As Charged

GUILTY
I justify my being by doing
Laundry, dishes, errands
Dusting. Why am I more
Valuable, less guilty, when
I do and do more and never
Be. For being is not enough.
Reflect, ponder, read, ponder
More. Being is not enough.
Doing makes me real.

I found this poem tucked away in my files and dug it out yesterday. I wrote a post about it that I promptly deleted. It was too fake, too crafted, like something I’d write for a class. (Yes, those same classes I ditched for the comfort of science.) I pretended that its meaning was deep and spiritual, and I juxtaposed staring into the faces of my husband and children to tell them how much they matter with staring into the mirror and still feeling empty. Bull. All of it. I’m not going to stare meaningfully into your face and impart a loving message. I’m going to tear my gaze from the TV and ask you to clean the litter box, or do the dishes. I’m going to sit here, reading my book or writing my blog, and feel just fine.

So where did this poem come from? Is there any truth in it? Yes, of course there is. It’s right there in the title: guilt. That’s the source, that’s the truth, and it’s just as valid today as when I wrote it. (While I don’t have the exact date at my finger tips, I know it was when my kids were younger and in school, and I was a stay-at-home mom.) I was spending time every day writing while no one was home, and I felt tremendous guilt about it. I wasn’t trying to get published, I was enjoying writing poems. And I was reading a lot of spiritual growth and self-help books. All lovely, unless you’re looking at yourself through the eyes of your workaholic husband.

Now, to be fair, I have to say that this interpretation of myself through his eyes had nothing at all to do with how he actually viewed me or my writing or reading or anything else I did with my day. We had made the choice together that I would stay home with the kids, and I always had his full support. The guilt I felt was entirely self-imposed, because I wasn’t happy with the job I was doing. (I’m a lousy housekeeper, I really am. I try, and I’m relatively clean, but I keep a very cluttered house. If you visit, the dishes will be done and the laundry put away, but there will be dust and piles of books and toys—lots of toys.)

The truth is, I would be as much of a workaholic as he is, if I had chosen a career outside the home. That side of myself roars to life when I’m employed, even if I’m working part-time. When I’m an employee, something in my psyche revs up, kicking my sense of responsibility into overdrive. Housework doesn’t have the same effect. The truth is, I like to read and ponder and think and putter. I don’t feel compelled to be physically active every second of the day like some people (hi, Sis).

But I do feel guilt. I think that’s why I was drawn to this poem. I’m trying to write every day again. I’ve got stacks of unread books on the table. I want to indulge myself, but I haven’t made peace with that. I want to move past feeling guilty about feeling fine with being. As I do so, I hope to find a balance between being and doing that benefits me as well as my family.

One of Those Days

ELUSION

Images eluding me
Ducking behind cracked metaphors
Hiding under layers of yellowed analogies
Spinning away from my pen.

Dancing naked, formless before me
Shamelessly beautiful, beyond capture
For sale? I beg to touch
To feel, to smell their sweetness
I will pay anything to own one.

Dissolving into mocking laughter
They fan the pages of dusty volumes
Pointing to dead sisters who blossomed long ago
Still remembered, talked about, spent and used.

Are you so heartless? Their accusation
Whirling frantically, twisting my soul.
Would you do the same to us?
Shamelessly.
With pleasure.

Too Big

Need a reminder to start that exercise program and lose that weight? Try shoveling out after a blizzard. I tell myself this after every storm. One of these days it’s going to stick.

BODY
today i felt the weight of you
as never before.
upright, we move together
and though i am not pleased,
i am not shocked, nor alarmed.
but turn perception on its head,
and suddenly i feel you
bearing down on my neck.
frighteningly large, i loom above myself.
i am too much for me to handle,
you are too much for me to bear.
i breathe in slowly and relax
stretched out on my mat, i dream.
we are thin, strong, supple.
we bend with ease and grace.
and from any point of view,
my body and i are perfectly matched
and at one.

Blizz’d Out

I wasn’t going to write today. I gave myself a pass, since I had to spend hours digging out from the storm. What changed my mind? The cat.

She gets anxious when I’m out of the house, even if she can see me (she watches me from the windows when I’m in the yard). As soon as I sat down after shoveling, she hopped onto my lap and settled herself in for a nice nap. Typical cat behavior, yes, but it made me think. She could have napped anywhere and met her physical needs. Her wanting to be on me went beyond the physical. She was taking care of her emotional needs, soothing her anxiety.

Recently I’ve made progress with taking better care of my own physical needs. I had done well today with the storm. My husband made me promise last night that I wouldn’t go out to shovel by myself this morning. I usually can’t help myself: if there’s snow and I’m awake, I’ll be the first one outside. Today, I waited. Later, when the storm had finally passed and we went out for round two, I listened to my body and quit when I started feeling a bit sick. For me, that’s progress.

What does this have to do with writing a blog? Writing has always been a way I’ve taken care of my emotional needs, but I started blogging as a way to take care of another part of myself. I made the commitment to write (and post) something daily, because I believed that would honor my spirit. It would help me focus and give me a reason to write.

There will be times when I can’t write or post. Today wasn’t one of those days.

Weathering the Storm

It’s winter in the Northeast, and a storm’s coming. That’s hardly news around here, right? Why then did I spend so much time yesterday afternoon waiting in line—for groceries, for gas, for coffee. Every store we visited was packed. Why all the fuss? We had just gotten about seven inches of snow the day before. Nobody blinked. This time we’re expecting two feet of snow and blizzard conditions. Even for us, that’s significant. From the lines in the grocery store yesterday, it was clear that people are heeding the warnings, preparing for power outages, and getting ready to hunker down.

I confess, I love watching storm coverage. The meteorologists get so excited when they can use words like historic and blockbuster. I’ve had the TV on all day so I don’t miss any of the updates. (The governor just declared a State of Emergency and announced a driving ban starting at midnight.) No Reality TV show compares to Storm Team 5 on high alert.

Knowing that I’m relatively safe inland, I’m more excited than nervous. Still, I busied myself this morning getting chores done around the house in case we lose power. Dishes and laundry are running, everything chargeable is plugged in. I’m prepared!

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had this much advanced warning for those other storms, the ones life throws at us? Even when they’re not historic or blockbuster, they can do some damage. You’d think by now that I’d at least check the radar daily and keep an eye out for developing systems. I don’t. I’m the one scrambling to find plywood and nails when the storm hits. I’d like to figure out how to do a better job preparing. Part of that is understanding my current strategies and figuring out what other options I have.

When my life gets stormy, I pull in, preferring to ride out the storm on my own. I put that plywood to good use, blocking out everything and everyone around me, ignoring orders to evacuate or invitations to shelter. I’ll wish you luck with your storm as I pound nails and build my barricades. It’s not that I don’t care, I do. I want you to be well. I guess I just expect us each to take care of ourselves.

My sister is our family’s FEMA. She runs scenarios, has evacuation routes mapped and shelters prepared. She has contingency plans for her contingency plans. She’s thinking not only about herself, but the rest of us as well. There are times the worry keeps her up at night, but overall she feels better thinking ahead. For me, having plans is useful, running disaster scenarios is not.

I’d like to find that balance. I’ve read a lot about meditation. I’ve bought how-to books and CDs. (I’m currently reading Jack Kornfield.) Like other habits I haven’t successfully developed, meditation practice remains sporadic. It does seem to help, though, in reminding me that storms come and go. There will be another once this one is done.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to examine my life and my responses to those storms, large and small.

Am I the meteorologist, checking computer models, making predictions, warning others of impending doom?
Am I organizing the shelter and looking out for everyone else’s needs?
Am I seeking shelter? Turning to others for support and help to make it through?
Am I hunkered down behind boarded up windows, determined to face whatever comes on my own?

And what happens when the storm passes? Am I checking on my neighbors, surveying my own damage? thankful for what I have left? Or devastated by the changes, the losses?

Maybe I’m cheerfully shoveling the snow. Or better yet, building snowdragons.

Snowdragons

We’re expecting a huge snowstorm tonight. It’s cold enough here that the snow should be on the lighter, drier side. That’s great for shoveling, but not as fun for playing. When our kids were little, instead of making snowmen, we used to make snowdragons. I’d like to try it with our granddaughter one of these days.

SNOWDRAGONS

Snowdragons caper across covered lawns.
Icicles cling to the windows at dawn.
Wind shakes the tree branches, scattering snow.
Critters all search for warm places to go.

They dance and they tumble with cold and wet faces,
Leaving sleigh tracks and footprints in all the best places.
Exhausted by nightfall they listen for mom
Calling them in to dry off and get warm.

Snowy boots and chill jackets peeled off in the hall,
Ski pants and mittens and hats they let fall,
Then they tromp in together on bare little feet,
Snowdragon children all wanting to eat.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Anyone know a protective spell to ward off flu? A meditation perhaps? Affirmation even? I’ll take what I can get. To be honest, I’ll try them all.

Some people would say that’s my problem. I’m too willing to give almost anything a try, even when it comes to religion. Not what you’d expect (and certainly not what my parents wanted) for someone raised in a devout Catholic family, complete with one priest, three nuns, and eight years of Catholic schooling. That eight years should have been a red flag—my parents, aunts, uncle and sister all had at least twelve.

Not me. I couldn’t wait to escape the itchy wool skirts, even though I still went to Mass, said my prayers, and asked few questions. I hid my interests in reincarnation and near-death experiences from my mother. I had gotten in trouble once when she caught me reading The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. In my defense, it was in the bookcase in the dining room. I didn’t know that it was my brother’s book (the only explanation for how it got there), or that I shouldn’t have been reading it. My mother, though, made that point quite clear, while leaving the why of it a little fuzzy.

Lesson learned: don’t let mom know what you’re reading. Even as adults, if my siblings and I were swapping books of questionable (metaphysical) content when we met at my parents’ house, we’d make sure they were hidden in bags.

Before I cannonballed into metaphysical waters, I spent years away from the Catholic church, immersed in a non-denominational fundamentalist Christian group that cured me of organized religion for good. Since then, I’ve read it all: witchcraft, tarot, manifesting, channelling, reincarnation, near-death experiences, intuition, remote viewing, alien encounters. I’ve taken classes in Buddhism and comparative religions. I’ve read mystics and heretics and everyone who’s made an appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. I watch The Long Island Medium, and Ancient Aliens. I pray to St. Anthony when I lose things, and I ask angels to protect me when I drive. My daughter calls me a Cathgnostigan (A Catholic agnostic pagan).

The more I read, the more I question. The more I question, the more I know that . I want to believe in magic. I want to believe in a world where good things happen unexpectedly. I want to believe in angels and Spirit and miracles. I want to believe that there are mysteries in the universe that we haven’t solved. I want to believe I’m connected to something bigger than myself.

I don’t always succeed. During some intensely stressful times, I disavowed any belief in goodness, in joy, in love, in God. I fervently hoped that death would be an end to all being, all consciousness, and I wished daily for that death. Yet other times, I found myself reciting prayers from childhood, or part of the Communion Rite from the Mass: Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In Your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety…. Despite myself, I sought comfort in the familiar and the spiritual. Atheism wouldn’t stick.

I like to think that choosing to embrace the magical, holding a door open for the spiritual, coexists with intelligent inquiry and discernment. It’s a way to reaffirm that there is much we don’t know about ourselves and our universe. It’s a way to stay curious, open, and childlike. It’s a way to connect to life, germs and all.