Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sibyl of the Rhine

I'm fascinated by stories of monks and nuns, hermits and mystics who give up the world and their lives for God. They are able to do something that I only dream of doing, to dedicate themselves to a life of prayer and service.

At the age of 5, Hildegard von Bingen (born in 1098 in what is now Germany), had already started seeing visions - of light, of foresight, and of God as an all-embracing mother. At the age of 8, little Hildegard was given up as tithe (in those days 10% of each family's earnings was encouraged to be tithed to the church, so her poor mother gave up her 10th child to the church) to go and live as an oblate in a tiny room the size of a tomb.

After initially trying to escape the abbey, Hildegard eventually settled in, studying books and herbs, learning to heal, and to compose music during non-prayer hours.The hours of prayer at the abbey started at 2am for Matins, 5:30am for Lauds, 6am for Prime, 9am for Terce, 12n for Sext, 3pm for None, 5:30pm for Vespers, and 7pm for Compline before going to bed.

Saint Hildegard von Bingen
(pencil sketch by Saiisha)
From oblate, Hildegard rose in rank as magistra, and later as a prioress to her own abbey she founded at Rupertsburg. In her later years, she founded another monastery called Ebingen for her nuns - both during a time when women rising in church was a rare occurrence. But Hildegard attributed this rise to following the instructions given to her in her visions. When the church obstructed her in anyway, Hildegard was struck by a paralyzing illness which was only lifted when the church rescinded their obstructions.

Hildegard was known to have cured the blind with the water of the Rhine, and had many followers who believed in her. By the time Hildegard died in 1179, she was an abbess, a doctor of the church, a prayer composer, a music composer, a writer, a preacher, a mystic and a visionary. Even though she has been regarded as a beloved saint for centuries, she has only recently been canonized by the Vatican in 2012.

Illuminations, by Mary Sharratt, is a reverential, yet real, portrayal of Saint Hildegard von Bingen, the child, the woman, her growth and struggles, her visions and her voice. It is a totally believable and fascinating account of how this brave young woman had stood for her beliefs and belief in the medieval times when women's voices were rarely, if barely, heard.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Snow in Spring

It's the end of March. I'm waiting for the buds to bloom, but what I see when I wake up this morning is snow! Instead of dismay though, what I feel is a smile on the inside. The freshly fallen snow on the rooftops and tree branches looks so pure... pretty... precious... a present from Providence!

A silhouette of Jazzy watching the snow (and birds)
A view from my window
Bare branches of Wigela bushes
Daffodil buds bearing the brunt of a spring snow
Standing under a snow-laden Crepe Myrtle is a special feeling!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Journey of Purpose - whose Purpose?

Who hasn't asked the question to themselves, "What's the purpose of my life?" I've certainly asked it of myself many, many times over the years, and never really got a proper answer. I might have settled for one answer or the other, depending on where I was in my life at that time, but not entirely convincingly, or satisfactorily. So when I saw Pastor Rick Warren's book titled, "What on earth am I here for?" I was compelled to pick it up and bring it home.

The first line of his first chapter itself hit a nerve - "It's not about you."

And then he goes on to say, "The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That's because typically we begin at the wrong starting point - ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future?" And then the clincher - "If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose, for his purpose."

So I think I'm going to read the book and see what the rest of the 39 chapters talk about.

One exercise Rick Warren asks the reader to do is figure out what the reader's metaphor for life is. Some examples of what people said when asked to fill in the blank of "My life is a ______", are a roller-coaster, a carousel, a game, a puzzle, a journey, a symphony, a dance, etc. Pastor Warren says how you see life determines how you live - for ex., if you think life is a race, you want to win; if your metaphor for life is a marathon, you value endurance.

So I sat and thought about how I see life - yes, a journey, and a dream (or a nightmare sometimes), but mostly how I see it is as an illusion. To me, this explains why I'm always trying to let go of things. Every time I recall that this life is an illusion, hanging onto anything imaginary doesn't make sense. Over the past 6 years or so, I've let go of a lot of things that didn't seem meaningful or adding meaning to my life. Letting go makes life easier, simpler, free of distractions and attachments, most especially of beliefs. Letting go will then help hone in on what life isn't, and maybe eventually it will help answer my (soul's) eternal question - "Who am I?"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring's here? Not quite!

The spring robins are here, but they're struggling to tease worms out of the still-hard earth. I hear birdsongs when I wake up in the mornings these days, but I see dark-eyed juncos and Canadian geese still hanging around and not migrating back to the north yet. I drive by one of the backroads just to see someone else's crocuses and daffodils in bloom already, but my own daffodils are still sleepily hiding their yellow heads inside their green hoods. There's this deliciously gothic looking church with a grand magnolia tree in the backyard, but the fuzzy buds stay stubbornly buds. No sight of spring in these parts yet.

Finally I went to a nursery this morning - I figured that's one place spring will show her face early, but all I found were pansies, and more pansies, blooming their bright little faces off, but technically they're winter plants.

So I gave up on looking for spring, and instead bought a packet of pea seeds. I tucked them on the sill in the kitchen, and now I'm waiting (patiently) for a warm day to plant them. Ah... patience is a virtue a garden helps teach. Patience and hope!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Master Storyteller

"Humans create stories long before we are born, and we inherit those stories, we adopt them, and we live in those stories." -Don Miguel Ruiz

I never knew this, but I'm a great storyteller! I used to think I was too pragmatic, too practical to tell stories, to imagine fantasies, to create fairytales. Even in my writing, I've never been able to write fictional stories - my writing has always been about my own experiences, emotions, feelings, and lessons. But what surprised me just now reading Don Miguel Ruiz's "Four Agreements", is that my so called experiences are actually stories I'm telling myself. So I'm a personal storyteller - telling stories to myself, about myself.

Every incident that happens around me, I take it in, twist it, turn it, try it out a thousand different ways, and all the while I'm doing that, the storyteller inside me (my own mind) is judging, interpreting, translating, extrapolating - all fancy words for telling tales. Making up stuff. Making up lies. Fiction. I realize that there is no such thing as a fact. There are truths - universal, or relative, but no such thing as a fact. Only fiction. It's all fiction. Everything's made up in my own mind.

When a person says something, I interpret it to mean something else. When a person doesn't say anything, I translate it to mean something else anyway. If a person uses a certain tone of voice, I extrapolate an attitude. If a person does something I judge the "meaning" behind it. If my car breaks down right as I'm going to work, I read a story behind it. If a bird dies on my deck I figure it must mean something. I may be exaggerating things here to tell this story, but the point is - every little thing that happens around me is picked up by my mind, (much as a researcher or a scientist picks up his object of interest), tweaks it, pokes it, judges it, and puts it down with a judgment. The mind forgets (or ignores) that the judgment is only a theory, based on past "experiences", but once it passes judgment, the mind makes it a fact. From then on, the next thing that happens on top of it is sorted out, lined up, and trotted out as a fact, and so on.

But since the basis of these "facts" is an illusion, there is no basis. There's no basis for anything else to stand on it. So everything is inevitably an illusion. Fiction. Fantasy. Fake. False. A story.

This is how I tell myself stories, hundreds of stories, seemingly different but they're all the same. They're all based on my mind's premise that all these "experiences" are happening to me. I personalize them, give them color, paint broad brush strokes, sketch in tiny details, but in reality, nothing is happening TO me. Things just happen. People are just being themselves. Life just happens. That's the truth.

Stories may be fun when they're fairytales and fantasies, but not when the castles in the air collapse -the castles that I believe in. The mind is the master storyteller, but the stories are only fun when I don't really buy into them! The moral of this story is not to tell myself these stories. To retire from this job of my own personal storyteller.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Midlife: Living in the Middle

When winter feels like
black and white
I wish I could remember
spring's color and light.
When my choices are down
to a yes or a no
I wish I could take
the poet's choice of a middle road.
When my numbers only
range from 0 to 1
I wish I thought of
the value of infinity and its beyond.
When I balance between
all or nothing
I wish I saw the expanse of
a whole lot of something.
When I feel I'm on
the edge of life or death
I wish I could stop and
focus on a single breath.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Imagine your own Fairytale

Window into the Fairy world... oh I wonder what happens within!
Garden Window - 8x10 - stone window - trailing vines - original nature photography

The court of the Fairy Kingdom... where they gather to talk of adventures yet to begin!
Court of Fairy Kingdom - 5x7 - original romantic / nature photography

The tree that glows from within... with the knowing of the woods and the light
Glowing Tree - 8x10 - Japanese Maple - original nature photography

Warns of the Troll who lives under the bridge, and eats anything in sight!
Troll under the Bridge - 5x7 - original woodland / magical / nature photography

So to pass your hurdle, pay your toll... every adventure has its disaster
Troll Toll - 5x7 - original woodland / magical / nature photography

But there's always a light at the end of every tunnel
Follow the Fairy Path - 5x7 - original romantic / magical / nature photography

And for every fairytale, a Happily Ever After!
For the Fairy King and Queen - 5x7 - original romantic / magical / nature photography

 "There are fairies everywhere: under bushes, in the air,
 playing games just like you play, singing through their busy day.
 So listen, touch, and look around - in the air and on the ground.
 And if you watch all nature's things, you might just see a fairy's wing."
 (~ Anonymous)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Saiisha - 0 / Universe - 1

So I'm still unhappy - I think - that's what it feels like anyway, based on the lack of joy, smiles or laughter in me. I'm pushing myself to find laughter, something to smile about, but it feels forced. And pretty quickly I'm back to my new norm - one of the 50 shades of unhappiness - sadness, sorrow, grief, melancholy, distress, unease, disappointment, depression - no matter how many different names I find for my ugh feelings, they're all the same - unhappiness.

Unhappy about dashed dreams, not getting my way, resentful of life, resisting of life itself. Life gives me lemons but I don't want to make lemonade - I find excuses - that the lemons are rotten, the weather is wintry, or that I'll only make lemonade when I get the perfect summer weather and the perfect lemons. So I keep putting off my happiness and any ability for happiness to a later date - for when the weather changes, when the stars line up, or when the sun orbits around me. It's not going to happen, and yet I resist. I stand stubbornly stuck where I am, and try to oppose the sun, the stars and any smiles they try to bring me.

How do I break this streak of stubbornness? How do I give up my resistance and be more welcoming and open to what the universe wants to bring me? It would have been easier if the universe brought me what I wanted, but if there's anyone more stubborn than I am, it's the universe. It only wants to bring me what I NEED to learn my lessons, not what I WANT to get my own way.  So we're at a stalemate - the universe and I - each stuck in our own space.

I think I know who's going to win this round (and every round), but I keep trying anyway. If I wanted to win, I should have picked someone my own size!

God's Golden Finger  - 8x10 - original nature photography

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Backyard Partymakers

All I do is put out some food, and the partymakers don't even need invitations!
[3/11 - edited to add our latest visitor - a red fox... scroll down to see]



Sunday, March 3, 2013

For peace comes dropping slow...

How I love those words, almost as if peace is a taste - of honey, on a syrupy summer day. They're from Yeats's beloved poem, The Lake of Innisfree. (For my own way to honor this poem, read about my visit to a lake house last summer). So I get drawn to this poem every now and then, and when I saw the title of Margaret Roach's book, I had to read it.

It's her own memoir, how she quit her corporate executive job to creating a life for herself, out of gardening, blogging, and writing. She writes about her farmhouse, her distant but kind neighbors, her very alive animals - snakes, frogs and birds, and a cat named Jack who adopted her, even though she claimed she wasn't a cat person. She writes about how she went from a New York city life of glass buildings and fancy restaurants, to living in her sweats and not knowing who she was anymore. When the designer shoes and expensive haircuts went away, who is she? She talks through her thoughts, stories, quirks and fears with honesty and humility; so even though she does get rambling and lost in her own story sometimes, I didn't mind it at all.

An exciting find for me, through the book was her gardening blog:, and a book by the same name. I'm not sure if she found peace yet, but I think she made peace with herself and her life, which I'd love to have a taste of in my own life!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Stillness Grows

Pictures I took on my walk in the park this morning. It's actually not really a park - more a garden, an enclosed secret garden, or so I like to think - my secret garden. It's a heartwarming sight to see these tiny green things grow out of the winter earth - signs of spring, signs of hope, smiles for the soul. I brought home a single winter rose for the Buddha - a reminder for the rest of the week when winter feels weary.
Sitting Still... Doing Nothing...
Spring Comes...

Grass Grows...