Archives for category: Performance

A beeping smoke alarm recently signaled the need for a battery change. Reaching for the container of replacements, I was greeted by my mother’s handwriting on a box she had addressed to us decades ago. Each time I open it I welcome with a smile the waves of memory her signature summons.

My mom has been gone for more than twenty years. Her writing is more precious with the knowledge that it came from the years before degenerating eyesight deterred her from writing at all. In my mind’s eye the squiggly lines of her script morph quickly into moments with her that have become increasingly prized for their truths and their absence.

Our signature is a unique witness to who we are and what we stand for. Legal contracts require it as a testament to our half of the obligation. It conveys to our friends and loved ones the special connections of our relationships and our commitment to them. The way we sign off tells who we are. It is as true of our lives as our letters.

I read recently that some schools no longer teach cursive, apparently yielding to the dominance of the digital age. If so, the speed and short hand of texting and emojis comes at a price. I once devoted time to practicing calligraphy, searching for a distinctive presence on the page. It forced me to think about who I was and what I wanted my signature to convey. Then literally I had to put it in writing.

Perhaps that is the core message: what our words and deeds say about us to ourselves and others become our life’s signature and the legacy we leave for our friends and loved ones

As the events linked to Charlottesville continue to unfold, three references come to mind.

The first is a mural in one of the library reading rooms of the college I attended. It is titled An Epic of American Civilization. Painted between 1932-34 by Jose Clemente Orozco, the mural depicts the influence of indigenous people and European colonists on North America and the impact of wars and rapid industrialization on the human spirit. It is a dark picture, indeed, and reminds me of the deeply embedded roots of our human dispositions. Those of you with interest can learn more from a critical article written by Erin Harding in 1999.

The second source is Colin Woodard’s book American Nations in which he describes the motivations and distinctive values of the waves of those who came to populate this country. One of his conclusions is that the dominant values each group brought with them persist today and account for many of our regional differences.

The third source comes from the oft-referenced and aspirational words of Lincoln’s first inaugural (March 4, 1861) at the outbreak of the civil war.

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

As with many today, I wonder whether the better angels of our nature will prevail and how each of us can find the courage to bring forth the best in ourselves to meet the tasks at hand.

The power has been out in our community for two days, and our local co-op forecasts that for some of us the outage will last another 24-36 hours. While we in northern New England have learned to prepare for this form of March madness, the blizzard calls us back to basics. I think of two for this post.

The first is how much I take for granted. Focusing first on the mundane: flipping a switch to see in the dark: turning a tap for running water; pressing a handle to flush a toilet; opening the fridge or the freezer for food; taking a hot shower at day’s end.

It doesn’t take long for those mundane daily “dos” to morph into the realization that there are many in our world whose power is perpetually out, who scramble each day for food, shelter and safety. There is also the realization that our power grid is a network that is vulnerable not only to mother nature but to human malevolence.

The second basic lesson derives from the first: gratitude. Peggy and I have shelter and sufficient experience and resources to manage the inconveniences of this outage. We know that dedicated men and women are working under very demanding conditions to restore the power. We also know that neighbors are checking in with each other, especially the elderly, to make sure they have the essentials they need.

The Chinese pictograph for our word “crisis” combines images for “danger” and “opportunity.” The danger accompanying a blizzard holds the opportunity for each of us to stop taking our lives and life styles for granted and return to the ground of gratitude for self-reliance as well as interdependence with others in community.

 

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When events overwhelm us, it is helpful to remember that there are only two things we control, our attitude and our effort. Words from a dear friend this week offer an exercise that can elevate our attitudes and what we do with them.

Anne Hillman is a musician, author, educator, speaker and small group facilitator who focuses her work on understanding and nurturing the interior life. In the material she shared from her current Soul Work course the following caught my attention.

It is a meditation from the Sermon on the Mount, incorporating a contemporary interpretation by Philip Newell. I commend it to you.

Contemplation Practice: Healing the Separation

Notice which of the first lines in each couplet jump out at you. If you choose one to contemplate in silence for several days, it may provide insight. Perhaps choose another . . . and another. Listen for what each one means to you—and what you may need to do to live it.

Blessed are those who know their need for theirs is the grace of heaven.

Blessed are those who weep for their tears will be wiped away.

Blessed are the humble for they are close to the sacred earth.

Blessed are those who hunger for earth’s oneness for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the forgiving for they are free.

Blessed are the clear in heart for they see the Living Presence.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they are born of God.

 The Beatitudes— Matthew 5:3-9

—Interpretation, Philip Newell

 

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While running the rapids called Hell’s Half Mile on the Green River years ago, I was spilled into the depths of a hydraulic hole when our raft caught a rock. Trapped at the bottom, pummeled in the deafening roar of the turbulence and looking up at the light on the surface, my world slipped into slow motion.

The image returns today. Caught in the churn of current events, I struggle to keep my head from debilitating panic and my heart from unsustainable pounding. I am searching for words that will be a life line of perspective to pull me out of the hole and back into the raft.

Born under the sign of Libra, I am disposed to seek balance and harmony, especially when it comes to the scales of justice. The prophet Micah captures it best for me: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

How does one “do” kindness in the face of injustice? When conflict and obstruction replace comity and compromise for the common good? When zero sum reigns supreme, requiring losers so that others may win? When truth is held hostage to alternative universes of spin? When fear fed vilification of “the other” replaces a welcoming light for the stranger?

How can one be true to self and speak truth to power? What are the words that will free our trapped longing to fill our depleted lungs, releasing us the way the Green River freed its captive decades ago?

How do we in this day live the prayer of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace?

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What is the difficult conversation you are avoiding and with whom – partner? friend? boss? self? No doubt, it wouldn’t be difficult if it didn’t matter, and you are postponing it because you want to get it right.

A recent trip to the dentist yielded a lot more than a new crown. He and I frequently converse before and after he attends to my teeth. In our most recent exchange we shared our mutual aversion with the current polarization in our country. As I left, he handed me a summary of a model based on the book Crucial Conversations.  

Crucial conversations are those where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. The key to handling them is to achieve and maintain dialogue. The hand out he gave me captured several key principles for guiding dialogue, but the following seem most applicable for the length of this post.

  • Be honest and clear about what you really want as a result of the conversation.
  • Help create and maintain a safe container for discourse. One tool in assessing safety is to be mindful of forms of silence (e.g. withdrawing or withholding meaning by understating or selectively sharing true opinions) and forms of violence (e.g. coercing the other to adopt your perspective and stereotyping something to dismiss it).
  • Listen actively to each other’s “stories” and explore with genuine curiosity each narrative without blame or judgment. (e.g. “I wonder what that is all about?”). Revise the narratives as appropriate.
  • Create a path of action forward based on mutually beneficial outcomes with specific benchmarks for accountability.

While there is a lot more to respectful dialogue than space here allows (click here for an outline of the book), we need not use that as an excuse for delaying important conversations.

 

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It is early Sunday morning. The candle burns without a flicker in the still air of the room. Rain begins tapping gently on the skylight, its arrival a surprise. As the tempo increases the mantra of my meditation yields to the refrain of camp directors I once knew. It is a silver day.

Implicit in that message were two expectations. On the one hand, it informed campers and staff that most activities would be held indoors or special gear was needed for being outside. At a more sublime level the announcement was a pivot to channel any potential disappointment into opportunity.

There are many silver linings to a rainy day. On our hillside the thirsty garden drinks, as do the parched fields. The empty brook bed sings again accompanied by the chorus of forest leaves deflecting the downpour. The bird baths fill. Outdoor projects yield to unfinished work inside. It is a metaphor for turning inward, and for those of us who are introverts inward is home base!

The greatest lesson of a silver day is a reminder about the power of expectations. They shape our attitudes and effort which in turn influence the way we show up. A quote attributed to Henry Ford says it all: If you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!

What does a rainy day say to you? Do your expectations shift? Do you anticipate a rainbow?

 

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Have you ever wished you had more time to finish all that is on your plate? What if you had an extra day? Would you spend it any differently? I doubt most of us would. Case in point: this year is leap year. According to the rules we have created, every four years we grant ourselves one more day. So, did you use this past Monday any differently? Or did you pretty much follow your routine for the first work day of the week?

Whatever the amount of time granted us in life, we control our attitude and our effort toward it. Suppose you allocate 15 minutes per day differently. Depending on your goal you may devote that time to rest, a relationship, meditation, prayer, exercise or working on that project you are postponing.

Here’s the calculation: assuming you allocate 8 hours for sleep and hygiene, you have 16 waking hours each day. 15 minutes X 365 days = 5,475 minutes; divided by 60 minutes = 91+ hours; divided by 16 waking hours = 5+ days. That’s five times more than leap year!

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that it all begins with focusing on the present moment.

To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.

 Peace is all around us – in the world and in nature – and within us – in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice.

What practice will you begin or resume today?

 

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In a note last week to her parents whom we know well a young woman recounted a conversation they had almost thirty years ago. It ended with their mutual conclusion that it was time for her to leave home. It was not an easy decision for any of them. She was completing eighth grade.

The prospect of her absence from her family as she grew into adulthood loomed large, but what prevailed over convention was a compelling gravitational pull. In was, in the words of Joseph Campbell, to follow her bliss, and for this young girl her bliss was dance.

Her path took her many places. She danced in New York and venues in Europe, Russia and South America. She created her own company and along the way discovered a love of teaching.

The occasion for her note of gratitude was the culminating performance for her Master of Fine Arts degree. She choreographed and danced in a 30-minute piece of her creation involving twelve other dancers. She chose the music and integrated graphics created by art students who attended one of her rehearsals. In the audience her parents beamed along with siblings, her husband and her daughter.

Words from Kahlil Gibran came to mind.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

 

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Last week I joined some friends in harvesting ice for their refrigeration system. Much more than an annual ritual it is only one element in the composition of their chosen path of homesteading. Living off the grid, they have been creating a life of self-sufficiency that nurtures mind, body and spirit and leaves a minimal carbon footprint on the planet.

Cutting and retrieving 120 pound blocks of ice requires teamwork, and our friends are able to join with staff and volunteers of a local summer camp to share in the labor and harvest. A necessity before electric refrigeration began to replace the ice box, gathering hunks of frozen water has become an annual tradition of the Rockywold Deephaven Camps since the late 1800s. They continue to use the ice boxes of yesteryear for their refrigeration.

As this 2-minute video of this year’s operation reveals, today’s ice-collecting methods include some contemporary tools – e.g., gas-powered saws, winches and trucks. Sparingly, our friends use some of those devices as well for cutting and gathering firewood and transporting heavy loads, although they use manual block and tackle pulley systems to lift the ice blocks into place.

Covered in a foot of sawdust to insulate them from the summer heat, the blocks are stored in an ice house and will last up to 12 months. Harvesting ice is a throw-back for sure to days when folks tapped every resource available for survival in northern climes and banded together to help each other make it through the year.

In today’s world of short-term grab for greed and convenience, I celebrate occasions that highlight both the ingenuity and determination of self-sufficiency and the mutual interdependence of community.

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