What Have We Here?

Yellow dog breathing beside me.  A special friend who knows me well enough to clear the way forward for me.  The sound of my dear husband’s squeaky chair as he writes. My Nora Jones Pandora station playing Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World.” My Candle flickering beside me.  Floor to ceiling windows allowing me to be outdoors on my inside day. My red hummingbird feeder, signaling my hopes that one or two little wonders will choose to stay with me over the winter.

Mindfulness comes a little more easily to those of us with heart failure.  We slow down. Our world contracts. We are more at home and more with ourselves.  

Over the past two years, my new specialized pacemaker has allowed my world to widen.  I’ve done things I never thought I could do again: walking downtown, eating out, paddling around a bit in the pool.  I stopped counting salt and water. I ate what I wanted.  

The shining glory and gold of this time was that I was able to be a grandmother to my  first grandbaby and to grow closer to my daughter and son-in-law. I can honestly say I took not one moment of my time with my granddaughter for granted. Not one moment. 

I did, however, begin to think that I was past heart failure; that perhaps my myriad other heart and health issues were all that was on my plate; that I could be the grandmother I wanted to be to Sam, that I could see my daughter and son-in-law through this next family transition, that I could, I could, I could…..

Instead, I’ve come home again.  My heart failure is back. And my Grandson is due to be born in November.

The timing is not at all what I wanted.  

And it all does break my heart, just a little.   

Back I go to noticing things in my small world.  I hear my dog sigh as he settles near me. I see the blues and pinks in my dining room.  I overhear my husband talking to a student who says: I always feel like a bother when I need help.  Indeed. Indeed.

I need help.

I let those words stand alone because, if I say them at all, I hurry past them.  I always feel like a bother when I need help, this young man admits. Hmmm. Turns out I do too.  But lucky me, I have people in my life who figure that out about me and who are so gracious, so kind and so much fun, that accepting help feels like the Blessing that it is.  These are some of the wonders that will stay with me over this winter of mine. How did I get so lucky?  

Maybe I’m finally going to learn to receive.  Imagine how much more I will have to give then.  Imagine what another period of mindfulness will teach me.  Imagine a world in which we all help one another, as we are able, and that what we can give without depleting ourselves is, most wonderfully, enough.

Imagine growing wise.  

tea pots, tea pots, tea pots

I’m thinking about tea pots all the time.  Why?  No doubt, my recent visit to “Perspectives: Georgia Pottery Invitational,” has a lot to do with it.  There I had the opportunity to attend Akira Satake’s amazing two day workshop on the beauty of imperfection.  I watched him make tea cups, tea pots and Chawans with the skill of the master that he is.  I listened to his philosophy, which is so very akin to to the heart of what and why I have my hands in clay every day.  Couple that with the one piece in the Perspectives Gallery that really spoke to me, a diminuitive and primitive ancient chinese tea pot, and I can begin to see how I came to be steeped in ideas that are now manifesting as these pots.  My challenge?  As ever, to stay true to how the clay speaks to me in my hands.  This means balancing as much  tactile-spiritual clay work as I feel is imperitive to my soul with as much technique as I feel gives me paths to form.

Let me explore this a bit more.  There are plenty of classes, lessons and utubes to show me point by point how to construct a ceramic tea pot.  There are numerous variations of handbuilt tea pots, from which I could choose ( or adapt) a pattern to make my vessel.  But my goal has never been to follow a pattern and achieve precise results.  My goal, really, is to find how the clay and my soul best spend time together, and, at the same time, to learn as many techniques with clay as I can, to throw both of these eneavors into, say, a tea pot, to simer and steep, and then to see what happens.  It is a mysterious process.  To some degree, it reminds me of how  yoga poses can elicit emotional and spiritual growth.  Yet, you do the work of learning and practicing the poses without really knowing exactly how your soul work will be accomplished.  You practice without aim.  You practice because it feel right to you to do so.  It calls to you.

Clay has become my yoga.  My meditation.  My spiritual practice.  My connection to the earth.

There is also the ongoing, primary thread of deeply honoring the beauty inherent in how imperfectly we live as incarnated beings.  I don’t try to make my tea pots as perfectly tea pot-like as I can.  That’s not me.  Those of you who know me know my simultaneously deep, painful and ultimately joyful experience of imperfection and my commitment to self expression.  So these tea pots i make are one of a kind, a bit odd, unusual, and (at least this is my intent and my experience of them), sweet.

I call these pots:  sweet tea

Stardust and Grace

Today I watched the amazing Jae West of The Liberator Family  bravely stand nearly naked on a busy city street.  She stood for all of those with eating disorders and disabling body image issues.  She stood blindfolded with pens in her hands and a sign asking people to draw a heart on her body to help her love herself; to help us love ourselves.

What is it that we see when we look at ourselves with unkind eyes?  What is it that we see when we look at someone else with unkind eyes?  We do it all the time.  I look terrible in that picture.  What’s wrong with her?  Why would anyone wear that?  These are trivial comments on one level.  But on a deeper level, this harsh way of looking at ourselves, at others,  is the most fundamental way in which we cast out, shun and “other” our very selves and our neighbors.  My goal is this:  the next time I look harshly, and it will likely be at myself, I plan to stop and  point by point articulate what I see.  I suspect that in the hurry of these commonplace harsh thoughts, we are sweeping over things that we would not actually want to inflict if we were mindful of what we were saying.  So I will draw it out, come face to face with that personal meanness, and see if I can rummage around in myself and find a gentler voice.

This is my time to clear a path or two for those that come behind me.  Surely I can do this.  I know enough.  Now I just need to bring that knowledge into my core.  Maybe I can help my younger sisters to get to a place of self love sooner than I did.

What do you think?  Is the world ready for a gathering of nearly naked crones on a busy city street?  Meanwhile, I will work on my clay Crone Vessels and think about it:)

Imperfect Vessels

As I have aged, I have become more appreciative of the vessel that is my body.  As time and illness and injury have each taken its toll on my physical vessel, I have come to regard my body as an imperfect, wonderous miracle.   It is with kinder eyes that I see myself now: lumps, bumps, bulges.  I can feel how hard my heart works, scarred though it is, to supply enough oxygen rich blood to get me up a short set of stairs or across the street.   It is an effort.  I notice that.  I appreciate it.  I’m thankful for it.

Conversely, as a young woman, I led a busy and very physical life.  Working.  Raising children.  Engaging in my favorite spiritual  past times:  hiking, swimming, kayaking, walking.  The list goes on and on.  I enjoyed using my body and I demanded a lot of it.  In significant ways, I took my youth, my beauty and my health for granted.  I was far to busy to THINK about it.  When I was still, I was in nature, thinking about oneness and connection.  I felt a great kinship with the land, the sea and the sky.  That meant a lot to me.  But I did not fully appreciate the vessel that allowed me to BE.

I imagine that my son and my husband, both of whom have had to contend with severe physical challenges, have long been more aware of their vessels.  Imperfection, physical imperfection, was and is something that they have to confront in every instance that they live and breathe in this world.  I will venture to say that I bet they never take their bodies for granted.  But those of us with fully functional  bodies usually do.  Until we age or until something goes wrong.

Rumi says there are a hundred ways to kiss the ground.   My way is through clay.  I make clay vessels, one of a kind, unique.  Each is meant to be a meditation on the beauty inherent in imperfection.   Invite me into your story and let me make a vessel in honor of your beauty.