Transitioning

images

As much as I want to close the lid on this year, I dread January. In order to prepare for that, I am turning inward, working on things I want to accomplish, and not getting worked up about the things I can’t control. But I want to be awake and aware, not hiding under the covers.

The image above went around Facebook in the last year, along with hundreds—thousands?—of other memes, on both sides. (The Democrats’ were wittier and pithier and “truthier”— no surprise there.) Still, we all believe what we wanna believe, right?

Fidel Castro just died. I was nine during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. We were ducking and covering in school, and I lived with my family on a hill that had beacons for the nearby local airport. Somehow I got them mixed up with Russians and nuclear attack. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Warner, wrote the word propaganda on the chalk board. I had never heard a more confusing word in my life, especially the definition.

Sometimes I still feel like I am nine. I say the Serenity Prayer while still fidgeting with the G-word. I struggle with anxiety. And I know that the answer is to acknowledge the way I feel when creating something in a mindful way. It can be a freshly made bed. Sweeping the porch. Arranging my mementos. Or it can be the memoir of my early art school years that I am determined to finish, if for no other reason but to say “I was here.” That is serenity, now.

The first step of the last month of this year is to commit to myself. Let’s face it: less Facebook would dial me down immensely. So, I plan to cocoon with my project, and enter a free memoir contest here: http://tinyurl.com/j4d3kqz , and hope that this will be beginning of a beautiful friendship.

With myself.

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11/9

I haven’t felt so gutted since 9/11. All I can do is decide not to give any more of my personal serenity away to the distractions that claimed much of this past year—unless it involves a creative outlet or actively organizing to protect the gains we’ve made as a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” Right. So two days after the election, I started with this. One small step.

The Next Day

Choosing lightness over dark

Choosing kindness over snark

Choosing hope and not despair

Choosing quiet, calm, or prayer

Choosing to resume a dream

Choosing to suppress a scream

Choosing to clutch onto grace

Choosing not to self-efface

 
Choosing to set sights beyond

So what’s been gained won’t soon be gone

Choosing not to ever cave

Forgetting those who suffered, gave

Choosing to remember why

I’m even here, if not to try

Choosing now to go for throat

Of those who pussy-grabbed my vote

 
I can’t suspend my disbelief

The Orange Cheeto—Con man-In-Chief.

 

 

copyright 2016 Sharon Watts

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Into White

Me & bunny

 

March might have gone out like a lamb, but April has lumbered in like a stunned polar bear—frigid temps, high winds, and snow. More than an aberrant dusting, this nonsense is into its second forty-eight hours, well past April Fool’s Day. It’s still sifting out of a pewter bowl of a sky.

Yesterday I woke up to bright sunshine and a pristine fluffy blanket coating forsythia and grape hyacinths, magnolias and all the sweet emerging buds in their festive greenery. Out of the blue, I remembered a white bunny fur jacket I wore at Easter when I was a little girl—so pretty and soft over my crisp, flowered pastel dress. Mom sewed matching outfits for me and my sister (only mine was blue, Dianne’s pink). My skirt billowed beneath the cropped jacket, which was probably beyond our budget. I snuggled into it, feeling like a princess. No connection was made in my mind to any possible suffering involving the same kind of adorable pets I once had, living up on Beacon Hill Road, when my father was still alive. Now I wonder if this was some kind of trade-off. My newly widowed mother could no longer handle the bunnies, peeps, and ducklings, always appearing at Easter time, then played with and raised in pens in our large back yard.

This morning I worried about the translucent spider I had inadvertently whisked out of a dusty corner of my garage, that freaky, balmy day before the cold front muscled in. I had injured a few of his gossamer legs. It took several attempts to scoop him up onto a dried leaf and deposit him in the adjacent strawberry patch which was starting to green up. (I often wonder about my random acts of saving insects—do I instead hasten their demise?)

Last Thursday night I got a phone call. My friend of fifty years, Darla, had died of a massive heart attack. I include that word “massive” because it not only sobers me—I am in that age bracket for such endings—but also brings a thread of hope that massive means instantaneous. That she did not suffer. She had entered the hospital with back pain, and that did not bode well. A year previous, a similar complaint had resulted in the discovery of cancer in her bones, and then her breast. The most recent check-up revealed that the remission (I thought she was in while visiting her last summer) had run its course. But what really was destroying Darla was the never-ending drip of a sadness from the sudden death of her husband nearly two decades ago. I tried with every conversation to tip the topic to looking forward in her life. But it was futile. She only wanted to look backwards, when she had felt most alive. And the cancer cells were now in her liver. Now. Then. Darla is gone, at least on this plane.

But winter, apparently, is still here. I feel trapped in the cold, with still-warm memories of my friend offering comfort, at a cost. Sort of like that white bunny fur jacket.

April 2016

copyright Sharon Watts

photo from personal archive

 

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Breathing In the New Year

me and my maxi coat

Once Christmas is past, I can’t wait to clear the decks and halls of all things holly and jolly. The new year awaits, and I am always champing at the bit with big, creative plans. Or at the very least, organizing and improving every aspect of my life.

When I was a teenager, I took my Christmas envelope filled with gift cash (bestowed from a family of modest means and big love—$10 from Nana and Pappaw, $5 from Great Aunt Peg, etc.) and hotfooted it to Pomeroy’s department store. There I ascended the escalator to the sewing department, settled onto a stool, and paged through Butterick pattern books that were starting to reflect the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I took my time, wandering through the bolts of fabric, brushing my palms over wide wale corduroy and panne velvet, my eyes dizzily following psychedelic swirls. I loved synchronizing my creative vision to what was offered in that small city store. Could my end result rival what I coveted in my Seventeen magazine?

In 1969, it was a maxi coat with matching trousers, in a maroon herringbone wool. I remember this outfit distinctly because it involved more yardage than I had ever negotiated before, as well as a lining. But mostly because, upon completion, I realized that the lapels did not match.

Unintentional asymmetry was definitely not the look I was going for, and while I did wear my ensemble a few times, I was always too aware of my glaring mistake to enjoy any compliments I received. (I also tried to cover it with a scarf).

All these years later, there are many projects I am eager to start—and finish. I am at a point in my life where I trot out the “bucket list” label, only half-kidding. My only new year’s resolution is to engage in my passions and projects with the mindful zeal I once had. Ironically, now that there is less time for making mistakes, I realize that maybe there are no mistakes. Only efforts.

I still relish the fresh, open window of the new year. So, I will stick my head through it, and breath. Deep.

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Holiday Gratitude

YCNYC doodle copy

I am being rewired. It is difficult to stay away from the screen, the ping, the endless loop that makes me feel connected to the world. Yet I often get the sense that real life is a distraction to our device relationships, instead of the other way around. I am slowly being robbed of knowing what to do with myself, uninterrupted, when I am alone. When things get quiet and slow.

It didn’t used to be this way. I remember a holiday in an era when the most imperative thing to plug in was the string of Christmas tree lights, or the turntable, for a marathon spinning of a newly opened present: The Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

When I do choose to reconnect with what brought me such quiet fulfillment in the past, a spiritual muscle memory awakens. I make coffee in the quiet of a winter morning, feeding the birds in my back yard and the cats in my kitchen. Later I may write in a journal, start on a sketch or collage, read from a stack of books. Real books, with a scent and weight that no Kindle can compete with. I may take a walk, or do a bit of restorative yoga in my living room.

This is sensory overload I can handle. I am grateful for a quiet chance to both remember and discover the essence of who I am.

 

reprinted from YogaCityNYC

 

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Gifting Myself Some Mindfulness

Mindfulness blog artWhat I wanted more than anything for my 62nd birthday was to become more mindful. Too many screeching tea kettles and pots of scorched rice were testaments that my Gemini-sanctioned multitasking skills were careening out of control. It was time to seize the steering wheel, the day, the moment. I needed to get me to a monastery.

I live in the Hudson River Valley, an area overly blessed by Mother Nature. Studded into its green, velvet hills are monasteries, convenient for stressed-out city dwellers and locals alike to drop in for a taste of mindfulness at its most mindful.

Blue Cliff Monastery, started by the venerated Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, was an hour away. I made a plan to visit on what they offer as a Day of Mindfulness.

I woke up in plenty of time to arrive for the 9:30am Dharma talk. Except I forgot to factor in all of my morning rituals: a coconut oil pull, an apple cider vinegar drink (sipped, not gulped), and a light breakfast (with coffee). Packing the car with day trip necessities, I spent too much time deciding on shoes and worrying about ticks, and, with a jolt, realized that my mindful start to a mindful day was already behind schedule.

Skipping breakfast, I aimed my Subaru into Ulster County. Close to my ETA, I realized that I was not on the right road. I would get there, albeit in a roundabout way, but late. I am the type of person who can’t watch a movie if I miss the credits. I hate to be late.

Driving up to the monastery, I took a moment to breathe in the calmness of the surroundings, then entered the Great Togetherness Meditation Hall. This was the moment I dreaded: disturbing the concentration of those already seated on cushions and chairs. People who were not late. People who were mindful.

I chose a cushion and dropped myself as inconspicuously as possible into a Half Lotus pose, promising myself I would not budge for at least ten minutes. I then immersed myself into the Dharma talk, which was led by Thich Nhat Hanh himself, larger than life, on a screen.

He immediately put me at ease, soothing my guilty, tardy conscience. I knew very little about this man whom his followers call “Thay,” or “teacher,” but his demeanor was wise and gentle, and with a wit that let me know it was okay to be a human struggling in this life. Talking about the inter-relatedness of suffering and happiness, he drew a lotus blossom rooted in the earth. “Without mud, there is no lotus.” And later, with a nod to the divisiveness in our country (as I interpreted it): “Without a left side, there is no right side.”

I had just learned the day before that a relatively young family member had suffered a stroke, and I was spending this day without a phone, not knowing what his situation was. The dharma talk eventually embraced the mother of all topics: transformation from birth to death. Thay explained his belief that the timeline of life precedes our birth and extends beyond our death. And after he stirred in a little Einstein-ian physics, I left enlightened and reassured.

Next up, walking meditation. This is where my fear of ticks vied with my freshly hatched inner calm. Another newbie, a woman who was changing into white leggings (the better to see the ticks), lent me socks, while I noticed that many monks were walking barefoot. Almost more startling was seeing tennis courts and ping pong tables at the beginning of our walking meditation. Was competition part of Zen Buddhism? Regardles, in single file, we all walked into the sun-dappled woods, past a pond and a statue of Buddha (next to a not-yet-submerged drainage pipe), with periodic moments of stillness revealing a chorus of celestial birdsong. The loop led back to lunch.

I waited patiently on line until I was hovering over the cafeteria-style vegetarian spread, wanting to sample everything! The Southeast Asian vegan cuisine was to be consumed in a mindful manner within our allotted time of twenty minutes, a chime periodically reminding us to stop and breathe. I had laden my plate so full—convinced I could finish it all—that I neglected to factor in the meditative mastication and appreciation for the sun’s energy, the water, the seeds, the farmers, etc. Everything was fine until I noticed there were ten minutes left and I easily had a half-hour’s worth of mindful chewing still on my plate. Sweating bullets, I realized that if I ate faster to prevent waste, I was defeating the purpose. Surrounded by nuns and monks who were finished with their modest portions, I put my chopsticks down at the gong. Luckily, a friendly monk opposite me said I could take more time to finish. I washed my plate clean and thought about the next one and a half hours of free time. What would I do?

Wandering the grounds, I sat in a meditative garden and observed the Lowes tags accompanying the newly planted hydrangeas. Hmmm…big box stores and Buddhism—who knew? One of three hammocks seemed to have my name on it, and I dozed for a half hour, then spent the remaining free time in the corner of the reading nook, delving into dozens of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books. I learned more about the prolific output of this poet, writer, and human rights activist.

At the 3pm Dharma Share, we all sat at a long table and were asked “How do you feel?” Answers ranged from “wonderful” to “grateful” to “confused.” Mine was: “Surprised that I haven’t bolted by now.” It was true—I am a person who always wants to know where the exit door is. At the end of the dharma share, I was ready, yet a bit reluctant, to leave. Everything I had sampled was a delicious taste of what living could be like. I promised myself on I-84, as I crossed the bridge heading home in rush hour traffic, that mindfulness did not have to be a birthday gift. It can be an everyday gift.

Copyright 2015 Sharon Watts

First published YogaCityNYC

Artwork Copyright 2013 Sharon Watts

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Flying By the Seat of My Pants

Flying_Pants_by_kurochihiro33

Until recently, when asked how things were in my life, I’d say (only one quarter in jest): “Oh, you know, circling the drain.” This has been a knee jerk response for several years now, revealing either a very clogged drain, or a perfect storm of aging, mild depression, and a changing world that challenges my comfort zone.

Lately the throttle has shifted and I am (while not soaring in a cloudless sky of blue) actually in the air. Sputtering a bit, but–yes–flying! By the seat of my pants.

Which is okay. Really. After all, my pants are old favorites: well worn, shrink-to-fit Levis, so that says something right there. Still, comfort is found in strange places. We acclimate to all manner of moods and situations, where even pain and discomfort can become the norm. There is a real danger in becoming complacent in our own personal swamps.

I am not sure how my hand decided to grip that throttle and shift gears. Perhaps I got tired of the repeated perceived crisis > anxiety > result being not the end of the world. I was still standing.

I’ve started seeing the glass as half-full again, just like the old days. Looking back, that must have been before September 11, 2001. It helps to try and understand psychologically why we are the way we are, but even that doesn’t guarantee positive change. I am not sure if I believe that “Time heals everything” or if I am “Another day older and deeper in debt.”

I just know that my positive thoughts want to become my reality. The moments I choose to inhabit in the present will guide me; those spent dwelling in the past or worrying about the future will send me on detours. Will keep me in the swamp.

Creative passions still claim my attention at age 61, perhaps even more strongly than when I was 31. Flying by the seat of my pants allows me to see not only what depths I’ve visited, but what heights I intend to reach.

Illustration credit unknown, or I’d love to credit the artist/ask permission/pay! *Free (i.e. devalued) art* on the internet is part of what has kept me, a career illustrator, in such a tailspin. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

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