and regret. The necklace can send me sailing back into my seat on an airplane with the smell of nuts in the air.
I keep looking at the letters everyone wrote me this morning. I had everyone write down the 5 most beautiful things they saw in each person so each woman left today with a pile of letters.
The one thing in every one of my letters, the common thread of beauty that all the ladies saw in me was, one word: Inspire.
I can’t go anywhere on this airplane. I can’t float away because I am already floating up here in the sky and I am trapped next to the Russians in my window seat so I must sit with that word. Inspire, inspire, inspire.
What does it mean? I ask my necklace like a crazy person.
I actually didn’t think I was crazy until the necklace answered back. It said it means keep speaking your truth and you don’t need a degree from NYU to inspire.
Now, did the necklace say that? I don’t know. Maui is a sacred and magical place and they bought it there, so maybe it did? Maybe I need to suspend my disbelief for moments at a time so I can get over the I can’t believe they mean me. I can’t believe this will last. I can’t believe in my own happiness. I can’t believe this is my life.
Maybe I need to suspend my disbelief and let my necklace remind me of its heritage. How it traveled through the hands of some gorgeous women who love me as I love them. How it hung in a store and when it caught their eyes it spoke to them. (So they told me.) It literally spoke to us, Jen.
Maybe my necklace isn’t a thing at all. Maybe it’s a reminder that happiness is possible for me and those I love fiercely. And maybe, when the necklace is gone, however necklaces go, the reminder will remain: That I deserve to be happy. That I don’t have to be afraid. That one day, some incredible women who I led through a life-changing journey, walked into a store in Wailea and wiped the sand of their feet so they could find something to thank me. A thing, something, they said knowing they would never find that thing, so they wrapped up their love in a purple stone on a gold chain and we all understood that it would never go up in smoke.
**This essay is dedicated to all my Manifestation Maui Retreat Tribe members.
I am on Maui contemplating lost continents and lost lives.
It’s rainy and windy and mostly gray. Ronan passed away the day I flew here. He was almost three and he was suffering, badly. It was time. But, just because it was time doesn’t mean it made sense or it was fair or you didn’t want to pound your fists on a table and watch the shells and lamps fall onto the floor in millions of pieces and it also didn’t mean that you didn’t want to step on the broken glass with bare feet so you could feel something akin to being broken.
I got on the plane anyway, despite the sad news. I had a retreat to lead in Maui. People paid thousands and thousands of dollars to be there with me, and besides, me not going wouldn’t un-lose any lives. There’s that.
When I landed on the island my husband texted me from Los Angeles to tell me that his cousin and dear friend had had a heart attack as he was driving and died right before he crashed the car.
Yesterday morning, in the Manifestation workshop at my retreat, I asked my group to pick someone who loved them. They sat their on their mats and got misty eyed and nodded their heads to signal me that they had the image of that person in their minds, that their person had been picked. Now, I said, write a description of yourself in the voice of that person.
People started writing. Some sobbed. After the pens came down I asked why it had been so hard for them. A woman in my group said because he believes in me when I don’t believe in myself.
The things that break me. One: people saying Your dad would be so proud of you. A knife in my gut. It’s a here take this blade right in your heart. It’s always been that way and I have surrendered to the fact that it may always be that way.
One of the girls on my retreat who is here from South Dakota told me at dinner last night that her 17 year old son was having a hard time. Melissa Shattuck showed me the text message she’d sent him:
Only in stillness every day do we touch the realm of infinite potential, that space of our highest self. What are your intentions….put them into that space where you are in a deep state of quiet and calm. Talk and listen to the Universe/God in this way. Let it know what you want and that you want it with every cell of your being…..and then sweet heart you let it go…..the Universe/God will bring it to fruition at just the perfect moment and has a grander plan for our lives than you or I could ever think of….You are loved and adored and treasured!! And I think you are the most amazing person. And you’ll do it. You’ll live the life of your dreams…..no doubt about it. You are good and you are deserving, so deserving of everything you want. Much Love… Mom.
I passed her phone back to her and let the knife stay there in my heart.
I went and meditated the next morning in a group sitting.There was this man there, Claudio, who apparently was “enlightened.” Now, I am not sure what that means but this man was special. He looked into my eyes for about 5 minutes straight without blinking. His mouth did these little twists and turns at the corners so it looked like he was going to cry and then a smile would sweep across his face as big as an ocean and he spoke something about oceans and being the ocean and not the wave and sitting in infinity. I didn’t really understand and yet I did.
I started crying when he looked into my eyes because I felt safe and loved and his face turned into my friend’s Steve’s face who had passed away last year.
Lemuria, the lost continent of the Pacific and I am here and there are no more lost lives when I look into Claudio’s eyes. He is saying we are the ocean. There is no separation.
So when I asked my retreat folks to write those descriptions of themselves in the voice of someone who loved them you see, it was like asking for the infinity. There is no separation.
Their voice is my voice is your voice is the ocean is the baby is the I behind the I and then who is the I?
I am here thinking of lost lives and lost continents and lost beliefs. When did I lose this belief in myself? some of the people here have asked me. Not so much me as they are asking the wind and the lawn and the journal in front of them. It’s not lost, I tell them. Nothing is lost. You are right here, where you always were, I say pointing to the place where they know their heart should be but where some think there is nothing but a windy hole.
I am leading my retreat at a place called Lumeria in Maui, on the north shore of the island.
Lemuria is the name of a hypothetical lost land located somewhere between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Stories of Lemuria vary, but all share a common belief that a continent existed in ancient times and sank beneath the ocean. An ancient civilization which existed prior to the time of Atlantis simply disappeared. Gone. Lost lives. Lemuria is also sometimes referred to as Mu, or the Motherland (of Mu). At its peak of civilization, the Lemurian people were both highly evolved and very spiritual. You can’t help but feel that here. You are infinite in all directions, says Claudio, and even though you have no idea in God’s name what that means you understand and know it to be true.
Concrete physical evidence of this ancient continent is difficult to find just as you may feel that any concrete evidence of you may be hard to find. Who is the you? Who is the I? Where are the lost lives? You may scribble in your journal or think in your mind which is always thinking thinking thinking.
(Look harder. Listen closer.)
Those descriptions written in the voice of someone who loves you, you might read them and think this person they are speaking of has sunk into the sea. This person does not exist anymore and in fact may never have existed. It may be a myth. You know nothing.
It is the concrete evidence.
Continents can move and float on the surface of the ocean so why shouldn’t you be able to do the same? Maybe you simply shifted or some geographical error occurred or maybe it wasn’t an error at all, maybe you forgot where you were? Maybe you were lost at sea. But see that description there? The one you wrote in the voice of someone who loves you? That is your map. You are no longer lost. You are no longer one of the lost lives or lost continents. You are here I say pointing to the place where your heart actually is. The place where I will now take the knife out of because my father wouldn’t be so proud of me.
It is not a hypothetical thing. He is proud of me. He is. The would be makes it myth. The would be makes it legend. It is fact. He is proud of me. As I am proud of me. My voice is his voice.
I don’t know if Lemuria existed or not but I am here at Lumeria and I fancy the idea. I am contemplating all that was lost and all that thought it was, but wasn’t lost at all. That place, right there. Your heart.
The ocean is the I is the heart is the you is the everything.
I hope the son of the woman gets the text message she sent him and prints it. I hope he he saves it so one day when I ask him to write something about himself in the voice of someone who loves him, he can reach for it in his pocket and say I have it right here. In fact, I memorized it.
It is the ocean is the I is the everything is the love.
It will never have been lost. I hope that for him.
For all of us.
I write and I write and I will keep writing and the reason why?
I love emails like this. This was sent after reading last night’s essay called Light Sender.
This morning felt wrong. I realized that if I let myself, I could really sink down, down, down into sadness and loneliness.
Almost every night I get a twinge of it, and I shake myself. I kiss Mattie (my son) or I lay down with him and I ignore the inclination to dive headfirst into the pit of negative emotions I’ve got swirling around. It’s exhausting to keep myself above it.
This morning I almost had to pull the car over, the sadness gripping me like a band constricting around my chest.
I am torn. I think…I think if I didn’t have Mattie, I’d be in it. I’d float in it and write about it. But I can’t allow that. The writer in me craves it, though. I always write best when I’m feeling a terrible emotion, or a blissful one. I can’t seem to feel the happiness any more, and so the sadness is calling me home. But I don’t go, because I have a son who needs a mother who can show him how to be happy and healthy. And so I’ve been teetering on the edge of this, balancing myself between duty and misery.
Enter Jen Pastiloff, the magnificent writer Yogi who has been showing me the way out of this. I’ve been following you on Facebook, reading the blog posts that you share, and absorbing every one of them. This morning though I was dangerously close to collapsing in on myself, and I read what you posted today about light, and about darkness. You even posted it with an excerpt from Mary Oliver, who is my favorite poet.
Well today you wrote, “The chains I dragged around were heavy and unwieldy by I managed them because to let go would mean I would have to face the fact that there was indeed a light inside of me…” and I was floored. I mean, bowled over. I think it’s the first time I’ve realized that maybe I’m afraid of happiness. Afraid of losing it, and afraid of beings someone other than who I am right now.
I wanted to thank you for your words today. It isn’t better, or fixed, but it’s a beginning. A way out.
Aleister Crowley said that “the breaks manifest light.” Well, I’ve been broken, and just barely holding myself together. Maybe what I need is to let the light shine through those cracks and cast off this old way of being – so sad, so tired, so alone. Thank you for writing so openly and honestly, and thank you for inspiring me to move beyond coping with depression and find a way to actually deal with it. Heal it. Thank you.
Keep going Light Senders. Keep going. Keep shining. I am here. I got you. Lauren and all the other Tribe members out there, I got you.