L is for Love (although it could also be Late!)!

Morning dew on tiny flowers Copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Morning dew on tiny flowers
Copyright Debra Myers Woodward

This weekend my nephew got married to the love of his life, really of all of our lives. They are a beautiful couple both inside and out!

So this got me to thinking, just what is love?  That may seem like a ridiculous question, right? We all have experience with this thing called love. And yet the word love can be used to describe how we feel about chocolate as well as our sister, or our favorite sports team  and our spouse.

So it seems useful to say that this is something that should be meditated on early and often to find what it means to us.

Perhaps one way to make a distinction in types of love is whether it is selfless or covetous. If your “love” leads you to covet the object of your affection, like chocolate or your boyfriend, maybe that’s not love but desire or possession. On the other hand, a love that is selfless or unconditional is truer to the real thing.

The Bible says that God is Love. And I see this as the truest form of Love. It is spiritual and universal. It heals and redeems. It encourages, uplifts, and comforts. And this divine Love embraces the whole world and all that is in it without condition or requirement. And that is truly a saving Grace.

Love seems to be easier to define by what it does, how it looks, and its effect than by its essence.  What does love mean to you?

K is for Kaleidoscope

Nautilus Shell copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Nautilus Shell
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

Remember the kaleidoscopes we had as a kid that were cardboard tubes with all sorts of things sandwiched between two pieces of plastic probably.  You could shake it and here them, and hold them up to your eye and twist the end to watch them tumble in the fractured, repeated image.

This reminds me of a concept I learned about nature that is pretty freaking amazing.  In nature there are these things called fractals. Fractals are patterns that repeat at every scale.  The pictured nautilus shell is an example, as is ice forming on a surface.

I learned that some trees follow fractal patterns–all the way from their cell structure, to the veins in the leaves, to how the leaves attach to branches, and branches to trunks and even how they grow in the forest.  That was an amazing discovery.

Here is an experiment you can do for yourself.

Take a look at a tree sometime.  Notice how the branches are positioned. Do they come out of the trunk directly opposite one another? Or do they come out all at one point? Or do they come out staggered up the trunk?

Now look at how the leaves are attached to the branches.  Do you notice that they are exactly positioned to the branch as the branch is to the trunk? And look at the veins on the leaves. Don’t they match this pattern as well?

I remember reading that the formation of how the trees grow in the forest (for some species at least) will match the pattern as well! That would certainly make it easier to anticipate where to look for a specific tree if using it for medicinal or dietary purposes.

I bet most people aren’t aware of these patterns in nature all around us.  And I believe that all life is a series of patterns that we miss, because we can’t see the whole picture or we don’t look closely enough. What might you notice if you looked for patterns of behavior, or patterns in societies? Might there be a bigger picture that we just haven’t noticed? And how might that help us live more peaceful and happy lives?

I have appreciated learning more about behavioral patterns through study of the Enneagram. Through this study, I have discovered ways that my personality runs on auto-pilot in specific ways. Seeing these patterns has helped me to alter my behavior toward more healthy ways of relating to myself and others. It has helped me to break bad habits as well.

For more about the Enneagram, check out the Enneagram Institute here.

J is for Judgment

At some point in my life, not all that many years ago, I suddenly woke up to the idea of radically not judging others.

I think the idea was planted the day that someone was driving insanely crazy near me in a lot of traffic.  First they tailgated me, so I slowed way down.  Then when they had an opening they flew past me on the right, cut across my lane in front of me and into the left turn lane at the light we were approaching.  Of course, I blew my horn and probably gave them angry face — you know the one.  But when I looked to the left to see where they were going, my heart sank.  They were pulling into the emergency entrance of a hospital.

I instantly felt childish and inconsiderate.  I had assumed they were jerks, (another J word!) but it turned out that the jerk was me.

After that, I began looking at people differently. I realized that I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know why they act the way they do, even day after day. Who knows what difficult upbringing they may have had, or even when they are my own family members, I don’t know what all they experienced.  I don’t know how they were treated in school. I don’t know what hopes they weren’t allowed to develop.

I am realizing now that I still am challenged by drivers who ride my bumper or cut me off (or heaven forbid, drive slowly!!)  But I can say, that in most areas of my life, I have really learned to judge much less often–not just others, but myself as well.  And my life has a lot less stress and more friends for it.

H is for Hallelujah

River series, Autumn NFS Pastel on paper and canvas
River series, Autumn
Pastel on paper and canvas 30″x40″

When I first heard Jeff Buckley singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, I was so moved tears ran down my face.  He captures such depth and broken-heartedness. His voice, so intimate and personal, gently floats along like a slow-moving wide river carrying all who listen along with him.  It is a slow dance; a gentle rain on tender shoots of grass. He finishes the ballad by holding an impossibly long note, which you will try to hold too the second or third time around.

And having written the above, I found it interesting to go looking for his life story a bit. I knew he died young, but I didn’t know that he drowned in the Mississippi River near Nashville while swimming alone at night.  For several years I lived near the Mississippi River, and it was this very river I was thinking of as I wrote the first paragraph.  Its interesting to me how writing, like life, knows its way and shares it’s wisdom so generously without our even asking.

Hallelujah, indeed.

To listen to Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah, go here.

Note: The above pastel painting was made during the time I lived near the Mississippi near St. Louis just as the water started to recede from the annual flooding.  The small house is on one of the islands. The stacks in the background have been taken down and replaced with a larger single stack for the electric plant that provides for the communities surrounding it.

G is for Grounded

"Cicada Chorus"Today I will post at this very late hour about Groundedness. There were a lot of words I could have picked for today that all sort of relate to the same thing…God, Grace, Ground.  I find that as I live into any of these, they all find purpose and activity in my life.

For me, being grounded is essential to living out a happy and peaceful life day to day.  Otherwise I spend way too much time thinking about the past and the future.  But staying grounded in the present moment takes effort!

I have several spiritual practices to help me stay centered. Here are a few:

Meditation cultivates real stillness so that I can listen for the divine influence of Universal Love.

Journaling helps me to give words and “talk” out whatever is going on that feels off, irritating or upsetting.  It is also an opportunity to free write or “take dictation” from that spiritual voice that we all have. Some call it an Inner Teacher.  Some call it God. Others might say the Universe.  You know the one, because you can’t ignore it!

I also take long walks almost daily (several times a week anyway) out in a park with my dog.  It exercises my body, lets my dog exercise his body, and breathes in nature. I don’t know any better way to say that.

Do you have any spiritual or centering practices that help you stay grounded?

F is for Found Poetry

I really liked another AtoZ Blogger‘s idea to write a Dadaist poem. And so today when I couldn’t come up with a word for F, I looked up types of poetry that start with F and discovered something called a “found poem” popular many decades ago.

Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. (from Wikipedia)
So when I googled found poetry, amazing artistic images came up of old book pages with loops around words and paintings and drawings in between.  I am so excited at this discovery, I can barely sit still.  So rather than just write out a Found Poem, I will make one!
This comes from the only thing I had with me, a page I had typed up for a meeting last week and colored pens and a blue highlighter.  Work with what you’ve got!  Enjoy.
Peace Spoke
Peace Spoke
                about refugees,
someone       with

E is for Elephants

Song of the elephantsThis is one of my favorite animals. I find something so healing and comforting about their large lumbering bodies and soft eyes. They seem to be the definition of peace and steadfastness. It saddens me greatly that they are being poached in such huge numbers and that we may live to see the last of the wild elephants.

I remember reading about elephants on a website devoted to animal communication. I learned that elephants have been found to have very low frequency communication which they “listen” to through their feet and trunks. (Read more about this at NatGeo here.) They also are known to have ancient migratory routes that they travel regardless of fences or other barriers which they may trample rather than walk around.  The explanation by Anna Breytenbach, a well-known animal communicator was that they are singing the earth into balance, along with their counterparts in the ocean, whales.

There is obvious intelligence and emotion in these animals as evidenced in their behavior noted in many articles. Here is one and another. And as the largest mammals on land, there is a compelling reason to protect their place on earth whether you believe they sing the earth into balance or not.

And me, being me, I sometimes sit and contemplate what would it sound like if I were to sing the earth into balance? What might my song be?

D is for Dragons

Lace-wing LandscapeDo you know how sometimes there are things in life that you just don’t want to deal with?  It might be a difficult relationship, or knotty problem, or even a important thing like your health?  It’s too … something… too scary? too uncertain? too hard to deal with, so you don’t.  You just keep pushing the thought of it away, because whenever it comes up, DRAGONS.  That’s what it feels like. Fire-breathing dragons.

My dragon has been the thought of getting a regular full-time job. I’ve worked part-time jobs over the years, and I have sold art, writing, and other things along the way (candles, anyone?) But the whole 9 to 5 thing really has me  flustered.

This morning I took a closer look at why that was so scary to me. And it was clear that I was holding the image of my former full-time jobs from over 20 years ago–sitting at a desk all day, waiting for the weekends, dealing with back and shoulder pain and bosses’ expectations. Or on the flip-side, working in retail or food on my feet all day.

And it hit me. Even though over 20 years has passed, I still believe that all full-time jobs (that I might be able to get) are like that. Talk about being stuck looking in the rearview mirror! Who’s driving the car?!

If we are going to move forward, we really need to look where we are going, and spend much less time looking in the rearview mirror.  It’s helpful to glance back there from time to time, but if we stay focused there, we have to stop the car or have a wreck.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s around the bend. Can you identify areas in your life where you are focused on the dragons in your past?  Take a look more closely, maybe the fire is just all smoke and mirrors.

C is for Capture

"Bowie's Labyrinth"So when I sat down yesterday to think about what I would write about, I wondered what word that begins with C would come up.  Immediately, “capture” came to thought.  I started to dismiss it and then couldn’t help but wonder, what would I write about capture?

Two things came to thought right away.  The first, a common use of the word capture, was that of capturing an animal.  It implied traps and cages.  Similarly, capturing a criminal might bring up the idea of jail. But the idea that really resonates with me is capturing an image, as in photographing something.

In all the first two examples of capturing, you are confining something to a certain space.  In the latter example, you are confining the image to a moment in time.  Usually we try to capture moments that are meaningful or beautiful or happy.  And often we look back on those photographs with melancholy or sadness because those moments have passed. Things are not as they once were.

And here is where I want to explore a different response.  Instead of longing for an imagined past, or hoping for a better future (or afraid of a bad future), I am trying to live in the moment I am in.  To take in the beauty, the sadness, the joy, the boredom of THIS moment. It won’t come again. It can’t really be captured and held at all.  It must be lived and let go. The more I am able to do that, the more peace I experience. Centered in Now, I am fully present to you, to me, and to this moment. And this moment is something I don’t want to miss.