As the old year gives way to the new I have just a few wishes, a few dreams. 

Let me whisper them here, then so I can then let them go and welcome the New Year with all that it will bring.

This year I wish for LESS:

  1. Less stuff
  2. Less chaos
  3. Less worry & sadness
  4. Less noise
  5. Less weight
  6. Less drama
  7. Less inner monologue and self critique
  8. Less fear
  9. Less rushing
  10. Less conflict

And in the place of the things that leave I wish for this to fill the void:

  1. More community
  2. More stillness
  3. More laughter
  4. More music
  5. More health
  6. More silliness
  7. More silence 
  8. More love
  9. More long walks
  10. More connection

May your 2008 be blessed and beautiful–perfect in every imperfect way.

Happy New Year!

Late December 31st I sat in the room that is now my office and started to clean out a closet.  I had meant to throw most of the clutter out.  I thought there was nothing there worth keeping.

Instead I found a bit of magic inside.  Piles of letters, beautifully written from an age before email, from friends like this one and this one.   Three hours later, nothing I had intended to do was accomplished.   But I read each and every word.  I was embraced by love, by joy, by wisdom whispered to me across the years.  It was exactly what I needed. 

I have to admit the efficient little gremlin inside was urging me to put the letters aside and save them for a rainy day–to shove them back in the closet or in another one and to get the job done. But I decided not to listen.  No, the closet never got cleaned.  Instead I spent the entire afternoon literally surrounded by paper.  And I am glad.  Because of those letters I sparkled all afternoon.  I still sparkle thinking about them. 

I had started out the day resolving that 2007 would be the year I got organized, the year I got through the chores and felt “on top” of it all.  But by midnight I had changed my resolution.  I decided instead that 2007 would be the year I would try and be more present–that instead of being on top of it all–I would be in it-fully and completely in it.

 As a result, 2007 has been the most beautiful of years.  Each day has unfolded, not always pleasantly, but with a unique magic all its own–a hidden gift somewhere.   Things have happened for Max and I that we would never have imagined last December–things we never could have wished for.  If I had spent the entire year plowing through my closets and checking things off my to-do list I would have missed so much–so many things I never knew I wanted to do.  I would not have started writing again, I would not have dropped everything to run off to the woods, I am not sure I would have found the friends who would teach me to play my own music, who would inspire me and rekindle my creativity.

To be honest, as we approach 2008, I have a long list of things I want to do, things I want to summon into my life.  I also have a long list of things I love about my life right now, things I don’t want to change.  I guess its hard to break those old habits.

But deep in my heart I know now that my happiness for 2008 is not dependent on any of these things coming or staying true. 

I want to eat healthier and I’d like to lose weight.  I want to lounge and find refuge in a community that nourishes me.  I’d like to fall in love, to have more patience with Max, to write, to make music.  I want to go hear people play instruments and I want to dance and sing along.  I would like to take long walks in the woods, to swim naked in the moonlight, to love more, to worry less.  

And these things may or may not happen.  Or they may happen with a twist that could never be foretold.  Or events, people, experiences I never could have dreamt of could take me on wild new adventures.  There is no way to imagine how it will all play out.    But what I learned this year is that it will play out exactly as it should.  All I need to do is to pay attention.

This time of year, I love to make lists of all the things my heart is dreaming of.  I am sure I will do it again tomorrow and in the space between New Years and Chinese New Years, a day that I feel marks my new beginnings more than any other. 

But when my lists are done, I will smile and then I will resolve to breathe and let it all go–to not be attached to any of it–to be open to all of it.   For they are not resolutions.  They are only thoughts, dreams, ideas–things I will allow myself to witness as they bubble up from my heart, give them their due and then let them pass.

For this year, my resolution is simply this. 

I resolve to breathe. 

And then to embrace whatever each breath brings.     

This morning my mother, father, Max and I tumbled out of the house and to the train station, boarded a commuter train and head in to New York City.  For 6 years my mother has been waiting to take her eldest grandchild into New York to experience the magic of Christmas–to see the tree in Rockefeller Center, to watch the Rockettes and the live nativity, to marvel at the ceiling in Grand Central Station.  For both of them it was a dream come true.

On the way home we all settled into the seats of the train.  Max and I were snuggled together–he with my ipod, me with Momma Zen, a beautiful book I treated myself to this Christmas.  The train rocked us both to sleep, a deep peaceful happy sleep that says we had a beautiful day but it is done and now, the only thing left to do is to close our eyes and rest and let it go.

I am ready for the holidays to wind down, to let go of the magic and lights and be rocked to sleep by a train taking me back to my regular, normal, sweet life. 

Like my darling friend Jen Lemen, I am a sucker for magic at Christmas time.  I crave it.  The sparkling lights, the kindness of strangers, the warmth of my community wrapped around us, it brings out in me hope wide and expansive.   

But hope can be a dangerous thing.  I can get carried away by it.  Hope can send me flying off into an imaginary future.  Drunk on too much hope, I believe that I will be swept away into some magical other reality–so much more sparkly than my current now.  I start to fantasize about something else–some other life.and then am disappointed it is not my now.  Suddenly my beautiful and lovely life seems a bit…well…tarnished.

Yes.  Too much sparkle and hope can just leave me feeling a bit hungover.  When I get to that place, I need to stop, turn off the lights and settle into the real magic that is my life.

In a moment of terrible sadness about being a single mom this holiday season, one of my dear ones grabbed me by the shoulders and looked into my eyes.  Summoning all her clarivoyant powers, she told me that next year would be different, that the magic that transformed our lives in 2007 is going to continue to bring surprises for us in 2008.  She reminded me that this loneliness I feel now is impermanent, fleeting and will soon be gone.  But it is what it is.  It is MY now.  This is what I have, along with the friends who hold me, the love that surrounds me, the music that moves me, the stories that make my heart sing. 

It was the most beautiful of Christmas gifts.  It gave me permission to trust that it would all turn out exactly as it should, to stop imagining what my life would be like if ONLY and just let go of my yearning.  To remember that I am exactly where I need to be right now.  To trust that I need not do any thing for magic to arrive.  I just need to be present to it.  

By some miracle, Max and I wake just in time to get off the train.  We drive home from the station.  He gives me the sweetest hug I have had all week–a deep bear hug and tell me that he loves me and I know that this moment is the most perfect one.  Because it is now.

**I have been meaning to link to this reflection on now all week.  It is and has been for me a stunningly beautiful reminder of the joy in staying rooted in the moment. 

Tonight is the longest night of the year.  It will grow dark early.  The sun will rise late.  Outside all will grow quiet and still and cold.  We will face as far away from the sun as we have all year.  We will be wrapped in cold dark night.

But we will not be consumed by dark.  Inside our home we will light candles.  We will light lanterns.  We will light the stove and cook soups.  Friends will come.  They will cross our doorstep with bread.  They will wrap their arms around us and keep us warm, make us laugh.   They will bring food and beer and we will tell stories and soon before we know it morning will come.  It always does.

We are a solstice kind of people here.  For better or for worse, we are used to the long dark night at our house.  We have lived it for the last few years.  So we know about making it through.  Through our own long dark night, while the cold winds blew, our friends came in just as they will tonight and sat with us in the dark.  They held our hands and lit our lanterns, they told us stories, the fed us soup and kept us warm.  So we know that tonight, that is what we must do.

Now the earth is about to tilt.  I can feel spring coming.  I feel it in my bones.  I feel it in my heart and in my soul too.  Yes, come morning, spring will be on its way. Every lengthening day will shout that renewal and new beginnings and hope are slated to arrive…are here just waiting to make their debut.

Tonight we will gather our community together and huddle against the long dark night.  And when the last guest has gone I will load the mugs and soup bowls into the dishwasher and climb under my covers and whisper one word over and over again.  A mantra of sorts.  “Grateful…grateful grateful”  Grateful we made it through.  Grateful for the friends who sat with us.  Grateful for the tilt of the earth.  Grateful for the sun which will rise tomorrow a bit earlier and bring with it a promise of beginnings fresh and new.

And tomorrow we will throw open the windows and welcome the light that will come bit by bit brighter with each and every day.  And we will say Alleluia.  Joy to the world. 

Because finally the long dark night has passed.

This past weekend our dear housemate was out of town, visiting some friends.  Max missed her terribly and so did I.  The weekend unfolded slowly.  By the time she arrived back home there was so much to share.  She missed so much in just 48 hours.

Max greeted her at the door and bubbled with enthusiasm. 

But despite his smiles and hugs for her he had some serious business too.  His face grew grave.  He told her he had bad news.  Very bad news.

He had lost his TV privledges for the week.  This was especially sad as the two of them enjoy a nightly Berenstein Bears epsiode.  She didn’t ask him why–it didn’t matter.  She knows how much Max enjoys his nightly ration and so she had nothing but empathy for this little boy.  It was bad news indeed.  “I am sorry Max” she said in her crisp lovely accent.

“But,” he perked up, “I have good news too.  Very good news.  Great in fact.” 

“Oh?” she asked, her curiousity peaked

“Yes, ” he said sparkling as he spoke.  “I finally learned how to make a star”.  He then got a piece of paper and showed her how he could draw a beautiful, lopsided 5 pointed star–just in time for Christmas.

There is always a bit of good news if you have a heart innocent and light enough to see it.   There is always a bright light somewhere.   I am going to sleep now.  Tomorrow I hope I wake up a bit more like Max.

My dear friend Jenni, my tireless champion and advocate, recently submitted a couple of my blog posts to sk*rt.  I am so touched and excited about the prospect of new folks finding their way over here.  Swing on over this way and over here to check it out! (and you can vote for it if you are so inclined to help it get seen more!!)  I am just tickled pink…

Its late on a school night. Max should be getting ready for bed, or at least close to brushing his teeth. Instead we are entering an ice rink in a town 30 minutes away. We are here to see a teenage friend play ice hockey.

Max has recently expressed a fascination with things on ice. Its unclear to me how much of it is a pure interest in the game, and how much of it is a love of our friend Jeff, a hockey dad and all around fan. It is Jeff we meet at the rink, Jeff who takes Max’s hand and whispers to him the secrets of the game. Whatever it is, the attention from Jeff, the fast moving game, the being in the middle of a very male world, it makes his heart sing. And so I make an exception about bedtime and I drive 30 minutes on a school night out to the rink.

We arrive at the rink and within minutes I am alone. Max has scurried off to the booth from where Jeff runs the scoreboard. He sits on Jeff’s lap. He stands on the bench in the penalty box waiting to open the gate. He wrestles with another dad, a nice man, whose name I will not catch, but who picks Max up by his elbows while Jeff looks on and laughs–three boys together playing a game that can not include me. Max is happy and so I can sit, alone for a change, and be with my thoughts.

The sound of the skates cutting across the ice is meditative. The nice people sitting around me cheering for their kids disappear. I am alone with the memories that wash over me as I follow the puck across the ice. I am carried away, back to a more innocent age, to a rink just like this one.

I was just 13–or maybe 14 when we met. He was a dreamy blond Canadian boy who played hockey. He sat next to me in 8th grade history class. He was popular and talented and wonderful and he took my breath away. And then he took me completely by surprise. One February night, at an ice rink, he took my hand and asked me out. He was my first real love.

For the next two years, we were an item. I don’t remember anything else about those two years but him. He was my Romeo. I worshipped him. At his brother’s hockey games, we would sneak away, hand in hand, out of the sight of everyone to “warm up.” I practically lived at his house. We would lay for hours on end, wrapped up together on his water bed, listening to music. We trusted each other. In that bedroom, we grew up.

He played on an elite travel team. Many a Sunday night, after an afternoon of hanging out in his room, we would eat whole wheat spaghetti in his kitchen. Then he would disappear to the garage and pick up his big hockey bag and stick. I would throw on my coat and watch him throw his bag into the back of his dad’s station wagon. We would climb in the back seat and his dad would drive us all to some far flung rink, while his mother sat up front chatting away.

He would disappear into a locker room and emerge on the ice. I would sit in the stands between his mom and his dad. I would watch every play, every move he made with the attention one gives only to a true love. His father would sit to my right and whisper into my ear what was happening as each play unfolded. His mom would sit to my left knitting, occasionally chiming in. I learned not only about love on those winters nights. By accident, I learned about hockey.

After the game, he and I would snuggle in the back seat of that stationwagon, oblivious to his (clearly very cool and hip) parents up front. I would sit on his lap and bury my head into his chest and breathe in the sweet musky scent of a guy who had just skated his butt off for an hour and a half. A guy who made my heart do flips. A guy who hung the moon. A guy I was sure I would love forever.

I sit now in the stands now and I half expect to see his face when the defenseman turns my way. I can almost hear his dad’s voice now, call out the plays, explain the penalties. I hear him call out as the boys crash into the boards. “There you go…That’s it…Skate…skate…skate. Oh…too bad.” I hear his voice in my head, clear and bell like as I surprise myself with what I remember. I turn slightly to the right almost instinctively and say, “That was a nice clean pass, wasn’t it?”. I say it to no one in particular but I feel the smile, the warm arm around my shoulder that would have answered me back then. I heard he died years ago. I wish that I had said a prayer then–that I had reached out to the family. That I had found my old love and told him how much I adored his dad. I say a prayer for him now as the skates cut across the ice. As the buzzer sounds marking the end of the period.

The buzzer knocks me forward 24 years, back to my grown-up life. I wonder why I am thinking so much about this chapter of my life. I had not thought of this dreamy Canadian boy, his gentle mother, his laid back and kind father for some 20 years, but now I think of them all so often this winter. I think about how his dad taught me to pump gas and let me sign for it. I think of how his mom would ask me to help her chop vegetables. I think about how I crossed some Rubicon in the company of that warm family. In the arms of that sweet boy.

I want to go back and touch the heart that I would break when we were older. I want to go back and say what I should have said when his mother finally gave in to cancer years after we broke up. I want to go back and thank him for being so gentle and kind with me as we walked the path from innocence to knowing. I want to take his hand in mine and tell him that he changed my life when he asked me out that February night. I never did any of those things but I am yearning to do it now. And I can’t help but wonder why…

Perhaps it is about being at the cusp of a beginning again. Perhaps it is standing in a new place of innocence. After years of being out of commission I am now standing again, ready to plunge into love or something that feels like it. Perhaps the hopeful, heady feeling reminds me of being so young again. Perhaps it is that I know that I am once again in a moment, a moment not that much different from when I was wrapping my hands around a cup of hot chocolate, wondering what would happen next, that moment between the second and third period right before that dreamy boy took me by surprise when he asked me to take a walk around the rink, when he swept me off my feet, and sent me tumbling headfirst into the adventure I call my grown-up life.

 

 Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Tonight Max and I had a movie date.  And something deep inside me was dying to see this movie.  I suggested it but Max initially poo-pooed the idea.  He was thinking more like Alvin and the Chipmunks.  I cringed thinking of spending over an hour listening to those voices, but was ready to acquiesce.  It was his choice. 

But then, as if by magic, he came upstairs and announced he had changed his mind.  I immediately looked up the show times and put on my boots.  It wasn’t playing in our neighborhood theater so we had to venture across town into the big city to the fancy fancy theater a half hour away.

We both agree it was worth every bit of effort to get there.  Max was riveted and exclaimed just minutes into it–“Mommy!  I was wrong.  This movie is AWESOME.”  We held hands at the sad parts and in the end I sat, full of hope and joy and belief with tears dripping off my cheeks. 

At the risk of sounding trite, this movie spoke straight to my heart.  It was a message in a bottle.  It vibrated at exactly the same frequency of my soul.  I loved this movie because I very much believe in the magical. 

Magical things happen every day but the question is whether we are openminded and openhearted enough to see them and appreciate them. 

Like last Monday.  I came into work, all mopey and depressed and uninspired.  And what did I find as I turned the corner and entered my office?  A beautiful Collings parlor guitar.  A colleague had gone on the road and had left it for me with a note asking me to take care of it while he was gone.  He had already given me permission to play it when I wanted to.  I almost didn’t.  But then,  I took it out and held it in my hands.  To be honest I felt a little bit woozy holding it.   I strummed a G, a C and then a G…the happiest chords on earth.

The guitar sounded like deep bells, Gregorian chants.  It was clear and rich and soulful.  It was a sound whose beauty made me shake.  I sat down and went through, by memory, the homework that Jeff had given me.  Everything I had struggled with for weeks on end sounded almost good, as though my hands were being guided by some unseen guitar god.  I picked up that guitar countless times this week and didn’t practice but played.  And with each perfectly blended chord I was able to see into the future, when I too would be able to effortlessly call forth music.  This week, lil’ Mr. Collings helped me turn a corner from guitar wanna-be to a guitar-mama-in-waiting.  It is a subtle but critical difference.  Playing that guitar, that beautiful guitar, helped me see the soulful rockin’ guitar playing diva was already inside me, the one who with patience and love and alot of joyful (if sloppy) playing would soon be birthed, perhaps sooner than I expect.    A favor for a friend can be a gateway into the sublime…Now that is what I call magic.

But to be honest, aside from the Miracle of the Guitar, I had forgotten about magic much of this week.  The hustle and bustle and stress of the pre-holiday had sucked much of my wonder-seeking spirit out of me.  I have been going through the motions alot, keeping my head down, my eyes narrowly focused, missing the wonder all around me.  We have had some small crises in our house this week, and dealing with them felt like anything but magic.  It felt like slogging it out.  It felt like shoveling crap.  It felt like just getting by.  It didn’t feel like flying…it felt like hangin’ on for dear life.

There were many moments in this movie that I will find myself quoting to myself.  However, this may be the one that sticks with me the most.  Mollie asks Mr. Magorium with anticipation and hope, “Are we going on an adventure??” He replies excitedly “We are already on one!” 

When life gets sloggy, I immediately forget that I am on an amazing journey.  I forget that every moment, no matter how mundane, holds in it the possibility of wonder.  The question is whether I can raise my eyes up from the shit to see it.

“Your life is an occasion.  Rise to it.”  Indeed I will, Mr. Magorium.  Thank you for reminding me.

one of many amazing Cairns built by the multi-talented Eric on our labor day camping trip in West Virginia

Monday night and I am back to the mat.  Back to yoga.  As though she read my mind, as though she can look right into what I needed, my teacher says, “Tonight we are going to work on our balance”. 

As a former ballet dancer I should be masterful at the balancing poses.  But that was a long time ago and my body has shifted and changed.  Fighting the old body/muscle memory that is no longer relevant now that I have a bit of padding, now that my shape is decidedly more maternal, always means that the balancing poses are an exercise in “shift, adjust breathe….shift, adjust, breathe.” 

Monday my teacher threw in a doozy.  She had us get into Tree Pose facing the wall.  “Easy-peasy” I smuggly thought to myself.  I am always best able to find my balance facing the wall.  I can find a spot right in front of my nose and then just glare at it.  But then, my sweet teacher threw us for a loop.  She had us close our eyes.  I immediately lost all sense of balance.  I had to put my foot down, I had to open my eyes, I had to wiggle alot.  I fell out of the pose again and again.  Try as I might it all fell apart in the dark. 

Balance is a tricky thing.

I am working on finding balance in my life outside of yoga too.  I have the job, so big and wonderful it could take over ever minute of every hour if I let it.  I have the son with a heart and needs so big that he could take over every second of every day if he could.  I have the house which needs sweeping, decluttering, and fixing, the bills that need paying.  Oh and I have the things I like to do to make my heart breathe and sing, writing, practicing my guitar, sitting with a good friend and a cup of tea or glass of wine and telling stories.    The friends, the family, the loved ones who need bits of our time, the things we need and want to do to help build our community. 

Having all these things is a blessing, I know.But holding them all in the air without them tumbling down on my head is a challenge–a challenge that seems often impossible.  A challenge that seems as unlikely as balancing a heavy stone upright on a tiny tiny point.

Max is having a tough week.  I decide to focus on him.  Work is not getting enough time or attention, things fall through the cracks.  I shift, adjust, breathe…

I am working late, bringing work home, trying to catch up on or actually hit a deadline on time.  Max feels left out, he is crawling on my lap, he is hitting the delete key as I try and write and drawing all over my notes.  He is begging me to cuddle him, lay down with him, sing him a song, tell him a story.  I shift, adjust and breathe…

I am feeling so exhausted, so used up, so tired of being dutiful.  I schedule a series of mama’s nights out where I stay up late and dance.  Now I can barely keep my eyes open.

My search for balance often feels more like swinging on a pendulum than finding a resting point where all the impossibly heavy hangs perfectly in alignment.

The yoga teacher is not giving up on us–on this experiment.  Blinded by this exercise we fall out of poses again and again.  Without a reference point to gaze at, all of us, even the more accomplished students are struggling a bit.

She urges us to search within for the balance point, to find it not on the wall but inside.  She urges us to trust our inner knowing of our own body, what parts are heavier, what parts are lighter, where we are stronger and weaker and find the balance on our own.    To close our eyes and trust we will find it.  And then, after failed try after failed try I find it–there…I stay only a second or two but it is there however briefly.  I am an amazing tree, strong, upright and balanced.

I leave class vowing to take this lesson into my life.  To do more closing of my eyes and trusting that I can find it, the place where it all hangs together perfectly.  Yes, its true, I have that knowledge deep inside if I can only trust myself and listen long enough to hear it.

Yesterday Max and I were hustling about, running errands.  As we finished our final task, we crossed a bridge that connects an old mall to a new parking structure–a glassed in corridor that hangs above one of the more busy streets in our new downtown.  Max (so much like his mama in this way) enjoys the people watching and it often takes a full 20 minutes for us to make our way across the bridge.

Max stood with his face pressed up against the window and called out to me the things that he saw…the things that made him stare in wonder.  “Look mommy,” he said.  “Look–a puppy dog.  Look how cute he is in his sweater…Look at that funny man”  And then something that took my breath away.  “Look, ” he said his soulful eyes big and wide.  “Its a mom with her son…and her daughter.”  He then sighed a deep sigh that communicated all the sadness and heaviness of the world.  “I wish I had a little sister,” he said as he shifted, indicating to me that his people-watching was over for now, that he was ready for the car.  I ruffled his hair and spoke with great empathy. 

“Yes,” I reflected back at him, “Its so hard to be an only child”.

 “Yeah, ” he said with a voice so solemn.  “I have no one to beat up.”

These are the moments when he keeps me on my toes.