Saturday, December 31, 2016

TIME FOR PLAY...

In the final hours of this tumultuous year of 2016, there is the human need to recap and revisit – and, hopefully, to regroup for what is ahead. Besides all of the seismic events on the national political scene, we each have our own lives and life events, which can have the power to shift our personal landscapes as well. For me, the past year contained the sorrow of losing beloved family pets, the joy of reconnecting with old friends, the sense of accomplishment in finally getting a Smartphone and learning how to text, family health scares, babysitting emergencies, and, through it all, the refuge and wonder of the natural world...

One of the highlights of the year was back in the Spring, when I received a call from my good friend, Libby, who lives in a log home built against a hillside in Leverett. Her back “yard” resembles a Chinese landscape painting, replete with nestled boulders and sheltering pines. Libby was inviting me to come and observe a family of grey foxes which had set up housekeeping in a cave-like space created by a juxtaposition of boulders about halfway up the hillside. From the comfort of a small window in her bedroom, she had been watching the comings and goings of the parents, as well as the antics of the five (adorable!) kits. On sunny days, such as the one during which I visited, there were naps on the warm rocky ledges outside the den, and then lots of nipping, wrestling, and tumbling – followed by lunch with Mom.

About a week later I heard from Libby again, this time to let me know that the foxes had disappeared sometime during the night, and life had become extraordinarily quiet. However, she also felt extraordinarily lucky to have had the chance to witness the growing and nurturing of this wild family – and to have been able to provide a safe setting for their activities. Late one afternoon, much later in the summer, she looked out the window to see the male parent, handsome and identifiable because of a crooked ear, sitting on his favorite mossy rock. She went outside to her deck to look, and, upon seeing her, the fox made a couple of circles and flopped down on his spot to stare back at her. She felt that it was an exceptional moment.

From time to time we have to be reminded that life is filled with miracles, and sometimes we only have to look out the window to catch one. As a turbulent year comes to an end, a year that has seen hopes dashed, shock and grief, ugliness and anger, common decency and values turned upside down, there is some relief in knowing that not even the pundits have all the answers. We need to stayed tuned in, stay open, and not forget a sense of wonder...





Saturday, February 27, 2016

MOTHER KNOWS BEST...


MOTHER KNOWS BEST, and this is a good time to dot your i's and cross your t's, according to an ancient form of astrology based upon the I Ching, or Book of Changes. The Chinese Solar New Year begins on February 4, and we have entered a 2 Earth year which carries a much more stable, predictable, reliable energy than the preceding drama-filled impulsive 3 Thunder year.


Each of the 9 numbers in this system are associated with members of the family, and the Mom force comes front and center this year. Those born in a 2 year, male or female, are generally helpful, supportive, diplomatic, somewhat conservative, and always dependable. In fact, it is the ever-reliable 2 who can be counted on to come in and clean up the messes made by everybody else!


The 2 Earth energy is also concerned with relationships and partnerships, and this is a good time to examine these areas, or lack thereof. To be in relation to others, particularly those who are closest to us, requires that we be truly open and receptive to another. This can be a difficult task, but we can practice on ourselves. We can develop the ability to love more deeply by treating ourselves with kindness and compassion. If we can find ways to be gentler, friendlier, softer – to ourselves – we then can pass along these gifts to the people we love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A TIME FOR LOOKING BACK...


My mother's cousin, Charles, just celebrated his 97th birthday. I feel privileged to have wished him a happy one – not just because of the number, but because a year ago he was, for me, just a name in an old genealogy file. Computer-savvy and curious, Charles contacted me out of the blue last spring after reading my mother's obituary online. I knew my mother had lost contact with her father's side of the family in Belchertown, Massachusetts after her parents split up when she was a young teenager. Although my grandmother moved only 23 miles away to Springfield, they might as well have been on the other side of the moon as far as keeping in touch with family left behind. As a result, my sister and I grew up with gaps in the flow of information about the past; as children, we took this as normal.


This year, the Chinese Solar New Year, which began on February 4, features the energy of 3 Thunder, according to an ancient form of astrology based on the I Ching, or Book of Changes. A Thunder year is all about roots, ancestors, and origins – in other words, a moment to take another look at the past. We have just emerged from a 4 Wind year in which energy was scattered, fast-moving, and hectic – efforts bearing fruit only with strong focused intent. Thunder's energy can be sudden and startling – however, it can remind us of the vitality at the core of life, and push us to experience our lives more fully.

Turns out Charles is the family historian, with cartons and drawers of
memorabilia dating as far back as the 1800's, as well as an active Ancestors.com account. He has brought to life for me people of my mother's lineage who were not much more than wispy figures, names on a sheet of paper – cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents who were a real part of my mother's childhood, helping to shape the feisty independent woman she became. 

In getting to know Charles, I have been surprised by a sense of humor and optimistic nature very similar to my mother's. It doesn't seem a coincidence that my mom was born in another “3” year, 1916. People born during these years are hopeful by nature; and, if hope can be defined as “the confident expectation of good”, this is something with which we can all recharge our batteries in the year ahead.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

FINDING A PERFECT BALANCE...



My sister, Linda, and I chose a sparkling September day to set out on a river cruise aboard the Maine-built wooden boat, the Seguin. We were visiting the Maine Maritime Museum in the city of Bath, which is situated on the Kennebec River and famous for its centuries-old shipbuilding industry. Seguin's captain, Dave, mentioned that in the coming weeks the cruise would lure many serious photographers eager to capture a perfect view of the six lighthouses located along the Kennebec.

The Feng Shui “Theory of the Five Elements” may be applied to our natural attraction to lighthouses, with interesting results. The ancient sages observed that energy moves in five fundamental ways: downward, upward, outward, around, and inward. These movements are expressed in Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal; and are the building blocks of everything that we perceive in our world. The elemental forces are never static, but are constantly interacting with one another, sometimes creating, sometimes destroying.

In the natural scheme of things, water extinguishes fire. However, in this case, the brilliant, glowing, illuminating rays of the lighthouse are surrounded – but never quenched – by the deep, moving, often dangerous waters of the rivers and sea. There is hope and the promise of safety in the fact that this particular fire is constant and indomitable. Something deep within us is stirred by the knowledge that this small circle of brightness has the power to push back the night.

On the return journey, Captain Dave talked about the river itself, and the changes that have taken place over the past several decades. As we watched eagles flying overhead, and the sparkling water flowing by, Dave said that as a boy he couldn't swim or fish in the river – it was too polluted. 150 years of industrialization along the rivers had done their damage. But in an era before the environment was a part of everyday conversation, Maine's own Senator Edmund S. Muskie worked systematically to find solutions to air and water pollution. Senator Muskie was the driving force behind the Clean Air Act in 1970, and the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Human beings are most nourished in places that contain all of the five elements, and we had all of them that day: the pristine waters of the Kennebec, the tall white pines and spruce trees along the banks, the late summer sun, the immense rectangular shapes of the buildings of Bath Iron Works, and the pretty domes and arches of historic buildings of Bath. As the days are now getting shorter, and the New England winter is looming ahead, I'm going to be reminding myself that there is a perfect five-element day just a memory away.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

ACHIEVING LIFT-OFF...


Because we have a family member who is struggling with dementia, my good friend Barbara recently lent me her copy of Pulling Taffy: A Year with Dementia and Other Adventures, by Tinky Weisblat. The author, a part-time resident of Hawley, MA, is not only a writer, but a singer, a humorist, and a food lover – and is especially attuned to how all of these good things can lift spirits and create community. Barbara reminded me that we met Tinky briefly about ten years ago when she was selling her Pudding Hollow Cookbook at an outdoor summer garden fest in Deerfield.



It was a surprise to find that what might be a tough or depressing subject in other hands became delightful reading in Tinky’s. This is not to say that she minimized the difficulties that both she and her mother had to endure in their last months together; but to a potentially heavy brew she added humor, insight, honesty, and a rich smattering of stories from her mother’s life. The result is a work that is both touching – and uplifting.



As a Feng Shui practitioner, the thing that struck me most about both Tinky and her mother Jan (affectionately called “Taffy”), was the quality of their personal energy, or chi. When a person’s chi is low, life can be hard or overwhelming; but when it is bubbling and moving, even the most challenging situations can be managed. It seems to me that both mother and daughter were able to find a vital source of refreshment within themselves, in spite of times that were certainly gray and bleak.



Tinky includes several photos of her mother in a variety of moments throughout her long interesting life. Here is clearly someone who was in LOVE with living! There is one of Jan as an infant sitting on her own mother’s lap – with a smile that spreads from ear to ear. This same smile lights up her 93-year old face, and makes us realize that it is a person’s ability to welcome life that defines their essence.



There are people among us who are inspiring because of their general cheerfulness and ability to appreciate the things around them. Tinky and Taffy were able to embrace the moment in their joy of simple things -- music, poetry, pets, food, sunshine and fresh air, the kindness of friends – certainly a recipe for good chi.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

UP FROM THE ASHES...

My pals, Yoshi and José, and I were lucky enough to visit Xu Bing’s “Phoenix Project” last week during its final days at MassMoCA in North Adams.  I had seen pictures of the installation on the museum’s website; but the small images cannot really prepare you for stepping into a space the size of a football field to experience these immensely powerful, yet strangely elegant, beings.

Xu Bing, one of the most influential and prolific Chinese artists working today, was originally commissioned in 2007 to create a piece for the World Financial Tower, a luxury highrise construction in Beijing.  In contemplating the project, Xu Bing was struck by the squalid living conditions of the migrant workers whose incredible skills were being used to erect the sumptuous buildings changing the face of Beijing.  His decision to utilize scrap from constructions sites – demolition debris, steel beams, tools, conduit, empty fire extinguishers, even the workers’ hard hats – to create a pair of 10-ton mythical birds was later met with disapproval from the original funding source.

The artist persisted, however.  He found a new benefactor, continued to gather materials, put together a team of assistants, and over the next two years labored to bring his vision to life.  The male, “Feng”, is 90 feet from head to tail; and the female, “Huang”, is 100 feet long.  Their combined weight is over 20 tons.  Suspended from the rafters of MassMoCA’s huge gallery space, the pair evokes wonder and a sense of the extraordinary.  Like all good art (and like the practice of Feng Shui) these pieces have the power to surprise the viewer, to refresh – to reawaken a childlike curiosity.

Phoenix” is moving on to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City for an opening later this year.  On our holiday wish list is another viewing of these remarkable creatures – this time after dark.  Embedded within the intricate and imaginative structure of construction debris flotsam and jetsam, are tiny LED lights which, after nightfall, create the sense of constellations in the heavens.  Like the viewing of a favorite landscape within nature which changes with the seasons, I wonder if this mythical pair will reveal another aspect of their remarkable rise from the ashes of modern day society.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

AN EMPTY VESSEL...


Almost 12 years ago, during the weekend following September 11, I began my study of Feng Shui in earnest. I was part of the second class of The New England School of Feng Shui, and most of us were a bit dazed as we stood in the hallway outside a Worcester hotel meeting room waiting to get checked in. Many of us had wondered if the class would start as scheduled after the events of the week; but, as we moved forward in line sniffing the pleasantly uplifting aroma of nag champa incense, we began to feel that this was movement in the right direction.



Our guest teacher that weekend was William Spear, the author Feng Shui Made Easy: Designing Your Life with the Ancient Art of Placement. Mr. Spear told us that he had been in New York City during the towers collapse, although he had been unaware of what was happening. He had been working with a client in a soundproof room all morning, and only after he completed the session did he realize that the city was in chaos. With the events of the week as a compelling backdrop, Mr. Spear encouraged us to cultivate the “beginner’s mind”, that is, a mind that is present within each moment – and not defined by thoughts of past or future.



One of the greatest skills a Feng Shui practitioner can develop is to acknowledge the reality that exists -- to not turn away from a difficult, problematic, complex world; and at the same time, to be able to visualize what can be. To do this, we have to constantly bring ourselves back to a receptive state, something characterized by the image of an empty vessel. Mr. Spear underscored the fact that as human beings, we are “meaning making machines”. We are always trying to explain things both to ourselves and each other -- when most people are really in a state of “don’t know”. Although it goes against the grain of our western culture, Mr. Spear suggested that if we could pull back and accept this sense of not knowing, it would galvanize us.



The first chapter of Feng Shui Made Easy is entitled, “A New Way of Being”. It starts with a proverb that continues to inspire me a dozen years after hearing it for the first time, “Empty vessels make the most noise”. When we are empty we’re full of possibility – it is the state of being empty that makes the vessel useful. Thank you, William Spear.